After Kentucky beat Mississippi State 85-55 Wednesday night for its third straight victory, John Calipari credited Willie Cauley-Stein with giving the Wildcats a rallying cry: I'll do my job, you do yours.
"I think Willie's comment is the mantra we're rolling with," the UK coach said.
Cauley-Stein cautioned reporters against crediting him for supplying inspiration. He suggested Calipari's gift for salesmanship played a part in the team's so-called mantra.
"I said something similar to that, not exactly like that," Cauley-Stein said with a chuckle. "But he's branded it on me, so I guess I'll just run with it."
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Cauley-Stein, who contributed 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks, voiced support for the idea of each player doing his part.
"When guys are doing their thing, getting their points, having their fun — that allows me to have my fun," he said. "Now teams are worried about them, and I can sneak in and get easy buckets and lobs and more rebounds because they're preoccupied with everybody else."
Point guard Ryan Harrow acknowledged how his improved play has helped Kentucky win three straight despite the absence of its best player, Nerlens Noel.
"Playing more aggressive and being more assertive," he said.
Harrow scored a team-high 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds, got credit for four assists and did not commit a turnover in 30 minutes.
"Oh, I'm real happy," he said. That marked a 180-degree turn for the sullen Harrow who sat the bench at the start of UK's game at Tennessee on Feb. 16.
"I don't like sitting on the bench unless I'm tired," he said. He noted his irritation with not starting, but added, "More disappointed in myself about how I was playing and how I'd put myself in that position."
Calipari saluted the rebounding of Harrow and fellow guard Julius Mays. The two combined for 10 rebounds against State. That gave them 24 in the last two games.
When asked how Harrow became a productive rebounder, Calipari said, "I don't know. But the last two games, it's been really nice."
Not all championship rings are created equal. That was one of the messages conveyed when Kentucky presented its 1996 team with national championship rings.
The NCAA gave the players championship rings 17 years ago. Apparently, those generic mementos paled in comparison to UK's belated acknowledgement.
"Oh, a huge difference," Derek Anderson said before the game against Mississippi State. "The other one just has national championship on it. It's gold. A little bit of black. 'Kentucky' on the side. Nothing blue. Nothing to personalize that this is your ring."Anderson does not wear the ring. "I haven't seen my ring probably since '96," he said.
By contrast, each ring presented by UK displays a player's last name, the team's record (34-2) and nickname ("The Untouchables") and plenty of blue.
"Everything about it is showing where we came from," Anderson said. "That gold ring (from the NCAA), whoever won a championship has that exact same ring."
The players on UK's 1995-96 team accepted the NCAA-sponsored rings in what Anderson made sound like an afterthought.
"We wanted to prove we were that good to win it," he said. "Our whole purpose was winning. So it didn't bother us that we didn't get any big ring like that."
UK spent $3,075 for the rings presented to the 1995-96 team at halftime. Each ring cost $205.
The players on the 1995-96 team took notice when UK presented rings to its 1998 and 2012 national championship teams.
"We always wondered why didn't we get that (personalized) ring," Wayne Turner said.
Calipari had endorsed the idea of championship rings for the 1996 team. He suggested the rings symbolize a unity of past and present.
"We do reach back," he said. "If there's anything we can make right, we do."
More than an hour before tip-off, the line of fans seeking a signature and interaction with the players stretched at least 100 feet outside the door of the Civic Center store devoted to UK memorabilia.
The players had not tired of taking a bow for one of the most dominating seasons in UK basketball history.
"It's like, thank you, finally," Anderson said of the players' reaction to getting new rings. "It's like we're going to win the championship again."
A 13th straight loss moved State within one of the school record (14 in a row in 1955). It also left Coach Rick Ray with little sympathy for UK's problems.
"If you want to start comparing trials and tribulations, we win all day long," he said with a slight smile. "... So excuse me if I don't start crying for what is going on at Kentucky compared to what is going on here."
State of despair
Murphy's Law applies to Mississippi State this season. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
For instance, the Bulldogs' charter service declared bankruptcy last weekend. So the school had to scramble to secure another service for the flight to Lexington.
Before the shootaround the day of the game at Ole Miss, State's team bus broke down.
Julius Mays needed four stitches to close a cut over his left eye. Calipari dismissed the notion of any long-term issues involving the cut.