NASHVILLE — Apparently, Cali-paranoia is contagious.
After winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Sunday, Kentucky braced itself for bad news from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. UK Coach John Calipari had been talking for weeks about how the deck would be stacked against UK.
"His whole thing is he thinks everybody is against us," Willie Cauley-Stein said after UK beat Arkansas 78-63 Sunday. "So we think everybody is against us."
As evidence, Cauley-Stein cited the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Kentucky was a No. 8 seed, and had to beat No. 1 seed Wichita State in its second game, and then Louisville and Michigan to get to the Final Four.
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"It's going to be the same here," Cauley-Stein said. "Even though we're a one-seed, they're going to put whoever is the hardest. They're going to be on our side just because."
Smiles appeared on UK players' faces when reminded that Calipari had jokingly said the Selection Committee was trying to put the Los Angeles Lakers in UK's region.
"You have to take Cal both seriously and not seriously at the same time," Marcus Lee said. "Because that's the way he is."
Freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis welcomed good competition, even the Lakers.
"We wouldn't want it any other way," Booker said. "We know our region is going to be stacked. The Midwest is always stacked, in my opinion."
Added Ulis: "If they give us the Lakers, we'll have to play the Lakers."
Saturday SEC finals
Calipari may not like a league championship game on Sunday, but that's not likely to change.
The Southeastern Conference's new commissioner, Greg Sankey, acknowledged that league officials will continue to discuss moving its championship game to Saturday. That would give the Selection Committee more time to consider SEC teams.
But Sankey noted several reasons why Sunday is a better day for the finals: The tournament begins on Wednesday rather than Tuesday so less class time (for players and students) and work time (for fans) is missed. Plus, of course, the SEC has a coveted early afternoon time slot on Sunday.
Associate commissioner Mark Whitworth noted that the SEC moved the finals tip-off time from mid-afternoon to 1 p.m. EDT this season to help give the Selection Committee more time to consider league teams.
UK has 'juice'
Of course, UK takes a 34-0 record into the NCAA Tournament.
Cauley-Stein likened this year to 2014, when the Cats rode a wave of momentum to the Final Four.
"The feel and spirit of everybody is the same," he said. "We've got the juice. Let's just go into these games. ... We know what we've got to do and what we've got to do to accomplish (the goal)."
Throughout the season, UK players recoiled from the idea of a 40-0 record as a goal.
Cauley-Stein was willing to ponder the reaction to a 40-0 record and national championship.
"It's going to be crazy," he said of that hypothetical. "Lexington is going to be wild."
A reporter asked Cauley-Stein perhaps the most asked question of this Kentucky season: How can Kentucky be beaten?
Cauley-Stein shook his head from side to side. "I don't know," he said. "Couldn't tell you."
Here's a nominee for team nickname: The Forgettables.
UK players forgot to cut down the nets after Sunday's win. "I think we just got off the floor too fast," Cauley-Stein said. "Nobody really told us to go cut down the nets."
Team managers went back onto the court, climbed the ladders in place under each basket, cut down the nets and returned them to the locker room.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a set of nets around his neck. "One of those feelings you can't describe," he said.
Before the SEC Tournament, Calipari said he wanted the UK players to take more chances. Too few turnovers meant too conservative play, he said.
Tyler Ulis seemed to take him up on it by whipping a cross-court pass from near mid-court on the fast break that barely eluded Booker.
"We usually have that clicking," Ulis said.
Asked if that was an example of the kind of risk-taking Calipari wants, Ulis said, "Yeah. I feel that's what it was. I took a risk."UK's 13 turnovers were the most in the last seven games, and more than the Cats committed in 21 previous games this season.
Oak Ridge Boys
Country music's Oak Ridge Boys sang the national anthem. After a Saturday appearance in Kansas City, Mo., the group drove through the night to get to Bridgestone Arena.
Duane Allen said he was a "fanatic" about college basketball.