John Calipari says now is time to have fun
Kentucky may or may not have point guard De’Aaron Fox available for Saturday’s game against Florida, UK Coach John Calipari said Friday.
A knee bruise makes Fox’s availability a game-day decision, Calipari said.
The UK coach did not seem overly concerned about Fox’s condition. When asked who might start at point guard if Fox cannot play, Calipari replied with a question. “I don’t know,” he said. “Who do you think?”
The reporter suggested Dominique Hawkins.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Calipari said in a light-hearted tone.
Que sera sera might be Kentucky’s motto heading into the final three games of the regular season. Having fun — not an objective synonymous with the catchphrase the greatest program in the history of college basketball — is the current goal, Calipari said.
“That’s all we’re talking about,” he said.
Working against that objective is inconsistent play. For instance, the same UK team that made 17 straight free throws down the stretch at Georgia last weekend missed six of its first 12 at Missouri on Tuesday. Fouls inhibited Bam Adebayo against Georgia, then he posted his first double-double since Dec. 3 against Missouri (22 points, 15 rebounds). Isaiah Briscoe, UK’s glue guy, has had five assists and 10 turnovers in the last two games. Malik Monk, for whom UK issued a video Friday touting his All-America credentials, has made seven of 23 shots (two of 10 from three-point range) in the last two games.
“The inconsistency makes it hard to have fun because sometimes that’s demoralizing,” Calipari said. “. . . You don’t have to be great. But you’ve got to be in that range of what you are as a player. So we know what to expect.”
Perhaps with the intent of reducing the tension that goes with a highly anticipated game, both Kentucky and Florida tried to tamp down the implications surrounding the game. The teams are tied for first place in the Southeastern Conference with three games remaining. If Florida wins, the Gators would be a game ahead and hold the tiebreaker because of having swept the two regular-season games.
“I told the guys (Thursday), it’s a big game if you win,” Calipari said. “It’s a huge game if you win. If you don’t, it’s the next game and we march on. It’s not the end of the season. So we have to play on. And I’m trying to get these guys just to focus on what we have to do.”
Florida Coach Mike White borrowed from the same passage in the coaching manual. He did not embrace the idea of playing for first place. When asked if he had spoken to his players about the SEC title, he said, “Zero. None. Not at all.
“Our guys, they’re on social media. They read the Internet. I wish they’d read it less. They know it’s a big game, and it’d be a big game if Kentucky and Florida were both, whatever, 10-6. . . .
“It’s obviously got a lot of implications, but if we’re investing time and energy into those things, as opposed to transition defense, and how we’re defending Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe and Fox . . . and defending (Bam) Adebayo in the post and those type things, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
A Kentucky victory puts the Cats ahead by a game going into the final week. UK plays Vanderbilt at home and at Texas A&M next week.
Florida plays at home against Arkansas and at Vanderbilt.
Monk, UK’s leading scorer, cited Calipari in playing down the importance of winning the SEC regular-season championship.
“It’s good,” he allowed, “but Cal plays for the NCAA Tournament. He told us that before.”
Calipari welcomed the first-place implications for Florida.
“This is what you play for, this kind of game,” he said. “Both teams have something to lose. Every team we play has house money.
“I keep telling them, there’s going to be a time this season when you lose, your season ends. This isn’t it. So go play.”
No. 13 Florida at No. 11 Kentucky
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Florida 23-5 (13-2 SEC), Kentucky 23-5 (13-2)
Series: Kentucky leads 99-38
Last meeting: Florida won 88-66 on Feb. 4 at Gainesville, Fla.