Kentucky dropped a spot in The Associated Press poll this week despite beating two teams with a Ratings Percentage Index in the top 60 nationally. UK Coach John Calipari advised considering this as a challenge rather than an insult.
“We have to keep proving who we are,” Calipari said Tuesday. “. . . People watch us and don’t think we’re that good.”
Kentucky beat Louisville and Georgia last weekend. Those teams have an RPI of 39 and 60, respectively.
Calipari said he told the players the drop in The AP poll (from No. 16 to No. 17) was the consequence of one of two possibilities.
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“I said either (the voters) don’t think you guys are that good or they don’t think I can coach,” he said. “How about this one? Maybe it’s both. . . . Use it as fuel.”
Calipari placed the onus on moving up in the polls and gaining national respect on himself and the players.
“You’re not getting respect?” he said. “That means you’re going to have to earn it. You haven’t gotten it yet.”
Point guard Quade Green confirmed that Calipari mentioned the drop in the poll to the players. The drop of one spot “bothers” the UK camp, Green said.
The team is powerless to affect what amounts to the opinion of voters, Green said. Then a moment later, he suggested that there might be a way to influence voters.
“Blow them out, I guess,” he said of future UK opponents. “Got to blow (opponents) out by 30, now, so people believe that we’re good.”
LSU’s first-year coach, Will Wade, has gained a reputation as a disciplinarian. So no surprise that he called for “strict adherence” to the game plan as the only way LSU can compete with Kentucky.
“This is the type of team where, if you let up for two or three minutes, it’s over,” Wade said of Kentucky. “They’ll go on a 12-0 run, and you’re done. You might as well go home. It takes 40 complete minutes of strict adherence to what you’re doing and great discipline to do all the little things.”
LSU, 9-3 and losers of only one game since Thanksgiving, must not try to win by making more athletic plays than Kentucky, Wade said.
“We can’t match them acrobatic play for acrobatic play. . . . ,” he said. “They’ve got world-class athletes and world-class length. We’ve just got to do all the simple things.
“You can make simple plays. You can make easy plays. And if you do those, it’s still two points at the end of the day whether you lob-dunk or whether you pivot two times and lay it in off the backboard. . . . We just have to do all those simple things and finish plays around their length at the rim.”
Lion vs. lion
The UK tandem of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green going against LSU’s Tremont Waters makes for an intriguing matchup of freshman point guards.
Waters comes into the game leading the Southeastern Conference in assists and steals. He also ranks fifth among SEC players in three-point shooting accuracy (44.9 percent).
Calipari pointed out that Waters is also a good free-throw shooter (79.2 percent). “He’s a handful,” the UK coach said.
Green said he played against Waters in AAU and camp settings.
“It’s always a battle with him,” Green said. “He never backs down. He’s a lion just like I am.”
‘They’re all freaks’
Waters left no doubt of his respect for the abilities of Kentucky players.
“They’re all freaks . . . ,” he said. “They’re very athletic, and they attack the rim. They just score any way they want to.”
Tom Hart and Jon Sundvold will call the game for the SEC Network.