UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s preparation involves next opponent, but also long-range goals

Kentucky head coach John Calipari said UK practices with a “bigger picture” in mind. “It’s trying to be one of those teams by the end of the year.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said UK practices with a “bigger picture” in mind. “It’s trying to be one of those teams by the end of the year.” aslitz@herald-leader.com

Kentucky plays at snowy, icy Vanderbilt on Saturday. But at least part of the preparation was with warm and inviting San Antonio in mind.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari explained Friday. The context was an explanation of why UK continues to experiment with different approaches even though the freshmen-dependent team might be better off trying to master fewer tasks.

“The problem is we have a bigger picture here,” Calipari said. “It’s not just try to play the next games. It’s to try to grow. It’s to try to get better. It’s trying to be one of those teams by the end of the year. And we know we’re not right now.

“But the players know we’re not right now. But it’s not right now we’re dealing with.”

Of course, the Final Four is in San Antonio this year. That’s the bigger picture Calipari was referencing.

First things first, Kentucky must play at Vanderbilt. “Always a hard game for us,” said Calipari, who has a pedestrian (for him) 5-3 record in Memorial Gym as UK coach.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari was asked if he saw the toughness he was looking for against Texas A&M.

With the graduation of Luke Kornet, whose Lexington ties go back two generations, Vanderbilt is a different team. Kornet provided rim protection and a 7-footer who could spread the floor with three-point shooting.

“Which really made things hard,” Calipari said.

Kornet’s absence has made things really hard for Vanderbilt’s interior defense. Recent opponents got a lot of production from around the basket. Tennessee’s bruising tag team of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combined for 59 points and 16 rebounds in a victory at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. At South Carolina last weekend, the Commodores got burned by Chris Silva (27 points, eight rebounds).

“We had career nights by ‘bigs’ the last two games,” Vandy Coach Bryce Drew said. “We have to do a better job of making them earn points.”

Calipari was reticent to claim UK’s “bigs” could exploit Vandy.

But consistent post production, which PJ Washington has provided the last three games, could be considered a building block for a team with ambitions to get to San Antonio.

Weather update

UK planned to fly to Nashville on Friday. But because of weather concerns, the team rode a bus Thursday night.

Vandy was closing its campus at 3 p.m. CST on Friday because of the forecast of icy, snowy weather, Calipari said.

No injury update

Calipari said he had no update on three players sidelined by injury: Jarred Vanderbilt, Jemarl Baker and Quade Green.

Green, who sat out the victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday because of a back strain, had not practiced through Thursday, Calipari said.

Baker, who has been sidelined all season because of a knee injury, has started rehab. “I don’t know what that means,” Calipari said.

Minutes a concern

Injuries can mean more playing time for healthy players. But can there be too much of this good thing?

When asked if he was concerned about the minutes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox have played, Calipari said, “I am. But they’re happy as heck.”

Knox has averaged 32.4 minutes per game, which is the fourth most by a Southeastern Conference player.

Counting only league play, Gilgeous-Alexander ranks fourth with an average of 35.5 minutes.

Calipari suggested that he might be calling more timeouts than in previous seasons. Not because UK needs more strategies.

“To give guys a rest,” he said.

““In other words, ‘Play through it. Figure it out yourself’ may not work with this group.”

Attendance

Nashville’s daily newspaper, The Tennessean, reported that Vanderbilt has its lowest average home attendance in 53 years.

Vanderbilt has averaged 8,734 per home game this season with eight home games remaining, the newspaper said. Vandy has not averaged a lower home attendance since the 8,235 figure in the 1964-65 season.

The game against Kentucky is expected to boost this season’s average attendance. The official capacity of Memorial Gym is 14,316.

As for Kentucky, the average announced attendance through 11 home games this season is 21,445. The turnstile count in that time is an average of 16,826, according to a response to an open records request. Rupp Arena’s official capacity is 23,000.

Etc.

▪ Vandy has three 1,000-point scorers: seniors Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis. Vandy hasn’t had three 1,000-point scorers since the “F Troop” in 1975-76 (Butch Feher, Joe Ford and Jeff Fosnes).

▪ Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Allison Williams will call the game for ESPN.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Saturday

No. 21 Kentucky at Vanderbilt

When: 4 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Kentucky 13-3 (3-1 SEC), Vanderbilt 6-10 (1-3)

Series: Kentucky leads 143-47

Last meeting: Kentucky won 73-67 on Feb. 28, 2017, in Lexington.

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