Kentucky guard Quade Green put a “must-win” label on the game at West Virginia on Saturday.
“We’ve got to win this game,” he said Friday. “It’s a must-win game for us.”
When asked why Kentucky had to win, Green said, “Because we’ve always been losing. Everybody’s doubting us. So we’ve got to punch them in the mouth.”
Continuing the theme of urgency, Green noted how No. 7 West Virginia — and not Kentucky — is the ranked team in the game. And how West Virginia can claim the home-court advantage and, in many minds, the favorite’s role.
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“I like going there as an underdog, now,” Green said. “Because we’ve not won no big games yet. So this is the game we’re going to win. So we’ve got to come out and just win. It’s this time.”
When told of Green calling it a must-win game, UK Coach John Calipari shook his head.
“If that’s what they said, I’ll talk about it,” he said. “This is only a big game if we win.” And if Kentucky wins, “it’s a huge game.
“But short of that, it’s the next game. And it’s not even in our league. It’s going to be a hard game. But it’s not a must game.”
Calipari said he imagined WVU Coach Bob Huggins was saying much the same thing to his players.
Calipari and Green shared the thought that West Virginia — and its signature Press Virginia approach — will present a physical challenge for Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a physical game, and I don’t want to hear anything about fouls,” Calipari said. “‘I’m getting fouled.’ … I don’t care. You’re going to have to be physical in this game.”
Other teams, maybe most other opponents, will try to be physical with Kentucky, Calipari said.
To prepare for West Virginia, Kentucky has put student managers on the court to help simulate an all-out, swarming defense. Eight to 10 managers, Green said. Calipari pointed out that UK does not have that many managers.
But the point about preparing for Press Virginia is valid.
“We did good,” Green said when asked about going up against a practice court crowded with opponents. “It’s not as fast and aggressive as them. We know the scheme. How to beat it. Coach Cal gave us schemes on how to beat it. So we’re going to do that. . . . They’re physical. So we’ve got to be physical, too.”
Green pronounced himself 100-percent recovered from the back strain that sidelined him for three games.
“I’m feeling wonderful,” he said with a smile. “My back is good, now.”
Green said he was not sure how he hurt his back at Tennessee. “I keep watching the Tennessee game. … I know the second time I got on the bench, my back locked up.”
Green did not look like his former self in playing in Kentucky’s last two games. He made only one of 10 shots (zero of five from three-point range).
“I’m feeling more like myself, now,” Green said. “My back is 100-percent better. So I’m getting back to being used to everything.”
When asked what he can give Kentucky going forward, Green said, “Everything I have been providing them. Play defense. Energy. Being their leader, really. Same things I’ve been doing.”
Of course, Jarred Vanderbilt is another relative newcomer for UK. When it was suggested Vanderbilt’s all-court ball-handling could be useful against Press Virginia, Calipari said, “It’s important that you’re getting open. That you’re tough. That you’re catching balls. You’re being strong.
“It’s not going to be one guy. It’s going to be our team attacking that press.”
Kentucky at No. 7 West Virginia
What: Big 12/SEC Challenge
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 15-5 (5-3 SEC), West Virginia 16-4 (5-3)
Series: Kentucky leads 15-5
Last meeting: Kentucky won 78-39 on March 26, 2015, in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 at Cleveland