To explain the loss at Tennessee exactly one month ago, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said his team was “manhandled by men.”
That assessment wounded the Cats’ pride. “Really got to us a little bit,” PJ Washington said Monday.
But Tennessee forward Grant Williams, who scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds against UK, hardly fits the profile of a brute. He could be considered Southeastern Conference basketball’s Renaissance man. He was recruited by all but one Ivy League school, and included Harvard, Princeton and Yale on his final list of college choices. He plays nine musical instruments and wants to make it 11 by learning the guitar and saxophone.
And rather than physically dominating, Williams thought his play against Kentucky last month was, if anything, passive, especially in the first half.
“PJ Washington locked me up in the first 20 minutes,” Williams said Monday. “Then he went down with cramps, and I did pretty well.”
That summed up the dramatic turn in the first meeting. With Washington outplaying Williams, UK led by eight at halftime. With Washington watching from the bench, Williams led a Tennessee rally that won the game 76-65.
“I don’t think I was being as aggressive as I normally am,” Williams said of that first half. “I was kind of fading away, and I was not getting any post position.”
Williams cited three players that he has tried to emulate as a player: Adrian Dantley, Charles Barkley and Draymond Green. “Just the fact they play with a competitive edge,” he said.
Dantley was an undersized post player who used smarts to be effective against taller players. Williams described Barkley as “a monster in a beast world.” Green is an all-around contributor.
Unlike many “bigs,” Williams professed a fondness for playing in the low post. He realized early on that he could play effectively and perhaps someday make it as a pro player in the post. He studied players including Dantley, Barkley and Green to try to improve as a post player.
“If you start trying to do too much, that’s how you lose track of what you’re good at,” he said.
UK Coach John Calipari suggested that Tai Wynyard and Jemarl Baker probably will not play the rest of the season.
Wynyard has not played since a seven-minute stint on Dec. 31. That represented his only action since Dec. 9.
“He has a back injury that is a disc issue,” Calipari said. “He tried to come back twice. It hasn’t worked. So I think at this point, he’ll be sitting out the rest of the year.”
Baker, who was billed as a shooter, has not played all season because of a knee injury.
“He’s been on the court shooting some, but he hasn’t done anything,” Calipari said. “So I can’t imagine with eight games to go, that he’d be able to help us. … It’s not what I can see happening.”
The coaches in the UK-UT game are friendly rivals. Calipari said he had known Rick Barnes since the Tennessee coach was 19 or 20 years old.
“He is a basketball Bennie who is really into what he’s doing,” Calipari said.
Of Tennessee’s surprising success this season, Calipari said, “I’m happy for him. I love the guy. He helped me. I’m watching and learning from him.”
Calipari advised Barnes to take the Tennessee job in 2015.
“Tennessee’s a great job,” Calipari said. “They care about basketball there.”
Barnes said he and Calipari are like-minded when it comes to basketball.
“I think we believe the game should be played the same way,” Barnes said.
Perhaps to explain the lack of rhythm in UK’s offense at times, Calipari pointed out a key difference in personnel.
“In the past, we had three point guards on the floor, almost exclusively for three years,” he said. “Well, we’re not playing that way, now.”
The trio of point guards were DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe last season, and Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Briscoe the season before that.
Quade Green, a native Philadelphian, apparently enjoyed the Eagles defeating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
“I just saw him,” Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “He was in a good mood.”
Appeal to fans
Calipari has asked fans to raise a raucous in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. He suggested the Cats need the help.
“I just want them to be really into the game for these kids,” Calipari said.
Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Allison Williams will call the game for ESPN.