Following UK’s 96-78 victory over Mississippi — a team tied for last in the Southeastern Conference — in the final game of the season at Rupp Arena, John Calipari said something a bit curious.
“It was a win we had to have,” the UK coach said. “And I told them after the game that I didn’t want to tell them that. This was like the biggest game of the year for us. This was it. We had to win this game. And if I had approached it that way, you all know, they would have peed themselves.
“Now we gotta tough one. We gotta go to Florida. … They’re waiting in the weeds.”
Calipari later clarified that the win over Ole Miss, which is now 12-18 on the season and 5-10 in the SEC, takes “everything off this next one” — a date in always-tough Gainesville against a talented team of Gators with the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament on the line.
Apparently, his team didn’t need him to hold back on the importance of a victory over the Rebels.
Freshman point guard Quade Green said afterward that the young Wildcats talked as a group about needing to keep their momentum going with a win Wednesday night.
“We needed the game,” he said. And then, without anyone mentioning the next game, he added … “Now we gotta go to Florida and spank them.”
That’s liable to show up on some blue and orange bulletin boards between now and Saturday.
Green was asked about how the last game against the Gators ended. There was a disputed no-call on PJ Washington’s drive to the basket in the final seconds. Instead of two free throws to tie it, the Cats got the ball out of bounds, turned it over, and lost 66-64. It was their second consecutive defeat. Calipari screamed at an official before hitting the handshake line. And there was much disappointment afterward.
Green didn’t want to talk about the past Wednesday night. He didn’t mind talking about the future.
“We’re just gonna see on Saturday,” he said. “We got one for them. It’s going to be a war. Twelve o’clock.”
Twelve o’ clock on CBS. National TV. This one could be good.
Fellow freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander grinned when informed of Green’s comments about the Gators. There was no hint of surprise on his face.
“Q is one of the most confident guys on this team, obviously,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think that’s one of his biggest attributes. That’s what allows him to play though misses and stuff like that. A lot of the guys will get shattered because of a miss, but not Q.
“Definitely, we feed off of Q. He’s a really good vocal leader. He talks to guys and tries to keep them confident — he’s good.”
Given a chance to clarify his declaration that UK intended to “spank” the Gators on Saturday, Green smiled, but he didn’t exactly back down.
“I didn’t mean to say, ‘spank.’ But it’s gonna be a war,” he said. “And we’re gonna win. I’m putting that out there: we’re gonna win.”