UK Men's Basketball

Cats in a ‘great spot?’ UK players optimistic about chances in SEC tourney.

What went wrong for Kentucky at Florida?

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox talked Tuesday about what happened in loss at Florida and what must change for UK in the SEC Tournament.
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Kentucky forward Kevin Knox talked Tuesday about what happened in loss at Florida and what must change for UK in the SEC Tournament.

Cunetto House of Pasta, may I help you?

Yes, I’d like to make a reservation for dinner Friday night.

What’s the name and how many are in your party?

Calipari. Myself and 12 Kentucky players.

On a teleconference Monday, UK Coach John Calipari said he would eat at a favorite St. Louis restaurant Friday night only if his team wins its first game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament earlier in the day.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander told reporters Tuesday that he can envision the table setting.

When asked if Calipari can make dinner plans for Friday night in St. Louis, Gilgeous-Alexander said, “I mean, if we do what we’re supposed to do and take care of business, that will take care of itself. You don’t really know the outcome until it happens, but if we follow the game plan and do what Coach asks of us, we’ll be fine. He’ll eat Friday night.”

Calipari acknowledged that the 80-67 loss at Florida on Saturday shook his confidence.

But Kevin Knox spoke optimistically.

“I think we’re in a great spot right now,” he said. “Definitely, we can improve. We will over the next couple weeks.”

WEB180305UKMenSECTourney

Great spot? Say what? UK is coming off its most lopsided loss of the season.

“Just because we can improve as a team,” Knox said. “On Saturday . . . we didn’t really give our all. Players were not playing their best. But if we get everyone to play their best, then this team is really hard to beat.”

Knox described Kentucky at full capacity in the second half at West Virginia and against Louisville at home.

Under those conditions, “we haven’t been beat yet,” Knox said. “From now on, we’ve got to play like that because it’s win or go home.”

Kentucky’s first opponent in the SEC Tournament will be decided in games Wednesday and Thursday. The winner of Wednesday’s Georgia-Vanderbilt game will play Missouri on Thursday. UK faces the winner of the Thursday game on Friday afternoon.

Earlier Tuesday, the SEC announced its coaches’ All-SEC teams. Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander were voted to the All-SEC first and second teams, respectively. Knox was named co-freshman of the year along with Alabama’s Collin Sexton.

“It’s a great honor,” said Knox, who leads UK in scoring (15.7 ppg).

Gilgeous-Alexander, who has averaged 14.8 points, 5.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 36.2 minutes in the 16 games he’s started, called it “a good accomplishment, and I’m honored.”

Knox said he expected a season of ups and downs.

“All freshmen have their bumps in the road,” he said. “We had our bad times. We have our good times.”

Kentucky freshmen Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander talk about being named to the coaches’ All-SEC team. Knox was named Freshman of the Year.

Calipari spoke of a return to daily scrimmages in practice helping restore a competitive spirit that waned at Florida. Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander welcomed more scrimmaging.

“I think we’ll definitely benefit from that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We’ll have to be in that (competitive) mode the whole time. When we struggle, we take lapses. Then we . . . relax a little bit. The tournaments will force us to be on our heels and our toes, and we’ll be good.”

Of course, one of the bumps came at Florida. The good vibes produced by a four-game winning streak came to a sudden stop.

“I think we reverted a little bit,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Coming off the winning streak (pause) . . .”

The UK players got full of themselves?

“Yeah, you could say that a little bit,” he said.

After the game at Florida, Calipari said that Kentucky can rise or fall depending on how Gilgeous-Alexander plays. Two of his poorer performances came in losses at South Carolina and Florida.

Gilgeous-Alexander accepted the notion of being the team’s weather vane.

“I’m the point guard,” he said. “I’m the leader. Guys follow my lead. I have to lead them in the right direction. Or we all look bad.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

SEC Tournament

When: Wednesday through Sunday

Where: Scottrade Center in St. Louis

Kentucky’s opener: UK plays either Georgia, Vanderbilt or Missouri in Friday afternoon’s second game, which should tip off around 3:25 p.m. EST.

TV: ESPN

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