Kentucky Coach John Calipari did not sound optimistic Monday about Jarred Vanderbilt playing in Boise, Idaho, later this week.
“He knows if he’s not able to go full bore, I’m not playing him for him or us,” Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference. “If he’s at 85, 90 percent, I don’t think I play him.”
Kentucky, 24-10 and the No. 5 seed in the South Region, opens play in the NCAA Tournament against Davidson on Thursday in Boise. The winner of that game will play either Arizona or Buffalo in the second round on Saturday.
Kentucky won the SEC Tournament in St. Louis last weekend without Vanderbilt, who is the team’s leading rebounder and spark plug off the bench. Calipari all but said UK will have to try to advance in the NCAA Tournament without Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt injured an ankle during a practice before the SEC Tournament, UK said.
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“He’s proven who he is as a player,” Calipari said. “But more importantly, anybody who steps on that court who can’t bring it, these tournament games are life and death. The other team is going to bring it. So my guess is it will be hard (for Vanderbilt to play) this weekend. He wants to play. But I just don’t see it right now, being able to put him in there and feel comfortable about it.”
A foot injury delayed Vanderbilt’s debut until the game at South Carolina on Jan. 16. He leads UK in rebounding (7.9 rpg) despite averaging the seventh-most minutes.
When asked if Vanderbilt could play the following weekend in the South Region in Atlanta should Kentucky win two games in Boise, Calipari said, “Maybe. Maybe.”
Besides Vanderbilt’s ankle injury, Kentucky has another seemingly significant issue to handle going into the NCAA Tournament. UK returned from St. Louis on Sunday afternoon and designated Monday as a required day off from basketball activities each week.
The trip to Boise, which requires an adjustment to Mountain Daylight Time and will include media sessions on Wednesday, means a cramped time for preparation.
“I’ve been told that doesn’t matter at all,” Calipari said facetiously. “People who aren’t coaching in this thing say, ‘Ah, it’s just a plane flight. So what if it’s two hours difference? So what if it’s across the country? And so what if it’s one less day? None of that matters.’”
Calipari said being asked about preparation as a cram session showed that it mattered.
“I told the staff, we’ve got to be tight,” he said. “We’ve got to know what we work on. And then we’ve got to be right.
“I hope we’re right in what we’re doing.”
When asked if Kentucky’s tradition of success can help in NCAA Tournament play, Calipari said, “Well, if he were about 6-11 and could block shots, that guy ‘Tradition’ could be really good for us.”
Matching the other team’s effort is important, Calipari said.
Calipari cautioned against the presumption of Kentucky beating Davidson on Thursday.
Davidson was a team “that could make 25 threes on you,” he said. “And (Davidson is) a senior-laden team.
“Probably exactly the kind of team that can hurt us.”
Davidson ranks 10th nationally with an average of 10.7 three-point baskets per game. Davidson, which averages 27.6 three-point shots, made 26 of 53 in an opening-game victory over Charleston Southern.
Leading scorer Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg) is one of four seniors among Davidson’s top seven scorers.
Kentucky vs. Davidson
What: NCAA Tournament South Region round-of-64 game
When: Thursday, 7:10 p.m. EDT
Where: Boise, Idaho