Maybe because it would be unpleasant to reflect on the just completed second half, Kentucky Coach John Calipari repeatedly turned the focus of his post-game news conference to the future.
Take the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Please.
Calipari used the competitive nature of SEC basketball this season to return to a familiar theme: his view of the league’s postseason tournament as — at best — a necessary nuisance.
“Maybe we won’t show up,” he said jokingly. “Why even go and just get beat up? It doesn’t matter who you play. Everybody is going to be good.”
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Calipari all but suggested that the SEC Tournament puts further strain on a team that’s just completed a long regular season and must next play in the all-important NCAA Tournament.
“It’s going to be a war-war-war,” he said of this year’s SEC Tournament, scheduled for March 13-17 in Nashville.
The just concluded game with State that went down to the final possession served as a prelude.
“I’m glad we’re done with them,” Calipari said. “And I hope we don’t have to see them in the (SEC) tournament.”
UK as No. 2 seed
The announcement earlier in the day that Kentucky was the best of the two seeds a month before Selection Sunday did not impress Calipari.
When asked about UK’s place in where the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee judged the top 16 seeds at this point, Calipari said, “We were a four-seed?”
After a reporter told him that the chair, Stanford Athletics Director Bernard Muir, said UK was a two seed, Calipari said, “Wow. I’m surprised. I guess they had to do it. They’ll send us to. …”
The UK coach halted this familiar teasing of the selection/seeding process. “Nah,” he said. “I’m just kidding.”
More seriously, he added, “I’m not worried about anything except coaching my team and helping those guys get better and hold them accountable.”
More than once tempers appeared close to boiling over. Most noticeable, PJ Washington and Reggie Perry exchanged elbows late in the first half. Each appeared intended to send a don’t-tread-on-me message.
“That’s how it’s going to be when two good teams are playing each other,” Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said. “I think we are a good team. I think we can accomplish some goals we set.”
Freshman guard Robert Woodard II suggested that chippy play was basketball.
“There’s always tension going into a big game like this,” he said. “We just had to be prepared for their physicality.”
Howland pointed out that 7-for-12 three-point shooting fueled Mississippi State’s second-half comeback. But 5-for-18 shooting on two-pointers blunted the rally. More of the few of the misses were at the rim.
While a reporter asked if Mississippi State missing several layup-like shots impacted the game, guard Nick Weatherspoon rolled his eyes. Then he said, “Shoot (or perhaps a more earthy word that rhymes with spit).
“A lot,” he added. “Make them and make a couple more free throws, and we win this game.”
ESPN announced that its College GameDay show will originate from Lexington next Saturday as part of the network’s coverage of the Kentucky-Tennessee game.
As opposed to Rupp Arena, which served as a de facto studio for GameDay prior to the UK-Kansas game, this time the show will be in Memorial Coliseum. UK played its home games in the Coliseum from the 1950-51 season through 1975-76.
Admission is free. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. with the show beginning at 11 a.m.
This will mark the first time GameDay has originated from Lexington twice in a season. The only other school to play host to the program more than once in a season was North Carolina in 2016-17.
It will be the ninth time UK has been host to the show, and the 18th UK has played in a game supplementing the show. The latter ties Duke and North Carolina for the most times playing in a College GameDay game.
Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Maria Taylor will call the Kentucky-Tennessee game for ESPN.
Lexington television station WKYT plans to air a special on what it’s like to accompany the UK team on a road trip. Reporter/anchor Sam Dick traveled with UK to Mississippi State.
The special is scheduled to air on March 9 at 7 p.m.