NCAA Tournament

Cats near finish in race to 2,000

Like fame, milestones can be so fleeting.

That's how it felt to reporters who had less than four minutes on Sunday to talk to Kentucky players about the chance to achieve the program's 2,000th victory on Monday against Drexel.

UK Coach John Calipari also seemed anxious to move beyond this nice round number. While noting the significance of the milestone and, in no small measure, the importance of getting to the numerical summit before North Carolina, Calipari said, "Let's get this thing over. Then move on to what we have to do this season."

Calipari called concentration a key goal. Thoughts turn to Christmas, going home for the holidays and seeing loved ones. Darn those thoughts.

"We're all thinking of it," Calipari said of Christmas. "You can act like you're not. What I'm trying to do is keep them focused. To really be a champion, it starts with focus. Can you stay focused? Can you stay on point? ...

"And it's hard. It's easy every once in a while."

It's harder with Kentucky on an 11-game winning streak to start the season, ranked No. 3 nationally and now in the midst of a mini-stretch of three games in five days.

For the first time since the summer, Calipari acknowledged the pressure of reaching that 2,000-victory milestone before North Carolina. UK led UNC 1,988-1,984 going into the season.

"We can say it's not important to get to 12 (victories this season) before North Carolina gets to 16, but, believe me, the day after I took the job, I started thinking, how can we get to 12 before they get to 16," Calipari said. "Oh, it was there. Now it's how can we get to one before they get to seven."

Now with a seven-game lead on North Carolina in the race to 2,000, Calipari said he felt no pressure.

"The pressure was the North Carolina game," he said. "When we got that, I thought we had some breathing room to get there before them...

"Before the season, I thought after that game, it's going to be a three-game gap."

Kentucky's unbeaten start to the season created an unhappy coincidence for Calipari. The 2,000th victory can come against his former assistant and then successor at Massachusetts, James "Bruiser" Flint.

"I never thought it'd be Bruiser," Calipari said.

The UK coach said he saw a possible loss at Cancun, then maybe against North Carolina, Connecticut or Indiana.

"I thought we'd have three or four losses," Calipari said before playfully adding, "I hated to think what game it might be (to) make that game even funner."

Reporters and coach gave each other knowing looks: Kentucky against Louisville, Calipari against Rick Pitino, on Jan. 2.

Flint, whose team takes a 6-5 record into the game, jokingly lamented having the chance to be on the wrong side of history.

"I told Cal, 'You're supposed to be main man,' " Flint said. "... If we lose this game, we'll be trivia down this way."

Calipari noted how important Kentucky basketball is to Kentuckians. That importance puts weight on achieving milestones, he said.

The UK coach said he felt a "sense of responsibility" to do his part by winning the 2,000th game.

"I'm such a small part of 2,000 wins," said Calipari, who already achieved a historical footnote by surpassing Adolph Rupp's record of 10 straight victories to start a UK coaching career. "But there's a sense of responsibility when you're in this seat."

Parroting their coach's desire for sharp focus on the task at hand, the UK players downplayed the 2,000th victory.

Perry Stevenson and Mark Krebs spoke almost word for word about approaching Drexel as just another game.

Krebs, a native of Newport, acknowledged the importance fans put on reaching the milestone.

"They love it," he said. "Why not? I love it. ... You're part of a great program. Everybody's part of a great program. The fans are a huge part of it. They should love it."

Stevenson stuck closer to the script.

"I guess that's a big number," he said of 2,000. "You have to approach it like it's just another game. But in the back of everybody's mind, it feels good to be the first."

But, he added, "You get caught up in it, it's just something else to think about other than basketball (and) actually performing on the court. Usually that's how losses happen."

Winningest programs

The programs with the most wins in the history of men’s college basketball:

1. Kentucky 1,999

2. North Carolina 1,992

3. Kansas 1,980

4. Duke 1,885

5. Syracuse 1,764

6. Temple 1,720

7. St. John’s 1,695

8. UCLA 1,675

9. Notre Dame 1,661

10. Penn 1,657

11. Indiana 1,646

12. Utah 1,643

13. Illinois 1,617

14. Western Kentucky 1,606

15. Oregon State 1,599

16. Washington 1,597

17. Texas 1,596

18. Louisville 1,594

19. BYU 1,588

20. Purdue 1,575