Preview: Kentucky vs. Kansas



From UK Athletics...

A message to all dogs, cats and alligators: beware of Coach Cal.

The Hall of Fame head men's basketball coach at Kentucky has compared coaching a team largely consisting of freshmen to having a root canal performed. He's said he's had his hands and feet on the proverbial panic button multiple times.

And if he's ever at a zoo anytime soon it may be best to have the animals hide.

"Kicking dogs, throwing cats," Coach Cal said facetiously Monday morning. "No, I'm dying here. I got a noose around my neck, I'm holding onto a rope, my hands are bleeding, I'm kicking alligators and I'm coaching freshmen."

It's quite the visual – and obvious hyperbole – but it also speaks to the trials and tribulations that the 2017-18 Wildcats will inevitably go through during the season. What with a 10-point win over Utah Valley and a four-point nail-biter against Vermont already under their belts, the learning process is well underway.

Following his team's season-opening win over Utah Valley on Friday, Calipari said his team was so young it didn't know what a shootaround was.

"They think a shoot around is let's go shoot hooks," he said.

So the key for both the Kentucky players and the head coach is the same, enjoy the process.

"I told the guys prior to last night, 'You have to enjoy learning.' " Calipari said. "What I've got to do is be tough on them in these practices. Then I've got to really be as positive as I can, but I'm going to tell them, 'If there's something I'm telling you to do, and you choose not to do it, I have a right now to let you know about it. But as long as you're fighting, you're trying to do the right things – things are gonna happen. Cover for each other, talk to each other, and just keep learning about each other.' "

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Friday night that Calipari is, indeed, calmer during games than practices.

"I thought he was going to be crazy all the time," Gilgeous-Alexander said, "but he's a little more chill in games."

The next game will test both teacher and pupils, as Kentucky will face No. 4/3 Kansas (1-0) on Tuesday in the State Farm Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago.

The Jayhawks are led by senior guard Devonte' Graham, a legitimate national player of the year contender who had 10 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists in Kansas' season-opening win over Tennessee State.

Graham, at 6-foot-2, knocked down a team-high 94 3-pointers last season and shot 38.8 percent from the perimeter. The year before that, he hit 75 3-pointers and shot 44.1 percent from deep. His elite ability to shoot from the outside makes him that much more difficult of a matchup for Kentucky's young point guards, who struggled Sunday afternoon staying in front of Vermont point guard Trae Bell-Haynes.

"We're just getting beat on the dribble by everybody," Calipari said. "And you can't – defense starts on the ball. It always has. And if you can't guard the ball it's hard to keep you in.

"What he'll do is shoot a 3 at any point, which means then you start playing him and he can get by you," Calipari said later. "It's going to be a hard game for us. It's not just him. … But Graham is the one that stirs their coffee. He's the guy. He's the one that creates all that's being created out there. It's through him."

Kentucky will go over film in Lexington of itself as well as Kansas. The Cats will then go through a walkthrough at the Joe Craft Center before boarding a flight to Chicago where they will have a practice. Each step of the way Monday will be another learning experience as they prepare for their first matchup against a ranked opponent this season.

Tuesday's showdown will mark Kentucky's third game in just five days. It's a frantic start to the season, but Calipari was thankful for how Sunday's win over Vermont went down, calling it a "a great game" for his team to play in.

But as he walked off the court at Rupp Arena on Sunday, Calipari could only laugh while thinking back to the earlier days of his coaching career at UMass. Then, he, like Vermont, had a team littered with upperclassmen rather than a starting lineup of five freshmen.

"I said I missed those days, coaching juniors, seniors," Calipari said. "Execution, everything's done, and they're in the right position and taking charges. That's who they were. Then we got a freshman team that started the game again. We played OK, but we made like four – like, why wouldn't you just do this? 'They had five guys back. Don't keep going. They have five guys there. Do not keep going.' We did. It's just stuff we can teach."

According to the Massey Ratings, Kansas is favored by one point. The game will be televised live on ESPN at 8:30/9:30 CST/EST.

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