Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Calipari hopes returning Wildcats can
help team improve its SEC road record
The Southeastern Conference road schedule wasn’t kind to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team last season.
The Wildcats were 2-6 on the road in conference play during the 2010-11 season before hitting a stride and winning 10 straight games to reach the NCAA Tournament Final Four. On Wednesday, the Wildcats open their road SEC schedule with a game at Auburn.
“I’m anxious to see how we respond,” said UK head coach John Calipari. “Another sellout on the road, they’re going to go crazy and they’re going to play well and we’ll have to play well to have our chances. I’m anxious to see. We need to get some road games under our belt to see what we have to do and learn about our team.”
While Auburn still listed tickets available for the game on its website as of Tuesday, UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague said the team was ready for a raucous environment.
“On the road it’s real tough to play, and the crowd gets into it,” Teague said. “I’m just ready to get there and play.”
The current UK squad lost its only true road game of the season on a buzzer-beater to Indiana, but Teague said that experience should help the Wildcats prepare for the SEC schedule.
“I think that was a great game to prepare us for road games,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to be pretty much everywhere, so I think we should be OK.”
Calipari said he doesn’t know whether this year’s team will perform better on the road.
“Let’s play the games,” he said. “I know last year we were 2-6 (on the road). I also know last year at the end of the year we were the best team in the country. We learned along the way. This team has a lot of learning to do right now.”
It takes a certain type of player to perform in the hostile environments UK is likely to face on the road in the SEC, Calipari said.
“This isn’t for everybody,” he said. “If you’re hoping to walk into a half empty arena and slide by and go get a meal after the game, this is not the place to go play basketball. Every game is someone’s Super Bowl, and you have a target on your back. Every road game is sold out, and every road game drives their season ticket sales. That’s how it is.”
Calipari hopes the presence of returning players who have contributed in the past will help this team perform better in those environments.
“This year with Darius (Miller) now, who was a major reason for us to make the run, Terrence (Jones), and Doron (Lamb) along with these young guys, we’ve got more experience,” he said. “We’ve probably got more talent, so we’re further along than we were a year ago.”
“We were pretty young (last year),” said senior center Eloy Vargas. “This year we are really young too, but we’ve got a couple guys that are kind of older now, like (Terrence Jones) and Doron and (Darius Miller), so I think we’ve got a better chance to come out and play and know how they’re going to play.”
Those veterans can play a key role in improving UK’s road fortunes this season.
“When the stuff hits the fan, those guys get how to calm the waters,” Calipari said. “It speeds up young kids. ‘I’ve got to score now’ or ‘This guy’s coming at me, so I got to go at him,’ and all of the sudden we’re down 10 because you’re in a one-on-one battle because you don’t get what’s going on here. And that’s a young kid. But hopefully we’ve got enough veterans out there to go along with the young players we have.”
Photo by Mark Boxley.