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Kentucky expecting tough game and a war against rival Louisville

Kentucky coach John Calipari is 8-2 against rival Louisville in his tenure as coach of the Wildcats. The two rivals meet Friday at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Hamidou Diallo and his Kentucky teammates weren’t very happy following an 83-75 loss to UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic last weekend.

“Every loss makes us mad,” Diallo said. “Losing isn’t fun. It’s a tough road and you just gotta know as a whole that maybe it was a lesson.”

Following a brief Christmas break, the Wildcats (9-2) will take on rival Louisville Friday in the final non-conference game of the year and Diallo knows the task won’t be an easy one.

“It’s going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a war,” Diallo said. “We just came off a loss, so it’s definitely going to be a sense of urgency and we’re definitely going to want to get a win. We don’t like losing, so we’re going to bring a different level of energy and refocus on things that we messed up during UCLA.”

Unlike his players, Calipari wasn’t upset following the loss to UCLA, which dropped the Wildcats to No. 16 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Instead, Calipari, who admitted he “doesn’t think in those terms” was more concerned about his team’s overall improvement.

“I’m not angry with anybody — I’m not mad,” he said. “My thing is how do I get them to play different? If they’re unaggressive, I created a culture that was unaggressive. If they’re not beating anybody to 50/50 balls, that is a culture that’s been created. Well, that’s my job – to change that culture and get them back to being aggressive and attacking and being a scrap kind of team.”

Calipari’s biggest concern is overall team chemistry and defense.

“We have to come together and know that we have to defend better (and) we have to be more aggressive,” he said. “We have to make easy plays. Again, I come back to when you don’t want to grind it, you have to make a layup look difficult because you want to do the hero plays every fifth time down the floor versus I’m just laying this in. I have to add. The pass, instead of just throwing it to the guy, I have to look away, take a bounce and then throw it sideways. I don’t want to grind it out every possession. It takes time to break through that.”

Since his arrival at Kentucky, Calipari has compiled an 8-2 mark against the Cardinals, including a pair of victories in the NCAA Tournament. Both of Kentucky’s setbacks to Louisville under Calipari have been by a combined margin of six points, including a 73-70 loss last season at the KFC Yum! Center.

Although the rivalry is intense, Calipari doesn’t rank it among the biggest games of the season, but provides an interesting scenario for the athletics program. Following his team’s contest against the Cardinals, the Kentucky football team plays Northwestern in the Music City Bowl at 4:30 p.m. in Nashville.

“Well, (it may be) in some minds (but) it’s not in my mind the biggest game of the year,” he said. “The last game ends up being the biggest game. That game is you go forward. But, I hope the football team wins. I hope we win. Both of us are up against it. It’s going to be hard. And I’m happy for what they’ve been able to do. I think it’s a great bowl and I think it’s great for our fans. That we’re playing on the same day, I mean, I guess we had to do it.”

Calipari, who won eight games against former Louisville and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino during the past nine years, said his team will notice Pitino’s absence “one way or another.”

“For us, it will be you’re playing a game after a loss, you’re playing a game after Christmas, let’s see how we perform,” he said. “For us, my guys, if you ask them, I don’t think they’d – knowing my guys, they don’t even know. They may go into the game, ‘Where is he?’ If I didn’t show, they probably wouldn’t even know I wasn’t there.”

Injury update:
Calipari said Thursday that freshman Jarred Vanderbilt hasn’t started practicing with the team.

“I think I saw that he’s working out individually but he has not started,” Calipari said. “Haven’t asked him. We’ll see when he’s going to be capable of doing it.”

Gametracker: Louisville at Kentucky, 1 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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