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John Calipari’s surging Wildcats focused on surprising LSU, not top-ranked Tennessee

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari isn’t thinking about Tennessee. The Kentucky coach is more concerned about LSU going into Tuesday night’s showdown between the two Southeastern Conference foes.

The Tigers (19-4, 9-1) are one of the top surprising teams in the SEC this season and have won 12 of their last 13 games, including an exciting 83-78 win over Auburn last Saturday in Baton Rouge. Kentucky defeated three straight ranked opponents last month, but Calipari said this week will be a “harder set of games.”

“Everyone is looking by this game and talking about that next one, I am not,” Calipari said Monday. “I haven’t looked at one tape of Tennessee. Not one. I haven’t thought about them. I don’t know what they run. Well, I do know because they have the same team, so they are probably running the same stuff. But, I haven’t done anything. My focus is let’s see how we are playing against this type of team, this kind of length. Those two teams are different.”

Kentucky guard Tyler Herro and the Wildcats will take on LSU Tuesday night at Rupp Arena before hosting top-ranked Tennessee Saturday. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

This week could determine the postseason positioning for the Wildcats (20-3, 9-1), who have won 10 straight games, including a 71-67 win at Mississippi State last Saturday in Starkville. The players know this week is a big deal and are also focused on LSU.

“It’s a big week for us,” Kentucky guard Tyler Herro said. “Not trying to look ahead, so tomorrow’s obviously the biggest game right now. Just go into that game with as much focus as we’ve had all year, hopefully, get that W and focus in for Tennessee.”

Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley agreed.

“We know how good LSU is,” he said. “We’ve just got to come out each and every game, play hard, play together, play smart and I like our chances.”

Herro said the wins over Auburn, Mississippi State, and Kansas was a “good test for the Wildcats” to help prepare for the next five days.

“I think the next stretch we have will be another test for us of just being focused and bringing it every day in practice and continuing to get better,” he said.

Much like Kentucky, LSU has survived several close calls this season, especially in the conference. Calipari said the Tigers can “win different ways.”

“They beat Auburn on out-of-bounds plays,” the Kentucky coach said. “Can you imagine? They scored like five or six times on out-of-bounds plays. That’s unusual, but that’s what they did. That’s how they (won and) that was the difference in that game.”

Calipari added the Tigers will “go at you at certain guys and try to beat people on the dribble.”

“This is going to be a challenge,” he said. “We are talking about one guy but they’ll pick and choose. They do a lot of that. A lot of times they are doing that trying to get you to collapse a little bit, shoot the ball off the backboard so you can rebound it, dunk it, tip it in. This is a challenge of the game.

“This is going to be a hard one. Believe me, a hard game. A hard game for us to win. I don’t care if it is in Rupp Arena or I-95. This is a hard game to win because of how they play. But, if we can give them a full 40, then it should be a good game.”

Calipari added both teams are similar in more ways than one and said the Tigers are “not afraid.”

“Neither are we,” he said. “We play the same. We’ve been down. We’ve been down 12-2, 16-4, I mean, looking at each other. If I remember Georgia it was dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk. What in the world? I mean, so we’re both kind of the same. That’s why it should be an exciting game.”

Gametracker: LSU at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

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

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