A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keith Taylor: Calipari expecting another ‘dogfight’ against Ole Miss in SEC opener

With the exception of an overtime win over Ole Miss, Kentucky had little trouble disposing of Southeastern Conference foes last season, winning 21 league encounters, including 18 games during the regular season.

Although the 10th-ranked Wildcats (10-2) have run the table twice in the conference in John Calipari’s tenure, the Kentucky coach doesn’t expect anything to come easy when the Wildcats open conference play Saturday against Ole Miss.

 Kentucky's Alex Poythress drives to the basket in a win over Louisville last week (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky’s Alex Poythress drives to the basket in a win over Louisville last week (Bill Thiry Photo)

“I think every game is going to be within eight points,” Calipari said Friday. “We’re not that team (to produce a lot of blowouts). We are what we are. We’re an energy team. We are a team that has to fight and play with great enthusiasm and make easy plays. And then it’ll be an eight-point game.

“One way or another and with five minutes to go, you’re like in a dogfight. That’s what I see throughout this league.”

Ole Miss (10-2) has been one of the surprise teams in the league and brings a seven-game winning streak into the conference opener for both teams.

“They (can) play,” Calipari said. “It’s a great first game for us to really see, OK, where truly are we?”

The Rebels took the Wildcats down to the wire in Lexington last season before the Calipari’s squad escaped with an 89-86 victory in overtime.

“It looked like it was going to be a runaway, and then all of a sudden they just wouldn’t go away,” Calipari recalled. “But every game we’ve played against Mississippi has been that way. Whether it’s down there or here, they’re dogfights, and this one will be the same.”

Kentucky’s biggest task will be stopping Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody, the league top scorer, who is averaging 23.8 points per game. Moody had a career performance against the Wildcats last year, scoring 25 points and knocking down five 3-pointers before getting cramped up down the stretch, hindering the Rebels’ chances for an upset.

“He was hitting crazy threes,” Kentucky junior Derek Willis said. “I don’t think we expected him to go off (last year) like he did. This year I would say we’d be more prepared. I know he’s going to come in the building and try to do what he did last year again. It should be fine.”

Following an exciting 75-73 triumph over Louisville last week, the Wildcats have spent the past six days preparing for the rest of the season, enduring the “Camp Cal” experience. The break gives the Wildcats more time to focus on basketball, instead of juggling classroom responsibilities.

“We can go over situations better,” Calipari said. “We can zero in on an offense and just get better at that. You can really work on fundamentals. You have time. I don’t know what will happen in this game. Maybe I wore them out. We’ll see. But it’s been really productive. Individual players are getting better, and our team has a better idea of how we’re trying to play.”

Individually, Calipari said the extra practice sessions have been beneficial for center Skal Labissiere, who has scored just four points in the past three games. Labissiere came off the bench in the win over the Cardinals last week.

“He’s gotten better (at) finishing, rebounding, fighting and going after balls,” Calipari said. “Now (he will have to) go in the game and do the same thing. So, he’ll have an opportunity.”

In addition to Labissiere’s improvement, the break also has given newcomer Tai Wynard more time to settled in and get used to the collegiate routine.

Like Labissiere, Calipari has been pleased with Wynard’s progression in practice.

“He is a bull,” Calipari said. “He’s a moose physically around the goal and he’s got good skills around the goal. He’s got a good feel to where to get it up. He’s a good free-throw shooter. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Calipari also expects guard Isaiah Briscoe to return in the conference opener after sitting out the Louisville contest. Briscoe tweaked his ankle during pregame warmups but has since returned to practice.

“He’s been good,” Calipari said. “He’s back in.”

Game tracker: Ole Miss at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment