Kentucky coach John Calipari knows Thursday night’s Southeastern Conference opener at Vanderbilt won’t be an easy task.
Recent history between the two rivals suggests that the contest will be a toss-up, a regular occurrence in the rivalry since Calipari has been at the helm. During Calipari’s four-year tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats have compiled an impressive 40-8 record during the regular season against conference foes, including a 5-1 mark against the Commodores. Five of those games were decided by 10 points or less, including two by a deuce. Vandy defeated Kentucky 81-77 in Nashville two years ago. The Cats ran the table in the conference tournament in Calipari’s first two seasons with eight straight victories before losing to the Commodores 71-64 in last year’s conference tournament final in New Orleans.
More than half of Calipari’s current roster wasn’t on last year’s squad that lost to Vanderbilt in the last meeting between the two teams, but the Kentucky coach remembers all three contests and expects a similar “war” Thursday in Nashville. He continues to place a premium on his team’s progression opposed to the opposition.
“I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us,” Calipari said earlier this week. “All three games were wars. We happened to win two. We could have lost all three or we could have won all three, but they were wars. And so I expect nothing less than that going up. I imagine it’ll be sold out, it’ll be a great crowd, and for us right now, we’re worried about the process, we’re worried about our effort, we’re worried about us playing together and execution and mental discipline and let the other stuff take care of itself. We’re so far from, ‘Oh I gotta win this game, I gotta win that game.’ We’re just trying to be the best team in the gym that we’re playing in. That’s all we’re worried about right now.”
The Commodores are 6-6 going into league play and defeated William and Mary 64-50 in their last outing a week ago in Nashville. Among the Commodores’ six setbacks includes a 50-33 loss to Marist and a 68-49 loss to Butler at Memorial Gym.
Going into the conference portion of the schedule, Kentucky (9-4) has already doubled last year’s loss total two of those setbacks were on that road (at Notre Dame and Louisville), while one (Duke) occurred on a neutral court at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Despite the team’s lack of success on the road this season, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings isn’t taking the Cats lightly and considers this year’s team a clone of Calipari’s first three teams at Kentucky.
“I think that their length and their athleticism is something that jumps out at you,” he said. “They’re always very good defensively. It doesn’t matter who shows up in the uniforms, John always has them very well-prepared and efficient defensively and on the boards.I would kind of consider them a typical Kentucky team — long, athletic, fast, they make hard it for you around the goal.”
UK Basketball: Calipari expects another 'war' at Vandy
Kentucky coach John Calipari expects a close contest in the Cats' SEC opener Thursday at Vandy. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. on ESPN. Sun photo by Bill Thiry.