John Calipari guarding against possible March pitfalls

Photo by Quianna Lige | Staff

The national player of the year co-favorite has started seeing minutes on the second team in UK’s practices.

Not because Anthony Davis has been relegated on the depth chart. Just because it’s part of John Calipari’s way of preparing his team for any possible situation that could impede UK’s march to an eighth championship.

“Coach told us that he wanted us to be ready for any situation,” Terrence Jones said.

So Davis has been playing on the second-string team. It has its benefits — Davis plays at power forward and gets to work on his outside game while Jones is forced to play interior defense — but forget what it’s helping.

It’s more about getting UK accustomed to playing without him in case of foul trouble.

Calipari has been devising contingency plans for weeks now. It’s the benefit of his team hitting a peak so early in the season; there’s more time to adjust the minute details that could mean all the difference in a game of inches and seconds when the big-picture items are in order.

Now it’s on to making sure any potential vulnerabilities are reduced as much as possible.

Not that many exist.

“I’m almost like, ‘Man, are you just trying to grab anything?’” Calipari said of critics pointing out flaws in his 30-1, 16-0 SEC team.

Still, the NCAA tournament is not the most conducive to finding the “true best team,” if you define that by which team would win the most games in a series that stretches toward infinity.

The tournament is instead on the opposite end of the spectrum. Who can find a way to end up on the right side of the scoreboard for six consecutive games?

With six different opponents, UK will encounter multiple styles of play. Calipari prides this UK team on being able to play a diverse number of ways. Speed it up? The Cats will run with you. Slow it down? They can grind it out in the half court, as evidenced by having zero points in transition the past two games.

However they’re played, UK can adapt.

Another main factor in that is finding game-to-game consistency.

“It’s really, really hard,” Calipari said, “but that’s the challenge and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

So far, UK has done it.

“The thing that’s been most impressive about them is they really have played well from start to finish,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said Sunday. “They haven’t had games where they’ve been at all vulnerable.”

But it only has to happen once — and only has to happen in one way — to terminate a season.

“You could have a bad free throw shooting night, a bad three-point shooting night. You could have foul trouble, there’s all kind of things,” Calipari said. “It’s one and done. Fate intervenes.”

He knows because he’s been there. Just look at his past four years: a last-second 3-pointer by Kansas guard Mario Chalmers to send Kansas on its way to beating Memphis in the national championship game; the 2010 UK team starting the game 0-for-20 on 3-pointers in an Elite Eight loss; the 2011 UK team going _____ on free throws in a Final Four loss.

Ultimately, he can — and will — do everything possible to mitigate the negative possibilities. But there’s only so much he can do, no matter how much he does.

“My thing is to get my team as prepared as they can be and let it go,” Calipari said. “We’ll see what happens.”


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