Calipari: Kentucky “locked in” ahead of Round of 64 matchup against Saint Peter’s


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari pumps his fist after a play during the UK vs. Tennessee SEC Tournament semifinal mens basketball game on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. UK lost 69-62. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

INDIANAPOLIS—John Calipari has taken plenty of positive from Kentucky’s defeat to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament ahead of Thursday’s Round of 64 matchup against Saint Peter’s. 

“Getting beat in the SEC Tournament was a godsend,” Calipari said.

After the Wildcats returned home from Tampa, the hall of fame coach had the opportunity to do some of those patented ‘tweaks’ before they got right back on the road to Indianapolis. 

What were those tweaks, you may ask? 

“My back, its been killing me,” Calipari said.

Okay, looks like we won’t know until the Cats hit the floor on Thursday night. 

One thing that Calipari did disclose following the return to Lexington, was that scrimmaging became a vital part of re-grouping before the tournament. 

“We needed to get back to free and loose and open, playing off on one another and the roles of what we needed to do, and the only way you could do that is scrimmaging,” he said. 

Two scrimmages for a combined two hours appear to have the Wildcats reared and ready to go, which is quite the switch from the postgame feel on Saturday in Tampa. Just how good of a tweaker is Calipari?

One can assume it may have come from his one-on-one meetings he held with each of his players at the beginning of the week. After the release of the bracket, he said that it was important that each of his players remember their roles and what they are bringing to the team. 

To no surprise, it sounds as though the meetings went down a treat.

“They’re locked in,” he said. “They’ve got to experience this, winning in this tournament, they got to experience advancing, or not advancing.”

‘Buying in’ has been a frequent term from the mouth of Calipari, and according to him, the whole team is in, even those who have struggled for playing time this season, specifically Dontaie Allen and Bryce Hopkins. 

For both players, chances have become less and less plentiful as the season has rolled along. Despite this, the duo has had a sanguine attitude, awaiting their next big break. 

“[Allen] was so upbeat,” Calipari said. “Then he said, ‘coach, I just want you to know how much I appreciate you.’ Think about that. He left the room, and i’m like ‘man, I hope something good happens for him. I told Bryce today, his spirit in our practice was ridiculous, you have no idea how i’m hoping you have another LSU game.” 

With the game-plan in place, the players chomping at the bit and that one shining moment edging closer, Kentucky appears to be ready. Even still, Calipari isn’t getting lost in the madness of March. 

“You walk into a cliff, you either jump off, or go the other way and the other guy jumps off, that’s what makes this what it is,” he said. “Whoever it is, you give teams a chance, they beat you.” 

Saint Peter’s is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having failed to find a win in its first three go-rounds. Kentucky, meanwhile, is making appearance No. 59 at the big dance, seeking its 132nd win in the tournament. 

The Peacocks have finally earned another chance to sit at the big kids table, and while they may come across overmatched, Calipari knows they’ll bring the heat from tip-off to the final buzzer. 

“Not only do they play for 40 minutes, they never let go of the rope, they’re not going to against us,” he said. “They run good stuff for their team, they have really good players.” 

Whether it’s Saint Peter’s or the Indiana Pacers on the other side of the basketball in Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the Kentucky Wildcats are playing a tournament game in March, and they expect to win at all costs. 

Thursday is game one of what Big Blue Nation is expecting to be a six-game onslaught en route to the ninth championship in program history.

It likely won’t be that easy, but Calipari and his group are primed for whatever may come their way. 

“We are who we are at this point, we’ve prepared from day one,” he said. “Everything is to prepare us for this moment.”

The Wildcats’ moment is set to begin at 7:10 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 17 inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.