No. 5 Kentucky’s age and experience paying off for John Calipari


Kentucky Wildcats forward Keion Brooks Jr. (12) helps up forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the UK vs. Vanderbilt basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 77-70. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 5 Kentucky is set to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Feb. 5 inside Coleman Coliseum.  

The Wildcats will look to extend their winning streak to four games since an 80-71 loss to the current No. 1 Auburn Tigers on Jan. 22. 

Alabama will enter Saturday after losing to those same Tigers 100-81 just four days prior. The Tide’s season has been full of ups and downs, making it hard for UK head coach John Calipari and his players to get a read on the team as they prepare for another tough road environment.  

“You got to watch more tape,” Calipari said. “You got to watch tape when they didn’t play as well. Was it the other team or them? Then you’ve got to watch tape when they really played well, did they do something different? Was the other team doing something different that led them to play well?” 

The Tide have made a habit of playing to their competition this season. They carry five victories against top-25 opponents, the second most in the country, including wins over No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 6 Houston and No. 8 Baylor.  

“You always try to take a couple things away from them, and then you’re trying to take advantage of a couple things on offense,” Calipari said. “Because at the end of the day, you’re on the road, they beat some of the top ranked teams in the country, it’s going to be a really hard game for us to win, we know that.” 

On the other side of the spectrum, Alabama have dropped some of the easier games on its schedule, with losses to Iona, Missouri and Georgia.  

Kentucky won’t know which version of the Tide will take the court on Saturday until game time, but that’s not on the mind of Calipari.  

“I’m more concerned about how my team plays than somebody else’s,” Calipari said. “If they’re at their best and we’re at our best and they beat us, we move on to the next game.”  

Focusing on his team has never been easier for Calipari, as for once in Lexington, freshmedo not engulf his roster, something he finds to be refreshing.  

“They understand they got a responsibility to each other, they’re not so consumed with themselves, because they’ve been through this and they understand they can’t do it alone,” Calipari said.  

Calipari has noted on multiple occasions that he feels his players have bought in to what they have as a team this season, something that appears evident by how they act and support one another.  

“This team is cheering for each other…they’re adults, they can shut phones off,” he said. “When you have older guys it’s different. I’ve had older teams in the past, I just didn’t since I’ve been here.” 

Following a gruesome, physical 77-70 win against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, Calipari did not have the desire to go full speed in practice the following day.  

“We had a film session, went home, I sat in my chair, and had no desire to come back for that 3 o’clock practice. None. Like, I was thinking of calling in and saying I got COVID, just anything. I didn’t want to go in,” Calipari said.  

Upon arrival at the afternoon practice, he sensed the same energy from his team. Despite that, everyone agreed to get in a “good hour” of practice, something Calipari applauded his team for 

“I told the players, ‘If I feel that way, I know you feel that way. Let’s get a good hour in.’ You know what? You talk about a veteran group, you talk about a group that understands, and they did it,” he said.  

The tough and rugged SEC schedule keeps on rolling, something the 2021-22 Wildcats group is handling better than Calipari’s previous bunch of diaper dandies.