COLUMN: Cal’s milestone overshadowed by important in-game milestones

UK head coach John Calipari reached a milestone with UK’s 76-68 victory over Florida on Saturday at Rupp Arena: Win No. 500 as a collegiate head coach, the culmination of working 19 years on the sideline (yes, that includes those 38 victories he had at Memphis during the 2007-08 season that were later vacated by the NCAA).

But Calipari wasn’t bothered about the possibility of reaching the individual milestone because he was more focused on getting win No. 20 versus Florida. And win No. 20 didn’t disappoint with his team reaching a plethora of other milestones, the culmination of what has been almost an entire season’s body of work.

Simply put, the in-game milestones are currently more important than win No. 500 because these are what will ultimately determine how many more wins Calipari can add to his win total this season.

“This one (was) a huge game for us. This wasn’t like some little game, this was a huge game,” Calipari said. “Because you’re talking a great basketball team that’s well coached that’s coming into our building with an idea that they are winning this game, and I’ve got a fragile team at times on the road, and now you wonder, are they going to be fragile at home?”

Don’t worry, Cal. Breathe easy. Your team played up to its usual home standards and then some, by solving problems that have been plaguing them all season.

“A lot of people played better than they normally do, and a lot of people stepped up and played different than they normally do,” said UK senior forward Josh Harrellson, who added that he, junior Darius Miller and freshman Doron Lamb were players who didn’t play particularly well when the Cats lost to Florida in Gainesville three weeks ago.

Harrellson grabbed 12 rebounds, while limiting Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons, the Gators’ leading rebounder, to only one offensive rebound the entire game.

Parsons didn’t have much chance to rebound because even the lesser-known rebounders on the team, such as Lamb, were crashing into Harrellson trying to get the ball; Harrellson joked that he hadn’t seen Lamb crashing the boards “in awhile.”

Lamb, usually the last player to shootaround, impressed Calipari by showing up early to Rupp to be the first player on the floor for shootaround.

“I proved a lot of things today,” Lamb said. “If we play hard for a whole 40 minutes, we can beat anybody in the country right now.”

Then of course there’s Miller, who eclipsed his career-high in points (24) that he previously set seven days ago (22). Unlike last Saturday when he was left open on his way to knocking down six treys, he more frequently drove to the lane and made tougher baskets versus the Gators.

“I put the challenge to Darius and said ‘you’re as good as anyone in this conference, please, this is your game to show it,’ and he showed it,” Calipari said.

So Harrellson is back to his earlier season rebounding form just in time for Jorts’ Senior Night on Tuesday, Miller is showing offensive versatility and exuding confidence, Lamb is finally putting forth the effort required of a Division I hoops player and freshman guard Brandon Knight—who finished with six assists and zero turnovers—is managing the game more and more like a point guard under Calipari’s tutelage is expected to do.

All these milestones are more reason for Calipari to celebrate tonight, rather than his 500th win.

With these things accomplished, that only leaves winning a close game on the road as the elusive achievement.

“The good news is the NCAA Tournament is not played on the road,” Calipari said. “As a matter of fact, we’ll have so many people there that it will probably feel like we’re at home, so that’s a good thing for this team.”