Calipari still figuring his team out as Kentucky heads to Notre Dame


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks to reporters after the UK vs. Southern basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 76-64. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Following seven consecutive home games, No. 10 Kentucky is set to hit the road for the Wildcats’ first true road game of the season on Saturday, taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend.  

The game is the first of three non-conference Power Five opponents the Wildcats are set to face, with Ohio State and Louisville to follow.  

‘It’ll be a typical environment that [Kentucky] gets,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “It’s the game that [Notre Dame] marks on their calendar. It’s a game they’re excited to play.”  

Notre Dame welcomes the Cats as they attempt to snap a three-game losing-streak, all of which came to Power Five opponents, In Illinois, Texas A&M and Boston College.  

“The games they lost, they just missed shots that they normally make,” Calipari said about Notre Dame. 

The Fighting Irish are 2-0 this season when playing at home at the Purcell Pavillion, defeating both Cal State Northridge and High Point.  

“Winning on the road is really significant you’re playing against their best, they’re the most excited, they’re the most engaged…that’s what you play against,” Calipari said.  

Kentucky will look to exact revenge on the Fighting Irish, as Notre Dame toppled the Cats last season at Rupp Arena, winning 64-63. 

After trailing by 22 points at halftime, UK roared all the way back, holding Notre Dame to just 16 points in the second half. Kentucky’s Olivier Sarr missed a game-winning jumpshot at the buzzer to pull-off the comeback.  

Davion Mintz, one of the few players who took on ND last season that will play in South Bend on Saturday, recalls coming together with his team after facing an early deficit: 

“That was honestly the first time I remember the fan base and us really coming together as a team,” Mintz said. “Those are things you still think about…that was the first time we were collective. That’s going to be something we are going to remember when we go in there and try and take care of our business.” 

Kentucky has failed to defeat Notre Dame the last two times the teams played in South Bend, and the Fighting Irish have won three of the team’s last five meetings overall. Saturday will be ND’s first home game in 25 days.  

“All these experiences when you get new teams are learning experiences,” Calipari said.  

The Fighting Irish are a jump in competition for the Wildcats. Since the season-opening loss to Duke, Kentucky has played just one team rated inside the KenPom top 200 while playing four opponents outside of the top 300. 

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has already taken on three opponents inside the KenPom top 100.  

“Building some continuity, some confidence, building some players up to where they understand ‘now you got to take it to another level.’ Every game has its own personality,” Calipari said about his team’s previous games en route to Notre Dame.  

Calipari knows that it takes time to build his teams up to where he wants them come March. Despite taking care of business against lesser foes, coach Cal is aware that Kentucky’s upcoming trio of opponents will serve as a measuring stick for where his team stands with conference play on the horizon.  

“It is a process, we go through it and I’m just trying to go step by step,” Calipari said. “I want to skip steps, but I just know I can’t. Let me say this, I have not figured this team out, especially offensively.” 

The Cats and Fighting Irish are set to tip-off at 5:15 p.m. E.T in South Bend and can be viewed on ESPN.