With only two weeks until Selection Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to end the regular season on a high note as they play their final three games in the next eight days.
Vanderbilt is a team desperate for a win that will give Kentucky their best shot with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake. Most of the current bracketologies have the Dores firmly on the bubble, some even having Vandy on the Last 4 In/Out line.
But John Calipari isn't expecting Vandy to play any different than they would if this game were in January. When Kentucky is playing in an opponent's arena, Cal knows their best shot is coming, regardless of what time of the year the game is being played.
Here's a recap of everything Cal said to the media on Friday.
On how Vanderbilt is playing since first game vs UK
"After they left us they took a little dip. But they've won their last two and they're really rebounding the ball. They're scoring the ball around the basket. (Damian) Jones is really doing well. They're playing a little bigger at guard. They're defending. It's always a hard game up there. That's a hard game."
On remaining opponents needing to beat UK to solidify NCAA Tournament bids
"I don't know. I don't think it matters to us. Every team we play, it's like ‘we win this one, we don't have to win anymore.' Really? You have 18 games left. I don't think for usâevery team plays with desperation when they play us. And on the road, it's them alone with a sellout crowd they haven't had all year. Or their biggest crowd and all that stuff. You can check the numbers. I know some of you will but I'll guess that's what it is."
On update on Derek Willis
"No, I haven't seen him yet."
On how different the offense is without Willis
"Well we took 10 threes so obviously we played different. We put a few different wrinkles in. We're gonna try a couple things today. It's just trying to figure out now. You know, normally we have a different team at the beginning of every year. We reshuffle the deck and here we go.
"How's this team play? We've had to reshuffle the deck in season like three times now. Like, OK, how do we play now? And so, I'm just trying to make it so these kids are comfortable playing, that it's the best way for them as a team to play. I'm not caring whose idea it is, or 'Cal-ball, it's how we play.'
"I couldn't care less. I just want them to be in the best position to win the basketball game."
On if Isaac Humphries has bounced back from Texas A&M
"He's fine. We're so far by that. Last game he had a chance to get six rebounds and he got two. That's not going to keep him on the floor, especially with Alex (Poythress) back. He knows what he has to do. He's the first one in. He runs in there and Kenny (Payne) beats the crap out of him and he loves it. He smiles about it."
On if Vanderbilt's size means bigger opportunity for Humphries
"Well they're size, though, other than Jones, they're size is jump shooters. I mean, they'll go inside, the big kids will. But he's got to be able to play the guy out on the floor. That's a big thing with it. If he can do that, then you can leave him in the game, but if he can't - and it's not like they guy's beating you on the dribble. You just gotta be in a help position and make sure that he's not getting off threes."
On what winning SEC regular-season title would mean
"It's gonna be hard for us to do because of schedules, when you look at the schedules. But we're gonna play the games, and I'm more concerned about us getting better. We have two tough road games and a team that beat our brains in down there. So we could lose all three.
"But if we're playing at a high level and doing what we're supposed to, we'll be going into the tournament, we'll be fine. We'll build in the SEC tournament. So you can't really tell. Right now, it doesn't look promising, but we'll see."
On what it says that they're still at the top of the league after all the reshuffling:
"I'm proud of 'em. With what we've been through, and we don't talk about injuries and all that stuff. We just play ball games. The biggest thing is like a guy like Tyler Ulis. 'Tyler Ulis was like that.' Well, I don't think so, because early in the year there was no one talking about him for player of the year.
"Now he's talked about (as) player of the year. You look at Jamal (Murray). There was big question marks on Jamal two months ago. Now all of a sudden, he can play with anybody. This is the best guard tandem. You look at Isaiah (Briscoe) and the question marks they had. Now they're saying, ‘Geez, just make one or two shots. He doesn't even have to make them all. Just make one or two. This kid defensively and rebounding...'
"You look at Isaac and you say, ‘What?' Dom (Hawkins) has been hurt. We need Dom to make a couple shots, but he's not even - that's the best thing about when you're doing this: Basically every day we embrace the process. Just embrace it, and the guys that embrace the process you see them improve. The guys that don't, the delusional guy - ‘I'm just going to do what I do and that's going to work' - just doesn't work. It's hard to get better. Having Alex back playing like he is, and Marcus Lee seems to be kicking in gear.
Now it comes back to that refuse to lose, fight. Do you want that last missed shot? Texas A&M, do you want it worse than they want it or are you going to act like I can't get to the ball? I mean, that's - I would say this year in the end there's going to be plenty of games where it's the last play and the tough team made it and won.
"That's in the finish of the season, that's in conference tournament play and that will be in the NCAA Tournament. You watch, the tough team just made a play and the other guy has his excuse, couldn't get there, ‘I tried.'"
On how much improvement Cats have made in making those plays
"Some, but we'll see. We need to be in those battles."
On how many fewer ‘delusional' players he has
"I wouldn't - I'm saying that in a general sense. How we do this, if you don't buy into the process and you think you're going to change it's kind of like, ‘I'm going to do the same thing over and over again and I'm going to have a different result. That's insanity. You're not going to have a different result. You're going to have exactly the same result you have now. I call it delusional. Insanity, it's the same."
On if Murray should be the SEC Freshman of the Year
"I don't know. We'll let it play out. I know he's awful good. Whoooa. Awful good. And he's playing winning basketball, which he didn't at the beginning of the year. He just played basketball - whatever happened, happened. Now he's playing to win and you're seeing a guy on another level. Less shots - you ready? - more points. Less turnovers, more assists. Getting to the foul line."
"Now, defensively, he's not as (much of) a liability as he was early in the year, because he works. Every day, he comes out (and works). The other day, guys laughed; he said, ‘I'm a stopper. Let me guard him.' They said at the foul line they all busted out laughing. But he's now taken on that mentality: ‘I want to guard,' and that's the first step. So he's good, but there are other good freshmen in the league.
On if Skal is coming along as a post player:
"Not post guy; he's coming along as a player, and that's what he is. Just going to take time. The ability, the will to fight through when you don't feel right, the ability to fight through when you're getting bumped around, the ability to, as you're getting bumped around, still focus on what you need to focus on, it takes time.
"A lot of that is: play basketball. If you haven't really done that, you're just learning. But he's skilled, he's big, he blocks shots and he's got a value on our team."
On Charles Matthews:
"He's getting back to being the energy guy. He got away from that, like started judging his energy based on shooting and scoring. Well, you're not going to have a whole lot of energy then. Versus when somebody walks in a gym, they don't even think whether he shoots and airball, turns it over - all they watch (for) and say, ‘Look at his body, look how energy driven this kid is, look how much he brings to the court and how he changes the temperament.'
"That's who he'll be his whole career, and if he's not that, then they judge you on things he's not as strong on. And that's what we've been really hitting him on, and you know what, last game I thought was the first game in like the last four where he added energy to the game."