Winners of five straight and 10 of 12, including Sunday's OT win over Texas A&M to win the SEC Championship, the Cats are once again looking as dangerous as any team with the Big Dance now here. John Calipari was thrilled to see his Cats bounce back from a rough start in SEC play to win the league's regular-season and conference title.
But he's also a bit peeved about his team's seeding in the NCAAs and how difficult of a path to the Final Four UK has. He talked about all of this on today's SEC coaches teleconference, and here is a full recap of his segment:
On his team entering the NCAA tournament
"Why we use the SEC tournament, which is to prepare us, let us learn a little bit more about our team, put us in tough situations, see how we respond, learn more. The Georgia and A&M games were both (like) high-level NCAA tournament games.
"High-level. So they weren't (like) opening-round games; those were the third game, the fourth game. That's what that was. Get down, the other teams are playing well, and we respond and we fight. Now, we're able to show the tape and have a couple guys that needed to do more, but I was proud of our team.
"And then for the tournament, other than we played Sunday and now have to play Thursday - I wish we had one more day off, but it is what it is."
On Derek Willis and Jamal Murray's big shots in OT
"It was big for Jamal, because it wasn't a leaping leaner kind of shot at the shot clock. It was a straight-on, I'm being guarded, I've gotta make a shot that way. That was big for him. The play with Derek was more of a called play that we run. I just have a lot of confidence in that kid and his ability to make shots.
"He's steady, and that's why we wanted him, and he knocked it down. And the great thing was he missed a bunch of open threes, but he made a couple that really mattered. One from Isaiah Briscoe, who drove and kicked it to him and that last one."
On Ulis' performance in SEC title game
"Obviously he's important to our team, but if you watched the game, and it sounds like you watched it very closely, you would say, ‘Daggone, this kid has gotta be one of those kids for (national) Player of the Year. He's gotta get it from somebody.'
"And because he's 5-9, I think that affects how people view him. But if you're playing against him, he doesn't play 5-9. I mean, he's shooting over bigs, he's pulling up at the foul line, he's scoring layups on 6-10 guys. So what does it matter that he's 5-9?
"There are maybe situations where he goes too deep and everybody is big. OK, but you don't see that too often, because he's smart enough not to put himself in those positions. But the biggest thing people sometimes miss is, when I watched the tape of this game, his energy level and his disruptiveness on defense probably sets him apart.
"So now, instead of you just looking (for) Player of the Year nationally at his numbers offensively, which are like eye-popping - like, eye-popping - you then shift and say, ‘But he also does it on defense.' Now you have a player that truly had Player of the Year numbers and efforts and all those things."
On what concerned him defensively in SEC Tournament
"Well, let me say this: There were four ridiculously tough shots that they made. You gotta accept it if you did their job and they hit it. We broke down about four times, maybe five, and it was basically the same couple guys that just broke down. Like, ‘It was you again. It was you again. It was you again.'
"Derek was one of them, but he was only one of them. So there are things that we can point out. We even showed today tape of the effort of Tyler, the bounciness, the aggressiveness that he played with, and talked about other players on the floor: ‘Now you watch yourself compared to how he's doing at the same time.'
"And, I mean, it's pretty telling. If we can get everybody to understand this is the energy you play with, and if you can only do that three, four minutes at a time, just do it three, four minutes. I talked to them today again about, if you're struggling we're OK in this thing because I'm not gonna play you that much.
"It's on you to get yourself ready to play. It's on you to be in the right frame of mind. Being in a desperate frame of mind, being in an excited frame of mind ready to play, not an anxious frame of mind. That has nothing to do with us or our team or coaching.
"It's your responsibility. If you're worried about playing and anxious about playing, it's gonna show. You're gonna wear out, you're gonna miss plays, you're gonna look like you're lethargic. If you're excited and desperate about playing, shows somebody different. We talked about that today.
"We're still growing as a team. There were statements about, well this team was injured and now - well, what about us? What about our team? We were injured all year. So we're still improving, which makes me feel pretty good as a coach because it's what we want."
On if Vanderbilt has potential to make a run
"First of all, let me say, Chattanooga? They're really good. Like, whoa. They went to Dayton and won. Nobody wins at Dayton. They're a team that's in our little corner of the world. The job that was done by that team this year? Wow. They're really good.
"And when you talk about Vandy, yeah. Vandy, one of the big things is a couple of the guys that are shooters just have to be confident shooters. Let it go. Like, shoot it. And they have those guys. When they're running their stuff, and they're a pretty good defensive team too by the way because of their size.
"That team can advance. I don't know if they put pressure on themselves to try and win that game in the (SEC) tournament. I do know the first game in the tournament when the other team played is really hard, and that's what happened with Vandy.
"Tennessee had won, built their confidence, go into that game. Vandy's not - you know, they weren't on the top of the game. They weren't awful, they were just - and again, they were a finger tip away from it going to overtime and winning and we're not having to talk because they're seeded higher.
"But I think they'll do fine. Again, they beat us up there and beat us pretty good and I will tell you that I love their team. I really do. I love their size they got inside. They got guard play. They just got to stick it together and make a run."
On Stony Brook
"Well, one, obviously being from the northeast up in there and knowing Billy Harrington and all the guys. I almost went to school at the University of Vermont. Peter Salzburg and Bill Whitmore were the coaches up there at the time. So within that league and coaching at UMass we played those guys.
"Here's what I would tell you: One, well coached. Two, they're strength is their big kid and they run great stuff and he understands angles as good as anybody we've played this year.
"Their guard (Carson Puriefoy), a lot like Tyler Ulis. Very fast and he's speedy with the ball from foul line to foul line. He'll be as fast as anybody we've played. They shoot the ball.
"They got another big that plays of Warney. You know, it's funny. He played at the same high school as Isaiah Briscoe, Roselle (N.J.). He's a little bit older than Isaiah but Isaiah said, 'I played in pickup games.' I said, 'How good is?' He said, 'He's a beast.' I said, 'Oh!'
"And that's coming from Isaiah Briscoe, so we know how hard this game is gonna be. This will not be a typical 4-13 game. It will not be typical. We know that. We're gonna have to have one of our better efforts to win the game."