Saturday will be the final regular-season game for Kentucky as they host LSU on Senior Day.
The Wildcats can clinch a share of the SEC regular-season crown with a win, not to mention ending their home finale on a high now and possibly boosting their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. A loss however would be very damaging and likely cost UK an SEC crown, not to mention dropping their seed line before conference tournament play opens.
John Calipari met with the media Friday to discuss this game, Alex Poythress and the health of junior forward Derek Willis.
On Alex Poythress
"He's a great kid. We've had great students here. Some better than Alex that have played here. We've had players that have left after a year, we've had players leave after two, we've had players stay all four. Each guy is on his own path. Some things that make that happen. I'll give you an example, if you said to Alex ‘would you have left after a year if you could?'
"He would've said ‘Yeah, I would have left after a year if I could.' These kids are all on different paths. Proud of Alex. He's such a great kid. The injuries and the things he's had to overcome, you just root for a kid like that. We've had three kids graduate in three years, Alex being one of them.
"He was an Academic All-American this year so there's a lot of good stuff that's happened for him. But again, the injuries held him back a bit."
On if Poythress can still define his legacy in time he has left
"Yeah. That's the greatest thing about this tournament. The one at the end of the year, it's like guys can go and define who they are. I've seen guys really step up and establish. You have a lot of stuff that they're not even being evaluated that closely until that tournament.
"He has time to do whatever he wants and so does everybody on our team. The thing I want to tell you, though, for all of them - Alex included - winning and dragging your team and advancing is the most important thing for you as an individual player. If your team can't win it says something about individual players too."
On how he sums up Poythress' motivation over the years
"They all come in differently. Look at Skal (Labissiere). They come in different places. And then you embrace the process and you hope they embrace it. There was something I gave the guys about a Navy SEAL saying, 'When I feel like I'm done, I know I still have 40 percent left.'
"Instead of letting go of the rope, I have 40 percent left in me. Let's go. In anything I do. This is bigger than just playing basketball. You're teaching these kids life skills, and when they walk away and they know when they feel like stopping and they're tired and they don't feel like going on, they know they have something extra in the tank.
"A kid like Alex - some of them are late bloomers. A lot of times kids his size are bigger, it takes 'em a little longer. And most of it is that: learning to fight through because they've always been bigger and stronger. But he's had a heck of a career on all fronts.
"He's made us all proud on the classroom, on the court. You know, I wish he hadn't gotten hurt and I wish he was already in the NBA. So does he. So does he. It happens sometimes and you've got to play the cards that we're dealt, and that's what he's doing. He's doing it well."
On how Kentucky fans should remember Poythress
"Well, he came in on a team that we didn't have any guard and it really affected everybody else. The guard play was pretty poor that year. I think he's going to be one of those guys that they remember fondly. A lot of it because they've seen him more than any of the other guys. It's kind of like a Darius Miller.
"They love Darius. Part of it was Kentucky but he was here. But you know, our city - and there'll be some here that want to argue the point that you shouldn't be for kids, that kids should stay four years and it's about the education. It's not about their careers, and the program and the program and the program.
"There'll be people write that story, but the reality of it is, I think our community now says, 'Let's be about these kids. And it hasn't hurt the program, it hasn't hurt anything. Let's be about these kids. Let's be about their options.' Have some kids left here that should've stayed? Yeah, but it was their choice! And it's their life! Not yours!
"It's their life, and they made a choice to leave anyway and now they got to make it work. Has anybody stayed that should've left? No. That ain't happening here. But the other does happen occasionally."
On taking heat about the one-and-dones but Alex being criticized for staying four years
"I don't think I do anymore. I don't think - now it's happened in other programs now they just can't say it, so it's underground now, it's OK. And that's fine. I mean, if we've changed how we approach this for these kids and it started here on this campus, great.
"That's now why I did it. We did it because I looked around and said, ‘Oh my gosh, five of these guys are going in the first round. What the heck just happened?' None of us knew. I didn't know, and neither did anybody here. So, I don't think they look at whether it be a Darius Miller or whether they look at Terrence (Jones) for staying two years.
"I don't think so. Every kid is on their own path, and it's their path, not my path. It's their path. That's what we try to do."
On Skal's confidence
"He was not real good yesterday, so I'm going to watch him today. Whether I start him or not probably will be dependent on what I see today. Like, what I saw the other day, he was unbelievable. I said, ‘I'm starting him. What do you think, Tyler?' Yeah, do it. Bang, starting.
"Then yesterday was like, ‘What's wrong? Are you crazy? We started you, you're finally fighting. What? What? Your toe, your back, finger? What is it?' But that's the process with these kids. And then you gotta hold them accountable. ‘Just pick him up and tell him he's OK.' Really?
"So when he looks in the mirror, he says, ‘I don't know what he's talking about. I'm not OK.' That's not how this works. I'm holding these kids accountable. I'm holding him accountable. I'm anxious to see. Derek practiced yesterday, made shots."
On Derek Willis playing vs LSU
"Oh, yeah. I don't think I'll start him. I might. You know me. I don't really care. But I doubt if I start him. But it was great yesterday having him out there."
On how Willis changed the team
"Yeah, yeah. He made us a different team. But there were times that if he didn't play rough, then we were really hurting in the post stuff. But he was never here, unless it was early season, with Alex. So we don't even know what this team looks like if I put him in with Alex. What's that team look like? We don't know. We have no idea."
On if he'll play them together now then
"Oh, yeah. Well, I don't know (if) a lot. Depends on how the game goes. The problem is somebody's gotta guard Ben Simmons, and it can't be a guard. If Derek can't guard him, we gotta figure out what we'll do."
On if he will be checking the score of the Texas A&M game
"I'll probably hear about it. Someone will tell me. I'll come out the game, and DeWayne (Peevy) will be wide-eyed. I'll be, ‘What? Tell me what.' So he'll probably say something. I won't be watching the game at all."
"We've got this game. LSU is a really good basketball team. They've got great talent. Obviously in Ben (Simmons), they've got one of the, if not the best player in college basketball. (Antonio) Blakeney is playing better. (Tim) Quarterman gave us fits last time.
"Their big guys, they rebound and they're tough. They've had some down times. So has Texas A&M and so has us and so has Vandy. We've all had a time or two where we haven't played well, but at the end of the day they're still elite, or one of the elites in our league.
"It's really funny the top four teams are playing each other the last day, which is really kind of interesting that you find out where your seed is going to be between you four by playing each other."
On if he's surprised LSU is projected to miss the tournament
"Well, they had Vandy there. You've got to play it out. You've got to play. They've got to play. We're going to play a desperate team, but I'm not worried about it. Every team we play is desperate. Every single team, every night, at home, on the road is desperate, and they're going to be desperate.
"It's good for us. That's what prepares us for March, and that's why our teams historically have played well in March: Because we never get an off night. Every game means something. And it's unfortunate that they're in that position, and let me say this, again, will it come into play?
"I don't know. They had their guard out the early season, which meant they probably would've won two more games, and if he had played and they won two more, we wouldn't be talking this way. We have been injured the whole year. I hate to tell you, I haven't heard anybody crying for Kentucky.
"Matter of fact, I haven't heard it mentioned that we've had guys out. Just how it is. But our league is that way, and Vandy early on didn't have that big kid, and they lost a couple games they'd have won. So it's all part of that. The best thing is you get a bunch of teams in the NCAA Tournament - I think we'll get five or six in - and what'll happen is we'll see how they advance.
"We've had teams advance to the Final Four. I think we've had two one year (2014), we've had final game a couple years, we've won the national title. I mean, this league has done well in the NCAA Tournament."