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Keion Brooks and Olivier Sarr preview SEC Tournament

The Cats have to win four games in four days to clinch a spot in the Big Dance.

Olivier Sarr UK Athletics

It’s postseason time for the Kentucky Wildcats, as they’ll look to make a miraculous run through the SEC Tournament this week in hopes of making it into the NCAA Tournament.

Up first, the Cats take on Mississippi State in Thursday’s second-round action. The winner of that game will advance to Friday’s action vs. the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide.

On Tuesday, senior center Olivier Sarr and sophomore forward Keion Brooks met with the media to preview the fun in Nashville. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

Keion Brooks

On what he remembers from last year’s tournament when the postseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic …

“The night before it was canceled, we all had a pretty good feeling we were going to get shut down. We went to our scheduled shootaround the next morning. I officially knew it was over once we went to shootaround and Cal didn’t say nothing for the whole hour we had on the court. He just let us shoot around and do whatever. He called us in and said, ‘They’re canceling the tournament. Possibly going to cancel the NCAA Tournament as well.’ That’s how that went down. It was sad. We didn’t really have a chance to make a run, but unfortunate things happen sometimes.”

On if John Calipari’s success in the SEC Tournament gives them confidence …

“It does. The head man, when he’s been through it before and went through these tournaments and won plenty of games and won the tournament multiple times, you know the man who is leading you through the fire knows what he’s doing. That gives us extreme confidence going into it.”

On how well Dontaie Allen shot the ball in practice on Monday as Calipari said on his radio show Monday night …

“Dontaie shot the ball extremely well. That’s what we need Dontaie to do. We’ve all had his back all year. We get mad at Dontaie when he doesn’t shoot the ball because we know how good of a shooter he is. He brings a different element to our team. Yesterday Dontaie shot the lights out.”

On why he is reluctant to shoot it sometimes …

“I don’t know. That is a question you would have to ask Dontaie. All I can say is, like I said before, anytime he has an inch of daylight to get it off, we want him to put it up.”

On if Allen has pressure as home-state player and a fan favorite that weighs on his mind …

“Once again, that’s something you would have to speak to Dontaie about. I don’t have the ability to jump inside his mind, but our whole team is backing him and all we want is to see him do well. If he is feeling pressure, I hope that he knows that we’re with him no matter what.”

On the postseason being new to him since he didn’t get to play in one last season …

“We’ve just got to be ready for war every single time we step out on that court. We know what position we’re in and we know what we have to do to get it done. It’s not going to be easy. We know it’s going to be difficult. But our coaching staff has put together game plans to help us succeed and help us be the best on the court. We have to go out there and execute, go out there, and fight and go out there and give it all we’ve got.”

On what he is looking forward to with the path they have ahead …

“I look forward to seeing what we’re really made of. We have a tough task ahead of us, but I really believe it’s something we can do. Let’s go out there and see what we can really do.”

On what he learned from the disappointment of last season’s tournament getting canceled and then missing the first part of this season with an injury …

“It made me put things in perspective and try not to take things for granted. It’s easy to just think that every day I can get up and play basketball with no worries, but once the tournament was taken away from us and then me dealing with the injury, the game was taken away from me for a while. It’s difficult, but God puts things in your way that you can handle, testing your strength. I got through it and now have another challenge ahead with four games in four days, if we can do it. So, let’s go make it happen.”

On how not playing in front of a full crowd this season has affected them this season and how that might affect them at an event this week that is usually dominated by Kentucky fans …

“I think it plays a role, especially home games. Even away games because our fans do travel really well, and when you go on runs and you get to hear your fans cheering “Go Big Blue!” or just out there showing extreme support, that could probably stifle the other teams at times and get in there head a little bit. But we’ve got to play with the cards we’re dealt and we’ve got to go out there – whether our fans are able to be there or not – we’ve got to go out there and compete.”

On what is the most important thing this team will have to do well to win the tournament this week …

“It comes down to, did we fight or not? Four games in four days is tough. If you want to do that, you’ve got to go out there and fight every single possession of every single game. If we do that, we’ve got a really good chance of, like you said, be dancing in that confetti when it’s all over.”

On what he remembers about the first game vs. Mississippi State …

“I didn’t play that game, but from what I can remember, they’ve got two really good guards that can make shots. They’ve got some big guys in the interior that can really rough it up and make it difficult for you around the rim. And then also Coach was thrown out that game and Dontaie came in and played extremely well, shot the ball well. We wouldn’t have won that game without Dontaie. That’s really all I can tell you because I was sitting on the sideline watching.”

On what it’s like not being able to be sequestered due to safety protocols during the postseason run …

“It’s a business trip. I don’t know where we would be going out to anyway if we were allowed to leave. We’re out here to win four games in four days. I don’t see what other attraction or anything else you would want to go when we’ve got the task in front of us that we do.”

Olivier Sarr

On Dontaie Allen’s performance in practice on Monday …

“He shot it really well. We scrimmaged a little bit and he was shooting really well.”

On the impact a 3-point threat has on the team’s offense …

“Well, I mean, that helps us rely on somebody offensively and also spaces the court for everybody else. So, that’s great for us and that’s always been great for us.”

On where he was a year ago when all of the conference tournaments were being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic …

“So, at that time last year we, Wake (Forest), we played our first ACC (Tournament) game. We lost the game, so our season was over, but we were still waiting for the other games in the tournament. We were on the bus going back to campus and everything happened really quick and we saw every conference canceling every tournament. It was crazy.”

On how grateful he is to have a postseason opportunity considering what happened last season …

“A lot more, a lot more. I think we all, everybody saw how fragile all of that went last year when everything happened with the pandemic, and I think we are all grateful to be out there playing the game that we love.”

On when the season began if he had doubts he would be able to even get to a postseason …

“Yeah, I mean, I think all of us had some questions about it. We didn’t really know how the year would go, and lucky enough, we get a postseason. We get a chance to compete, so that’s pretty amazing.”

On what Saturday’s win can do for the team going into the tournament …

“Just the way we played, the intensity, the way we shared the ball, the way we had fun, the way we had fun and enjoyed playing, and just how everybody competed and how we played together as a team.”

On the team’s sense of urgency and how much the last month has prepared the team for what lies ahead …

“I think we all had in mind that we would have to do big things, you know, one game at a time starting in postseason. So, we knew that as it was getting closer and closer we would have to focus and get ready for every game, and it doesn’t matter the outcome. That’s what Coach told us. It would be important just to learn from that. Just being able to play winning basketball and then it will take care of the rest. I think that’s what we try and do every game for the past month like you said. Hopefully it will keep going on a run for the postseason.”

On his prior performance against Mississippi State giving him confidence entering Thursday’s rematch …

“I mean, you know, it’s one game. You can’t just base yourself off of that one game. It was in January. But I think we are prepared. It’s a team that we’ve faced already, and we’ve watched a lot of film. We’re doing a great job getting ready for that game, and hopefully we’ll be ready when the time comes.”

On if the team believes it can win four games in a row to win the SEC Tournament …

“I don’t think we care about being realistic or anything. We just care about winning games, and we’re going to have to win games. That’s all it is. That’s the only way we have, and that’s the only way we’re thinking. We’re not thinking about–it’s not about a dream or reality or whatever. It is what it is. So, we’re going to go out there game by game and take it one game at a time and then we’ll see.”

On if Allen feels pressure to perform as an instate player …

“I think he has some pressure, like we all do. But I can only imagine being from Kentucky and having all of these expectations. I think he has his times sometimes, but we all do.”

On why the team believes it can win four games in a row when it hasn’t all season …

“Because we’ve shown that we had all of these teams, you know, really close. Either we won or we lost by less than five points or something like that. So, I think it’s something that like you said, we haven’t done yet, but we’ve showed that we’re the team that can do it. So, we all believe in ourselves.”

On Calipari providing the team confidence based on his success at the SEC Tournament …

“I mean, yeah. That’s great numbers and I mean Coach is ready. I know that he will get us prepared and I know that we will be prepared to go out there and compete.”

On Terrence Clarke’s chances of playing this week …

“Well, like Coach said, I think that’s something that you’ll have to ask the coach. I’m not in position to answer anything about that. But we’ll see.”

On the team being an underdog this week …

“I don’t think we want to prove anything to anybody. We just rely on whoever is in the locker room. That’s all we got and we’ve just got to go out there and go on a run. At that point, it’s just what it is.”

On his chemistry with Isaiah Jackson …

“I think it’s just, you know, we’re a new team so all of these connections they kind of clicked later in the season. I think that’s what happened. It’s just being out there and getting to play together all of the time, game after game, and I think a lot of things clicked and I think that’s what you mean and that’s what it is.”