Calipari hoping for bigger challenge

Calipari hoping for bigger challenge

UK coach John Calipari was happy with his team's blowout of Florida but wants to see how his Cats' respond in a tight contest.
UK coach John Calipari was happy with his team's blowout of Florida but wants to see how his Cats' respond in a tight contest.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - With a 78-58 win over No. 8 Florida Tuesday night, No. 1 Kentucky had its most dominant performance against a top-ten opponent since Rick Pitino's 1996-'97 NCAA runner-up UK team beat No. 8 Indiana 99-65. However, that's not what Cats' coach John Calipari was looking for. Huh?

After weeks of imploring his team to take it to the next level and step on the throat of opponents, Calipari's club has done just that over the last four games. Kentucky has beaten four consecutive SEC opponents by at least 20 points for the first time in the regular season since 1993. Enough of that, says Calipari. He's changed his mind about what he's looking for in a league game.

Coach Cal had tried to convince Solid Blue nation that his team needs a loss or two - to be manhandled, punched in the mouth, beaten so badly that it hurts the pride of his players. That, according to Calipari, would motivate his team to say, "that will never happen again," and propel his Cats to another level.

But without the "benefit" of a loss, this Kentucky team seems to have already found the next level and is unbeaten through ten SEC contests. That's UK's best start to the conference slate since Tubby Smith's 2002-'03 team ran the table in the league.

So, after holding the nation's leader in made three-pointers and three-point field goal percentage to 6-27 for 22.2% from beyond the arc, Calipari chalked it up to Florida just missing shots rather than a stellar defensive effort.

Hitting on all cylinders offensively - complete with lob dunks to Anthony Davis, aggressive drives through contact by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, hitting 9-15 from three-point range, including 4-5 for Doron Lamb - "I'm happy we won. It was a good win," said Calipari very flatly.

What does the coach want?

"What we need to do is have a team come out and go nutty on us and have us have to respond to that and then hold on to win a tight game," Calipari said.

He may get just what he wants Saturday. Kentucky visits Vanderbilt for a 9 PM ET tip-off in ESPN's College Gameday feature. The Commodores have underachieved this season, and a win over No. 1 Kentucky might be just the thing to get Vandy rolling toward a tournament run.

The game at Vanderbilt also fits into that "ripe for a let-down" mold. Kentucky is riding a 16-game win streak and coming off a chest-beating blowout of the SEC's second-place team, which was supposed to present the biggest threat to UK's supremacy in the league.

But what should be most unsettling for Solid Blue fans about Saturday's trip to Nashville is UK's recent history against the Commodores there. Kentucky has lost seven of its last ten trips to Vandy's Memorial Gym - and only won one of the last six visits.

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