John Calipari keeps Kentucky Wildcats' eyes on ultimate prize

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John Calipari keeps Kentucky Wildcats' eyes on ultimate prize

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Sat Mar 17, 2012 7:19 am

John Calipari keeps Kentucky Wildcats' eyes on ultimate prize

LOUISVILLE, KY. — The first step of the journey was a walkover.

With a national championship as the ultimate goal, Kentucky’s Wildcats barely broke a sweat in a 81-66 conquest of Western Kentucky on Thursday.

Don’t be fooled by the final score. Playing in front of a blue-hued crowd at KFC Yum! Center, the Wildcats jumped to a 10-0 lead after three minutes, went up by 19 at the half and stretched it to 32 at the 8:42 mark before coasting home.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finishing off games,” senior guard Darius Miller said.

Sometimes you wonder if the Big Blue’s biggest challenge is maintaining focus. It caught up with them down the stretch in the finals of the SEC tournament when Vanderbilt rallied to win, and it showed up again in the last five minutes against Western.

If nothing else, any late-game slippage provides a teachable moment for Kentucky Coach John Calipari. Considering how this season has gone, what else is he going to criticize?

“We had some breakdowns at the end,” Calipari said.

Judging from their body of work and their fast start in the NCAA Tournament, it will take something dramatic to derail the Big Blue Express this side of the Final Four.

But in keeping with the tradition of Kentucky basketball, there’s always a story brewing. One potential issue is the resignation of Mike D’Antoni as New York Knicks coach. Calipari’s name is on the front line of speculation about possible replacements.

Might this take the Wildcats’ eyes off the prize?

The question isn’t whether Calipari might decide to give the NBA another try after a previous failure with the New Jersey Nets. No, his challenge is to keep any speculation from being a distraction. And Calipari is slick enough and shrewd enough to keep these and any other rumors on hold for two-plus weeks while the NCAA Tournament bracket plays out.

Calipari has referred to the head coaching position at Kentucky as “the pinnacle of our profession.” He tweeted something to that effect on Wednesday and later added via Twitter:

“I love being the coach of the commonwealth’s team. To the #BBN (that’s Big Blue Nation for the tweet-impaired) and all the recruits that are coming or want to come, I will be at Kentucky.”

Calipari’s immediate concern, of course, is the NCAA Tournament. He’s made it clear that he is less than thrilled with the Wildcats’ draw in the bracket. As the overall No. 1 seed, he believes the ’Cats should not be in the same quadrant with Duke, Baylor and Indiana.

He didn’t come right out and say it, but Calipari might be suggesting that his past issues with the NCAA keep his team — be it UMass, Memphis or Kentucky — from getting the benefit of the doubt in the bracket.

“They stacked the region,” said Calipari, who joked that the selection committee might have tried to put the Miami Heat in the same region.

“… We play all comers right now. I’ve had some stuff thrown at my teams before.”

This is part of Calipari’s genius. He knows his ’Cats are the tournament favorite, yet he finds a way to cast Kentucky as an underdog that must overcome a perceived seeding slight.

“We know we’ve got to prove ourselves game after game,” Miller said.

As for this game, the demolition of Western Kentucky answered any question about a possible hangover from the Wildcats’ loss to Vanderbilt last Sunday. They’ve turned the page.

“We’ve got bigger goals,” said freshman center Anthony Davis, who was his usual superb self with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. Hard as it is to believe, Davis continues to get better as his freshman season — and likely his only college season — ticks down.

As good as Davis was, it was one of Kentucky’s veterans who keyed the fast start. And when you’re talking about the ’Cats, sophomore Terrence Jones is a veteran.

“He’s our leader on the court,” said freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jones stepped up with 15 first-half points and finished with a double-double –— 22 points and 10 rebounds. He was one of many personnel mismatches that Western simply couldn’t handle.

“That’s how we need him to play,” Calipari said. “He was a beast.”

And he’s playing on a beastly team.|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

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