KEITH TAYLOR: Kentucky Gunning for Fourth Straight SEC Tournament Title
Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t a fan of conference tournaments. But he may have to bend a little this time around, considering the Wildcats have an opportunity to improve their seeding going into first leg of the postseason.
Kentucky takes on Missouri or Georgia in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9 in St. Louis. Despite losing their regular-season finale at Florida last weekend, the Wildcats earned a No. 4 seed and double-bye, giving UK more time to prepare for the tournament opener, much-needed following a paltry performance in Gainesville.
Calipari has tabbed co-champion Auburn and Tennessee as the favorites to capture the tournament title and added the Wildcats will have to emulate the success they had during a four-game winning streak last month to be successful.
“They won the league,” Calipari said earlier this week. “Tennessee, you gotta remember, Tennessee lost their first two games and we had them down 10 or 12 in the first half of their third game, and Rick (Barnes) got that team right. And from that point on, you know what their record is. So I think both Tennessee and Auburn will have the advantage, but the rest of us, you know, you're just going to fight like heck and see what happens."
Kentucky’s players aren’t concerned with their team's seeding going into the tournament.
“I don’t think we’re too worried about our seeding for the SEC Tournament” Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We’re just trying to be the best team that we can be in the postseason, and that’s one of the things he’s drilled into us during the regular season. Nothing really matters until March, to win games in March, to be able to be a really good basketball team and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Gilgeous -Alexander doesn’t think the Wildcats will revert this weekend, an issue last weekend at Florida.
“I think the good team will show up in St. Louis,” he said. “We’ve watched a lot (of film) the last couple of days. We realized we messed up and where we went wrong. I think we’re all in the right mindset, we just have to try and fix them (the mistakes).”
Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t think there will be a problem correcting the team’s mental errors and added the recent four-game winning streak gave the Wildcats more confidence.
“I think the streak helped a lot because we know what we did well during that streak to play as well as we did,” he said. “We just have to go back to it.”
Kevin Knox, the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, wasn’t surprised by Kentucky’s roller-coaster ride throughout the season.
“I knew we would have some ups and downs,” he said. “All freshmen have their bumps in the road. There’s a lot of obstacles and stuff like that. We went through that and we had our bad times, we had our good times, but, like I said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I wouldn’t trade my teammates for anything else. I’m glad I came here. I really loved the season. I think we’re in a great spot right now, but definitely we can improve and we will over the next couple weeks.”
Gilgeous-Alexander said a do-or-die mentality will give Kentucky an added incentive during the postseason.
“(The mentality) is to just go at other teams,” he said. “It’s us against the world. Yeah, we’re just going to try and compete as hard as possible. I think if we compete and do what coach wants us to do, we’ll be fine.”
Kentucky has won the SEC tourney the last three years.
Keith Taylor is a veteran and award-winning sports writer based in Richmond, Ky. He has been covering University of Kentucky athletics for daily newspapers and web-site publications for the past 25 years. Taylor currently is sports editor for Kentucky Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.