Cats taking one game at a time approach at SEC Tournament


Tammie Brown

Isaiah Jackson went up for a shot in a win over South Carolina last Saturday at Rupp Arena.

By Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON (KT) — John Calipari isn’t looking ahead going into the postseason.

“It’s one game, four times,” Calipari said. “One game.”

The Wildcats (9-15) open the Southeastern Conference against Mississippi State at noon Thursday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Normally, Kentucky’s path to the NCAA Tournament was simple and reaching the Big Dance didn’t require navigating a grueling schedule featuring four straight games. In addition, Kentucky is stacked in the same bracket as top-seeded Alabama and No. 4 seed Tennessee.

“I wish it was a full house because we’d have 17,000 fans there,” Calipari said. “My hope is our fans figure out a way of getting in anyway. Sneak in, jump through windows, do whatever. Have your mask on so they don’t know it’s you. Get in there.”

It won’t be that simple and attendance will resemble what Calipari witnessed at Rupp Arena this season. The arena will be at 20 percent capacity for the tournament and each school has been allotted 150 tickets for fans, family and friends. Attendance will be at 3,400 fans, eliminating Kentucky’s usual home-court advantage.

Despite a near-empty arena, the Wildcats plan on building on a 92-64 win over South Carolina in the team’s regular-season finale last Saturday.

“(We’re taking it one game at a time,” freshman Isaiah Jackson said. “We try not to think about the future. We just try to stay in the present. That’s the only thing that we can change or do anything about is the present. So, that’s what we’re doing. Taking it one game at a time, one day at a time, practice and everything. (We’re) just getting prepared.”

In addition to battling through a pandemic, the Wildcats battled through a roller-coaster campaign that began with a 1-6 start to open the season, Kentucky also has compiled two four-game losing streaks before winning four of its last six games going into the postseason.

Calipari said the bumpy ride has prepared his squad for what’s to come.

“When you look back, we have gone through the war and we have been scarred, but it prepares us,” he said. “Every game we play ends up being a two-bucket game right down to the stretch. And we’re fighting with every team, and you know what, that’s what prepares you.  Now you’re better off winning because you’ll have a little different attitude, but that only comes into play if they make a run at us is. I’ve got to convince them in those huddles to stay the course, to stop the bleeding, to make the easiest plays. Someone make a basket or two. We’re fine. That will be my job.”

Calipari hopes the Wildcats can make a successful run in the tourney.

“This is going to be some fun,” he said. “We’ve just got to get back to that. How do you want to finish this? And that’s what I’m saying to them. You can paint the picture you want. Our season is going to be 0-0 (going into the tournament).”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Mississippi State, noon, Thursday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.