U.K. Ends Regular Season at 31-0

Only a handful of teams have finished the regular season undefeated and the U.K. Wildcats have matched them. Wichita St. ran the table last season before losing to the Cats in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky now sets their sites on the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament. UK must win 9 more games to become the first team since Indiana ran the table in the 1970’s.

(All Notes courtesy of UK Athletics. Calapari interview by Midwest News & Sports – Tammie Brown)

Florida at Kentucky, Men’s Basketball – Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., March 7, 2015 – FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 67, Florida 50

  • Kentucky is 31-0, 18-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is 15-16 overall, 8-10 in league play.
  • Kentucky leads the series 96-37.
  • With 31 consecutive victories …
    • It extended the longest season-opening win streak for any team in SEC history.
    • It is the second-longest overall win streak in Kentucky history.
    • It extended the longest win streak for a John Calipari-coached team.
  • At 31-0, Kentucky has become the first team from a “power five” conference to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana did so in 1976.
  • This is the 15th time in school history that Kentucky has made an undefeated run in the Southeastern Conference regular season and the second time under Coach John Calipari (also 2012).
  • Kentucky set a school record with 19 home wins, eclipsing the record of 18 home wins set in 1985-86, 2009-10 and 2011-12.
    • It is the 12th time in the 39-year history of Rupp Arena that UK was undefeated at home in a season and the fourth time in six years under Calipari.
  • Kentucky is 208-27 all-time when ranked No. 1 and has won 53 of the last 55 games as The Associated Press top-ranked team.
  • UK is 50-1 all-time as the No. 1-ranked team in Rupp Arena.
  • Calipari has led three schools to a No. 1 ranking (Massachusetts, Memphis, Kentucky) and has a 97-9 record as the top-ranked coach, including 56-4 at UK.
  • Calipari is now 183-37 (.832) as head coach at Kentucky, the best winning percentage of any coach in UK history.
  • UK was behind for 4:43 today. The Wildcats have trailed for only 169:53 of a possible 1,255 minutes this season.
  • Kentucky plays Friday at 1 p.m. EDT in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Team Notes

  • Key stats for the Cats:
    • UK got to the foul line 21 times, making 15.  The Wildcats committed just nine fouls in the game and UF made 3 of 7 at the charity stripe.
    • UK won points off turnovers, 16-12.  UK has won or tied points off turnovers in every game this season.
    • UK won bench points 46-13. UK has won bench points in every game this season.
  • Kentucky’s streak of 929 consecutive games with a 3-pointer was extended when Devin Booker hit a three at the 2:53 mark of the first half.
  • UK held Florida to 50 points. UK is 111-5 under Coach Calipari when holding the opponent to 63 or fewer points. UK is 57-0 under Calipari when limited the opponent to 55 or fewer points.

First-Half Facts

  • Photos by Tammie Brown Exclusively for Midwest News and Sports
    Photos by Tammie Brown Exclusively for Midwest News and Sports

    Kentucky’s opening lineup featured Brian Long, Sam Malone, Tod Lanter, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns for the first time season. Long, Malone and Lanter played the first 23 seconds and then left the game for substitutions.

  • Kentucky scored the first five points of the game but Florida rallied to go ahead 11-7.
  • The teams went back-and-forth after that. UK went ahead for good at 26-23 and Kentucky took a 30-27 edge into halftime.

Second-Half Story

  • Kentucky started the second half with Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein.
  • UF drew within 36-35 with a couple of 3-pointers. The Gators hit five of their first nine long balls.
  • Ahead 44-41, UK got a 7-0 run for a 51-41 lead. UF got no closer than eight after that.
  • Kentucky’s largest lead was 67-49.

Player Notes

  • Trey Lyles led the Wildcat with 14 points.  He has averaged 11.3 over the last seven games and has grabbed at least four rebounds in each game.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns had a fine all-around game with 13 points, a game-high nine rebounds, six blocked shots and three assists.
    • Towns has averaged 14.2 points over the last five games.
    • His blocked shots was one shy of his career high of seven rejections.
    • His three assists was one shy of his career best of four.
  • Devin Booker scored six points with a pair of huge 3-pointers. With the game tied at 23, his 3-ball gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. In the second half, ahead 44-41, his 3-pointer started a 7-0 run which put the Wildcats ahead by 10 and the Gators got no closer than eight after that.
  • Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone got the first starts of their UK careers on Senior Day.

An interview with: COACH JOHN CALIPARI

THE MODERATOR:  Questions.

1. How much emphasis do you put on 31‑0 with so much more to go?

COACH CALIPARI:  The only thing I keep telling them is I’m so proud and I respect them so much to be able to deal with this.  I mean, not only every game is an event, every game they played this year is an event, every game is somebody’s Super Bowl.  Every game the coach would walk off the court and say that was the best we played all year.  They took on the challenges.

It’s not only you coming at them, it’s people around them coming at them.  They were able to shield that and play for each other.  They are able to play for each other.  They did it again today.

Billy is trying to work his way through guys being injured, trying to come back.  They were ready to play us, great game plan, what Florida did to us.  We had that one stretch, probably five minutes of the game, that we won the game.  That’s okay.  That stuff happens sometimes.

 

  1. Talk about Karl(-Anthony Towns) in that five‑minute stretch.

COACH CALIPARI:  Well, look, I keep trying to explain to Karl, you are so good, you don’t have to do anything crazy, so why do you keep trying to do crazy stuff?  You’re too good a player.

Now, if you’re not that good a player, you try to do something crazy so people see you.  Like, ‘Wow, did you see that?’  The rest of the time the dude stinks.

He doesn’t need it.  But he’s young.  When we needed him to play at the end, he played.  Now I’m on him.  He goes 13‑9 in 27 minutes, six blocks, three assists, one steal.  We all know how good he is.

But I’m on him because I want him to be the best.  I don’t want him to be just a good big, I want him to be the best.  He’s working toward that.

Again, you had Trey Lyles today.  You’re starting to see how good he is.  Trey Lyles is as good as anybody in the country.  Our guard play, Andrew (Harrison), Aaron (Harrison), Devin (Booker), Tyler (Ulis), they played well.  Dakari Johnson played well.  Dakari played better defense than Karl did, to be honest with you.

 

  1. Early in the season you were saying if this team loses one game, they need to lose it now.  With them going 31‑0, would a loss in the SEC tournament hurt or help?

COACH CALIPARI:  I’m not a big fan of tournaments.  Never have been.  Three games in three days.  What does that do for you?  I mean, I don’t think it does anything.  I’m not a big fan.

But this place is a different animal.  Our fans who can’t get in this building…  You’re saying, “What do you mean, there’s 25,000 (fans)?”  There’s probably another 100,000 that want to come that can’t get tickets.  They come to the Tournament, they spend their rent money, mortgage money, their car money.  They get money, take loans, and they go to the tournament because they can’t get in here.

We all talked about it.  We’re going to play for our fans.  It’s not going to have a bearing on our seed in the tournament.  It will have no bearing.  It never has.  Maybe this year it will have a bearing if we lose, I don’t know.  But winning has never had a bearing on the NCAA selection stuff, never.

So we can’t promise we’re going to win every game, but we want to go have fun for our fans.  We want them to enjoy the experience that we respect what they’re doing to get there.  So it’s a weekend for our fans and for us to enjoy them.

 

  1. Was that decision after the game to have the celebration with the T‑shirts? Was that up to the players?

COACH CALIPARI:  I didn’t really have anything to do with it.  It’s nice.  I didn’t really see it.  I kind of walked off the court.

What did they do?

 

  1. They got T‑shirts, held them up.

COACH CALIPARI:  That’s really nice (smiling).

 

  1. I asked you yesterday how it should be remembered if you finish an undefeated regular season, not counting what happens next.  You said, “We could lose the game.”  You didn’t.  Billy talked about how people should take a minute to appreciate how hard this is to do.

COACH CALIPARI:  I would tell you what these kids have accomplished, and as young as they are, it’s not winning every game; it’s that they shared.  You got Andrew (Harrison) and Aaron (Harrison).  I didn’t start them in the second half because I never do.  Think about that.  You know how good those two are?

Trey Lyles, who I’m telling you is as good as any player in the country, steps back so Dakari and the guards and these guys can step up.  Our guards, sharing with each other, you know, passing.  That’s the story.

This is a great story for college athletics, for society.  Instead of me, me, me, it’s us, us, us.  When you do that, we all benefit.  Every one of these players has benefited by this.  I’m not just talking about they won.  No, their stock personally has risen, every one of them.

This is how this is supposed to work.  We do this together, everyone benefits.  Not the school, not the coach, all the players benefit.  That’s what’s happening and I’m proud of them.

 

  1. Despite all of this and the pressures of being undefeated, these guys seem like they’re really loose, having fun with this run.  Do you like that?  Do you see it as well?

COACH CALIPARI:  I think, again, the one worry I had prior to the game was I wonder if they’re feeling this.  I’m older.  I’ve been through so much.  You shoot me, it goes through a bazooka hole, OK. I’ve been shot at so much.  I’ve been through the grind of this.  They haven’t.

Willie Cauley, you think about it, he was on a team that went to the NIT, lost to Robert Morris.  All of a sudden you’re in this boat, on this team?

The biggest thing I’m trying to tell these guys, I’m telling my staff, man, we all have to stay connected and enjoy this.  I’ll tell you, I would imagine ‑ just saying ‑ there will be some stuff written and said.  I want to tell you all, no one will steal my joy.  If you want to attack what we’re doing, be nasty about it, have at it.  You’re not stealing my joy.  Coaching this team, with these kind of kids, you’re not stealing my joy (smiling).

 

  1. Since you’re in such a joyous mood, was that part of the reason for starting the three seniors that you did?

COACH CALIPARI:  What would you have done if we would have lost this game?  How many of you would have said, “How could he do that, start these kids with this on the line?”

Let’s think about it.  I keep telling you this is about these players, it’s about them.  What about those three?

The reason I started them is I wanted a picture of them starting.  We’re framing it.  CBS is going to get me the starting lineups with their names on it.  It’s going to be framed.  I told them prior to the game, 35 years from now you can say you started.  Who the hell knows (smiling)?

In the end, the students wanted them back in.  I listened to the students.

 

  1. You’ve obviously achieved a lot.  Now you have the perfect regular season.  How will you view this year if it doesn’t end with a national championship?

COACH CALIPARI:  Well, it’s not that.  It’s on the 28th of June.  That’s my last day.  That’s draft day.  We’ll see.  I’ll be able to tell you after that.

Eight or nine guys get drafted, I’m going to be very happy for whatever happens.  I’ll be really happy.

 

  1. You’re already an odds‑on favorite to win the NCAA tournament before the selections have been made.

COACH CALIPARI:  You don’t know the bracket yet.  I can guess the bracket.  Do you want me to guess it for you?

 

  1. Sure.

COACH CALIPARI:  I bet you they slide the Lakers in there (smiling).  I can give you the names.  You’ll say, You’re not in that room, how did you know?

 

  1. As a follow‑up, do you think that’s a realistic evaluation of your chances?

COACH CALIPARI:  I don’t know.  I mean, I’m going to try my hardest to keep these guys in the moment.  What I told them after the game, “I want you to think of us as if each of you is the best version of yourself.  If you know you’re not, you got to ask the question of yourself, ‘Why am I not what I should be?’ ”

By getting all these kids, worrying about them playing well, worrying about them, if that’s not good enough, I’m telling you, I can live with it.  I had to live with a nine‑point lead with 2:20 to go and missing free throws.  You know what, I live with it because our kids gave everything they could.  Missing free throws down the stretch.  I’ll live with it.  I’ll live with what the result is.

I’m telling you again, I know our fans get mad when I say this, my concern is our players.  If we do right by them, they’ll drag us where we’re trying to go.

If Andrew and Aaron are driving the ball, not settling. If Tyler and Devin are playing their best. If Trey Lyles gives you what he gave you today.  If Karl plays like he did the last five minutes.  Willie hasn’t been there the last two games.  Missing shots, missing free throws, that’s not who he is.  What if he’s at his best?  What if Marcus Lee is in blocking shots like he did against Michigan?  What if Dakari is playing like he did today, making free throws, baskets, flying around, great defense?

Man, you start looking around, Boy, are they really good.  We’re unselfish.  We got to get a bunch of guys playing their best.  That’s the whole goal.

I’m going to say this again.  You all know I’m not looking for two guys to score, the rest of you play defense, take charges, get rebounds, set screens.  I want all these kids to play basketball.  I want them all to do the things they can do.

 

  1. If this is the best version of themselves, if they live up to their potential, is this your best Kentucky team?

COACH CALIPARI:  I don’t compare.  I’ve had good teams here.  I’ve had good teams at UMass.  I’ve had good teams at Memphis.  Like really, really good teams.

This team’s a good team.  This may be one of the deeper teams I’ve had.  I’m doing stuff, platooning and doing stuff I’ve never done before.  This is a good group.

Thank you.

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