The Kentucky basketball coach liked a lot his team did — only four turnovers, 20 assists, five players in double figures — in Saturday's 87-63 win over Portland exactly one week before the highly anticipated showdown with No. 1 North Carolina in Rupp Arena.
However, there was something Calipari liked even better on this day — UK's 10-7 win over Tennessee in football that snapped a 26-year losing steak to the Vols even though the Cats had to depend on receiver turned quarterback Matt Roark to lead the way (and apparently the Rupp Arena faithful felt the same way considering Roark's midcourt appearance got the biggest ovation of the game).
"I've got to tell you, I've been doing this a long time. Coaching is coaching, whether it is baseball, basketball, volleyball. For our football team to do what they did today, for Joker (Phillips) and his staff to keep that team together and do what they did with a wide receiver at quarterback, that may go down as one of the greatest wins in the history of our athletic department," Calipari said to start his postgame press conference.
"If you have coached, you would say that is unbelievable. My hat's off to that team and their staff and Joker. Matt Roark, I've got to go hug this guy, rub up against him. That's unbelievable. That would have been like sticking me at quarterback. Here Cal, you go play quarterback. What did he run for, 100-some yards? Put his head down and ran people over trying to get first downs."
Calipari said the football team's play should teach everyone there is always hope and that sometimes in injuries or adversity, teams rally. His team might be doing the same, and could have to if it wants to be an older, more experienced North Carolina.
Three things stood out more to Calipari about Saturday's performance than anything you will find on the stat sheet, and all are potential huge points for Kentucky.
First, Darius Miller. The likable senior from Mason County stuff the stat line again — 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, five rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot. He continues to show coming off the bench is no problem for him. Calipari said Miller accepting that role "is huge for us" because he's playing well enough to start. "I told him in front of his team, just understand when this thing is all said and done, there's no one that's going to fight for you more than me and our staff," the Kentucky coach said. "I will fight when th is thing is all said and done to make sure you're in good shape because of what you're doing."
Second, Terrence Jones. He knows he's a better player than last year yet the preseason All-American is scoring less because he's even more team-oriented.
"Guys, he was a lottery pick that chose to come back, and he's just playing," Calipari said. "He's not worried about scoring points. He's a way better player, way stronger, way more skilled. Just not scoring as many points because he doesn't have to on this team."
Jones still scored 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting and had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. But he's as proud of his leadership as his numbers.
"I?am more comfortable talking and saying things on the court because that is my role for this team," Jones said.
Third, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. If he had played in the UK-Tennessee football game, he would have been trying to run over Vols for first downs, too. He's that tough.
He's also that team oriented because he came to Calipari and offered to go back to a sixth-man role so Miller, a senior, could start.
"That's the kind of team we have right now," Calipari said. "The question is when the lights go on in these big games do we continue to feel that way and that's something we're going to see." Don't worry about Kidd-Gilchrist, who had 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. The bright lights won't change him in big games.
"Big names mean nothing to me. I just go play to have fun and play my game no matter who we are playing," Kidd-Gilchrist said. Why offer to sit on the bench so Miller could start?
"That's just who I am. I look up to Darius. I look up to his leadership. He is the key to this team and that's why I said that (about coming off the bench)," Kidd-Gilchrist said. Kentucky depended on spurts to put away Portland and played well at times and not so well at others.
"Every is that way. The (Miami) Heat, too," Kidd-Gilchrist joked. "But there was a stretch in the second half where we really played good. I think we are going to be really good in the long run. We are still young and just learning." He's right but just as the football team proved against Tennessee, a team that sticks together, believes in what the coach says and doesn't worry about who the star might be can do a lot of things.