Kentucky Basketball Notebook

Prior to last season, John Calipari made headlines when he suggested how much he’d like to coach an undefeated team.

That, uh, didn’t exactly pan out. Kentucky lost early and often before righting the ship and clawing its way to the national championship game with 10 Ls on its resume`.

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Now, with the top-ranked Wildcats sitting at 19-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC play, the undefeated talk is warming up again. But not from the UK boss, who says he can take it or leave it.

“It’s not about what I want. It’s what (the players) want,” Calipari said. “I have no idea. You would have to talk to them. We don’t ever talk about it. It hasn’t entered my mind.”

Clearly, though, it has. But perhaps not in the same fashion it did last season. Calipari now sounds like he’s debating whether this UK team would be better served losing at least one game.

On Tuesday, he had examples primed on demand.

“It all depends,” Calipari said. “When I was at Memphis, I believe we won our first 26 games (during the 2007-08 season). We’re playing Tennessee in our building, and there are 5,000 people outside of a 20,000-seat building watching it on screens. It is ridiculous. We’re going to win the game, and then we fumble the ball. They make a 3 at the buzzer to beat us by one.”

Memphis shook off the tough loss, won its next 12 games – including a 78-63 romp over a UCLA squad that featured current NBA All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love – and would have won the national championship if not for some shoddy free throw shooting late in the title game against Kansas.

Was it a “good loss” for the Tigers in the long run?

“It all depends on how you deal with it,” Calipari said. “For us, from that game, my team went whoop – ‘bing’ (pointing upward).”

He also cited UK’s loss at Indiana during the Cats’ 2011-12 championship season.

“Was that lucky for us or lucky for them?” Calipari said of the Hoosiers’ buzzer-beating, game-winner at Assembly Hall in December. Three months later, UK used the loss as inspiration in a 102-90 victory in the NCAA’s Sweet 16.

“There was no way my team wasn’t going to win that game,” he added.

For the time being, Calipari just wants the Cats focused on the next game. In this case, it’s Thursday night at Missouri.

“We’re just trying to get better,” he said. “We’ll deal with things as they come. We’ve got a great group of kids.”

No Division I men's team has pulled off the perfect season since Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 in 1976 en route to the national championship.

Calipari was asked Tuesday if he ever feels bad for a program like Missouri, which invested more than six years recruiting Tiger legacy Devin Booker only to see UK swoop in prior to his senior year and land his commitment.

“I’ve been on that side,” he said. “I’ve been at Memphis and Massachusetts, and I hate to tell you, no one felt sorry for me when Duke and North Carolina came.

“There were kids I recruited, I would always ask (rival coaches), ‘Are you recruiting the kid or not? Do you really want them?’ ‘Yeah?’ Staff: ‘Go get somebody else. We’re not beating that.’”

Calipari understands why some rivals may get frustrated by UK’s unparalleled recruiting success, but says the track record ultimately makes the difference.

“When you look at how much guys have gotten better, that’s why they come here,” he said. “There were 25 guys better than him (Devin Booker) in that class? I mean, phew, there are 25 good ones out there. And again, you know, ‘Well, only one-and-dones come here. He was a one-and-done before he came here?’ I’m proud of him and happy for what he’s doing. I would say his dad is extremely happy, but Missouri wasn’t the only one that recruited him for five years. There were some other people that recruited him for a long time.”

Booker, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is coming off his third consecutive SEC Freshman of the Week honor. He’s averaging 10.8 points per game and shooting an eye-popping 50 percent (36 of 72) from 3-point range this season.

On Thursday, Booker will be facing his father’s alma mater. Melvin Booker was an All-American for Mizzou in 1994.

Asked about the play of Willie Cauley-Stein, who has been touted by some as a national player of the year candidate, Calipari said he has largely been pleased with his junior center.

“He’s playing well,” the UK boss said. “I mean, he still needs to do some stuff for us offensively, but I think he’s doing fine. He’s like having a sixth defender out there, and our pick-and-roll defense is really good (with him on the floor) based on the fact that we can switch with him.”

On Saturday in a win over South Carolina, Cauley-Stein became the first player in program history to record more than 200 blocked shots and 100 steals in a career. But Calipari thinks the 7-footer can do even more to boost his 9.1 scoring average and 6.7 rebounding average.

“More offensive rebounding, catching it three or four feet from the goal (and) get fouled,” Calipari said. “Right now he’s made 85 percent of his free throws the last five or six games, whatever that is, so get fouled. Go in there and ball fake and get fouled. He’s working on a better base, being stronger.”

NBA Draft Express currently has Cauley-Stein projected as the No. 6 pick in the 2015 draft.

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