“For this team, one of the youngest teams that’s probably ever played here – against a ridiculously tough schedule – to do this, oh, it’s great for these kids, and I’m loving it,” Calipari said Wednesday night on his weekly radio show.
“Our folks should understand (how big it is) or this would have been done before… It’s a great accomplishment for these kids.”
Top-ranked Kentucky won its 26th consecutive game to start the season on Tuesday at Tennessee, pulling away from an inspired Volunteer team in the second half for a 66-48 victory. Thousands of blue-clad fans made their way to Knoxville to witness history, and many hung around Thompson-Boling Arena long after the game ended to celebrate the accomplishment with the Cats.
It was just the latest time that Kentucky rose to the occasion against an opponent primed for its “Super Bowl,” as Calipari likes to say.
“After the game, I can’t remember who hit me and just said, ‘Amazing. Every game is an event, and you guys have to keep marching. You can’t have an off-day. You can’t play poorly. You gotta play with unbelievable energy, and you’re doing it all season long,” the UK boss noted.
Calipari now wants the Cats to get refocused on their bigger goals.
“You gotta finish,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you start. You gotta finish, and my focus right now is keeping us on a path, keeping the dialogue away from stuff that really doesn’t matter and back to us getting better, individuals getting better.”
Mental focus is one of the keys as tournament time approaches.
“Our strength is in the pack,” Calipari said. “If you choose to wander away from the pack, and you get chewed up, you gotta look at yourself.”
Kentucky (13-0 SEC) has five regular season games remaining -- at home against Auburn, Arkansas and Florida and on the road at Mississippi State and Georgia -- before opening tournament play.
If the Cats win those five games and their first game in the SEC Tournament, they'll also match the longest winning streak in school history (32) spanning the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons.
'RIDING THE PONY'
Calipari made light of all the attention Kentucky has gotten from ESPN during its perfect season to date.
“They want to mic me up every game, and I’m saying ‘Nah,’” he said. “I did enough of that stuff. I already told ESPN you’re doing me pregame, you’re doing me postgame, you’re doing me walking out, trying to talk to me during the game…
"But, you have to understand why. They’re riding this pony. This pony is Kentucky basketball. They’re riding the pony. Our (ratings), just so you know, are ridiculous, so they’re just jumping on… I’m seeing infomercials on them promoting our game. A minute infomercial for Kentucky basketball. And then, when our game ends, go to SportsCenter and talk about how our NBA players are playing.”
As USA Today’s The Big Lead documented last week, UK has actually been a bigger draw than the NBA at times this season, even when the pro matchups feature some of the most notable stars in the game.
Kentucky’s games against Florida and LSU drew 3.2 million and 2.4 million viewers, respectively, more than games featuring popular NBA clubs like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat (1.59 million) in LeBron James’ first game against his previous team. Only three NBA games this season have topped the Cats’ matchup with the Gators.
CAL ON DELK JERSEY RETIREMENT:
Kentucky will hoist a new jersey to the Rupp Arena rafters on Saturday when Tony Delk’s popular “00” takes its place among the legends to play for the Wildcats.
“What he is, not only a basketball player, but what a great guy,” Calipari said. “A good person. Always has a smile on his face. Always upbeat. Just a good person, a good man. I’m happy for him.
Delk will become the 43rd jersey honoree during a ceremony at halftime of UK’s game against Auburn. The All-American guard, who scored 24 points and made seven 3-pointers in the Cats’ 1996 national championship win over Syracuse, remains the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (283) while ranking second in career steals (201) and fifth in scoring (1,890). Only Dan Issel, Kenny Walker, Jack Givens and Keith Bogans have scored more points with the Cats.
He is one of only three players (Delk, Givens, Cotton Nash) to lead UK in scoring three years in a row.
“And he played with a lot of good players,” Calipari noted.