Kentucky coach John Calipari likes the way his team is playing going into Thursday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Princeton in Tampa.
The Wildcats (25-8) will carry a six-game winning streak in the prestigious event and seems to be hitting their stride at the right time.
“Most of my teams have played their best basketball down the stretch and have played with some emotion, passion, and have had fun playing,” Calipari said earlier this week. “(After the Southeastern Conference Tournament) someone asked me if it looked like they were having fun and they were having a ball - that’s the whole thing.
“You’re team has to be the one that everybody looks at and says, ‘man, they are having a ball.’”
The Wildcats were especially giddy after they gained revenge on Ole Miss and Alabama in the first two rounds of the Southeastern Conference Tournament before closing out the four-day event with a 70-54 win over Florida in the finals.
”This team fought like crazy (in the SEC Tournament) and had a great run,” Calipari said. “Now we need to see if we can keep it rolling.”
Although Calipari wasn’t pleased with his team’s placement as a No. 4 seed in the East Region, Calipari still wants the Cats to make a solid showing. Kentucky has made a solid showing in tournament games played in Tampa and has compiled a 4-1 record. The team’s most memorable contest was an 86-84 win over Duke to reach the Final Four en route to its seventh national title in 1998.
“I don’t care who we play or where we play,” Calipari said. “I want my team to play well. As long as we do that, (we’ll be OK). If you’re a higher seed and you beat a lower seed, you become that seed. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Tigers enter the tournament with a 25-6 record after winning the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Although Princeton hasn’t been a typical first-round opponent for the Cats, Calipari said he expects a challenge.
“Princeton is going to be good,” he said. “They run a great offense and they’re good. The first game will be hard and the second game will be really hard. The third game will be impossible – it will be one of those games where you better play great, because they’re (a heck of a team) and then you just go from there.”
Kentucky is 101-45 overall and will be making its 51st appearance in the NCAAs. … The Wildcats have an all-time record of 22-3 in opening round games and have won 18 of their past 19 games to open the tourney. … Kentucky is 2-1 in games played as a No. 4 seed. … Kentucky is first in all-time wins in the tournament with 102, followed by North Carolina (101), UCLA (94), Duke (90), Kansas (85), Louisville (60) and Indiana (60). … The Wildcats own a 2-1 record against Princeton. Kentucky defeated the Tigers 72-59 in the last meeting between the two schools in 1977 and beat Princeton in the 1972 UKIT. The Tigers beat the Cats in the first meeting in 1936. Kentucky owns a 12-3 record in games played against Ivy League programs.
Story by Keith Taylor