Wildcats shift focus to Missouri

LEXINGTON— John Calipari isn’t sure whether Friday’s report linking current and former Kentucky players to an FBI probe into college players receiving impermissible payments will affect his team against Missouri Saturday.

“I don’t know,” Calipari said Friday prior to the team’s afternoon practice session. “I haven’t met (with the players) yet, so I don’t know.”

Although his team’s immediate reaction to report is unknown, Calipari knows the Wildcats (19-9, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) will have to play better than they did in the first meeting between the two teams three weeks ago in Columbia. Missouri, which had lost nine in a row to Kentucky, edged the Wildcats 69-60.

“They’ve got a good team,” he said. “They shoot the ball well. They got good size. They lost a couple games that they could have won. They had Mississippi up seven with a minute and a half to go, two minutes, they lost the game. They’re one of those teams in that pack of teams that we’re all pretty much the same. So we gotta play the way we’ve been playing to give ourselves a chance.”

Following a four-game losing streak, Calipari’s squad has won two straight games, including an 87-72 victory at Arkansas last Tuesday in Fayetteville. Kentucky ended the rare slide with an 81-71 win over Alabama last weekend.

“We’re getting better, but it’s all game to game with a young group like this,” Calipari said. “It’s all game to game … (blossoming late) is better than not blossoming, I can tell you that. And again, we’re not all the way there. We’re still a work in progress.”

Calipari likes the way the Wildcats responded following the four-game slide.

“I think the (2013-14) team didn’t come until the last couple days of the season,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I think we lost our last road game. So, you know, we hit the tournament and got better. We’re doing some good stuff, but we just gotta keep getting better. Guys gotta fall into those roles and then be good as we need them to be good at collectively.”

Calipari added the Wildcats are starting to trust each other more and has never been concerned with his team’s IQ.

“I think the issue has been they didn’t realize until two weeks ago how bad they needed each other,” he said. “The second thing is they’re still trying to figure out who they are, then we add Jarred (Vanderbilt) midseason.

“I mean, that all comes together and we look confused sometimes out there on the court, which would make you believe, ‘Man, their IQ –.’ It’s not, they’ve got a good basketball IQ, they have a good feel for the game, but again, we’ve had to make adjustments. I’ve had to really set into rules of how we’re playing, roles for guys, but they’ve gotten better.”

Missouri (18-10, 8-7) has lost two straight games by a combined margin of four points, including a 90-87 setback to Mississippi earlier this week. LSU edged the Tigers 64-63 last weekend.

Gametracker: Missouri at Kentucky, 8:15 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.