Wildcats shift focus to Missouri amid ongoing federal investigation

Hamidou Diallo and the Wildcats will take on Missouri Saturday at Rupp Arena. Kentucky dropped a 69-60 decision to the Tigers earlier this month. (Tammie Brown/Kentucky Today)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — 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/ ESPN

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Michael Watkins...what do all those names have in common? Greatness...Michael Watkins is from a small town in Eastern Kentucky where he grew up dreaming of being a sports broadcaster. At the age of 16 he started working WJSN radio station in his hometown of Jackson Kentucky in his first step toward that dream. Michael has been at Wallingford Broadcasting since November 2012 and took over as Sports Director in 2015. The dream of being a sports broadcaster became a bigger reality when the Wallingford Sports Show was launched in late 2015. He also can be heard throughout the year calling local high school sports in the area across the different Wallingford Media Platforms. Michael and his wife, Morgan, gave birth to their first child in March of 2017 and the city of Richmond is now home to the Wallingford Sports Guy.