NCAA: Cats not looking ahead, playing with chip on shoulder

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Kentucky coach John Calipari directs the Wildcats during an open practice Wendesday at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. The Wildcats play Davidson in their tournament opener at 7 p.m. Thursday. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

BOISE (KT) — Kentucky has something to prove and doesn’t feel any pressure going into the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Wednesday ahead of the team’s opening-round game against upset-minded Davidson set for Thursday. “A lot of people think that they can upset us and we’re the team to beat in the first round. We’ll be more than ready for this game coming up.”

The opposing Wildcats, a No. 12 seed stunned nationally-ranked Rhode Island to win the Atlantic-10 Tournament last week to receive the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Davidson (21-11) has won eight of its last nine games and its lone loss during that span was a 117-113 loss in triple overtime at St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27.

Fifth-seeded Kentucky (24-10) knows it will get its best shot in its NCAA opener and won’t be surprised when the Wildcats take aim on a possible upset, although they will be making their first appearance in the tournament in three years. Davidson lost to No. 7 seed Iowa in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Every game we play, we play against somebody that’s going to play their best game,” Kentucky forward Kevin Knox said. “It’s not like we’re not used to it. Every game we play it’s with people who have a chip on their shoulder and think they’re better than us. We’re going to come out and play like we always play. Come out on top and attack. That’s kind of what we’re used to so that’s how we’ll play (Thursday).”

Davidson is known for its potent 3-point shooting and is averaging 10 treys per game. Kentucky coach John Calipari said the Wildcats are “an efficient team.”

“They’re an execution team,” the Kentucky coach said. “We’re an inexperienced team. We’re not an execution team. They’re going to take 30 3-point shots. If they make 20, it has been a heck of a season for us. They’re taking 30. We’ve got to make them difficult. But they run some good stuff and they move that ball. … So they’re not a 12 seed. They won their tournament. They beat St. Bonaventure and Rhody back-to-back nights. They’re not a 12 seed.

“This will be a hard game for us. We know it and our kids know it.”

Like his teammates, PJ Washington isn’t looking ahead to a possible second-round matchup against Arizona and said the Wildcats have to build on the momentum from last weekend’s successful run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“We’re going to come out with a chip on our shoulder,” Washington said. “We have just got to keep playing like we played in St. Louis and we’ll be fine.”

Since his team’s arrival in Boise, Calipari said the Wildcats have been impressed with the scenery and his personal favorite was DK Donuts and could hardly stop bragging about the establishment.

“I’m not a donut eater, even though you look at me and say, yes, you are a donut eater,” he quipped. “I’m not a donut eater. The coffee wasn’t bad, either.”

Although donuts was a big topic of conversation Wednesday, Calipari eventually moved on past the subject.

“I’m here to play basketball,” he said.

Vanderbilt update: Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt who injured his ankle last week didn’t practice with the team Wednesday. Calipari said Vanderbilt still wasn’t at 100 percent.

“The kid wants to play,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s fair to him or us if he’s not able to go in there and compete at a high level. We needed our tournament to figure out how we were going to play in case he cannot play. Now he wants to play and at the end of the day, I’ve got to make a decision on what I’m thinking.

“Right now I just don’t think it’s in his interests or ours that unless he’s 100 percent, I would take 97 percent, 95, but you can’t take 80. You can’t. The games are played at too high a level.”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Davidson, 7 p.m., Thursday. TV: CBS

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

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