Over the last month of the season, John Calipari has instilled into his team a “Kentucky against the world” mentality. His players have bought into the extra motivation, and it’s paying dividends on the court.
“We just try to come out and try to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did today. And can’t feel better about this one,” Hamidou Diallo said Saturday night. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander echoed that sentiment after the fifth-seeded Wildcats defeated 13-seed Buffalo. “We love proving people wrong, and that’s what we did today.”
Calipari players believe that nobody expects them to win, but after this weekend, everybody expects them to win. Kentucky is the highest seed alive in the Atlanta Regional, a region that will not have its top four seeds this weekend, an NCAA Tournament first. UK is a six-point favorite Thursday night and FiveThirtyEight gives Kentucky a 57 percent chance to reach the Final Four.
Even though Kentucky’s path to San Antonio has opened up, he will not let his players put their guard down. After Cincinnati let Nevada comeback from 22 down Sunday night, Calipari called the team his office.
“We’re in the region where everyone is playing well,” Calipari recalled the conversation on his call-in show. “If you just think you’re gonna show up, you’re not gonna advance in this thing. Every game is a dogfight.”
He’s also mentioning the outside noise. Instead of completely ignoring what people are saying about his team, he’s ignoring the praise and providing his team exclusively with bulletin board material, like this.
“Do you think that’s their hope or their opinion (that UK will not advance)? It’s their hope.”
Even though Swaggy Cal made multiple media appearances today, no matter what happens over the next two weeks, he will do whatever it takes for his players to believe it’s “us against the world.”