While John Calipari has no problem expressing his true feelings toward the toughness of Kentucky’s region March after March, his players are typically a bit more subdued. This year was no different. But after being placed in the region with the overall No. 1 seed plus a very tough No. 4 Arizona team, the Kentucky players know they have a hard road ahead.
“First impression is that we got put in a tough bracket,” Wenyen Gabriel said. “I looked through the bracket and, yeah, it’s a tough bracket. But then again, it’s March, and you’ve got to play a tough game everyday and just focus on the game ahead.”
As the only current player with any real post-season experience, Gabriel knows he has to serve as a mentor for the younger guys. His advice?
“I didn’t play too much last year, but this year my message is to just focus on the game at hand. Take it one game at a time and stay locked in. The intensity that we brought to this tournament, we’ve got to play the next game just like that.”
And although it may be hard to focus on just one game at a time, Gabriel recognizes the importance of not overlooking the early games.
“We let you guys, [the fans and the media], look ahead, and we focus on the task at hand. We know, obviously, from the four-game losing streak that we’ve been through that we can’t overlook any team,” Gabriel said. “Any team has the ability to beat you, so if you don’t come in with that kind of focus and need to win the game, you’re going to eventually lose. So we’ve got to focus on winning the game each game, one game at a time.
One player who will admit to glancing ahead in the bracket? Hamidou Diallo. When asked how far ahead he looked, Diallo, of course, began by discussing Davidson. Then, he admitted the obvious:
“I mean, I know the whole region; I know who’s in the bracket,” Diallo said. “I know it’s a really tough bracket. We’ve just got to be prepared for anything.”
Luckily, Diallo knows they’ll be prepared because, just like their head coach, the players weren’t surprised by the tough draw.
“We knew it would be a tough journey. We knew we would have to play some great teams,” Diallo said. “Right now, we’re just looking forward to playing Davidson and just trying to get us prepared for them as much as possible.”