LEXINGTON, Ky. – As No. 5 Kentucky pounded its way to a 24-point lead over No. 1 Tennessee, John Calipari could be spotted on the Rupp Arena sideline screaming in anger.
No, he was not upset with his players. It was the UK student section that had drawn his ire for chanting “Over-rated” at the suddenly hapless Volunteers, who were in the process of losing just their second game of the season.
“I know how good Tennessee is and that’s why I told our fans, enough of the, ‘They’re overrated,’” Calipari said after Kentucky’s 86-69 win. “They’re not overrated. Probably underrated. People don’t realize.”
Perhaps Calipari should have let the fans chant, denigrating the Wildcats’ own dominant performance by casting doubt about the quality of the opposition. Because if Tennessee is actually as good as Calipari claims, managing the hype for his team with four weeks remaining until the NCAA Tournament could become a problem.
It was a night when Kentucky answered many of the lingering questions about whether its recent 10-game winning streak, which ended on a controversial last-second tip-in by LSU Tuesday, was evidence of a team growing towards a possible Final Four run or covering up for possible fatal flaws lingering under the surface.
“I hit them right after the game with LSU and just said, ‘Hey, that was a tough loss, but you know what? We needed it,’” Calipari said. “Because our team is changing, we’re not the defensive team that we have been. We have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. … We need to get back to what we were, and you know what? Sometimes you got to get knocked in the head to know that.”