LEXINGTON — Notes and quotes as the Kentucky Wildcats prepare to clash with Connecticut tonight (9:10 tip) for the national championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas:
If the Kentucky Wildcats (29-10) can win tonight when they meet the Connecticut Huskies (31-8) for the national title, it will be UK’s second title under coach John Calipari, making him the only Kentucky coach other than Adolph Rupp to win more than one title here.
“And these guys,” he said of his players, “know I could absolutely care less.
“This is about the joy that these guys up here will get,” he said, deflecting personal glory at a press conference Sunday.
“I’ve had a heck of a career, and I’ve been blessed. I’m now at a school that I can help kids more than I ever have. And families. I’m appreciative of this opportunity. I’m doing the best job I can.”
Calipari said each year is special, whether it ends in a title or not.
“(Because) You’re dealing with children of someone who has entrusted you with their children to help get them where they need to go,” Calipari said. “Help them reach their dreams, and help them grow as men.
“Look, it’s not about money or fame, it’s about how you give back, what you do, how you make an impact on other people. And we try to do that. These guys are a great example of that.”
Turnaround about timing
Calipari and his players have been asked over and over during their magical post-season run what has keyed the turnaround. And they have repeatedly said it has been a matter of coming together at the right time.
But that’s not to suggest, said senior guard Jarrod Polson, that egos were ever running rampant on this Kentucky team.
“I don’t think it was ego,” Polson said Sunday. “We have always tried to look out for each other ... not really been worried about ourselves too much. It’s just hard to play with completely new guys.
“I think the biggest thing was defining everybody’s role. At the beginning of the season, we didn’t really know specifically what each one of us was supposed to do. But coach Cal did a good job, especially before the SEC Tournament, of telling everyone exactly what they needed to do.”
Calipari and several of his Wildcats admitted to sleeping just a few restless hours after Saturday’s late semifinal win, 74-73, over Wisconsin.
“I laid in my bed about 1:30, and then I went upstairs and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to do the (Connecticut) tape tomorrow.’’’ Calipari said. “As I laid there, I said, ‘These guys are fighting so hard for me, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do the tape now.’ So I was up until about 3:30 and got up at 7 o’clock this morning.”
“If I told you when I went to bed, coach would probably kill me,’’ said UK freshman forward Julius Randle, who’s from Dallas. “I’m just so excited to play.”
“We got one guy that slept and got a good 10 hours in,” Calipari added. “Talk to him. James.”
Freshman swing man James Young, on cue, noted: “I kind of slept through everything. I just love sleeping.”
Two teams of destiny
The irony of tonight’s battle with UConn is that coach Kevin Ollie’s Huskies, like Kentucky, have been playing like a team of destiny in the post-season.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier of the Huskies may be the MVP of the entire tournament. The 6-foot-1 Napier is scoring 17.9 points, grabbing 5.8 rebounds and dishing out nearly five assists per game. He had 12 points, six assists and three rebounds in UConn’s stunning, 63-53, win over top-seeded Florida in the other semifinal on Saturday.
Napier said Sunday that the Huskies, like the Wildcats, of course, can’t wait to tip it up tonight.
“We all play the game of basketball to compete against the best,” Napier said. “This is one of those games. At the end of the day, they’re going to throw the ball up in the air. They don’t do anything different. We put on our jerseys the same way. They worked hard to get to this point, and so did we.
“We’re going to try our best to get this W.”
DeAndre Daniels, a 6-9 junior forward for UConn, tallies 13.2 points and a team-high six rebounds per game. Daniels poured in 20 Saturday against Florida.
Junior guard Ryan Boatright also has been playing well. The 6-foot Boatwright had 13 points against the Gators, just above his 12.1 ppg average on the season.