Calipari helps out more than just his team

UK men's coach looks out for women's program with Baylor doubleheader

By Brian Rickerd, Published:

LEXINGTON — Most everything John Calipari has touched has turned to gold since he became the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach in 2009. That’s well documented.

Combine Calipari’s big-picture vision and the kindness and respect he’s shown UK women’s coach Matthew Mitchell, and it adds up to a no-brainer for both of their teams to be playing in a doubleheader against Baylor Friday night at the Dallas Cowboys’ football stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The No. 5-rated Kentucky women (8-0) play No. 9-ranked Baylor (7-0) at 7:30 Eastern time, while Calipari’s No. 3-rated Wildcats (7-1) play the 20th-ranked Baylor men (7-1) at 10.

The women’s game will not be televised. The men’s game will be on ESPN.

Mitchell said this is a win all around for Kentucky.

“I want to thank John Calipari for really putting this thing together, and giving our program a chance to participate in something like this,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “He just called me one day a couple years back, and it went from there.

“He’s been so supportive of our program from the very first day he got here,” Mitchell added. “The first day he was here, he came into our office and was positive that day and has been positive ever since. Personally, he’s been very supportive of me as a young coach, and shared a lot of wisdom with me over the years.”

Calipari indicated he’s looking at an even bigger picture than twin basketball programs at the same school.

“This is not just about the basketball program,’’ Calipari said. “It’s about this athletic department. It’s about a lot of athletes from all the different sports. Anywhere we can come together and help each other is good.”

Calipari joked, we think, about asking UK football coach Mark Stoops to bring his program on board in the future and make it a triple-header weekend against the likes of a Baylor or Notre Dame.

“Stoops said, ‘How about Connecticut?’’’ Calipari said. “But, this should be a good trip. Both programs are following each other, trying to help each other. I stop by his (Mitchell’s) office; he stops by my office. I stop in his practice; he stops in my practice.”

Of course, Calipari has the added motive of the fact that the men’s Final Four will be at the 80,000-seat Cowboys’ stadium later this winter.

“We aren’t going to have 80,000 there (Friday), but my hope is that because of the games being played, with everybody ranked, it’s going to be a terrific environment,” Calipari said. “I haven’t been in the building, but everybody tells me it’s ridiculous. I am excited.”

Coach Scott Drew’s Baylor men have lost only once this season, to Syracuse, 74-67, Nov. 27, while beating two good teams in Colorado, 72-60, Nov. 8, and Dayton, 67-66, Nov. 26.

The Bears appear to have the height and athleticism to match up reasonably well with the Wildcats. Baylor has four players averaging in double-digit scoring, led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson at 13.1 points per game.

Jefferson also leads the Bears in rebounding at 8.6 rebounds each time out.

“They are really long and really athletic,” Calipari said of the Bears. “They are like us in that they are so long that you are not getting the looks that you think you will get.”

Baylor beat Kentucky, 64-55, in Rupp Arena a year ago.

Friday’s game also marks a homecoming for UK freshman sensation Julius Randle, who’s from Dallas.

“I would say it’s a dream of mine just to be able to come back to my home state, and be able to play in front of family and friends and fans in the city,” said Randle, who leads Kentucky in scoring and rebounding, with 18.1 and 12.6, respectively, per game. “I’ll have a bunch of family and friends, so I’m excited to see all of them.”

The women’s matchup may be more difficult to predict.

Coach Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears are minus 6-8 Brittney Griner from a team that ripped Mitchell’s Wildcats, 85-51, this past season in Waco, Texas.

But senior guard Odyssey Sims is back, and Mitchell says Sims is not only the best point guard in the country, but may be the best player in the women’s game, period.

Sims is pouring in 27.3 points per game.

“Odyssey Sims is probably the best singular talent that I’ve seen in the country this year,” Mitchell said. “She’s is really, really amazing. They have some other very talented players, but she is putting up monstrous numbers right now.”

Kentucky should be a massive step up in competition from any team the Lady Bears have played so far, while the Wildcats are coming off an impressive 69-64 win over a loaded Louisville team Sunday.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity to play one of the most hard nosed, aggressive, tough basketball programs in the country,” Mitchell said. “Baylor is just really, really tough. They have been ever since Mulkey took over that program.”

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