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February 9, 2013Before Kentucky can look ahead to its game against Florida next week - a game that could be for first place in the Southeastern Conference - John Calipari is adamant that his team remains focused on Auburn.
And whether he was joking or not, Calipari said he wasn't sure who the Wildcats played after Saturday's visit from the Tigers.
"Is that the next game?" Calipari asked. "If I don't know, they (players) probably don't know."
But Willie Cauley-Stein proved his coach wrong. Not only did he know whom the Cats play next week, but he's using the Auburn game as a prop, setting up an epic matchup in Gainesville.
"Our whole mindset going into Florida is try to win this game and have a good, like, feel to yourself, that you're going into another good team in the league," Cauley-Stein said. "If you win out going into (Florida), we've jut got a better feel for yourself."
The Cats already defeated Auburn once this season, dominating the Tigers in the Plains 75-53, but even with the Florida game aside UK knows it can't afford to look past inferior opponents.
Cauley-Stein cited losses at Notre Dame and at home against Baylor as game where they took the opponent lightly.
And as Calipari has been saying ever since he took over the UK job in 2009, the Cats are every team's you-know-what.
"If we don't come ready you're liable to get beat, especially when we're everybody's Super Bowl game," Cauley-Stein said. "You've got to come out like they're better than you. Even if they're not, you've got to come out like they are."
Since dropping some of those early season games the Cats have taken a different approach.
"Like coach said, even after a win we're approaching every practice like a loss, just support the fact that we're not having to overlook any teams," Julius Mays said. "We're not worried about any team but Auburn right now."
Mays knows who's next, but said it won't change the teams focus.
"We know Florida's next, but we're not worried about Florida," Mays said. "We're ready for Auburn."
Student vs. Teacher
Calipari hates playing against friends. That's why he'll be relieved when Saturday's matchup against Auburn, and former assistant coach Tony Barbee, is over.
Barbee played for Calipari at Massachusetts, then was a gradate assistant and rejoined Calipari as an assistant coach in Memphis from 2000-2006.
Calipari is 3-0 against Barbee since both have been in the SEC.
"I hate playing friends," Calipari said. "I hate playing somebody that I love. Can you imagine? If we lose, I'm going to be sick. If we win, I'm happy and then I look at (Barbee) and I'm not happy.
"So I don't even get to enjoy the game. Either way, I'm going to be sick. That's why: Get the game over with; who's next?"
But for the remainder of the season Calipari confides in Barbee. The two talk strategy and Calipari said Barbee gave him the game plan in stopping Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson.
"When we're getting ready to play a team, this is how I prepare for the game; this shows you the respect I have for him: I watch our game with them the last time; if we played them twice I'll watch them twice," Calipari said. "Then I'll watch their game against Auburn, and I watch what Tony did to guard them and what he did to exploit them. Then I go on to other games."
On Saturday the two will have to go head-to-head, and with watching so much film on the Tigers, Calipari knows what to expect.
And it could be a great deal of zone.
"This is going to be a physical (game)," Calipari said. "They gut it out, they play hard . They play a great zone. They're man-to-man, and how they play pick-and-rolls, they'll trap the post. They'll put a 2-2-1 press back to a zone. This could be a game where he comes out and says 'We're playing zone from the tip.' And it's a good zone. It's a really good zone."
Auburn's couldn't stop the Cats earlier this season with zone or man-to-man, but Calipari says if UK didn't explode in the second half it could have been a different story.
"Yeah, but it was a close game at halftime, then we spaced it out in the second half," Calipari said.