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Calipari turns focus inward ahead of Kansas matchup

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Doron Lamb will play in his hometown arena for the first time since the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic, when he announced his commitment to UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Doron Lamb will play in his hometown arena for the first time since the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic, when he announced his commitment to UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden when Kentucky and Kansas face off in the nightcap of the inaugural Champions Classic figures to be electric. All signs point to a massive turnout by the Big Blue Nation, while the Jayhawks should have plenty of fans in tow as well for a matchup between two of the nation's most tradition-rich programs.

 The hype surrounding the game is more befitting of a game played in March, but the bottom line is that the calendar still reads November. As he coaches and evaluates his team, John Calipari is not going to forget that.

Of course, Calipari wants to win, but his preparations for Tuesday night are more targeted for winning games in early spring than late fall.

"You have to work on your own stuff," Calipari said. "Let's just be the best we can be for November 14th. If that's not good enough, we'll come back and regroup and keep going."

Getting his team to think the same way is another matter, especially when the lights and cameras come on.

The game features a pair of highly ranked teams, UK is No. 2 and Kansas is No. 11, with storied histories. A national television audience starving for high-level basketball with no end in sight for the NBA lockout will be tuning in and the game will be played in arguably the most famous basketball arena in the world.

"It means a lot to all of us on the team," freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "We just want to show everyone that we are the number two team in the country, or even number one. That's what we have to prove. That's what we want to do."

Sophomore Doron Lamb echoed his teammate's sentiment.

"I think it should be a statement game," Lamb said. "They are one of the top teams in the country and we have one of the best teams in the country. So we have to go out there and play harder against Kansas and just try to beat them."

Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb want to prove the Wildcats deserve the lofty preseason ranking and awards showered on them, but Calipari knows Kansas will be just as motivated.

"It may be a statement game, but I'm hoping it's the one they think it'll be," Calipari said. "It could be another statement."

Losing Marcus and Markieff Morris, among others, off last year's top-seeded team that made a trip to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks are somewhat of an unknown quantity at this point in the season. They rolled in their season opener, beating Towson 100-54 and dishing out 30 assists as a team in the process, but many pundits are wondering whether they'll continue to win at the same ridiculous rate as Bill Self's last two teams that combined for a record of 68-6.

When he looks at this Kansas team, Calipari sees a familiar sight.

"Kansas is kind of like our team a year ago where everybody thought, 'You know what, they're not that good,' and I kept telling you all, 'I like my team and there's no one out there that's that good that scares me,' " Calipari said.

Leading the way for Kansas are junior forward Thomas Robinson (18 points, 11 rebounds in the opener) and senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (12 points, four assists). The duo forms as good of an inside-outside combination as any in the nation. Depth has been mentioned as an issue for the Jayhawks but, again, Calipari invokes his 2010-11 team that made a trip to the Final Four.

"I played six guys last year," Calipari said. "We played six guys. I would tell you, he's got a veteran team of good players and they're trying to make a statement too."

Robinson (6-foot-10, 237 pounds) is joined along the Jayhawks' front line by junior center Jeff Withey (7-foot, 235 pounds). With that kind of size and a dedication to throwing the ball into the post, UK's young and relatively skinny front line will be in for a stiff test.

"They're physical, they're well coached, they do their stuff, they know how they're playing, they're going to jam it in," Calipari said. "They're going to throw you some pick and rolls to jam it in and then they're going to jam it in and they're going to jam it in. You've got to be ready for the physicalness of their play."

More than any of his teammates, freshman Anthony Davis will be facing a challenge he has not yet encountered at this level. He dominated UK's 108-58 win over Marist to the tune of 23 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, but that doesn't mean Calipari was happy with the way he played.

"He's got to play more physical," Calipari said. "He's got to bend over. He can't stand straight up and down. He's got to stay in a stance. He's got to stump more. He can't stand around. You know, you dunk a ball and then run down the court. You've got to play the entire possession. When you showed him on tape, 'You stopped, right there. Look at you standing up and down.' It's OK in that game, but it's not OK the next game."

No matter what happens, Calipari is sure to say, 'I like my team afterward.' All Calipari wants to do is make sure his team is progressing and learning.

"This is a great test," Calipari said. "I told our guys, 'The pressure on us was yesterday and Saturday and today a little bit. That's all we can do. It's the 14th of November.' "

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