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Calipari planning to give Cats time to breathe ahead of NCAAs

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UK watched the Selection Show at the home of John Calipari on Sunday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK watched the Selection Show at the home of John Calipari on Sunday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On the brink of a third-consecutive conference tournament title, John Calipari couldn't help himself; he wanted to win the thing.

After a solid week of telling anyone who would listen that he would prefer not to even play the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the competitor inside took over.

Of course, Kentucky would lose the SEC final at the hands of Vanderbilt, but it didn't take Calipari long to put things back in perspective.

"This year I'll tell you we've got to get our breath back," Calipari said. "These three games in three days, now you know why I don't like those tournaments. I would have liked to have won it today, but it's three days."

Just hours after losing on Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, the Cats hopped off a chartered flight into a bus to the Casa de Calipari to watch the Selection Show on tape delay. With modern technology, the team already knew its NCAA Tournament fate: UK is the No. 1 overall seed playing in the South Region.

Between reviewing game tape, whirlwind travel arrangements and media requests, Calipari didn't have time to look at a bracket, let alone digest the path that lays ahead for his team. At this point though, he's more focused on his own team than anything else. UK may have faltered for the first time in 24 games, but Calipari isn't pushing the panic button.

In fact, he plans to do quite the opposite.

"I got a good team," Calipari said. "I'm ready to go to work. (I) probably got to give these guys tomorrow off completely, just let them get their senses back and get off the court and get their minds back. I think it's what I'm going to do. I don't know if it's right or wrong but I'm just sensing three games in three days, we don't really need to do anything tomorrow."

Calipari's suggestion he would give the team a day off on Monday came after the dozens of media members buzzing around his house spoke to players, but it's no stretch to say they'll be happy to learn the news.

"The main thing is just getting treatment and getting our bodies right for these next couple weeks because right now we are a little sore," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "We're tired, we played three games straight - three tough games straight. Our bodies are hurt right now. Tomorrow we'll get rest and get treatment."

Monday will likely end up being a day to recover and relax, but the Wildcats don't figure to have any trouble getting energized again afterward. Some pundits have called the South Region, which features second-seeded Duke, No. 3 Baylor, No. 4 Indiana and No. 5 Wichita State, the bracket's toughest, but that's far from a surprise to Calipari and his players.

"The only thing I was happy (about) was I heard they were trying to get an exemption for the (Miami) Heat to be the second seed in our bracket and they weren't allowed to do that so they couldn't put them in there too," Calipari said.

A season ago, Kentucky was in a similarly tough region, but used it as motivation to play up to its potential. The Cats, who feature Darius Miller, Lamb and Terrence Jones from that team, will try to do it again.

"We got hard teams in our bracket, but we can't think of it like that," Lamb said. "Last year we had the same thing and we still made it to the Final Four. We just have to get prepared and be ready when we play."

On the plus side, UK will open its tourney run close to home in Louisville, Ky. Based on the way Kentucky fans traveled in droves to far-off New Orleans, an hour's drive from Lexington should be no problem.

"That's a good thing for us," Lamb said. "We're playing in Louisville so we know we'll have a lot of blue in there."

If the Wildcats can advance past the winner of a play-in game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky on Thursday at 6:50 p.m. on TBS, a potential rematch of last year's national semifinal with nine seed and defending national champion Connecticut looms. That presumes of course that UConn can defeat No. 8 seed Iowa State.

With that said, even UK's four freshmen know looking ahead to potential future matchups is a fruitless endeavor in March Madness.

"We're taking every team serious," point guard Marquis Teague said. "We're not looking past anybody. We're taking it one game at a time and trying to focus on that opponent."

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