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From the Pressbox: UK trying to peak at right time

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There's no science to getting a college basketball team to peak at the right time but there's definitely a strategy.

History shows John Calipari understands it as well as anyone.

"That doesn't guarantee success, but it gives you your best opportunity," Calipari said on a recent UK radio network pregame show. "Let's have fresh minds and fresh legs. Let's not overwhelm them with tape, let's not overwhelm them with practice. Let's get them together so they're family and get them to rely on each other. Right now, it's March and we're playing pretty well.

"You got to stay in the moment. You can't be watching things going on around you because that takes the focus off the game you're playing. It's important you're in a great frame on mind and this team is," he added.

Rabid college basketball fans embrace this time of year for all of the games available on TV but Calipari is not one to pay that much attention to what is going on elsewhere in the tournament.  

"I was hard on them down there because I didn't like what I saw but at this point, they are what they are. We've got to go play. My message is 'just worry about playing a basketball game.' Forget about the rest of the tournament. I may turn it on here and there but that's about it," said Calipari. "I'm off trying to continue to think of things, one, to get these guys in the right frame of mind and two, trying to think what an opponent is going to try to do against us."

Calipari says it's important to tweak things his team does, because other teams are spending hours breaking down tapes on UK games.

"You want to add some things on out of bounds, you  want to add a few wrinkles. A little bit (more) dribble-drive stuff, we can do a little more of that," he said.

Calipari says the emphasis in recent practices has been on three words--"harder, faster, sharper," he said.

And Calipari hopes his team learned a good lesson from the first-round test it got from LSU in last week's Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"Teams are going to play desperate. The season's over (if they lose). Yes, we're everybody's Super Bowl (during the season) but they also know they have more games left if they don't win--so sometimes they'll give up on a game with a couple of minutes to go. No one will now," noted Calipari. (Western Kentucky displayed that same mindset with the 16-1 run on UK to finish Thursday night's game).

"They're going to play physically because their life depends on it," Calipari said of UK opponents.  "You have to negate physical play."

Experience only means so much


Calipari has a more tournament-tested team than he's ever had at UK. In 2010, the Cats were loaded with talent but didn't have anybody with experience in March Madness. Last year, it was pretty much the same, with Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins having played only a limited role that first year.

This team, UK features three players in Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb who were part of a Final Four run. Last year's Kentucky team got 61 percent of its points from freshmen. This year, going into the tournament, only 46 percent was coming from rookies.

Still, Calipari is not putting all of the leadership burden on the veterans.

"It doesn't really matter. Whoever is leading, just out there. We fly like geese--we're not buffalo, following one. One of the things we try to do is we're teaching all of these kids to lead," he explained. "When they leave us, I hope they have leadership skills."    

Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist demonstrated that leadership in New Orleans, when he went to the coach and volunteered to start the bench on the bench for the first time this season, so that Miller could start and hopefully snap out of a scoring slump.

"It takes a really unique player and a really confident player who is comfortable in his own skin," Calipari said of MKG's move.

Winning on the road is a characteristic some pundits like to cite when analyzing which teams can succeed in March. But CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish thinks that stat is overrated.

"Last year's Final Four teams, all of them combined, had a losing record in road games," Parrish said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Yes, winning on the road, says something about a team but just because you can't win on the road doesn't mean you can't win in the NCAA Tournament."

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