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Notebook: Cal gives Cats time to breathe before tourney opener

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Darius Miller enjoys himself at UK's shoot around at New Orleans Arena on Wednesday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Darius Miller enjoys himself at UK's shoot around at New Orleans Arena on Wednesday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

NEW ORLEANS - On Friday at 1 p.m., No. 1 Kentucky (30-1, 16-0 Southeastern Conference) begins its postseason run with a Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup against LSU (18-13, 7-9 SEC). The Tigers outscored Arkansas 42-26 after halftime en route to a 70-54 victory, setting up a rematch of UK's 74-50 win in Baton Rouge, La., on Jan. 28.

To prepare you for the game, which will be televised on the SEC Network, here are a few salient notes for a Thursday evening in the Crescent City. Stay tuned for a story by Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com later tonight.

Wildcats enjoy some free time

Watching a team that hasn't lost a game for nearly three months in blitzing through the regular season, it can be easy to forget that UK's 14 players are college kids.

John Calipari, though, doesn't fall into that trip, which is why he decided to give his team the freedom to explore New Orleans on Wednesday night rather than stay cooped up in their hotel rooms.

After driving directly from the airport to New Orleans Arena for a brief shoot-around and dinner at the team hotel, Calipari dismissed the Cats, telling them to enjoy themselves and some time with their families.

"We practiced and then we went over to the arena for 30 minutes and shot around," Calipari said, "so I just said, 'Hey, some of you got families here. It's a good night to go and hang out with your families.'"

Calipari himself appreciated the chance to pass a few hours in a favorite city of his. Having faced Tulane many times in Conference USA play with Memphis and also playing two NCAA Tournament games in New Orleans two season ago, he has a level of familiarity with the city, which he likes.

"I kind of know where I'm going so I know the hotel, I know where I have to go, I got my little spots that I hang out in," Calipari said. "This is a great place to have a tournament."

Calipari and the team will have just a couple more hours on Thursday evening to decompress, but from that point forward, it will be time to focus.

"What I told them right now is you got a couple hours before the meal, because after the meal it's all basketball," Calipari said. "They've got family here. I want them to enjoy their families and all that stuff, but after the meal it'll be all basketball."

'Big Blue Mist' not unnoticed by Cats


Walking around the streets of New Orleans, it's impossible to miss the rapidly growing UK presence. By the hour, more and more Kentucky fans are packing the French Quarter.

Even though LSU will be playing, in the words of freshman point guard Anthony Hickey, in its own "backyard," the Big Blue Nation will make Friday feel like a home game for the Cats.

"It's kind of nutty," Calipari said.

Coach Cal is still no fan of conference tournaments, but seeing the way fans drop everything to come watch his team play, he can't help but feel a responsibility to them.

"It kind of makes you say, 'We've got to go do this for these people,'" Calipari said. "'We've got to play, and we've got to play as well as we can because they're all sacrificing to get down here. And they're people that cannot get into Rupp Arena.' "

NBAPA chief speaks to Cats

Calipari wants his team to have a laser-like focus on the task at hand. He doesn't want them worrying about next season or the NBA Draft early-entry deadline that has been moved up to early April.

To help with that, Calipari called on an unlikely resource.

"I brought Billy Hunter in from the NBA Players Association to basically tell the kids, 'You together, collectively, have a chance to do something special," Calipari said.

The time will come to think about the future, and for many Wildcats that future will include being represented by Hunter, the NBAPA's executive director, but that time is not now.

"'Worry about this,'" Calipari said, recounting Hunter's message. "'And no one other than yourself can help you with anything after this year, so you have to do it. So there's no reason to be talking, thinking - just do your thing. You help yourself and don't worry about anything else.'"

Davis' 'Wings' poster supersized in New Orleans

UK fans approaching New Orleans from the west side of the Superdome will see a familiar sight.

The now iconic image of Anthony Davis showing off his 7-foot-4 wingspan on a poster touting his defensive player of the year credentials now graces a billboard on South Claiborne Avenue off the Ponchartrain Expressway.

"The billboard was paid for by our UK Athletics marketing department," UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said. "We did it to promote Anthony Davis for national player of the year and as something to further excite our fans about this great city and some great basketball."

Jokingly, Calipari said he was jealous of his freshman forward when he heard about the billboard.

"I was mad because I wanted to be up there myself," Calipari said, tongue firmly in cheek.

At the suggestion from a reporter that Calipari in a similar pose would be better served on a "postage stamp" than a poster or billboard, he responded, "That and the nose. You'd see a nose. You'd say, 'Whose nose is that?'"

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