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At Kentucky, it’s fun, games

Wildcats poised for Baylor test

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press / March 25, 2012
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ATLANTA - John Calipari is having a ball coaching Kentucky.

Well, except for movie night.

Calipari has avoided watching other games during the NCAA Tournament, and he wants his players to do the same. His message: Focus on us and don’t worry about everyone else.

To drive that point home, the top-seeded Wildcats usually head to the movies when they’re on the road, so they’re not tempted to flip on hoops at the hotel. After arriving in Atlanta, they went to see “21 Jump Street.’’

Calipari was not impressed.

“The movie was awful,’’ he said. “But it did get us out.’’

Other than a debatable choice in flicks, Coach Cal’s tunnel-vision approach is working just fine. Kentucky (35-2) is one win from a return trip to the Final Four, facing Baylor (30-7) in the South Regional final Sunday.

“We’re a good basketball team,’’ Calipari said Saturday. “Let’s just play basketball.’’

Clearly, he’s not one of those poor-mouthing coaches, making an opponent sound like the Miami Heat while pointing out every little weakness of his own team. Calipari is fully aware that he’s got at least a half-dozen players on his roster who are likely to wind up in the NBA, a team that could go down as one of the greatest in college basketball history if it wins three more games.

“We’re very confident,’’ freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, so we feel like if we come out and compete at a high level and defend, it will be tough for teams to beat us.’’

Baylor, the No. 3 seed, is a clear underdog but hardly some overmatched Cinderella.

Bouncing back from one of the most shocking scandals in NCAA history, the neon-clad Bears have pushed their way into the regional finals for the second time in three years. They have a couple of players who are likely first-round picks and certainly believe they have the talent, skill and work ethic to compete with the mighty Wildcats.

“We just want to show the world what we can do,’’ senior forward Quincy Acy said.

None of the players were around in 2003 when stunning revelations nearly brought down the Baylor men’s program. It all started when a player was murdered by one of his teammates. Soon after, there were allegations of drug use and illicit payments and a widespread cover-up. When all the dirty laundry was aired, the NCAA came about as close to imposing the death penalty as it could: a lengthy probation and heavy sanctions, which included a shortened season.

The Bears didn’t have another winning record until 2008, but this program has been on the rise ever since. The scandal? That’s ancient history.

“We all know something happened, but we try to block it out of our minds and not let it affect us,’’ Acy said.

Baylor has been quite the fashion rage during the NCAAs in its specially designed day-glow uniforms, a color officially dubbed “electricity’’ that actually makes the players look like a bunch of highlighter pens. But, as the lower-seeded team for the first time in the tournament, the NCAA nixed the idea of letting the Bears stay in blinding green against Kentucky’s traditional home white attire, ruling there wouldn’t be enough contrast (highly debatable).

So, the underdogs will go with new road uniforms: black with neon trim, finished off with black sneakers and neon laces.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,’’ Acy said. “As long as it has Baylor across the front.’’

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