• 28°

Calipari remains hopeful SEC will choose to have league tournament

John Calipari remains hopeful the Southeastern Conference moves forward with the league tournament this year.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the NCAA announced Friday that leagues can give their automatic bid to the regular-season champion or to the team that wins the conference tournament. Each conference has until Feb. 26 to make a final announcement on conference tournaments.

“I think they need flexibility,” Calipari said. “There are some leagues that just don’t want to bring their teams together. There are some leagues that will opt to only have the regular season be it and there’s no reason for them to run a conference tournament.”

Traditionally, Calipari isn’t a fan of conference tournaments but instead looks at the bigger picture in the postseason, namely the NCAA Tournament. In order to even make the 68-team field this year, Kentucky’s only hope is by winning the conference tournament.

“My guess would be for us, that we’ll have a tournament,” he said. “The powers at be will make that decision and we’ll see. … I hope (the players) have that chance at the end (to make a run), but the league will make that decision and my guess is (that) our league will have a tournament. That’s a guess, though … I don’t know that.”

Like Calipari, Kentucky’s players are optimistic the SEC will move forward with a postseason tournament, scheduled for March 10-14 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

“We’re excited to try and go on this run and hopefully get a chance to win the SEC Tournament and get a chance to play in March Madness,” freshman guard Devin Askew said. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’re going one game at a time — focus on the next game and that’s it.”

The Wildcats (5-13, 4-7 SEC) have lost four in a row and seven of their past eight games going Saturday’s contest against Auburn. Calipari remains confident his team can turn the proverbial corner.

“We’re still trying to figure out some things offensively, but these kids are who they are,” Calipari said. “… I’m looking at who we are, who they are, what they’re capable of doing, what I’m going to ask them to do, how we do this. They need to see the same picture I’m trying to see, which is, ‘look, let’s just get this going and let’s see what happens because we’re so close.”

The Tigers (11-10, 5-7) defeated Kentucky 66-59 earlier this season, but Auburn coach Bruce Pearl took notice of the Wildcats’ improvement over the past three weeks. The Wildcats are coming off an 81-80 loss to Arkansas earlier this week.

“We are going to have to play a lot better,” said Pearl, whose team escaped with a 73-67 win over Vanderbilt earlier this week. “If we play like we did in the first half of the Vanderbilt game, we will be down 20 (points). We had too many turnovers and not great execution at the offensive end.”

Auburn has won at least one game per season against the Wildcats during the past four years, but Pearl knows it’s not easy to defeat the Wildcats on their own home court.

“We have had some success against Kentucky, but not at Rupp,” Pearl said. “I have not won at Rupp with this Auburn team and for good reason. They are really good. We gave it a shot last year. We had a really good game last year and a close game. That is the closest we have come.”

Gametracker: Auburn at Kentucky, 1 p.m. (EST) Saturday.  TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21.