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February 7, 2014
UK takes us-vs.-them approach to Mississippi State
It's taken him months, coach John Calipari said, but he's finally done it.
He's convinced his team that "everybody" is against them.
"They now believe it," Calipari said. "And it's made them play better."
Calipari's comments came at the end of a long answer about whether he truly believes, as he said last week, that Kentucky is the most overanalyzed team in any sport, anywhere.
Regardless of the answer, the result, if true -- that it's made Kentucky play better -- is really what matters to Calipari.
Especially when the Wildcats are about to embark on another two-game road trip, where it's obvious everybody in the arena is against them.
That starts Saturday with a game at Mississippi State (13-9, 3-6 SEC).
"Honestly, we kind of like to play on the road," senior guard Jarrod Polson said. "Us against the world."
It will be the teams' second matchup this year (and the first time since 1991 these two teams have met twice in the regular season), following a 85-64 win in Kentucky's opening league game.
But in that eventual win, Mississippi State held a three-point halftime lead.
"They left our building saying, 'we can beat these guys,'" Calipari said.
That's why, despite the Bulldogs' losing conference record, Kentucky's players are ensuring they don't overlook them.
"We definitely don't want to do that," freshman guard Dominique Hawkins said. "We know playing in the SEC, anything can happen."
"I think (we've) already learned that any road game in the SEC is tough," Polson said.
One player who can provide the steadiest hand is freshman guard Andrew Harrison, who has drawn consistent praise from Calipari recently.
That's a change from the consistent ups-and-downs he experienced earlier in the season, which included that first game against Mississippi State in which he scored eight points on 2-of-7 shooting with two assists and four turnovers.
"What I've seen him develop is just taking the ball, being a leader and controlling the game," Hawkins said. "Earlier in the season, he wasn't talking as much. But now he's talking to the whole team. He's basically the leader of our team, I feel like."
Kentucky needs a leader, both for the season as it pushes forward through outside criticism and more road tests, beginning with the Bulldogs and their white-out game.
"They're not going to walk away from us," Calipari said. "This is a great challenge."