His hair slicked back, John Calipari was ready to speak.
Yet even after Kentucky’s 72-62 win Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena, the Hall of Fame coach wanted to talk about the opposing side. Not his No. 11 Wildcats (22-5, 12-2 SEC), but the Missouri Tigers (7-19, 2-12).
“I’ve watched tape the last couple of days. I watched it on the airplane, and I knew we were coming here and I didn’t know much about the team, but I watched the tape,” Calipari began. “I told Kim (Anderson, MU coach) before the game, for a team to be struggling win (and) loss-wise (and) fight like crazy, that is coaching.”
Powered by a student section that spanned from the floor to the rafters — and taunted Calipari with a “Cal you (stink)” chant during his halftime TV interview — as well as an early one-handed jam by junior forward Jordan Barnett, the Tigers did show fight.
Missouri jumped out to an early 7-3 lead and led 28-24 with 4 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the opening half. Not to mention, the Tigers out-rebounded Kentucky 19 to 18 in the first half and committed three fewer turnovers in the opening stanza.
Safe to say, it didn’t come easy for Calipari’s Wildcats. Although, it never does on the road, according to Kentucky freshman forward Bam Adebayo, who poured in 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
“Everywhere we play, home or away, it’s everybody’s Super Bowl,” Adebayo said. “They were trying to beat us, but we got going and we won.”
Adebayo was accurate, thanks in large part to his contributions.
Missouri was unable to stay out of foul trouble — both freshman center Reed Nikko and senior center Russell Woods fouled out — and Kentucky was able to pull away after being tied 52-52 with 7:45 to play.
Just seconds before Barnett made the layup to tie the game, Calipari picked up a technical foul following what he thought was a bad call. Kentucky freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel was whistled for a travel, and Calipari gave it to the referees.
“I did not swear, but I did deserve (the technical),” Calipari said. “I did deserve it, I’ll just say that. I did not swear, I don’t swear.”
With the way he spoke of Anderson and crew on Tuesday night, one might believe that statement.
Anderson, who agreed with Calipari’s comments on his team’s fight and added that his guys “have fought all year,” gave the Kentucky coach a compliment of his own.
“There’s nobody in America who’s more supportive of coaches than John Calipari,” Anderson said. “Nobody that I know. I go sit in coaches meetings with him, and he’s supportive of everybody else.”
As Calipari drifted from Missouri talk, spoke of Adebayo’s NBA prospects and discussed the improvement that sophomore point guard Isaiah Briscoe has made, the man who has made eight Elite Eights circled back to Anderson and the Tigers.
“I come back to (the fact that) there are teams right now that let go of the rope. Missouri, or as my father-in-law would say — Missourah — isn’t one of them,” Calipari said. “They are not letting go of the rope.”