January 23, 2012

Dawgs await No. 1 UK

According to Kentucky coach John Calipari, it's time SEC coaches like himself start tooting the conference's own horn.

In his mind, it's long overdue.

"I've been here three years and this is the best this league has been," Calipari said on Monday's SEC teleconference. "We have five teams in this league that I believe are Sweet 16 teams."

Call it hyperbole if you will.

But on the day it was announced that the Wildcats (19-1, 5-0) had ascended to the top spot in the Top 25 rankings, Calipari seemed determined to use the league's weekly teleconference to pump the rest of what the SEC has to offer. That includes Georgia (10-9, 1-4), which hosts Kentucky Tuesday night at Stegeman Coliseum (ESPN, 9 p.m.).

"We've got some great teams. Alabama is one, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State goes to Vanderbilt and wins, that shows how good they are; we're not even talking about Florida yet. Now, Tennessee just beat UConn, they just got that young guy (Jarnell) Stokes eligible. You've got Arkansas. I know, people say 'yeah' because of how they played against us, but they beat Michigan. What about Ole Miss? Go try to win at Auburn, go try to win at Georgia, go try to win at South Carolina now. This league could have eight or nine teams in the discussion. That would be a great day for this league to get eight teams in the NCAA Tournament," Calipari said. "But what we don't do enough of is talk about each other, we don't mention the other guy's name, we've got to brag about each of our programs; lose or win we've got to brag about the other guys. Of our top five teams, maybe the Big 12 because their top three are really good, but I'm telling you, this league is as good as any league in the conference and road games here are hard to win."

Calipari was just as effusive in his praise of Georgia freshman and leading scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who tallied a season-high 25 points against Ole Miss, the most points in 13 years for a Bulldog freshman.

"He's a terrific player; I'm telling you he's one of the best in our league," he said. "You can forget about class. He's a game changer as a player and for their program."

Calipari knows a thing or two about quality freshmen.

The Wildcats start a trio of their own in 6-foot-7 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds), 6-10 Anthony Davis (13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and 6-2 guard Marquise Teague (10.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg).

"Kentucky's a great team and they play the right way," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "There's nothing that Kentucky doesn't do well. They score from every position, they're outstanding defensively and they're terrific off the bench."

But Calipari doesn't think the game will be easy.

"Anytime you go on the road in this league it's very difficult," Calipari said. "Auburn had us, Tennessee had us and we were very fortunate to play the last few minutes well enough to get out of both places with a win. I expect Georgia and LSU (Saturday) to be the same."

NOTES: Georgia comes into play with a 10-9 overall record, 1-4 in the SEC, after dropping a 66-63 decision to Ole Miss at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday. The Bulldogs were down by as many as 15 in the second half, and by double digits as late as the final minute of play. Still, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie but missed a pair of three-point attempts by Gerald Robinson Jr. and Nemanja Djurisic. … Georgia and Kentucky meet for the 139th time Tuesday. Although Georgia has won just 25 of the prior meetings, eight of them have come in the past 10 years. These two programs split a pair of games last season, Georgia winning 77-70 in the SEC season opener and Kentucky winning 66-60 in Lexington three weeks later.