LEXINGTON – January 21, 2022 – Keith Taylor
The Kentucky forward and the 12th-ranked Wildcats better gird up for their biggest road challenge to date at No. 2 Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers (17-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference), one of the hottest teams in the nation, carry a 14-game winning streak into the showdown between a pair of top 12 programs, a first in Auburn Arena history.
“The mindset for us right now is that we are going to the war,” Tshiebwe said Friday. “It’s not going to be easy. We just need to go out there and fight. It’s like when people go fight for their country. They’re not just going to go out there and play around, they go into there willing to die (for their country). We’re willing to die just to win.”
Tshiebwe said the team’s current state of mind is “really good for us.”
“We’re having fun,” he said. “We all stick together and we care for each other. We fight and that’s why we’re having fun.”
Not one to put too much importance on any single game, Kentucky coach John Calipari downplayed the battle, saying it was not a “significant game.”
“We’ve got to go into the game knowing that the game we’re going to play, we respect all of the teams,” he said. “Texas A&M was an outstanding team. Sold out, it was a great crowd and it was a rock fight and they’re all the same. They’re a good team. They’re big, their guard play (is good), they shoot it well and they do a lot of stuff to get lobs … they’re really good.”
Kentucky (14-3, 5-1) has won its past five games, including a hard-fought 64-58 victory at Texas A&M Wednesday night at College Station. It was the team’s second consecutive road win and fifth in a row since dropping a 65-60 loss at LSU on Jan. 4.
Two of Kentucky’s next three games are on the road, including a showdown at Kansas on Jan. 29 in. Lawrence, Kansas.
“These games toughen you up,” Calipari said. “We’re going into a hostile environment and it’s going to be a really had game.”
Despite his team’s success this season, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has taken note of the Wildcats’ strong play too.
“We’ve got to step up in a huge way for Kentucky,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best teams John (Calipari) has had in years. It’ll be a clash of the titans, that’s for sure.”
Shaedon Sharp, a mid-year enrollee and one of the top guard prospects in the nation, has been practicing with the team for more than two weeks and a potential change in an NBA Draft policy making him eligible for the 2022 draft hasn’t changed Calipari’s plans for him.
“He plans on him being here next year,” Caliapri said. “He’s watching, whether I play him or not this year. If he’s ready to be in games, I’ll put him in. He’s a great kid, he’s doing well and he’s going to make practices even better. At the end of the day, you know, I’m going to be for the kids. That’s how I do this.”