Postgame love-fest is back after Cats sweep Vols

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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Contributing columnist

After Kentucky beat Tennessee for the second time this season on Saturday, UK coach John Calipari briefly interrupted Tom Leach during his postgame radio show.

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“I just want to tell you I appreciate the fans and appreciate everything you guys do,” said Calipari as fans cheered every word he said.

It has been a tumultuous season for Kentucky, which started SEC play 1-3, including a home loss to South Carolina, and also lost marquee matchups before its win at Knoxville last month. Fans and media have both questioned Calipari’s future at Kentucky and rumors swirled that Texas had major interest in hiring the UK coach.

Now after the win over Tennessee, Kentucky is 18-9, looks firmly back in the NCAA Tournament field and is in third place in the Southeastern Conference with four games remaining starting with the one Wednesday at Florida.

Calipari said he had a “stack of mail” over a foot high with notes and cards from fans encouraging him.

“I don’t know what was being said about me,” Calipari said. “What are they saying about me that someone would write a letter? It’s easy to do the Twitter, but to write a letter, get a card and mail it in. Those are the fans who make a difference.”

Calipari was back having a love affair with UK fans Saturday, one sign that he really does like his team and what it is doing.

“This was a good win for our fans, especially our true-believing fans,” Calipari said. “We are breaking through and getting it done. I appreciate all of you (fans).”

He thanked fans still in Rupp Arena for his radio show for supporting reserve Lance Ware during the game.

“How hard is he working out there? Fighting like crazy. Makes one of two free throws today, got a big rebound on a free throw and made some plays. I am happy for him,” Calipari said.

He also noticed when UK fans applauded Tennessee’s Jahmai Mashack for his effort against Kentucky.

“Only at Kentucky does that happen. They (fans) appreciate the other team’s effort. Thank you for that,” Calipari told the fans. “It’s great for Tennessee players to know they are appreciated.

“We lead the nation in attendance, and what you did today, we got a little shaky there and when we made a basket, you guys exploded.”

He told fans all the “talking stuff” didn’t matter and that his team was in position to determine its own fate.

“It is that time of the year. I mentioned you had people trying to talk this program out of the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said. “That’s when I say turn it off. Stop, don’t listen. All you have to do is be positive and give us positive vibes. I have said we will figure it out and just hope we don’t run out of runway. It was bumpy but I like what we are doing now.”