No. 21 Kentucky primed for 'physical' Texas A&M (Jan 09, 2018)

BY AP • January 8, 2018

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Following a 76-65 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, Kentucky coach John Calipari lamented the lack of physical toughness shown by his young team, suggesting they spent most of the second half with the Volunteer cheerleaders.

"Shot went up and I've got a guy standing next to the cheerleaders," Calipari said. "Just got too physical, too much of bump and grind and we just couldn't deal with it."

What then can be expected when No. 21 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 SEC) returns to the hardwood Tuesday to face the most physical team in the league in Texas A&M (11-4, 0-3)?

"They play a physical game," Calipari said. "They're going to try to jam it over the top, they're going to try to seal you, similar to what happened when Tennessee just threw us around."

Future NBA lottery pick and reigning SEC Defensive Player of the year Robert Williams, who missed Saturday's game with the flu, is 6 feet 10, 241 pounds. Tyler Davis is 6-10, 264. But the Aggies, a preseason choice to contend for the SEC crown, find themselves in a desperate situation with an 0-3 start because of so many injuries in the backcourt.

"Texas A&M has had injuries and illness, so everyone in our league knows how good they are," Calipari said. "Robert is one of the best players in our league, voted, I believe, player of the year in the preseason. My guess is they'll all be back, so it'll be a different kind of game."

It leaves Kentucky no choice. Improve or perish.

"I tried to tell them yesterday, 'For guys to advance in this sport you've got to fight. I've seen guys who have advanced with less skills and less this, less that, yet they fought and had 15-year careers. If you don't fight, you're not making it because it's too competitive.'

"Fighting doesn't mean fist fighting," Calipari said. "It means fight for position. It means being tough and knowing, I'm not fading away. I'm either getting fouled or making a basket here. It means I'm moving my feet to offensive rebound. I'm not pushing in the back. It means the shot goes up, I'm not afraid of contact, I'm going to create the contact. That's the fight. That is all a mentality of toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, and when you got a bunch of young guys it's the last piece of this. It's not skills. It becomes, will you battle?"

Florida (3-0) and Auburn (2-0) are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC.

"Teams that we thought would struggle are leading our league. Teams that you thought would be in the middle are up. Teams that have had issues as far as injuries and everything have taken a little step back, but they'll be back," Calipari said. "So this is a six-, seven-loss league. You could lose six or seven and win the league. That's what it looks like to me."

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