Even when Kentucky was finishing a four-game losing streak, assistant coach Bruiser Flint believed the Wildcats were playing better and they finally finished off a win over Auburn Saturday.
Now Flint and the UK staff hope that momentum will carry over not only against Vanderbilt tonight but for the rest of the season.
“I think the guys played a little bit better, although we had our problems at the end of the game. I think our guys didn’t think that we were going to lose. They thought we were going to win (against Auburn), so we made some plays at the end of that game that helped us pull out the victory,” Flint said.
During coach John Calipari’s time at UK, his teams have normally peaked at tournament time. Kentucky has to do that this year because the Cats’ only hope of playing in the NCAA Tournament is winning the SEC Tournament in a few weeks.
Flint said he was a mid-major coach for a long time who understood how important conference tournaments were because most mid-major teams had to win the conference tourney to get into the NCAA. They could not depend on at-large bids.
“I think that’s what all coaches try and say, ‘Let’s finish it off. Let’s go win the conference tournament. Let’s play our best basketball at the end of the year.’ I can say honestly, I think we’re starting to do that. We’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season,” Flint said.
“Has it been tough? Yeah, we’ve had some tough sledding. But I just think that we’ve continued to get better. So hopefully we can continue to keep riding this. Keep playing better the last couple of weeks of the season and be going into that conference tournament with some confidence.”
Senior guard Davion Mintz said the UK coaches have been “very optimistic” about how the 6-13 Cats can finish the season and that has helped the players.
“The faith that they have in us is unbelievable. The spirit is never low. No one is worried about, OK, super down season. OK, how can we still pick up the pieces and try to put this puzzle together? That’s been their focus all season. No one is ever pounding our heads, making us lower ourselves because of our current situation,” Mintz said.
“Now, it’s like, how can we make a run with what we have and our circumstance? That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
Personally I think it has helped that Calipari has finally decided to let the team play at a faster pace that has produced two straight games with 80 or more points. The flip side is that UK has given up 80 or more points in three straight games.
“Playing faster so a lot more possessions in the games. Both teams get a lot more possessions. We were playing a lot slower and now we’re playing a bit faster, so we can get a little bit more in transition. So, you’re also going to let the other team get a little more in transition,” Flint said.
“It’s just a matter of the speed of the game and how we’ve been playing offensively. So the games are a little bit higher scoring, a little bit higher for both teams because there’s way more possessions in the games the way that we’ve been playing.”