LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky is getting used to what it’s like playing on the road this season and guard Immanuel Quickley is looking forward to the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
“It’s always fun to play at home in front of the best fans, but to play on the road, where everybody is against you, is going to be really cool as well,” he said Friday ahead of Saturday’s contest at Texas Tech.
Based on past experiences this season, Quickley said the Wildcats (14-4, 5-1) know what to expect when Kentucky takes on the Red Raiders in Lubbock for the first time since 1966.
“I think we’re really well-prepared,” he said. “That’s why you prepare for these games, is to get ready for the tough environment. Going on the road, there are just 12 guys that are on your bench, and a couple of coaches. I think we’ll be ready, it’s a tough challenge, but I think we’ll be ready.”
What awaits the Cats is a sold-out crowd and a Texas Tech team that reached the Final Four last season. In somewhat of a rebuilding mode, the Red Raiders defeated Louisville in the Jimmy V Classic that bumped the Cardinals from the top ranking.
“We’re playing a heck of a team and I’ve watched a bunch of the tapes,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Defensively they’re different, which makes it hard for teams that are playing them. Just different in what they do. They go press to passive aggressive. They go zone to man. They go trap from the baseline. They collapse like a lot of teams. A lot of hands-on drives, so if you’re not used to hands on drives it will affect you.
“Offensively, they’re in the top five or so in assisted baskets, which means they’re a good team. They find each other. They’ve got good players and they don’t lose in that building, so we know what we’re walking in to. It’s another hard environment for us to walk into. It’s what we’re about though.”
Calipari found out a little bit about his team following last week’s 73-66 win at Arkansas and said the Wildcats are close to becoming player-driven.
“They have to handle more of this and not count on me to step in and save the day,” the Kentucky coach said. “I’m here to guide and help. This is their team. They know how we’re going to play. We’re going to prepare them for the game and then it’s their game. It doesn’t mean you get selfish. It doesn’t mean you go do your own thing.
“It means we’re doing this together and now we have a great game plan let’s go do it. This is a game — we’re still in January, we’re still learning about ourselves. I love this game because it’s, again, a different kind of team. you get to the NCAA Tournament and you’re facing crazy teams and this is another one. You can say, ‘remember that game? Bang. Here we go. Remember Arkansas and how they played? Here you go.’”
Quickley said Calipari has been “talking about giving the keys to us.”
“He wants us to be a player-driven team, kind of like last year,” he said. “It kind of started when PJ (Washington) got on Ashton (Hagans) at the Auburn game and ever since then, we went on and it worked pretty well for us. I think the best teams are player-driven because you can hold each other accountable and guys won’t get upset or anything like that. When your team becomes player-driven, I think that the team can reach a really high potential.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Texas Tech, 6 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.