After claiming the 800th victory of his coaching career, John Calipari couldn’t help but look back at how it all started.
The upcoming schedule also prompted the Kentucky coach to reminisce just a bit as the No. 12 Wildcats (16-4) face No. 5 Kansas (17-2) on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan., as part of the Big 12/SEC Showdown.
“I had my start in coaching there. Met my wife at Kansas. I had some wonderful times there,” Calipari said. “It’s a great campus, great tradition, great coaches that were there. Bill (Self) has followed me in that line.”
And then some. Just after Calipari served as a Kansas assistant from 1982 to 1985 under Ted Owens and Larry Brown, Self followed as a graduate assistant for Brown in 1985-86. Of course, Self famously returned too, and he has maintained the Jayhawks’ tradition during a 19-year run as coach.
His crowning achievement came in 2008 against Calipari when Kansas rallied to defeat Memphis in overtime for the national championship. Now, Self has Kansas in position to potentially overtake Kentucky as the winningest program in Division I history.
The Wildcats stand 2,343-732 all-time, while the Jayhawks are 2,340-873. Look no further than Kentucky’s 23-10 all-time lead in the series to trace the deficit for Kansas, although the Jayhawks could carry an edge this season while riding a five-game winning streak.
Ochai Agbaji has established himself as one of the nation’s top threats and is coming off a career-high 37 points in a double-overtime win Monday against No. 13 Texas Tech.
“It’s too early to give out accolades,” Self said. “We know that and Ochai knows that, but that’s the best player in the country right now to date. And no one can say they’ve made more clutch plays than what he has for us.”
Agbaji averages 21.3 points, and Christian Braun chips in 15.3. No other Jayhawks average double figures, which reflects their significant depth, a strength Self taps using different combinations.
He even worked a seldom-used forward, K.J. Adams, in at crunch time against Texas Tech while electing not to use the Big 12 preseason player of the year, Arizona State transfer Remy Martin.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better finish for the game,” Adams said, “and this is why I came here.”
Calipari’s 800th win came as part of an overtime scare Tuesday as Kentucky beat Mississippi State 82-74 after blowing a 16-point lead in the second half. Oscar Tshiebwe, whom Kansas previously faced in the Big 12 with West Virginia, scored 21 points and snagged 22 rebounds, his 14th double-double.
Tshiebwe could test an inconsistent Kansas frontcourt that includes the experienced tandem of David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot.
“We’ve got to be engaged,” Tshiebwe said. “We get loose out there; we get lost out there. … Kansas is going to be a great matchup for us. We’re going to go play and go fight.”
Tshiebwe averages 16.3 points and 15.2 rebounds. Four other Wildcats average double-figure scoring, including TyTy Washington, who missed the Mississippi State win with an ankle injury.
–Field Level Media