AUBURN - Nobody does it like Kentucky coach John Calipari. Nobody has ever done it like Calipari.
John Calipari does it like no one else.
Calipari, Kentucky's third-year coach, makes no claim to bringing in players or the long haul. He recruits elite freshmen who are likely to stay for one season, puts them on the floor and goes to work. Last season, it paid off with a national championship. This season, with four freshmen in the starting lineup, the road has been bumpier and the building process is ongoing.
Coming off a road win at Tennessee, the Wildcats (11-5, 2-1 visit Auburn (8-8, 2-1) tonight at Auburn Arena. Tipoff time is set for 8. The game is a hard sellout. This series has belonged to the Wildcats for a long time. They've won 13 straight from Auburn and 27 out of 28.
But third-year coach Tony Barbee, who played and coached for Calipari, says it's just another game on another night. At least that's what he wants it to be.
"It's just the next game," Barbee said. "It happens to be the next one on the schedule. We never look forward to playing each other. In all basketball families, you like the competition and all that and you forget about it for two hours. After the game, you go back to being friends."
Barbee played for Calipari at UMass and was his No. 1 assistant at Memphis before becoming a head coach at Texas A&M and then at Auburn, where he is in his third season
"Tony is doing an unbelievable job," Calipari said. "Those guys are being coached exactly how they ought to be coached. Auburn has bought into how they're going to have to play. We have not."
Auburn lost a double-overtime heartbreaker at Arkansas on Saturday, but help could be on the way. Junior guard Chris Denson, who averages 15.2 points per game, could return after missing four games with a stress fracture.
"Who knows?" Barbee said Friday. "It's up in the air."
Kentucky could be without 7-foot freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who is nursing a knee injury. Barbee shrugged when asked about it.
"He'll just reach down the bench and grab another McDonald's All-American," Barbee said.
Auburn's biggest challenge could be dealing with 6-foot-10 freshman center Nerlens Noel, who averages 10.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. He had seven blocks at Tennessee. Freshman guard Archie Goodwin leads Kentucky in scoring with 15.2 points per game. Freshman guard Alex Poythress averages 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Late Auburn great Mike Mitchell will be honored tonight when his jersey is retired. Mitchell was an All-American in 1978 and a four-time All-SEC selection.
He is the all-time leading rebounder in Auburn history with 996 left as the Tigers' all-time leading scorer with 2,123 points. He is currently second on the scoring list behind Chuck Person. Mitchell ranks second in three other stat categories: field goals made (926), field goals attempted (1830) and career scoring average (20.4).