Last season, John Calipari missed out on an opportunity to face former assistant James “Bruiser” Flint for the first time since their days at Massachusetts.
His next chance comes Monday night with Calipari not only coaching a different team, third-ranked Kentucky, but also trying to lead arguably the nation’s most storied program to an NCAA milestone.
The Wildcats will try to become the first team in NCAA history to reach 2,000 wins when they host Flint’s Drexel squad.
Calipari led Memphis to an 87-49 win over the Dragons in 2008-09, but Flint wasn’t on the other sideline because of a mandatory Colonial Athletic Association suspension for an ejection in an earlier game.
In this meeting, Flint’s Dragons (6-5) will face an even tougher opponent in the unbeaten Wildcats (11-0).
A talented squad that includes three freshman starters has helped Calipari surpass the legendary Adolph Rupp’s school record for most wins to begin a coaching tenure.
With another victory Monday, he’ll try to add another piece to the legacy of a program that’s won seven NCAA titles, 25 SEC tournament championships and 45 SEC regular-season crowns. The Wildcats are attempting to beat out North Carolina (1,992) and Kansas (1,980) for the milestone.
“I’m such a small part of the 2,000 wins, but there is a sense of responsibility when you are in this seat,” Calipari said.
Four members of Calipari’s starting lineup are averaging in double figures, led by freshman guard John Wall (18.0 ppg) and junior forward Patrick Patterson (17.2 ppg). Calipari’s team is also among the nation’s top all-around squads in averaging 81.2 points and allowing 65.8 points.
After surviving their toughest non-conference stretch of the season, the Wildcats’ players are focused on the present, especially after a sloppy performance in Saturday’s 90-69 win over visiting Austin Peay.
“Getting 2,000 wins just shows how special a place and a program that Kentucky is,” guard Mark Krebs said. “We are going to approach it just like every other game. We are going out to win and do what we have to do to win.”
The Wildcats got close wins over North Carolina and Connecticut and a blowout victory at rival Indiana, but they needed a 12-0 run late in the second half against the unheralded Govs to seal victory No. 1,999 for a program that got its first win Feb. 18, 1903, against the Lexington YMCA.
Patterson scored nine of his team-best 21 points during that surge.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was just trying to shove them over the finish line,” Calipari said. “I was coaching every bounce of the ball, which I don’t want to do.”
After losing five of its first eight, Drexel comes in searching for a fourth straight win. The Dragons fell 77-58 at then-No. 3 Villanova on Dec. 2 in their only previous matchup with a ranked opponent this season.
Junior guard Jamie Harris is the only player scoring in double figures (15.1 ppg), and he had a team-high 24 points in Friday night’s 75-63 victory at Cal State Northridge. Drexel is averaging just 62.0 points but giving up 60.3 per game.
This is the first meeting between the schools.