Calipari

Kentucky coach John Calipari yells instructions to the Wildcats in a recent game.

LEXINGTON — John Calipari remains hopeful the Southeastern Conference moves forward with the league tournament this year.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the NCAA announced Friday that leagues can give their automatic bid to the regular-season champion or to the team that wins the conference tournament.

Each conference has until Feb. 26 to make a final announcement on conference tournaments.

“I think they need flexibility,” Calipari said. “There are some leagues that just don’t want to bring their teams together. There are some leagues that will opt to only have the regular season be it and there’s no reason for them to run a conference tournament.”

Traditionally, Calipari isn’t a fan of conference tournaments but instead looks at the bigger picture in the postseason, namely the NCAA Tournament. In order to even make the 68-team field this year, Kentucky’s only hope is by winning the conference tournament.

“My guess would be for us, that we’ll have a tournament,” he said. “The powers at be will make that decision and we’ll see. … I hope (the players) have that chance at the end (to make a run), but the league will make that decision and my guess is (that) our league will have a tournament. That’s a guess, though … I don’t know that.”

Like Calipari, Kentucky’s players are optimistic the SEC will move forward with a postseason tournament, scheduled for March 10-14 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

“We’re excited to try and go on this run and hopefully get a chance to win the SEC Tournament and get a chance to play in March Madness,” freshman guard Devin Askew said. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’re going one game at a time — focus on the next game and that’s it.”

The Wildcats (6-13, 5-7 SEC) held on to beat Auburn, 82-80, on Saturday in Lexington. Calipari remains confident his team can turn the proverbial corner.

“We’re still trying to figure out some things offensively, but these kids are who they are,” Calipari said. “… I’m looking at who we are, who they are, what they’re capable of doing, what I’m going to ask them to do, how we do this. They need to see the same picture I’m trying to see, which is, ‘look, let’s just get this going and let’s see what happens because we’re so close.”

The Tigers (11-11, 5-8) defeated Kentucky, 66-59, earlier this season, but Auburn coach Bruce Pearl took notice of the Wildcats’ improvement over the past three weeks.

“We are going to have to play a lot better,” said Pearl, whose team escaped with a 73-67 win over Vanderbilt earlier this week. “If we play like we did in the first half of the Vanderbilt game, we will be down 20 (points). We had too many turnovers and not great execution at the offensive end.”