LEXINGTON — Attendance is down but John Calipari doesn’t think the trend will continue for the rest of the season.
“This is a fun team to watch and I think people will — they will come here,” Calipari said.
Through the first six games of the year, the Wildcats are averaging 20,092 fans per home game, down from last season when Kentucky drew an average of 23,462 for each encounter at Rupp Arena. Calipari blamed two Sunday games playing seven encounters during a 17-game stretch as a big reason behind the declining attendance.
“Our attendance is down and it's really sad because we're No. 1 in the country in attendance and — we're No. 1 in the country in attendance,” Calipari said. “It's kind of like (the media) saying to me, "Cal, you only won by 22, can you tell me what's wrong with the Cats?" I think people will jump in and do it. And some of it is students — Sunday night — we have a large student section and I think they're trying to do something with some of the student tickets. But I get it. I mean there are some games I don't feel like coming and I got to come here anyway.”
Kentucky (6-1) is ranked No. 7 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll and just concluded play in the Adolph Rupp Classic, with four games in a 10-day span. Kentucky is in the midst of a six-day break before taking on Harvard Saturday and will play just five games during the next four weeks.
“This stretch of games coming up is great for us,” Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington said. “We have time to practice and work on everything. So, I mean we are going to be way better in these upcoming games."
Kentucky’s lone loss of the year was a 65-61 setback to Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago earlier this month. Although some of the early-season games were somewhat of a struggle, the Wildcats rolled to a 107-73 win over the University of Illinois-Chicago in their last outing.
“This has been a grind,” Calipari said. “We have had how many games? In how many days? 16 days. And all freshmen. The youngest team maybe in the history of college basketball. I know the last 11 years it's the youngest team. But I tell you this, it may be the youngest team to ever try to do anything special.”
Expected to be one of the team’s top contributors, Kevin Knox leads the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers made with 11. Knox poured in a game-high 25 points in his last contest and is playing a team-high 35.1 minutes per game. Quade Green has made 8 shots from long range on 16 attempts and has missed just one free throw in 11 attempts this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the Wildcats with 18 steals.
“I’m starting to figure out Kevin (Knox), putting him in spots where he can make a basket,” Calipari said. “And I still want us to run. I'm all over Quade (Green). I told him after the game, "Who am I on the most?" Quade. I'm trying to get him to play a way that he's not playing yet. If you remember, this was kind of like what happened with us when we had Marquis Teague. If you remember those first seven, eight, nine games, where everybody was losing their mind and I was trying to get him to play a certain way that he just wasn't used to playing.”
Calipari and the Wildcats didn’t compete in the inaugural PK80 Invitational this season, a Nike event that featured Florida, Duke, Texas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Arkansas.
“It's hard when you have teams like this. I mean, you've got teams that are now 1-2 and 0-3 and they're young teams and guess what? They're rattled right now. Teams are rattled. If we had played a tougher schedule — Vermont was tough enough for us so was Utah Valley, am I right? Were we down nine to Utah Valley? Then we go and we're looking at teams that we're, "Oh, we can beat these guys." Really? East Tennessee State, it's tied. I mean this team is growing and I got to be fair (to them),” Calipari said. “If I'm just worried about let's just keep putting this program out here, it isn't about the program it's about the kids in the program. If I have a veteran team coming back and I know it, I'll go in one of those events. It will be close to here, it ain't going to be a 19-hour flight. That ain't happening. I don't like to fly that long, I got a bad back. That is about me. But the reality of it is, if I had that kind of team and we should play in that kind of event, we do it. It's just this team wasn't, you know, we're not ready for that. Now by the end of the year I hope we are. But we're not ready right now.”
Gametracker: Harvard at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.