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Talking NFL Playoffs With Kentucky Coach John Calipari, Who Will Use Bengals’ Evan McPherson For Inspiration

Even Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, who had a road game Saturday and spent Sunday preparing to host another one Tuesday night, found time to watch perhaps the most exciting weekend in NFL playoffs history.

“Let me tell you the story I told the team today,” Calipari began on this weekly radio show Monday night.

Calipari, whose team lost a 1 p.m. eastern game at No. 2 Auburn 80-71 on Saturday, was watching later Saturday when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans 19-16 on a walk-off, 52-yard field goal by rookie Evan McPherson.

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow set up the field goal attempt with a 19-yard completion to his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase at the Tennessee 34-yard line. At this point, McPherson — a fifth round pick from Florida — was overheard telling backup quarterback Brandon Allen, “‘Uh, it looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship’ right before he went out there and kicked it,” Burrow said.

The Bengals play at Kansas City Sunday (3:05 p.m. Eastern, CBS) for the AFC Championship.

“This was before he walked on the field,” Calipari said in amazement. “Evan McPherson kicks it on the road — a rookie — straight down the middle! And before it goes through, he goes and hugs the guy. He didn’t even see it go through. He knew. Is that arrogance? Or is that confidence? And where did that confidence come from?”

Calipari hopes his No. 12 Wildcats (15-4, 5-2 SEC) learn something from McPherson going into their game againt Mississippi State (13-5, 4-2 SEC) on Tuesday (9 p.m. eastern, ESPN).

“They say he’s one of the hardest working kickers in the NFL,” Calipari said. “Now let me explain what kickers are in the NFL. If you miss a game winner, your locker may be empty. You do know that folks, right? Like, you miss two game winners, I promise you, your locker is empty. This isn’t about what the coach said. This is about working and convincing yourself good stuff’s going to happen.”

Kentucky may need that type of confidence as it could be without point guards TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler. Washington injured his ankle in the first half at Auburn and did not return to the game. Wheeler was shaken up by a screen collision. Calipari was unsure of the guard position and tried players without a lot of experience there Monday.

“I told my team today, ‘Guys, it was just saying it will happen. It means you work so hard, you build your self-esteem and confidence, and there’s nothing anybody can do,'” he said.

Calipari was also impressed with Burrow, who completed 28 of 37 passes for 348 yards.

“Joe Burrow can really play, by the way,” he said. “Like, holy cow! And how about this one? ‘You never draft a kicker. Why would they take a kicker? You can get a kicker for free.'”

McPherson was the only kicker taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“They knew he works and has confidence,” Calipari said.

Calipari said he once was walking with Bill Parcells at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility when Parcells was the coach (2003-06), and a kicker was practicing.

“The kicker looked at him, turned white and peed in his pants,” Calipari said. “And he was only practicing. So, I go back to kickers — they don’t have anybody picking them up. Either you kick, or you’re out. You own it. It’s great when I saw that. So I can tell my guys to fall back on your training, believe in yourself, positive self-talk. If there’s negative stuff coming in, what’s coming out? Negative. So say, ‘I earned this. I deserve this.'”

INJURY UPDATE

Calipari was coy about the availability of guards Washington and Wheeler.

“You want me to give out a scouting report for the other guy we’re playing? They may play. They may not play,” he said. “If you’re a gambler, you’re mad. Hey, we may not have any guards. We don’t know. Thank goodness, the game’s at 9. We get a little more time, but we don’t know yet.”

AROUND THE SEC

Ole Miss defeated Florida 70-54 Monday night in Oxford, Mississippi in a game postponed from December 29 because of COVID-19. Both teams will play two more games this week.

In other games Tuesday night (eastern times), Alabama (13-6, 4-3) is at Georgia (5-14, 0-6) at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network and No. 2 Auburn (18-1, 7-0) is at Missouri (8-10, 2-4) at 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES (All times eastern.)

Florida (11-7, 2-4) at No. 18 Tennessee (13-5, 4-3), 6 p.m., ESPN2

Vanderbilt (10-7, 2-3) at South Carolina (11-7, 2-4), 7 p.m., ESPNU

Arkansas (14-5, 4-3) at Ole Miss (10-9, 2-5), 7 p.m., SEC Network

Texas A&M (15-4, 4-2) at No. 19 LSU (15-4, 3-4), 9 p.m., SEC Network

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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