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Kentucky coach John Calipari and the Wildcats will take on Ohio on Friday night at Rupp Arena. (Mike Cyrus Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky coach John Calipari is learning more about his team on a daily basis and knows Ohio University will provide another early-season test for his squad.

“We need this game to just continue our path,” he said. “You need to have tuneup games. You can’t just go throw kids into the fire. You need tuneup games, but you also need to get challenged.”

Calipari said the Wildcats (2-1) have been challenged by the past two games, both of which were blowout wins over Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s and expects a unique look from the Bobcats who are off to a 2-0 start following wins over Belmont and Cleveland State.

‘They’re going to play the post (a lot) different than these other teams have,” he said. “They’re going to play pick-and-roll defense a little bit different. You have to play them a little bit different because of who they are. You’ve got to pick your poison a little bit. But they’re good.”

In addition to another new learning experience for his squad, Calipari wants to know more about his Wildcats.

“Do we have fighters? Do we have guys that will battle? Or not?” he said. “All of our fans, the four million of them that live in this state and the 100 million of them everywhere else, are watching to see who fights and who doesn’t, who guards and who doesn’t, who rebounds and who doesn’t. And it’s out there.”

The Kentucky coach added the contest won’t be an “end-all” game but is firm that he expects a competitive contest.

“This is an NCAA Tournament team, terrific for us to play,” he said. “It’s what we need and we’re going to learn. These early games, that’s what you do. But let me say this again, you need tuneup games.

“You need games where you can work through the kinks and you can still build confidence and you can have guys understand what they can and can’t do.”

INJURY UPDATE

Calipari isn’t sure if Lance Ware or Jacob Toppin will return to the roster. Both players have missed most of the past two games because of nagging injuries.

“Hopefully they're getting closer,” Calipari said. “Will they play tomorrow? I don't know. They won't play if they don't practice. They have to practice today to be able to play that game tomorrow.”

COVID DRIVEN

Calipari believes the low attendance at Rupp Arena has been “mostly COVID-19” and “two entrances into the building.”

"We have an older crowd, if it takes 25 minutes to get into the building and do the same thing next time, ‘I might not come.’ But I think most of it is COVID driven,” he said. “I think the positive in this is one, we need our fans, but two, we’re still going to be one of the teams that leads the country in attendance. Attendance, this COVID knocked everyone for a loop around the country. Well, 500 people bought our tickets. There are other things that you may look at, but I think we’ll be fine. Our fans, it’s just great to have them back. I’d say, like this game, we need our fans at the game. It’s going to be a really hard game, hard game.”

GAMETRACKER: Ohio at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or via Twitter at keithtaylor21

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