After No. 2 Kentucky took down No. 5 Duke on Tuesday night, Wildcats coach John Calipari tried and failed to poke many holes in his team’s performance.
Sure, the ‘Cats got off to a slow start on the glass, but they did not trail in the final 28:37 and calmly finished off the Blue Devils for an 11-point victory.
Down the stretch, UK was missing three of its starters: Marcus Lee (fouled out), Skal Labissiere (fouled out) and Isaiah Briscoe (cramps). It didn’t matter.
“We’re deeper than we thought,” Calipari said his staff told him after the win.
Here’s a recap of his postgame thoughts on…
…early trouble: “Our guards were not going in there and cracking down and taking (their matchups) out. When you think about it, there were 50/50 balls, and we just got those balls jerked from us, and many of those became fouls. So the grit we needed to play with on defense was not quite there.”
…his guards: “Our guard play was good. I thought we controlled the tempo at the end of the game and did what we had to ride the game out and make them guard in the half court … We have good, smart guards.”
…Jamal Murray: “I thought Jamal settled a couple times where he didn’t have to. Settled for tougher shots than he really needed to take. But he’s learning.”
…Tyler Ulis: “1. He believes in himself. 2. He’s a skilled player with a great feel for the game, and you see his leadership ability on the court. You just feel it. When he’s off the court, you know we’re not the same. I said he’s learning to lead off the court now. Doing great stuff. Even the play where it was a pick and roll — he switched and stole it. C’mon. You gotta have a feel for the game. A feel for what’s about to happen.
“He’s kinda like a baseball player that watches the ball, and you can see the seams. The game’s happening slower for him. We have a couple other guys … their minds are racing. And when your mind races … you’re always behind the action. You can’t react.”
…Alex Poythress: “What I want Alex to be is, I don’t want him to be a bully. I want him to be an elite athlete. See, a bully’s easier. You can stay on the floor and just push around and beat ‘em up. I want him to be an elite athlete, going after every ball. Rebounding above the rim.
“You know, he hit his tooth on the rim. So… you hit your tooth on the rim? Why don’t you do that all the time? Well, ‘That’s hard.’ I know it’s hard. But again, it’s trying to get these guys to understand… the best version of you is when you’re the elite athlete that you are.”
…his doomsday scenario: “A team like (Duke) could shoot threes and all of a sudden you’re looking, it’s four. You miss some free throws. They make a three. We foul. It goes to overtime and you lose a game like this for what reason? You didn’t want to come up with a rebound when you’ve got inside position? Those are the things our team’s still learning.”
…what players need to improve: “If we learn to fight every possession. Play the guy before he catches the ball. Be alert defensively and stay in a stance and really bounce and play off one another, we’re gonna be really good. If we don’t, we’re gonna be an average team.”
…Isaac Humphries: “How about Isaac today? Isaac was fine. He’s 17 years old! He’s 17. He has no idea he’s not supposed to be in that game.”
…hype surrounding Duke game: “This is one game. If we lose to Wright State, you people in Kentucky will think I should be fired. So you’re really happy with me today. Cal’s the best. He’s unbelievable. We lost to Wright State… ‘The game has passed him by. He’s too old.’ This thing at Kentucky’s a different deal. So it’s nice to win. We’ll enjoy this on the plane ride home, and then we’re gonna get ready for Wright State.
We did not approach this game any different than we did NJIT. And if you ask the guys, they’ll tell ya. It was the exact same preparation … Nothing changed.
…new offensive approach: “Last year, we had 7-foot, 7-foot, 6-10. This year we’re 5-9, 6-2, 6-5 … We’re just a different team. We’re playing different … We went to dribble drive. I’m back to teaching that like I did at that other school.”
…Skal Labissiere: “Skal just needs time on the court. He’s gonna be fine. Skal’s one of the best players in the country. Wasn’t tonight. But he is. He did some good stuff tonight. I mean, it wasn’t, like, awful. The one fadeaway jumper … ‘Why’d you fade? Just shoot it!’ But he was a little nervous out there. He’s gonna be fine.”
…Derek Willis and rest of bench: “Struggled some. Struggled defensively. Didn’t rebound. They grabbed a rebound from him. Threw it out. Three. But that’s okay. We’re still working on the rotation. I told him after: From Dom to Charles to Derek — someone’s gotta be able to spell. I can’t play these guys 40 minutes a game. But then I reminded ‘em in ’96 I played my guards 39 minutes each. So I will. I’d rather not. But I will. So you other three gotta help us so we can get these kids off the floor some.”
…Marcus Lee: “He was great. I thought he was great. Earlier in the game, now, he got pushed around. It was kinda like, ‘What?’ Then he fought back. Did some good stuff today.”
…his halftime speech: “I just walked in after and said, ‘You guys. We’ve got a good team. Go out and do the things we do. But you gotta fight.’”
…effort: “Duke fought. They thought. I didn’t think we did.”
…Isaiah Briscoe: “One guy that makes us pretty gritty is Isaiah, but he cramped up. I was like, ‘What is wrong?’ He was like, ‘I’m cramping all the way up to my hip.’ I’m like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’”
…the bench stepping up: “If you can go to Isaac, it means you’ve got four bigs. You’ve got Derek. And you’ve got three, four guards. All of a sudden, the issue becomes, if they’re not playing a whole lot, and all of a sudden, we need ‘em for 20 minutes. Can they do it? I don’t know. But we coach every player that is in our program like they’re a starter.”
Kentucky hosts Wright State on Fri., Nov. 20, at Rupp Arena.