LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky led Mississippi State 55-54 with 9:45 left in the game Tuesday night, but John Calipari’s Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 23-11 the rest of the way to notch a 78-65 win.
Kentucky (15-5, 5-3 SEC) snapped a two-game losing streak and won its 11th consecutive game against Mississippi State (14-6, 2-5 SEC).
Here’s everything Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game.
Q. How do you think Jarred Vanderbilt can improve offensively? Looks like he’s bringing a lot of energy but kind of struggling at the basket?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m going to meet with him and just say what do you want me to do to get you involved offensively. What are you comfortable doing? Because he had seven rebounds in 11 minutes. Guys, he’s got to play.
But we’ve got to get him comfortable where he’s playing. I would tell you that, you know, I mentioned after the game, like again, what I had the staff do today, we did a rotation prior to the game and we tried to stick with it but we had foul trouble, and we’re going to stay with that.
In other words, guys are going to play three, four minutes, and if you’re really playing well, maybe you play an extra minute and if you’re not playing so well, maybe you come out a minute early. But there’s going to be a rotation, and instead of — they have got to take off — instead of being subbed now, well, every time — no, no, you’re in a rotation. So that’s done.
So tell me why you’re playing the way you’re playing. You’re in a rotation now. You’re not being out for the missed shot or this, that. We’re going to coach you.
For me, it’s kind of like the year I had two platoons, remember I told you, I don’t have to do any subbing, I know these five are going in and these five are going in and if there’s some trouble. Now I can worry about coaching, which I’ve got to do with this team.
But Jarred, you know, again, we just, we haven’t figured him out yet but I’m going to meet with him and spend some time with him and try to get better at what I’m doing to get him involved offensively so he can stay on the court.
Q. A lot of times this season, your team has like blown leads near the end of the game, but they kept it to double digits in the final minutes. What are some things they are doing different?
COACH CALIPARI: We made free throws. We made free throws. Makes a big difference. But the play that drove me crazy, we are up nine and rebounding the ball with three minutes to go, now we’re going to grind it and get this to 11 or 12. The dude’s throwing ahead like we are still trying to run and low it to a guy who shoots a three. What are you doing? Why would you take 12 seconds?
And then the same guy that threw it ahead, you ready, fouls the three-point shooter. And now all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ballgame again. That drives me crazy because that means you’re just not thinking basketball for your team.
You know, that’s not acceptable right now with where we are trying to just win games. But the finish of the game, other than that, we grounded out, we got the ball where we wanted to, we made layups, and we made free throws.
Q. The way Kevin played the first half, is that what you would envision for him?
COACH CALIPARI: And rebound, please. Go get balls. Like everything else he was doing. He’s getting better. You know, the pass to PJ, he threw an absolute bullet. PJ was wide open. I’m like, you know, I think he just got anxious and the ball came shooting at PJ, six miles an hour on the slip, and again, it’s another basket. We’re that team that, you know, we can’t afford those kind of errors. Now, we only had 11 turnovers today. That’s a big jump for us.
I will tell you this, too, and what I told them after the game, we have to be better defensively man-to-man. If we’re to advance and we want to be one of those teams at the end of the year advancing, because we’ll get better offensively. We’ll start figuring each other out, you have to guard man-to-man. You can’t say we’ve got to go zone, we can’t guard them.
Now, what if you’re playing a team that can make threes, now you’re down 17 and your season is over? You have to be able to guard. Most of our problems we don’t talk. We refuse to simple interchanges. A guy runs the baseline, is wide open. How — well, I got hit. Did you stop? Did you tell someone else to pick him up? And that’s where we are.
But you know, I’m going to watch the tape and show them and just say, this can’t be who we are. We have to be better defensively. We were against Florida. Today, not so much. We got beat on the bounce.
But by the way, I’m also — we’re keeping assists. I’m trying again to make them willing passers, okay. So let me tell you how you get an assist. You get a normal assist. You pass it to somebody and score. You ready for this assist? You pass it to somebody and they miss the shot. Still giving you an assist. You pass it to somebody and they get fouled. Still giving you an assist. If you’re a big man and you outlet the ball and that guy leads to a break, I’m giving you an assist. If you throw it ahead and someone else throw it is to somebody else for an assist, I’m giving you an assist, too.
There’s a hundred ways now to get an assist. But to get an assist you must start bypassing the ball. Really? You cannot get an assist. Any pass you make is going to be an assist now. So when you end a game and you have one assist in 28 minutes, what is that telling you? Man, I passed one time in this game. Yeah, one time. I’m doing everything I can. Pass the ball to each other. Make the easiest pass you can make. Every extra pass we make, we become a good team, a better team. It’s hard, though. When I get it, I’ve got to be a ball stopper. I’ve got to fall bake and a walk. We’re getting better, though. We’re getting better.
Q. In the first half, Kevin Knox didn’t miss a shot for the last 16 minutes. You said earlier in the season you want to keep feeding the hot hand. He didn’t take as many in the second half. Was that a game planning thing or was he just not as aggressive?
COACH CALIPARI: No, again, they were being physical. They were topping him a little bit. We tried to get him the ball on the post a little bit if you remember. We were doing some different things.
But in the flow of the game, we didn’t run a whole lot for him in the first half. In the flow of the game, he scored. That’s when you’re making extra passes. When we don’t do that, it’s harder for us to score.
But I don’t — you know, I don’t know what he ended up with, PJ ended up with 22 and Kevin had 19. That’s pretty good.
Q. How do you sell the guys on valuing and assist total over a point total?
COACH CALIPARI: Just absolutely when guys are doing great passing, you’re hugging them, you’re telling them. And when a guy gets 22, you don’t even mention it. You don’t even say anything. You just come in and say, man, did you see how many — like we have it on the board right there. Shai had about 18. Some guys, literally, had like two. That means you’re not passing. I’m giving you every opportunity to get an assist.
Q. Your history of coaching freshmen, how long does the one-step-forward, two-step back last?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s all different. It’s all different. It’s all different. Right now, there’s still not a lot of trust within and even trust in what we’re trying to get them to do. Just not a lot of trust yet. Part of it is each guy trying to establish who they are as a player.
So now when you’ve got five guys trying to figure out who they are as a player, doesn’t it look like they are a little confused offensively? It does. When you’ve got everybody that’s comfortable in their own skin, and who they are as a player, and what they are being asked to do, it starts rolling. We’re just not there yet.
I mean, we had some guys pouting today. We’re just not there yet. And my thing is, when this becomes a good team, if anybody does that, and I told them after, you can take a guy out of the rotation. If a guy is pouting or he’s not playing well, he’s not rough enough; just, Coach, get him out of the rotation.
So now we’ll have an eight-man rotation or seven-man rotation. They have the right to do it. They can take a guy out of the rotation. And I was on the staff today. When is the next wave? Let’s go. Another minute. All right. Who is it? Tell them who they are going in for?
I want them know you’re coming over, but you’re going to go back in and you’re coming over, unless you just totally stop, or you broke down and gave up four baskets and we’re trying to win, you’ve got to come out. Short of that, you’re staying in. Every time I make a mistake I come out, you can’t say that anymore. It’s not true. You’re in a rotation now. Now we have to know why you’re playing.
Jonny did this today, which was good. He argued on one guy scored on him twice. Next time, you stop playing, if you remember the ball went in and this guy drifted, Weatherspoon had made the shot. He knew it was him, looked over, finally, take responsibility. I’m trying to get the whole team to. My play. I said we’re going to go zone and he said stay one, I want to guard him. Thank you. Thank you. Don’t blame. Don’t get mad. Be mad at yourself and say I want to guard this guy. Let me guard him.
It’s been a struggle for guys to say, “My fault.” It comes out “one of ya’ll’s shot.” (Ph).
No. Your fault. Say, “My fault.” My fault. (My fault) (mumbling, “my fault”) but they are getting there now.
Look, I’ve dealt with this before, and you know, you’re trying. I told them prior to the game, every day my whole mentality is how do I make each individual better and I’m thinking about them writing notes to myself, how do I make this team better. Told the guys, I mean, I’m about you. This staff is about you. So when we make you uncomfortable so that you can play that way and be comfortable playing uncomfortable, it isn’t because we’re mad or hate you. If we’re getting on you to hold you responsible, accountable, hey, we’re about you. How can that upset you?
Now if you’re playing for a guy that says, hey, you’re just a number, you’re a spoke in the wheel, this is just about this program, we’re not putting names on the back of the uniform, this is just a program; okay, then you probably look at the guy and say the guy doesn’t care about me and he just cares about the program and his own thing.
We don’t do that. So you should not be upset. If we’re coaching you or challenging you or making you uncomfortable, there’s a reason, for you, personally. But like, again, we had a couple guys not play well. I can lie to them or I can tell them, you know, you’ve got to be better. You played these minutes and you don’t get a rebound. Come on, man.
And Wenyen, when we did the combinations, the common denominator was Wenyen and Sacha a little bit but it was Wenyen. Every combination that played well and had good numbers had Wenyen in it.
The others had Wenyen and Sacha. Like in one of the combinations, but Sacha was the other one. So we’re doing a rotation so those guys play more. Today Sacha didn’t give us his best effort. But hey, they are not machines and they are not computers. He’s in the rotation and he’ll have another game and another chance to do it and he’ll have a chance to play.
Q. Why do you change your shoes at halftime?
COACH CALIPARI: I always do. Because I don’t wear tennis shoes in a game but I did for Coaches vs. Cancer and I signed them and I’m sending them. I did wear them. I wore them for a half. And then I put my shoes off.
Q. I know you’ve been in the Marshall County Hoop Fest through the years, do you have a message for that community?
COACH CALIPARI: I was literally nauseous because I had my TV on in my office and it came across my — the ticker, the sound wasn’t on and I looked and I turned it on. And it is — if you have children, my first thought was, when they said some people got killed, and people were injured, was like, oh, my gosh.
And then they made this statement; and parents are racing there to get their children. Could you imagine that drive to that school not knowing if your child had been killed or not? I mean, I just like welled up. I’m like, oh, my gosh, and I’ve got children.
So I don’t know, probably there’s nothing I can say other than I’ll be praying for all of them tomorrow at mass. I’ll take Communion for them, light a candle for them.
But you know, what is going on? You know, we’ve got to come together as a country. We’ve got to figure out this open yes, I do issue. We have got to figure out this gun issue; is it a gun issue or is it a mental health issue or what the heck is it? It is something, and we’ve all got to come together, man. Finally got the government up and running, thank goodness. But it’s an issue now. It’s happening over and over. Come on.
But I was physically, like gut-sick, and then I thought, when they said “parents are racing to the school,” I’m like, oh, my. Like, the emotion must be — and the first responders I heard were brave and did their thing. I thanked them and prayed for them, but you know, we’re in a country, we’ve got issues that we’ve got to deal with, and we’re not going to do them fighting each other and I win, you lose. Win/win.