The Wildcats moved to 18-9 and 7-7 in the SEC. Here’s everything Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the win.
Q. John, Avery (Johnson) thought rebounding was a big key here. What do you think of the effort and the impact it had on the game?
COACH CALIPARI: ”Yeah, you know, I thought, again, Jarred [Vanderbilt] and Wenyen [Gabriel], just go get balls, and Jarred is — you know, and I told him after. I said, ‘You know, you’re a beast and what you did and how you changed the game.’ I said, ‘There’s some shots you tried to shoot. Just don’t shoot them if they are not a dunk layup or something you can easily make. Don’t force it because everything else you’re doing is great.’ You know, it’s nice to have another passer on the floor, and he’s a willing passer.
“Today I went with a big lineup. I went with a scoring lineup, like the best team that I could put on that could play offense, and then I just hoped that they could guard a little bit, but I just put — I’m trying whatever I can to see if we can crack through this.
“And again, I thought Nick started the game really well. Sacha [Killeya-Jones] went in and got a great rebound. It was a big play, that rebound he got.
” But it’s, you know, Quade [Green] and Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander], and those guys, made some shots. Wenyen, poor Wenyen, it doesn’t seem like he can make a 3 with his feet in the water shooting it in the ocean right now. You know, but he will. I mean, he’s making 60 in 5 minutes. He gets in the game and he just can’t make them.”
Q. It seemed like Jarred came out a little nervous like he has been in every game, but then once he made a few shots, he settled down.
COACH CALIPARI: “Yeah.”
Q. Is this the player you’ve been looking for?
COACH CALIPARI: “And he’s got to slow down some, too. Just slow down. I mean, it doesn’t — it means, play fast but don’t be in a hurry. I want you to fly but don’t be in a hurry, and sometimes he gets anxious. He starts running and his mind is moving as fast as his feet.
“But I’ll tell you, he is a — I’ll tell you who I’ll compare him to: Dennis Rodman. That’s who he is. How about this, be Dennis Rodman. He did all right. He can guard every position. He rebounds offensively. Defensively he can pass. He’s skilled. Made his free throws.
“So until the very end, we really — it was nice to see us go to the line and not have the other team go 1-2,, and us go, 0-0, and then they go 2-2 and we go 1-2. It starts demoralizing you. Today either the right guys were at the line or more guys just made free throws.”
Q. Can you talk about the play of Quade, it seemed like to this untrained eye late in the game he played as good of defense as he’s played?
COACH CALIPARI: “You know what, it’s amazing, he did. What he can do is bother the ball. So he got up there and bothered the ball and did a good job. Yeah, I was proud. The only thing that got me mad, was he missed the free throw, and then gave up a layup. I mean, immediately.
“Was he mad about the layup or the free throw? The free throw. And I went nuts. That’s our problem right now. You’re more concerned about you than us. You missed a free throw. So what. You gave up a layup. That don’t bother you, it’s OK. Can you believe I missed that free throw? That’s what we’re kind of busting through right now.
“But his shooting and his ability to make shots, 4 assists, no turns, made every right play. He and Shea on the court together are pretty good.”
Q. After the Auburn game, you were asked about being so composed, even with the losing streak. Now you know your team better than anybody else.
COACH CALIPARI: “We had a losing streak?” [Laughter].
Q. Four games.
COACH CALIPARI: “Whoo.”
Q. You know your team better than anybody else but they seem to play with a little bit more of a sense of urgency. I think Coach Johnson said desperation today. Is it possible that when they see their head coach so composed that may tone them down? Maybe they need a sense of panic every once in a while.
COACH CALIPARI: “I keep telling them, this is not about me. My job is to help each individual player get better and have a team that understands for everyone to benefit, they have to do this together. This is a basketball team. It’s a team sport more than any other sport out there and it happens real fast.
“If you’re not about each other, your mind is not going to move quick enough to be about your team. Your mind is always thinking about yourself. You’ve got to lose yourself in the team and I keep saying to them, you know, this thing gets going, and we start taking this to the next level, it’s not changing me. But it puts those guys in a different light.
“If we struggle, I mean, maybe some people mad at me and that’s fine. But it doesn’t change — for them, it really is devastating at time. It’s about you getting better. It’s not about what I am, what I do. This team has to be empowered at some point. I thought they felt a little bit but I had to stop them at times and drag, drag, drag. They don’t see some of the stuff. They are just kind of playing at times.
“But they played desperate. Let me say, we gave away some games this year. I mean, I can — you know, I can tell you that we had leads late and just gave the game away. We have to start taking games from people, which means desperation and I told them that prior to the game. We gave some away and now we’ve got to take some back. Got to go get some, and this was a good one.
“This team, again, seventh in the country on defense, No. 1 on defense in our league, and we did all right. And we made some shots we had to make, but the biggest thing is, we are what we are. Like let’s go get rebounds. Forget about missing shots. Go rebound. We’ve got 20 offensive rebounds. That was like the difference in the game.”
Q. Usually when we’re talking about Shai, it’s about his scoring, but today he had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, only one …
COACH CALIPARI: “And big ones. You remember that one that was bouncing around in the middle? Now there was another one that one of my guards looked at that came right to him at the elbow in front of their bench and he never went after it and I went berserk because loose balls are why we lost at Auburn. They got every one of them and we still have guys that don’t think there’s an importance to that, going in, well, I thought so and. So well, hit heads with him. Two of you hit heads going after the ball then, do that.
“But he came up with balls. Still, his decision-making on some of these plays late, you know, he had a turnover, when there was a chance, he could have thrown the ball to Quade, I tried to lob it to Jarred; turnover. And there are other plays, and we’re working hard on him coming to stops and doing different things.
“Now, I’ll tell you, these guys have been in the mornings and evenings and working on their own and they have been spending the extra time and it’s starting to show.
“Now we’ve got another game. Now we’ve got to go to Arkansas who is beating the crap out of somebody right now. It’s going to be a hard game for us. It’s another hard game. Let me say this, there are no easy games in this league, none. And this league should get nine teams in.
“I think our strength of schedule is still five in the country with all freshmen, five. Our RPI is probably 15. Wait a minute, you lost four in a row; you wanted to jump off a bridge. I know but think about who we lost to: At A&M, at Auburn, Tennessee at home, at Missouri. I mean, if we’d have won one, I probably would have been surprised.
“You’d like to win the home game but we didn’t. But getting this one, you know, like I told them, hopefully it makes them feel better but it better not make them arrogant. This is like, hey, feel that we’re making strides. My thing, are we getting better; you have people that know nothing about basketball, only if we won or lost, and they will go nuts.
“I’m not listening to them. You don’t — what, you just want to know won or lost. Are you seeing that the team is getting better? Now, you may say, well, you’d better do a better job late because your team is giving you a chance to win and you keep dropping these games. Okay, you can put that on me. But the reality of it is, we’re getting better. We are. Now, I’m getting older, and I’m getting very tired. But we are getting better as a team.”
Q. You’ve talked to us really from the beginning about players-first program. How do you balance nurturing Jemarl (Baker) along for him versus what the team needs and was today a step forward for him?
COACH CALIPARI: “All right. So let’s think about, it’s your son, and he’s struggling. It’s your son now, not somebody else’s son, your son. Would you want me to just bench him and say, we’ll worry about it next year? That’s what you’d want me to do with your son.
“I would say, you’d say: ‘Hey, coach, he’s responsible for himself but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable. If he’s not going to listen to you, you should not play him.’
“That’s what I think a parent, who is not trying to enable their son; who says, well, he takes him out, if you didn’t take him out, he takes you out — that parent is killing their son versus making them be responsible for who they are.
“In his case, I’m with Jemarl. He’s trying. He’s working. He’s got some habits that are so bad, and they are habits; that they pop out sometimes at the wrong time. My job is to make sure he’s not hurting the team — ready for this — or himself, and to keep working with him. But when I go in my office at 10 o’clock at night or 11, I’d better see him in there every once in a while, and you know what, I am.
“Now, if he’s willing to do that and put in extra time and extra work, I’m for him. Now, if you’re playing all of, I may not play you as much. But I’m going to play you, and if you are doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you. That is someone’s son, just like the others. Now, it would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly, just say you’re out and I’m going with these seven.
“I’m just not going to do that. I’m just not. I told Wenyen and Sacha today, [Friday] and prior to the game, I need you to rebound, set screens, block some shots and run like crazy. If one of you is doing it more than the other, that’s who is playing. I don’t care if you score or dunk or do whatever. A big play was Nick got out-rebounded on a free throw. What did they do with that free throw? 3-point. How did that happen?
“‘He ran around me.’
“OK, Sacha, you go in. See if you can do it.
“I mean, this isn’t hard. I’m telling you, you rebound, you run that floor, you defend it like crazy, set great screens. Everything else is a bonus. If you can’t do those, I’m playing the other guy. If both of you can’t do those, I’m playing somebody else.
“So it’s clear what they need to do, and I’m trying to be honest with them. But I have to — you know, these guys, they are all freshmen. They were a little bit scattered now, a little bit rattled. If they looked at me and I was like, oh, it’s going to be five and (imitating crying) how would they have played today? I mean, think about it? How would they have played?
“I’m like, I’m old now. I used to be the young coach. I am now the old coach. I’ve been through just about everything you could be through, including absolute about a bazooka shots from the media my whole career. No, bazooka shots, agenda-driven stuff, my whole career. And I’m old now. If you shoot me now, it goes through a bazooka hole that’s in my body and doesn’t even hit bone. It doesn’t hit anything.
So at the end of the day, this is about these kids, how do I help — how do I help Jemarl? How do I help Sacha and Nick [Richards]?
“Now, I’ll tell you what becomes hard is if they are going to listen to somebody else. Can you help them now? You can’t help them. And if they are listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you. …
”These are steps at a time. You can’t skip steps. I’m happy we won. It would have been a tough loss, but you know what, if we got better, and we did something at the end, I would have taken responsibility and we move on. I’m not putting this on these kids. They are all young. I can take it. I’m older. I’ve been through the wars. I can take the heat. I’ve got some calls that people like, these people — like I don’t read it, so I don’t know. Am I getting attacked? Is anybody attacking me?
“Well, I’ve got friends calling. They are probably sensitive. I don’t know because I don’t read it. But if you are, be mad at me. Don’t be mad at the kids. Be mad at me. I recruited them. I’m coaching them. I’m the one that’s buying time for guys which may be costing us some games but I’m going to continue to do it. I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first, and I’m trying to stay that course.
“But, they are responsible for themselves. If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when you’re not performing, you can’t be in there. I mean, it’s pretty simple.”
Q. Along those lines of trust, you were talking about — Shai said yesterday it’s going to be up to each individual guy to decide to trust you. You said, I can’t trust him for you. Is he one guy that has …
COACH CALIPARI: “Did you see, he did a Tony Barbee move today. Tony Barbee used to run down the other side of the court for me. So when he screwed up, he would just go down the other side. He’d never come to this — ‘Tony!!!’ — and he’d be down the other side of the court and act like he couldn’t hear me. He go like this, what? They are shooting free throws.
“Today, Shai did it, the last play where he dribbled down the sideline and threw a course court bullet across that almost got stolen in a nine-point game, they could have made a three; 30 seconds, all of a sudden it’s six, we miss two free throws, it’s another three and I could see us going into overtime and us losing because my man dribbled down the sideline when we work every day on driving it to the middle of the court. He knew what he did. He saw it. He waved the guys over. He walked on the other side, if you watch, he got in the fall lane on the other side and never looked at me and I was yelling to him. He would not look at me and then I got him at the end if you saw. I said, “Get over here” when he was in the middle of the court.
“He did a Tony Barbee. He is one, that he’s right, like he trusts, he’s totally bought into, what do you want me to do. He’s still at the end of games got to make better decisions, but that’s us helping him.”
Q. How important is having a post presence down the stretch in a close game and how well did P.J. [Washington] give you that?
COACH CALIPARI: “He did and early on he bumbled balls and turned it over. He had five turnovers today and they were all like fumbles balls and maybe a charge. He and Wenyen had nine of our 13 turnovers. We had 13 turnovers and those two had nine. When the game got in the balance, P.J. made every play he was supposed to make. We need him to play 40 minutes that way, or 30, whatever minutes he’s playing.
”But even if he’s playing poorly, I have all the faith in the world to go to him and that’s what we did. We went at him.”