LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball turned it over 22 times, shot 3 of 15 at the free-throw line and barely out-rebounded East Tennessee State on Friday night at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats still won 78-61, led by 21 points from Quade Green and 17 and 10 boards from Kevin Knox, but coach John Calipari seemed highly agitated afterward.
“I’m excited about this team,” he said, “but I just wanted them to be better today than they were probably capable of being.”
Here’s everything Calipari had to say in his postgame news conference:
Q. Coach Forbes thought your length and defense caused them a lot of problems. What did you think of the defense tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: We just got so far to go, I gotta watch the tape. When you’re shooting hooks at the free-throw line instead of free throws and you go 3 for 15, when you are playing to get a basket versus playing for our team to score, it’s what it looks like.
And give them credit, there’s another team that won 27 games this year, or last year, and going to want to win a ton of games. And I watched their stuff and their tape and was very impressed with Steve (Forbes) and the job he’s doing. Their big guys looked better than our big guys. One kid walked off, ‘Why didn’t you recruit me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I probably should have.’ I mean, this is all good. I knew we would have a letdown after Kansas. But it just shows, they’re just, they’re not mature enough to figure all this out and that every game matters and you’re being evaluated personally and us as a team every game we play. Guys went out and, ‘I’m just going to go get mine,’ and when you do that, you just don’t look like a very good basketball player. You look like, ‘Does he really get it?’ We had a lot of that kind of play today. Even in the end, I mean, how about just make easy plays? There’s a lob, but I got to do a wraparound. ‘Why would you do that?’ ‘Because I had to show everybody this wraparound.’ ‘They don’t know that I have this in my repertoire.’ ‘Really? You could have thrown a lob and the guy dunked it right there, but you threw it away and then you went and told the guy, you should have caught it. Really?’ Yeah, we had a bunch of those today, too.
Q. What does Nick have to do to defend without fouling?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s got to — you’re allowed to put an arm bar when the guy has his back to you. So we probably have done a poor job of teaching. He’s got two hands on the guy and he’s got his hip, his chest — you can’t. The guy catches it on you, you arm bar. If he squares up, you gotta get your arm off him. You’re never body to body against a big guy if his back is to the basket. When he catches it, it’s arm bar and space. Now as I say that, you’re saying, well, it’s obvious you haven’t taught him that because he didn’t do that one time.
So, again, this is the kind of stuff that we, we watch the tape and it’s like, ‘OK, let’s cover this’. But trying to get them to play faster, you know, again, you go 3 for 15 from the line, you get this — how about you make 10 out of 15 and you’re not very good. You make 12 out of 15, which we had been making, now all of a sudden you’re looking at this saying, OK. But there was — we just, again, we started the game down 18-10. We made some runs, we did some good stuff, but we got a long way to go.
Q. Quade Green had 10 points in two minutes there when you guys kind of needed a lift and shot really well tonight. Forbes said he thought that’s the guy you need Quade to be aggressive offensively.
JOHN CALIPARI: We need him to be aggressive and to make jump shots. And I thought that – I told Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) – I mean, again, we had two guys with 12 turnovers. Two guys. If we’re going to give you the ball, you gotta respect that, you can’t get six turnovers. And Shai, last game, had six. And this game I keep telling him, ‘If it’s a crowded lane, you got one thought: ‘Who am I passing it to?’ Don’t try to score, don’t try to spin, don’t try — if it’s an open lane, shoot a layup, you’re 6-6.’
So, we have got to get with him, and like I said, I’m — here’s what I love about this team. They’re trying to do what I’m asking them to do. I don’t want to get frustrated. I did today because I thought guys got selfish. And I don’t know if it was selfish and they – or they just don’t know. But I know this: A bunch of great guys that do want to please me. You know how lucky I am to be coaching guys like that? And I gotta keep reminding myself of that because I want them to be better every night out. Well, guess what, they’re not machines, they’re not computers, they’re not going to do that. But in the same sense, I have a responsibility to help each of these kids grow individually and collectively. That’s my responsibility. And if I see a guy slipping, just because he’s going to try to do things the way he wants to do them or is going to try, I gotta say something and I got to be firm about it. If a guy’s turning the ball, I just say, ‘Look, either we can’t give you the ball as much or you can’t be on the court as much.’ It’s just one of two. We’re a team that turns it over normally 10 to 12 times a game, which is perfect. We usually get 15 or 16 assists. In this game we had 17 assists, 22 turnovers. Now, my first team here who had really good players, if you go back, we had more turnovers than assists probably through 10 games, 12 games. We really did. So I imagine for the year this puts us, we’re like even right now.
But Wenyen (Gabriel) had — he’s better than he’s playing. Shai’s better than he’s playing. PJ’s (Washington) way better than he’s playing. He did some good stuff, but he’s just a better player than he’s playing right now. I’m telling you, when you’re not in sync together, all of a sudden everybody looks kind of bad. Would you agree? Like every guy kind of looks off kilter. And it’s all based on, we got to do this together. We’ll get back to work this weekend. We’re going to practice Saturday and Sunday, do film both mornings, practice both evenings, and we got a tough game, a game that’s going to be another tough one for us to win. And then you got another tough one on Wednesday. Then when is the next one?
JOHN CALIPARI: Then another one on Sunday.
Q. Monday, Wednesday, Sunday.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. He (sports information director Eric Lindsey) had his feet on my desk, says it’s early. He was throwing popcorn in his mouth. It’s early. I’m here with a noose around my neck.
Q. It looked like early Sacha Killeya-Jones came in and did the kind of things that you have been wanting him to, but how did you feel he played coming off the way he played against Kansas?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s doing better. He’s just playing hard, he’s trying. He’s making some mistakes and doing some things, but they’re all making mistakes. So I’m happy for him, just — I come back to, he was 17 years old last year. He’s 18. He’s at the age of a freshman. And it took him a year and maybe some more to understand it’s not your skill set, it is your energy, your passion that you’re playing for, your ability to play harder than the guy you’re playing against, your extra effort. Then your skill comes into play. I’m trying to convince this whole team of that. This team has gotta be a defensive first team. We gotta figure out ways of disrupting the game, without, in my opinion, stretching the court all over the place, because we’re so big it makes it hard in the half court to get baskets. If you stretch the court out, good teams are going to get open shots. But we should press some, we should do some — but there’s other ways of being disruptive, other than a full-go pressure.
Q. All of your teams, typically, are young and they struggle at the beginning but they eventually get it. What happens that they get it and how do you kind of marry up an individual getting it versus the whole team putting it all together finally?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s a process. I would tell our fans, just enjoy this because I’m the one dying. You should be enjoying it, watching these kids. We got great kids. I’m just here to tell you that really solid, good kids that I’ve been very tough on and probably dragging them faster than they really are capable of doing this. I’ve given them so much stuff. We’re preparing them like we would a normal team here and they’re probably not ready for all that stuff, but that’s my job, to make this — to do things that they’re not sure they can do. I mean, I think when you’re, when you’re really leading and you’re trying to do stuff, you are asking your players to do more than they think they can do, basically doing the impossible and you’re asking them to do it. But what they find out is, man, I can do way more than I thought I could do. Then by the end of the year they start saying, ‘Wow, you know what, we can do this’. Early on, it’s talk until you get hit in the mouth and then you start thinking, ‘Man, maybe I’m not as good as I thought’. And I got to get them back to say you can be better than you thought, but you have to have a desperation about your work and what you’re doing every day, and that you know you got to spend some extra time on your own to build your own confidence and then get in the game and go from there. This team needs a lot of tape work, watching tape. Just do.
Q. Is there anything in between the Kansas game and this game that you expected your team to have a grasp on but they didn’t quite in this one?
JOHN CALIPARI: I expected a what?
Q. Is there anything that you expected from your team to have a grasp of coming into this one that you didn’t?
JOHN CALIPARI: We had a day practice and some film. I mean, we didn’t have enough time. I wish we had one more day for Kansas. We didn’t. I mean, we had, we got – we came home at 3 in the morning, 3:30 in the morning, what was it? 3:30? And every one of these kids went to class. I wouldn’t have gone to class. That’s just me. Every one of those kids went to class. They’re just, like I said, they’re young, they don’t get it. And then they’re trying to get it themselves. Think about this: How about you’re trying to figure out yourself and then we got to figure out each other and then we got to learn about each other, you gotta learn about me, I got to learn about them, and we’re doing it at Kentucky where we’re supposed to win every game by 20. ‘What’s wrong with the Cats? They’re too young. Why don’t we keep kids and let’s try to make them stay longer?’ You deal with all this stuff that we hear and deal with. It’s what it is. We all bought into it. But I’m excited about this team, but I’m just, I wanted them better today than they were probably capable of being.
Q. If you didn’t have this glut of games, what would you be doing that you can’t do now? What wouldn’t you be doing that you have to do now?
JOHN CALIPARI: Situational stuff, probably more shooting. Getting them to play with more chemistry. Being clearer in what we’re doing. Breaking down defensively individually and as a team. And we, next game – like we, like tomorrow we’ll watch tape and I’m going to try to do some stuff to get us — I want us to play faster. I thought we did that at times today. And then there are times where you’re playing a team – look, and again, I’ve done this 30 years, you gotta be able to play both ways. You gotta be able to play really fast to try to separate yourself, but you’re going to get in a game when it really matters and the other team’s going to make you play half court. Or they’re going to be a really patient team and you’re not going to be able to just throw it and score and shooting within five seconds because you’re going to be on defense 75 percent of the time. You have to be able to play grind it out and you have to be able to play fast. That’s historically what I believe. Defensively, you start with the basics around the goal. How do we guard? How do I keep people in front and then you spread out your defense? Other people go and say, ‘Look, we’re going to – we’re pressing, that’s how we play, and we’re doing it from Day One and we’re going to go crazy.’ But again you’re going to meet a team that you’re not pressing into submission, they’re too well coached and they’re too veteran and all of a sudden you’re going to get beat. And if you get beat at the end of the year, your season’s ended. And that’s why I like the start the way we are and figure out as we go. We can’t play a 2-2-1, 1-2-1-1, a trapping zone, go back and play a 2-3, a 1-3-1 and let’s trap and let’s go man-to-man and let’s play pick-and-roll five ways. You hear what I’m saying to you? These kids can’t do that. We’re playing man-to-man and we’re struggling at that. So it’s a step at a time. You ready for this? Can’t skip steps. I want to. Come on. I want to. I want us to be great right now. Guess what? Not happening, sorry. And I gotta accept it and be patient. At the end of the game I kind of got frustrated. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did, and normally after a game like that I don’t want to say much but I came in and guys were taking their shoes off and talking and so I said some stuff. Not mean. Kept it real.
Q. You had a pretty quick trigger at the beginning of both halves today. What did you or didn’t you see that made you pull your starters so quickly?
JOHN CALIPARI: I didn’t think some guys were engaged with their team. So I’m watching and you got one guy that’s kind of just out there. He’s not engaged with his team. Well, you can’t be out there. I don’t know what to tell you. Can’t be out there. So the beginning of the game I just thought it was just, wait a minute, and that didn’t help, we were still down 18-10.