Derek Willis acknowledged that he was one of the players that hugged Malik Monk to show appreciation for the freshman’s play against North Carolina.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari ordered Willis and one other player, not named, to hug Monk. The idea was to re-enforce the idea that the huggers must do more so Monk does not come to their rescue.
Of course, Willis shares the forward spot with freshman Wenyen Gabriel. Ideally, Monk will soon be hugging Willis and Gabriel. From Kentucky’s viewpoint, there would be no better time than at archrival Louisville on Wednesday night.
“I think that’s the weak spot,” Willis said of the forward position. “Everyone else pretty much gets it done. … If we can lock up at the ‘four-position,’ it’ll kind of put us forward even more.”
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Willis also acknowledged that opposing teams are targeting him and Gabriel as UK players that can be attacked. UCLA freshman TJ Leaf (17 points, 13 rebounds) and UNC’s Justin Jackson (34 points) served as prime examples in recent games.
“Yeah, I feel it could be a thing,” Willis said Tuesday. “If opposing teams have any chance, it’s going to be by making threes or getting fouled (against UK’s “four-spot”). That’s their best opportunity to match someone they feel they can score on.”
Willis, who came into the season saying he wanted to improve as a defender, said he needed to develop more confidence as a defender in practice, then have that translate into games.
Calipari, who also spoke Tuesday, was asked what Willis’ defensive confidence looks like.
“I have no idea,” Calipari said, “because I haven’t seen it yet.”
UK-U of L
As always, to hear the UK side talk about the Kentucky-Louisville game is to think it will not be for the faint of heart.
Key to winning? Willis spoke in pugilistic terms.
“Bring energy,” Willis said, “and bring the fight to them. Don’t get punched in the mouth first, basically.”
Calipari suggested that the game could be decided on will rather than skill. Of Isaiah Briscoe, who is arguably UK’s toughest player, Calipari said, “This is his kind of game.”
“You don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “You don’t even have to be great. But you have to play. Because their team plays hard. They’re competitive. They’re physical. They’re not afraid to bang. If you don’t play, you have no chance of winning.”
Eight of nine
Kentucky has won eight of the last nine meetings, which suggests dominance. But eight of the nine games were decided by less than 10 points, which suggests a competitive series.
Calipari downplayed the notion of losing eight of nine affecting Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.
“When coaching against a guy who won games against me, I’m not worried about past games,” Calipari said. “I’m just saying, ‘How do we win this game?’”
If there’s any personal ill will between the coaches, Calipari did not share it with the media.
Calipari saluted Pitino’s coaching accomplishments, which include national titles for UK (1996) and Louisville (2013).
“C’mon,” Calipari said. “You know how good he is.”
Calipari said the relationship between the two is “cordial.” He then spoke of a chance encounter in Augusta, Ga.
“He and I worked out together for 30 minutes,” Calipari said, “and talked about (family and coaching). Would you like to have a camera on that?”
‘A little edge’
Dominique Hawkins had a career day against Louisville last season. His 13 points, three three-pointers and 26 minutes were all career highs. The points and three-point baskets remain career bests.
“He probably has a little edge my other guys don’t have being from the state . . . ,” Calipari said. “He made shots and made daggers.”
Of course, Hawkins is from Richmond.
Mychal Mulder has been largely absent in UK’s biggest games this season. He did not play against North Carolina and UCLA. He got in the final two minutes against Michigan State.
That’s more a reflection on the players ahead of him on UK’s depth chart than anything absent in Mulder’s game, Calipari said.
“Mychal Mulder isn’t the same player,” the UK coach said. “He’s so much better.”
But would Kentucky want to take minutes from star freshmen Malik Monk or De’Aaron Fox? Or sit sophomore leader Isaiah Briscoe?
Calipari again spoke of a four-guard lineup with Mulder the fourth guard.
“I’m not there yet,” Calipari said. “Because I want Derek and Wenyen to keep doing their thing. But that’s there if you need it.”
Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and Maria Taylor will call the game for ESPN.
Kentucky vs. Louisville in the Calipari era
Jan. 2, 2010
Dec. 31, 2010
Dec. 31, 2011
Mar. 31, 2012
Dec. 29, 2012
Dec. 28, 2013
Mar. 28, 2014
Dec. 27, 2014
Dec. 26, 2015