Here’s what John Calipari had to say after his Kentucky Wildcats lost to Duke, 118-84, in the season opener at the Champions Classic on Tuesday night:
On what surprised him the most: “Look, I’ve got to give them credit. I told Mike (Krzyzewski) after, I said, ‘You guys played great.’ They made shots, they passed the ball to each other, they attacked at the rim.’ We only created four turnovers. Now, either they’re a great handling team or we’re not doing enough defensively. We had one steal. Those three are good enough that they’re not running a whole lot of stuff. They’re just getting them in situations where they can create for each other, and they did a great job of it. But I thought they beat us to offensive rebounds. I thought there were balls that we could have gotten. They were just better than us. I told them I got outcoached, you guys got outplayed. We’ll watch the tape and move on.”
On if this could be good to get attention of young team: “I told them, I said in one of the huddles, ‘I think you guys thought this was going to be easy.’ You know, again, I’ve done this so long, thank goodness, I haven’t had many of these kind of games, but I’ve had a few. The most that you learn from this is they wanted it more than we wanted it. Then you look at it and then we kind of — instead of coming together — which Reid was talking about, we splintered and then guys tried to do their own thing, which spread it from an 11-point game to a 10-point game. I kept looking up and we’re down 14. As bad as we’re playing, we’re down seven baskets. Then you look up and it’s 19, then it’s 20. Like, we had our chances, but we kind of broke off and I think, again, the guys that were playing maybe better athletically to get by people than the teams we played in the Bahamas were. I think that’s played a part. But, look, I haven’t lost any faith in these guys because they’re a bunch of good guys.
“I grabbed the two point guards and told them after down in the hallway that I’m going to spend more time with you. I’ve got to get you guys on the same page with all of us how we need you to play. I thought Keldon played well, I thought obviously Reid did some good stuff. We just kept throwing it to Reid because we were able to get baskets that way. We had to run stuff to get good shots. They just kind of spaced the court. We did do some movement stuff to get to the rim.”
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On the worst loss of his career and when he last looked at the scoreboard in a game like that: “When I looked up with eight minutes to go and I said, ‘We’re not calling a timeout and if you foul I’m taking you out of the game. Let this thing run.’ But, like I said, for me as a coach, I told them, we’ve all got to do some soul searching here. Let’s figure this out. I’ve done this a long time, and I’ve had teams struggle. What happens with young guys when they struggle: They get a little rattled, so you’ve got to be careful that you’re teaching. Like today, I didn’t say that much to a couple guys. I got on them for simple things, but it’s hard. You’re just going to have to go to work and you’re going to have to teach, and you’re going to have to get them to play in a way that they can have success. My teams have taken some losses. Obviously not this bad, but there have been some ones where I just said, ‘Do not foul, we’re getting out of this gym in 3:30. Don’t you foul.’ So, you just march on.”
On sophomores struggling: “Don’t know. I don’t know. They seemed to be in the right frame of mind to play the game. I told them you don’t want to be too hyped because you’re going to lose energy. This is more going to be about one-on-one matchups. It’s going to be more about us helping each other, and our sophomores didn’t play particularly well but that’s fine. I think all three of them, they’ll be fine. They didn’t play good today compared to who they were playing against today.”
On if offense or defense was the more alarming takeaway: “We scored 84. Could’ve made a few more threes. Had some turnovers for no reason. We had three against the zone. Like, just threw them away. Of the 15 we had three late. But it was defense. Even in the exhibition games we didn’t create turnovers. I said that to the staff. There’s something that we’re missing here because we’re not creating any turnovers. The last team that I coached against that had four turnovers was Temple because of how they played. They would end the game with two turnovers. I mean, four turnovers? Either they’re the greatest ball-handling team in the history of basketball, or we’re not creating enough havoc. It doesn’t mean just spread the court, but how you’re playing in the halfcourt, how you’re reacting to passes. You’re reacting quicker.
“But this is one that you watch the tape, learn from it, move on. I mean ,they’re a very good team. If they play like that, they’re not losing many. If that’s who they are. The thing that I thought we would have an advantage on was rebounding. And guess what? I thought they beat us to every ball. We didn’t block them out. They had guys that were coming out of nowhere and coming up with basketballs. But I give them credit. I’ll tell you what, they’re playing at a way that they can have some success. I think they’re doing a pretty good job defensively for being a young team.”
On the biggest thing he wants to talk to his team about before the next game and what he wants to improve on: “We have a day off tomorrow so we’re going to have one day for prepare for a pretty good Southern Illinois team who we play on Friday, who’s won 20 some games and have most of their players back. We’ve got a tough game. It’s not going to be easy. Most of it is going to be about us, what we have to do and how we have to play.”
On shot selection and how that impacted transition defense: “If I look at it, I thought we probably took about eight to 10 bad shots. Quick in the clock, contested. They can be quick in the clock if they’re not contested. If they’re contested, why are you doing that? And it can’t be ... But again we’ll watch the tape. I thought we had opportunities to drive when we settled. Well why would you do that? Because you’re a little tentative. You weren’t running downhill and thinking in those terms.”
On his thoughts on UK fans showing support in the stands before some left early: “I wasn’t looking up there, but they do travel. And they’ll watch this team more than I’ll watch this tape. But that’s what coaching and playing at Kentucky is about. We represent the whole state, and they take pride in the program, and this hurts. We understand that we’re playing for them. That’s what we do here. And we’ve got a ways to go. You always wish this stuff would be easier. It’s never easy. When you are the team everybody is hunting, they’re not going to play a bad game, so you’ve gotta start playing better. You’ve gotta start playing better with the ball, better offensively, better defensively, creating some turnovers, better rebounding team, which we should be.”
On how well Zion Williamson changed the game: “He was good today. He got some shots off on big guys that were trying to block it. I thought that would bother him and it absolutely did not bother him today. We had a 7-footer in there and a 6-11 and he drove right at them and put his shoulder into them and made them... Holy cow. But, you know, Reddish played well. Barrett played well. Those three were really good and Jones had a steady game. He didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. The other kids did what they do. They were hustling and scrambling. They’ve got a good team.”