Here’s everything John Calipari had to say after Kentucky defeated UNC Greensboro, 78-61, at Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon:
Just looking at the stats sheet, there will be a lot of other guys to ask you about, but Ashton to me seemed like maybe this was a breakthrough for him today.
“I would say. We needed to adjust the press attack because we worked on it, but until you go against the other team’s stuff, you don’t know, and when we put PJ in the middle, it kind of took off the pressure. So Immanuel started and had to go against it, looked uncomfortable, didn’t look confident, not his fault. We had to adjust a little bit.
“But what I liked with Ashton, it’s not what he did offensively. We put him on No. 10. We said, we can either let the kid get 60 or put Ashton on him, and then Ashton made him work to get shots and run, and all of a sudden you’re into their legs. They had to take him out a few times. Now, I will tell you Ashton was cramping up, too, and he said, I’ve got to come out, my leg is starting to cramp. But he’s played that hard.
“I thought the way at the end we rebounded the ball, you know, Keldon I thought just -- he fought like crazy. We made some shots. We’re getting better. It’s just going to take -- look, I’m going to say it again. I’ve got to get less into result and more into the process, and I’ve got to stay the course.
“We’ve all gotten used to winning all the games and all that. Well, guess what; we have a ways to go with this group. We do. And there’s going to be a lot of tweaking, and basically what I did is I went with the seven guys who were really going pretty good. I just said, we’re playing seven. That’s kind of like old-school stuff. But whoever was really competing and fighting, that’s who I left in the game. Then I don’t -- listen, I don’t have to coach that now. Now I can coach basketball.”
Do you think your kids were a little surprised at how aggressive and defensive-minded UNCG was to come out in stretches in the second half?
“Well, here’s what I would tell: Wes has done an unbelievable job. I watched a lot of tape. One, their press can get you out of sync. The second thing they do, they’ve got some guys that can play the ball and make it hard, and they deny, so they try to take you out of the spaces you want to play in, and it took us deep into the second half to get more control of the game. They controlled it. And the second thing is offensively they run good stuff. They didn’t even run what I would call their snap play where they hit it, hand it off and -- I thought out of that time-out for sure they were going to run it.
“But they are a team -- you talk -- they’re an NCAA Tournament team, and I told the guys, I said, they will be in the tournament. You’ve got those guys and Furman both really good basketball teams, veteran players, and like I said, I told Alonso after, I said, man, you shoot the ball, and he just smiled.
“But we needed this game, believe me. The next one, all the games coming up now become harder and harder and harder and harder. It team needs it, and we’ve got to find out who can play in those type of games, like when the stuff is really on, who can make plays.”
Nick Richards didn’t come into the game until a little bit less than 13 minutes in the second half. Can you just explain why that was?
“I’m playing three bigs right now, and if the three bigs are all playing well, I’m just going to leave them there. You know, we’ll have practice this week. If Nick steps up and he steps in front of one of those guys, one of those other guys won’t play. If there’s foul trouble, be ready. If there’s -- we go with you, be ready. He went in and blocked a shot, and I just decided, you know what, this game is too tight. I’m not going to mess with it now. And I thought EJ did some good things. I thought EJ wore down. You know, they were physical now. They banged and they were not going to back down. That’s a veteran team. That’s an NCAA Tournament team that had Gonzaga beat last year, and this is the same kind of team.”
There’s been so much focus this year on improving defense, improving three-point defense, it’s kind of been lost you have the No. 1 team in the country in terms of rebounding margin. Can that be the foundation that this team grows throughout the year?
“There’s two things. Offensively I keep saying, we’re not quite in sync, and I’ve got to figure out some stuff for these kids. But our efficiency offensively is fine. Our rebounding offensively is fine. Our ability to get to the free-throw line, that all is fine. We turn it over too much. Today again we had big guys with four and five turnovers, then you’re handling the ball too much. You shouldn’t touch the ball that much. You can’t turn it over that much or you can’t handle it that much. So we’ve got to limit our turnovers and get a little more flow to the game. But that’s not them, that’s me. And some of this will be over a period of time where I just say, I’ve got it, let’s do it this way, and you know we’ve done this in the past. It takes time, and it may not be until January or February until we all know, all right, here’s how we’re playing.
“Last year it took us until February. February. We lost four games in a row, and then by the end of the year we figured it out, and then we go. This is -- I wouldn’t wish this on anybody that’s faint of heart. What we do and what we’ve got to go through to get it right is painful and aging; can you tell?”
On defense you started with Keldon on (Alsonso) ...
“We were wrong. No, he was not supposed to start on him, and we were down 5-0 because we put the wrong guy on him in the locker room. I’m like, why is Keldon guarding this guy, because I knew who was supposed to be guarding him. Well, prior to the game somebody said you’re guarding him and you’re guarding him. I’m like, wait a minute. We just gave up five points because we have the wrong guy on him? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s literally what happened. So throughout the whole game I said, look, we gave them five points. That was on us. You guys just keep playing. Then I looked up, I said, think about it, we gave them five points. Not you guys, we did.”
Keldon went down pretty hard with about three minutes to go in the first half. What was the nature of his injury and what was the nature of your miracle cure?
“I know, that’s what I said. It was like he was shot by a sniper and then he got right back up and started running around. I didn’t see it. I thought maybe he stepped on somebody and then they told me he did not step on anybody. In the second half, he said, I’m ready to go. Now, he had an ankle sprain back in high school at Huntington. He had that high ankle sprain, and maybe he tweaked it. But I told him, we’ve got three days off. We’ve got the rest of today off. We’ve got tomorrow off, and we’re only doing individuals on Monday. So he should be fine.
Yesterday Kenny was refreshingly candid in his assessment of the team. You ought to send him out more frequently --
Calipari: Why, I don’t tell you the truth?
He put a big, big emphasis on PJ --
Calipari: Do you know they pull credentials for this kind of questioning. (Laughter.)
I retract my question. No, he put a lot of emphasis on PJ and he essentially said how the team does is going to be dependent on him. Do you feel that same way?
Yeah, I -- today a couple times, I’m just like, kid, you’ve got to fight. Somebody told me about another player and said the difference is the kid is like playing like his life depends on it and PJ is not. He’ll get it, though, and that’s the great thing about being here. One, we’re not afraid to tell you the truth. We’re not going to sugar coat this. We’re not going to tell you everything is okay when it’s not. But we’re also going to stick with you. We’re not going to throw you under the bus, but you are responsible for you. Change. Things gotta change, and the only person that can change it is the individual player, whether it’s PJ, whether it’s Nick, whether it’s Quade. I can’t do it for them. And like I said after the game, what I did like about Quade after the game, he was fabulous. Fabulous.
“Now, as soon as I was putting him in, what were they doing? Throwing it to No. 1 and driving for lay-ups. So I couldn’t keep him in the game. I love Quade. We need his offense. But guess what? He couldn’t stay in front of the guy. Now, I told him after, you’ve got to come back and say, Immanuel, you and Ashton come right at me, let me guard you and help me stay in front of you. Let me figure this out. And then with PJ, come on, man, get that motor going. He’s just got to do it. Reid, shooting everything right-handed. You can’t shoot them right-handed. They’re there. If it’s between you and the basket and you’ve got to shoot some lefty, you’ve got to shoot them.
“So we try to keep it real, and this thing is -- it’s not communism. It’s not. Not everybody gets the saying: You get what you deserve.
Cal, this starts a stretch where the team is going to play these five games on Saturdays, nothing really through the week. Based off where they’re at, do you think that’s a good thing? Do you want them playing games, practicing?
“No, we need to figure stuff out. We need to press a little bit, so now how are we going to do it? Now I have time. We just had so many games, we just had to worry about us. We’re worried about staying in front of everybody. We’re worried about closing out with high hands. We’re worried about helping the helper and rotating and anticipating. Think about that. That’s all we’re doing right now. Offensively we haven’t done much because we’ve worked so much on the defensive end.
“Now we have time. All right, if we’re going to press, what does it look like? We don’t know yet. If we’re going to play some zone, what does that look like? Who are the players that can play against that zone? Some offensive things, how do we maybe space the court wider? We’re doing one of the things you guys keep talking about, we’re rebounding so well; well, have you kind of figured out that we’re keeping guys near the rim so we can? When you space that court, the one thing you’ll usually give up is that ability to offensive rebound, and that’s important to us.”
Ashton had a nice drive to the basket for an and-one late in the second half. He hasn’t really looked for that a whole lot to date. Would you like to see both he and Immanuel --
“Here’s his job: Catch that ball and look ahead. If somebody is ahead, throw it. If they’re not ahead or they’re guarded, that means the court is spaced. So I look here, he’s guarded; I go the other way, he’s guarded, I’m shooting a lay-up. So you’re doing this on the run.
“And again, the other side is, all right, it’s not there, do I flare it out now and do we play. And that is reps. Right now we haven’t had the reps in practice we’re getting them in games.
“I’ll give you one. Unbelievable rebound by Keldon. Then he started running fast and faster and faster and faster and faster and faster and faster and faster. He ran over two officials, three cheerleaders and two players. Like kid, just stop. But again, the reps would teach him, you look ahead and it’s all in there, there’s nothing there. I’m not going to go. Like I said, we need reps, are you ready, with everything. Everything we need reps. Offensively, defensively. We had some breakdowns in pick-and-roll defense again.
“But let me say this: My team is getting better. And I’m just in this -- in the process of I’m going every day, how do I help them get better. I’m doing individual meetings, we’re doing everything I can to help them, but they are responsible for themselves, and we’ve just -- we’ve got to fight to win games. Today we fought to win. We did. And that’s what we’ve got to do for 40. Let’s go. Fight to win.
“I told them again, the other team, the beginning of the game, nothing to lose. You’re fresh. You had five days to prepare. Nothing to lose. They’re going to play that way. Make them play that way for 40 minutes. This is every team we play, guys, until the NCAA Tournament. Then everybody has something to lose. Games are different now. We’re used to playing like the other team has nothing to lose. Now we both have something to lose. So every game we play, even the games we have coming up will be the same.”
You started with Keldon on (Alonso), then it looked like Tyler was on him for a few possessions. What does Ashton bring to the defensive thing that these other guys are not?
“He’s physical. He’s more athletic. He can stay in front of people. He gave him one shot, if you remember, in front of their bench where he guarded him with his hands down and the kid made a three. Short of that, he guarded him, and I told the team after the game, so what’s just been proven is if another team gets going with an individual player, what are we going to do as a team? We’re putting Ashton on him, so Ashton, I’d come in every day and work so hard at my defense so that I know I’m getting my minutes.”