Everything University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari had to say in his postgame press conference after his Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt 56-47 in Rupp Arena on Saturday night:
We have got to figure out how we start games. It’s getting ridiculous. It’s five halves in a row where we just start the game and we’re getting smashed.
We lose a guy on a pin-down to open a game for a three. We have a simple interchange and our big guy, we’re telling him: That guy drives. Do not let him shoot.
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Let him shoot and he makes another three.
They had 14 points in the first half in transition and we weren’t getting any. They were running back. They weren’t really trying to offensive rebound. They shot it and ran back to make sure we didn’t get baskets, and guess what, we didn’t.
They played zone for 40 minutes and it’s really difficult, folks, when you have young guys that are still learning the feel, when to look to the post, when to — we were throwing around the perimeter and I was trying everything to just get something to work.
Immanuel (Quickley) made shots. I thought Ashton (Hagans) really defended again and did some stuff. We’ve still got to figure out offensively some things we’ve got to get them to do. And then Reid (Travis) and PJ (Washington) had 20 rebounds between them.
But it’s a good win. Today, Alabama lost at home. Florida lost at home. Mississippi State lost at home. Someone else lost at home. Arkansas lost at home. We didn’t lose at home. It looked ugly early, but now we move on to Georgia.
Q. PJ and Reid only combined for eight points, but you said there were 20 rebounds. Were they doing things since they weren’t making ... ?
JOHN CALIPARI: We weren’t looking to them. I couldn’t get the guards — look, when you’re playing against a zone and the ball moves, the first look you have is to the post and if he’s open, you throw it. We were looking back at the guard that threw us the ball. That’s one.
Second thing, if you’re playing against the zone with all you Basketball Bennies in this room, if you put the ball above your head, what will the zone do? Uh-oh. Just backs away. Because you can’t — unless you shoot a two-handed shot that way.
So the minute you go like this (raising hands), they back. And I kept telling the guys in every huddle, break — you have to break it down and make him think you’re driving or shooting or they are going to back away, which is why PJ and those guys didn’t get the ball.
The other guy again made a big difference in the game is Nick (Richards). Big difference in the game. Blocking shots. I mean, again, if he’s that guy and he keeps playing that way, we’re going to be all right. We need him to play a little more than he played, probably another five, seven, eight minutes but he played good again today.
Q. First of all, how is Ashton’s back? And second of all, you talk about other guys in the past, trading threes for twos and things like that, and you can’t make up for it on the other end. With all the steals he gets, does he sort of negate that at times?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s a better shooter than people think he is, but he’s — and I’m telling him in huddles, “Shoot it, man. I’m giving you the green light. Let it go.” But he’s just so used to running downhill.
You see him at the foul line, if you could go make 10 out of 11 from the foul line, you can shoot. I mean, you can shoot. The way they are playing him, it’s basically a foul shot, one step back. It’s the same shot. They are leaving you alone, so let it go.
Q. You had an exchange with Nick Richards when he went down hard, and he — you looked like you were trying to sub in Reid and he waved him off. What was that exchange like and what were you feeling during that exchange?
JOHN CALIPARI: He was getting tired but I wanted to see him tough through that, which he did. We’re just — we have to be more desperate to start games. We have to be more desperate for 40 minutes.
We have to understand that every team that plays us is excited and in the beginning of the game, they are coming. Over the length of the game, like in the second half, we held these guys to 20-whatever, 24 percent in the second half from the floor.
And again, if you can understand the beginning of the games, they’re playing Kentucky. They are in Rupp Arena. They are going to do things. They are going to play sharp. But as the game goes on, if you will stay desperate, you will have your chances.
I thought, again, you know, you could say, he doesn’t shoot the ball well but he was 7-for-9 and you say, yeah, but he had a runner and the rest were layups. So take layups. That’s fine with me. Immanuel Quickley, like I said, those were big shots for us. Big shots.
Q. Down early, and you guys fought back right there in the first half. How have they learned to trust themselves in those situations, those adverse situations?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you know, I want them just like the Alabama game to understand, we were down nine and I kept saying: Play to win. Forget it. Let’s put it back on them. Get this thing close and let’s go.
In this game, you know, we didn’t want to give them easy baskets, so we weren’t trying to deny balls. And I was saying it in every huddle. If they all are playing and doing what we’re trying to ask them to do together, they can trust; we still break off. The last charge by Keldon (Johnson) was not what we were doing. He was supposed to curl and that ball was going to PJ.
Part of is because PJ and Reid didn’t get a whole lot of shots, so let’s get them some shots. Well, he chose to grab it, drive the baseline and run the guy over; “I was open.”
That’s not what we’re doing. That’s where we still have some of that right now. Leaving timeouts, don’t put the ball above your head. You’re choosing to do what you want to do instead of what this team needs you to do.
We’re still fighting some of that. But again, I mean, we’ve got good kids. It’s not like they are doing it on purpose. They just have habits and when it gets a little hairy, those habits pop out.
Q. What exactly happened to Ashton there with his back?
JOHN CALIPARI: Fell on a kid’s foot.
Q. You know how he is?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I think he’s fine. He went back in the game. He’s a tough kid. I gave him a minute. I said, “You’ve got one minute and you’re going back.”
He said, “All right.”
Q. You held Vanderbilt to 17 points in the second half. What did you like most about your team’s defense?
JOHN CALIPARI: We sustained effort. We helped each other. We were communicating pretty good. We got into their legs a little bit by the pressing.
But again, like I watched the tapes. Mississippi, who has beaten everybody, they had a chance, as you know, to beat Mississippi. As a matter of fact, probably should have.
They played Georgia everyone and saw the score but with five minutes to go, it was a two-bucket game. Matter of fact, there were points of the game they were up five or seven points. So they are capable, and you know it, and they can really score the ball.
I thought they were going to play zone. I saw their Kansas State game, and they played zone against Kansas State and gave them everything they could handle. And I told them, and we worked on zone for two days. Obviously we didn’t work very good but we did work on it because I kind of thought that’s what they’d do.