UK Men's Basketball

Q&A: John Calipari previews UK’s game against Vanderbilt

John Calipari had a little smile on his face late in UK’s 80-66 victory at Arkansas on Thursday night. Calipari’s Wildcats play Vanderbilt on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
John Calipari had a little smile on his face late in UK’s 80-66 victory at Arkansas on Thursday night. Calipari’s Wildcats play Vanderbilt on Saturday in Rupp Arena. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

UK Coach John Calipari spoke to reporters Friday in advance of Saturday afternoon’s game against Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena.

Here’s everything Calipari had to say:

On Thursday’s victory over Arkansas:

“Well, yeah, I expect that we win every game going into the game. Knowing that that’s a hard place to play, I could see that we could get beat down there. Derek Willis did what he did in practice for two days. Some other guys did too. Charles Matthews earned his rotation spot back in two scrimmages. Skal was the best of those bigs — it wasn’t even close — and then he played that way. The good news is we start our guards were 3-for-20 and we hung around. When your guards are 3-for-20, it’s hard. I mean, that you can stay in a game. But, then at the end they’re the ones who carried us home. This team is interconnected, and I keep telling you that. They’re all connected to one another.”

On the progress of Skal Labissiere:

“Oh yeah, he’s building his own confidence. If it’s me, ‘Yeah, you’re OK.’ He’s like, ‘No, I’m not.’ It doesn’t matter what I say. It’s what he’s saying to himself. I think, again, I keep telling him, ‘You’ve got no pressure on you now. Anything you do now is like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ So just go play.’ It was a good effort for him, but it also showed me how we need to probably play him a little more. (He’s) probably more of a jump-shooting big man. I want him to be Karl(-Anthony Towns) and be the No. 1 pick, but he’s a jump-shooting big man. Now, we’re going to work on that other stuff. We’re going to continue to try and help him there. Reality of it is the best part of his game is 15-foot shots and making some free throws.”

On if this team needed Labissiere to play like Towns:

“Both. Both for him and for us. Now, you think of this team, Alex started the game six points out of eight and three rebounds. And then that was it. But that start — think about if we’re getting that from another guy and we could throw it when we needed to get a basket. The team is different. So, that’s why I had hoped it would have been Skal, but it’s not going to be. So, it’s gotta be somebody else.”

On the foul trouble UK’s bigs have been having the past few games:

“You gotta be in a stance. You gotta play the guy before he catches. Most of it is you’re in the wrong place because you’re standing straight up and down. And when you try and play him after he catches the ball, you’re going to foul.”

On Vanderbilt:

“Really good. Run great stuff. Really can shoot the three. The biggest team we’ve played. They’re huge. Their man (defense) is better than you think. They’ll play a zone and space it out — that zone has given us trouble in the past. Really hard game for us. I’m glad we played like we did (Thursday), because he have a little confidence. If we didn’t have a little confidence going into this game ... Whew. Because they’re good. They’re good. ... Vandy, you have to understand, their record is what it is because the big kid (Luke Kornet) was hurt. Now that he’s healthy, they’re probably 9-2 with him. 8-1 with him. They’ve lost games without him.”

On Murray’s shot selection:

“The shots he took in the first half were all good. The pull-up shot at the foul line was just, it’s not a winning play. We’re up 18 and now all of the sudden let’s get it to 20, 25. But if you look at all of these deficits — or we have a big lead and it becomes a close game — he’s involved in a lot of those plays. That’s what he’s learning. That’s why he’s here. I put him in positions yesterday. Some of them, he did all right. Others, he reverted. He’s learning. He’s learning what it means to play winning basketball. And I’ve got to teach. I’ve got to do a better job with him.”

On Skal’s confidence growing:

“The first shot that he took, I looked and I went, ‘What?!’ And it went in, and I said, ‘It better have gone in.’ But I think it built his own confidence. He’s got work to do. There’s no question, he’s gotta keep going. But he’s worked in practice. He’s trying. He played 20 minutes in that game — that’s about the max right now he can play with the condition that he has. And he’s working on it. When he is tired, he just stops. Can’t catch a ball, can’t rebound a ball. Can’t fight. He cannot be in the game tired. He’s now learning, ‘Just take myself out. Why fight it, and look foolish, and take away my own confidence?’ Just come out.’ Which is what he did in that (Arkansas) game. He subbed himself two or three times. First time. The other times you got to sub him. ‘You just gave up four rebounds, two dunks and lost two balls in the post. You can’t be in.’ Now, he’s playing. ‘I make a shot, I grab a rebound, I’m exhausted. Get me out.’ Boom. ‘All right, you ready to go back?’ He’s learning. My biggest thing for all of these kids: ‘You have to lose yourself in the team. What does the team need you to do? What is your role on this team?’ And they’re starting to get it.”

On the status of Dominique Hawkins:

“Don’t know. Haven’t seen him this morning.”

On the status of Tai Wynyard:

“He’s OK. If Skal — Look, if Marcus and Alex don’t give us what we need in the game. It appears as though when they start going down that road, they can’t change. They are what they are. In other words, ‘If I am bad, I am bad for 40 minutes. I cannot mentally change.’ And it’s almost like, ‘Well, give those (other) guys a chance then. Let those guys play.’ They gotta be ready. Tai is still getting in shape, so.”

On taking three-ball away from Arkansas last night:

“We talked about the game plan and said you can’t do what you did at Auburn. We had a guy play the three-point shooter like that? He said, ‘What do you mean, my hand was up?’ ... ‘Are you out of your mind? They hadn’t made a layup, until 1 minute and 40 seconds — because we didn’t run back — the kid threw one up and it was an and-one. That’s the only layup. ‘Why would you do that?’ (makes mumbling noise). In this game, we just said, ‘Man, you gotta refuse to lose. You gotta listen. You gotta fight.’ And the only way you can do that is, together, we know what the game plan is, and we do it. You can’t act like, ‘Well, I didn’t know.’ So our whole goal was taking away the three. Make them make tough twos. We’re not leaving the rim. Make them make tough shots, and if they can, fine, we go home. But you can’t — you know they can make threes. You know that. And the guys did a great job. We had one play where Derek and Jamal just left Hannahs. ‘Why wouldn’t you both have stayed and gave up the layup?’ Because you know if you both leave, he’s making that three, which he did. So there’s still that stuff we’re working through.”

On the importance of that defense in this game, given the way that Vanderbilt shoots:

“It’s important. But they also post. They have a good post game. This is a little different. How we’re going to go at this is a little different.”

On the lack of turnovers against Arkansas:

“We were grinding it out a little differently. We played a little different kind of game. So, you know, we weren’t just throwing it to guys and saying, ‘Take ‘em.’ We can’t play that way. Again, we’re still trying to figure this team out. How do we play? What’s the best way for this team to play? But I will say this: If we don’t defend. The whole thing on this team is just: Guard. Make sure you’re guarding, make it tough on the other team, and I’ll take our chances offensively. We’ll grind it a little more than we have in the past. I told guys: ‘If you are just totally relying on Tyler, I’m taking you out of the game. You have to be responsible for you. If you have a shot, you quickly throw it back to Tyler because you don’t want to shoot it? You’re out. You’re not playing. And I did it twice last night. You’re out. You’re not doing that to him. I’m putting all of this on his shoulders, and you’re giving him more? Well then why should you be in?’ (Makes comical mumbling noises). ‘You’re not in!’ So, I’m telling them, ‘You can’t add to what he has to do. You have to do your job. You have to make a basket now and then.’ We’re out there and I’m playing the guys that are playing with confidence. And I’m telling them that you got to take on the personal challenge. We got better. It was a great win. To win there on the road — they just don’t lose many games there. They shoot the ball well. They play better defense. We took it to them. You wish we always played that way, but — Alex and Marcus Lee — other than the start of the game, gave us nothing. And we still did what we did.”

On the hope of stringing together back-to-back good performances:

“I don’t know where we are right now, as a team. I tell you what, if you’re just looking around the country, to win on the road — and then win in a place where they just don’t ever lose — to win on the road is really hard. We lost the Auburn game in the last minute and 30. We have a two-point lead, we don’t run back. ‘Why didn’t you run back?’ (Mumbling noises). All we had to do is run back. And then make it a tough play. Again, that playing, that refusing to lose, that fighting, that battle. It’s just, we’re learning. We’re also — Isaiah and Jamal — learning how to win. ‘That’s a losing play, that’s a winning play, that’s a losing play. Why did you do that? Why wouldn’t you do this?’ It’s what my job is. I gotta teach them. I’m not afraid of it. It is what it is. I told them, ‘I’m going to have fun with this.’ We are what we are. Couple guys here either got to step up and play or take a back seat and be the reserve. It’s easier. I’m going to say it again: The reserve guy doesn’t have to come every day and perform. He’s going to perform every two or three games. And then he has a good game and it’s, ‘Ohhh, I wish he’d play more.’ And if he’d play more, it’s, ‘Oh, I wish he played less.’ So we gotta figure out if we got guys in reserve roles, that’s where you need to be. Doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or freshman. Doesn’t matter. Guys gotta go do their thing. And that was the first step to it.”

On if he’s surprised how much teaching he has to do this season:

“I’m having to teach in shootarounds. The TV guys watched yesterday. The shootaround, I had to stop them and talk and teach and do it again and do it again. And, ‘Do you understand?’ And it wears you out. It tires you out. You can’t just stand there and watch. And you can’t let them just play like they want to play. You have to stop them. Because if you let ‘em do what they want to do, you cannot win. You’re not winning.”

On how often he’s teaching in shootarounds:

“There have been 30-minute shootarounds (in the past) — like bang, bang, bang. They know it. We got it, you’re ready. Now let’s go do this. And we all know we’re going to play great. Then there’s been these, and I’ve had them before, which are like 50-minute, 55-minute shootarounds that I’m exhausted when I leave the court. Like I said, we’re still trying to figure them out. They’re trying to figure each other out. But I know this: The attitude of refuse to lose. Now, you may run out of time. The clock may run out of time on you. But it’s not because you weren’t fighting to win the game. You just didn’t have enough time. Needed two more minutes. So, hopefully we get back to that. And if we do, we’re going to be fine.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

Next game

Vanderbilt at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m., Saturday

TV: ESPN

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