Here’s what UK Coach John Calipari had to say after the Wildcats’ 86-69 victory over No. 1 Tennessee in Rupp Arena on Saturday night:
How close was PJ to the best player in the country that you’ve said he could be?
“Well, again, he’s doing some good stuff. I mean, you are looking at him now making shots and skilled with the ball and stuff that a year ago he couldn’t do. Making free throws, playing, sustaining effort, not floating and coming in and out. I mean, but it’s conditioning.
“The same thing with Ashton. Ashton today played like he had been playing. For two games he went downhill and then it affected us the last game. And in this game he came back and -- what we did after practice on Thursday, I called the guys and we went in the locker room and on the film I said, I got to show you some video. And it was a video of our North Carolina game. Do you remember how Ashton played that game where he was going crazy? Diving, tipping, fell into the stands, the bench and then came down and stole the ball. And what I basically said is we watched nine clips of him. Now we don’t have this guy anymore. I don’t know where this guy went, but if we ever got him back we would be really good and they all laughed. And we watched all these plays and said, that’s who you were, now you chose to change. We don’t know why, but you chose to be somebody different. So he was good today.
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“And I thought Tyler Herro, double double, 13 rebounds. He was fighting for balls and Keldon scored the ball. We had a good, it was a good effort. And let me tell you, they are the No. 1 team in the country. They are. They missed some shots they normally make. We gave them a chance where we had them down big and all of a sudden you turn around and it’s 15, 16, 12. And I could see them making shots and beating us. And that’s why I was going crazy on some guys, because they’re looking at me like why are you going nuts? We’re still up 12. We were up 24. Like what? But they’re young kids and they don’t seem to get that. But it was good.
“And I know how good Tennessee is and that’s why I told our fans, enough of the they’re overrated. They’re not overrated. Probably underrated. People don’t realize. When you have a team like that that’s been together, that their assist-to-turnover ratio is off the charts, when they create shots for each other, like they do, when they’re that physical with an inside and an outside game, where they don’t rely on threes. They only shoot 18 threes a game, like us. We shot 13 today. They shot a bunch more today. But on average they’re shooting 17 or 18. They’re not winning shooting three, they’re winning playing basketball and they’re unbelievable defensively and we got them today, but we got to go up to Knoxville. Do we have to go up to Knoxville?
Anything different tonight, last two games you had a big lead and then lost in the second half. That didn’t happen tonight. You built it really well. Anything change there?
“Yeah, we lost to LSU. So I hit them right after the game with LSU and just said, hey, that was a tough loss, but you know what, we needed it. Because our team is changing, we’re not the defensive team that we have been. We have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. We need to get it back. We need to go back to what we were, and you know what, sometimes you got to get knocked in the head to know that. So the loss to LSU probably helped us win this game.”
You normally say with the way your teams are you’re not going to have a dominant scorer. So what has made PJ over these last seven, eight, nine games, what’s made him become your dominant scorer and what’s he doing different?
“Well, one of the things is we just went at him. We’re just like, go. And he also, we like him at the top of the key shooting some threes because he can make that shot. But the whole thing, again, no lapses, none, get to where you’re a vicious competitor the entire time and then sub yourself. Today he subbed himself. And I hate to tell you he got cramps. What does that tell you? It’s probably harder than he’s gone all year. That’s why you cramp up. Who else cramped up? Ashton. That’s why you cramp up. You went harder now. Like Kenny Payne was saying, we probably need to get seven percent more conditioning to bump this up so that we can play in a bunch of games -- when you have back-to-back like this on a Thursday Saturday, a Friday Sunday, and have you this kind of game and you got to follow it up with another one. Whew, I’m not sure we have that right now.”
Your team shot 67 percent from two-point range in the first half. Keldon was on fire. But they were still within six at that point. What message did you send to your team at the break that led to this game cracking wide open a 14-0 run to start the second half?
“It wasn’t that. Again, we turned it over two times. I looked at them and said why would you do that? I’m putting you in and you’re giving them a chance. We were up eight points or whatever we were up and all of a sudden it went the other way. But I thought we finished the half and did a good thing. And then we just showed them some defensive stuff.
“Look, Tennessee beats you shooting twos. That’s how they beat you. They beat you offensive rebounding. They beat you in transition. So they get four or five baskets, six baskets off of each of those things and that’s how they beat you. Our biggest thing was transition. We did not want to give them anything deep. I imagine they probably had about six points in transition. We probably had about the same. Pretty good for not knowing, huh?
How crucial was that 14-0 run to start the second half for your team to come out of the locker room?
“Against the No. 1 team in the country, it’s a big deal. And again the ball dropped, the ball was punched loose and my man hits that three in the corner. Like, if they rebound it, we don’t, we’re not on a 14-0 run. And that’s an energy effort play. And I keep telling these guys, in most cases they’re being evaluated that way, like what kind of motor do you have, what kind of energy do you bring, how do you defend, does this kid tough enough to go rebound. That’s why I was happy for Tyler today. This is a big game for Tyler. Forget about baskets made and shots. It was a big game. He got 13 rebounds.”
What’s it like to see PJ Washington come back for a second year and improve as much as he has?
“You know, what makes me happy is when I’m hearing people call me and say, Cal, he’s the most improved guy in the country. Like he is it. And a big part of that was conditioning and toughness and focus. And when you understand that it’s not going to be easy and there’s no easy road, that I’ve got to compete every day, you probably got it licked because you’re competing against yourself. You’re trying to conquer yourself. PJ finishes first in every run we do right now. Every run we do, Kenny Payne’s screaming and yelling, don’t let him finish first and guys are trying to chase him down and he ain’t letting them. Now, let me explain. He wasn’t first last year. But he wasn’t last because there was about six of them back there.”
Was there anything specifically Tyler was doing to be able to get all those rebounds tonight?
“Attempting to rebound. We keep attempts, focus -- at the end of every game that’s the first thing I look at is what were their attempts. And I told you, PJ started going down, down, down, as he started scoring more thinking, I’m a scorer, I’m not a rebounder. And we had other guys the same thing. That happens to Keldon at times. He’ll be at a 53 percent, well, if you’re at 53 percent you’re only going to get three rebounds. If you’re at 80 you got a chance of getting eight or nine or 10. But if you don’t attempt -- now this is one that’s probably hard for you to understand -- if you don’t attempt to rebound, you’re not going to get the rebound. How about that? Like, you don’t attempt, you’re not getting it. So we’re charting attempts to get guys to make an effort to go get -- sometimes it just bounces to you. Unless you don’t attempt to rebound. Attempt is just effort.”
Do you have any idea who on your team leads in attempts?
“It’s a percentage so I don’t know if we keep it that way. I just know at the end of the game they should all be -- on defense it should be a hundred percent and on offense it should be about 85, especially the fours, the fives, and the threes, those guys should make, they should be in the 85, 90 percent attempts. Every time the shot goes up they’re attempting. And no chest on the back on offense. In other words, he tries to block you out, no, he’s going to get, I’m moving, he may get my arm, but he is not getting it, I’m not laying on his back. No chest on a back. And that’s what EJ does. That’s why EJ gets his hands on all these balls, he has an effort and attempt to go get it.”