Men's Basketball

Jan. 8, 2014

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Kentucky Assistant Head Coach John Robic

Q. Did you guys have to re-emphasize going inside in the second half and using your size?

COACH ROBIC: I think we settled in the first half. You look at the shots that we took, 4-for-20 from 3. We knew we had a size advantage. It’s something that we really worked on during this break, during this 13-day break.

We got the ball where we wanted to in the second half, but we were getting pushed off the block when we didn’t have to be pushed off the block. The person that did the best job was Dakari (Johnson). He got the ball tight. He got it with two hands and was forceful once he caught the ball.

It’s something that we are going to have to continue to do. That was a big game for him and his confidence, and it’s a big game for our team having a 7-foot, 265-pound player in the middle.

Q. Cal has talked so much about Alex’s (Poythress) practice and we’ve seen little flashes of it, was tonight the best you’ve seen him play in a game so far this season?

COACH ROBIC: This season? That’s how Alex’s been practicing. He’s played very, very well. His confidence level should be at an all-time high and I really think that he’s seeing that. He’s bringing an energy. He’s doing the things that he can do.

Now, keep doing those things, but he has to expand a couple other things. Now he has time to work on those things. With his physical tools, he’s playing within his game, and he’s able to do a lot of good things.

Q. The first half, Cal had talked about — worried about maybe being a little rusty. Do you think he was rusty, lethargic —

COACH ROBIC: I think not lethargic. I think we were rusty. Having 13 days, even the players were like, ‘We finally get to play a game.’ It’s just the way the schedule went, but I do think that we were a little bit rusty. Not in — we’re in game shape, but we weren’t ready for the game when it started. And it took us some time. Really happy for Dominique Hawkins, comes in and gives us great energy, really got us going, again, mentioned Dakari and Alex, and James Young was terrific.

Q. You guys had 12 assists in the second half, you were pushing the ball a lot with your pass and moving the ball well; was that the kind of stuff you focused on the last 10 or 12 days?

COACH ROBIC: That’s exactly what we worked on. Coach came in with a game plan after the Louisville game from the 29th through today of a checklist of things that we need to get better at to improve on, to do some things we had not even worked on, and I think we accomplished all those goals.

But in transition, much better in the second half. Some maybe forced turnovers and trying to hit ahead, but we have to play faster. I think Andrew (Harrison) has been great in practice doing that. Sometimes he just throws it not looking where he’s throwing the ball and see if someone is open, but he initiates it. Our other guys are pitching it ahead when they need to, and that’s going to help us in the long run.

Q. (Question regarding Mississippi State’s transition points in the first half.)

COACH ROBIC: Well, we gave up, I believe 12 transition points in the first half. They finished with 16 and maybe one of them was late in the game there. Poor transition defense, sometimes guys run to their man instead of picking up the ball and then switch off at another point in time. That is something that we have to work on but it is inexcusable really. In any other game that could be a key.

Q. (Question regarding if Dakari Johnson is ahead of Willie Cauley-Stein as far as low post moves.)

COACH ROBIC: I think they are two totally different players, in that obviously Willie is quicker and more bouncy, where Dakari doesn’t have the lift that Willie has. I was happy with Willie’s post play today. The left hand jump hook that he set him up for (was great). He has been working hard on it. We feel comfortable throwing either the ball. That was the first signs of Dakari actually finishing plays. It was good to see. He ran the court better. I think he got two baskets in transition if I am not mistaken, which was good to see. You just can’t throw lobs to Dakari as high as you can to Willie.

Q. (Question regarding Julius Randle getting double teamed defensively and if there is an adjustment the coaching staff will work with him on moving forward.)

COACH ROBIC: First off, he has to catch the ball tighter, no question. If he sees space, he has to take it. If they are going to send two or three players at him, he has to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team, our players are finally understanding to be in certain spots on the post-ups.

The only thing that disappointed us a little bit, especially in the first half, we just weren’t down and ready to receive the ball to be able to attack. And in the second half we were much better at doing that and taking gaps. Because, you know, Coach said during this layoff that when you don’t have the ball, that’s when you need to look to score. And it’s really true. I’ve never heard it before he said it, but it really is true. There are a few things in 18 years I haven’t heard with him, but that was one of them.

Q. Is it a sign of James’ maturity when in the first half he takes 14 shots when you really need them and the second half you don’t need his offense as much and he pulls back and takes only four shots; is that something as a coach you like to see?

COACH ROBIC: Well, we like him being aggressive. I can’t think of any of the 18 shots that were bad or forced shots. James is a scorer.

I mean, if he has it going, he has it going, and he has that green light to shoot the ball. I mean, if he’s down and ready like I just mentioned, shoot the thing, because he’s one of the better shooters and he’s just a slasher scorer and we need those baskets.

The thing that sticks out to me, though, is 10 rebounds and five assists. So he played a complete game. I’m happy for him that way because he’s practiced better, he’s defending better, he’s being more talkative. And that was one thing during this layoff that, our entire team, is they have gotten to know each other a lot better, they are communicating better and they are understanding what we are trying to do better than any other point in time in the season.

Q. Can you just elaborate on what Dominique gave you in the first half? Looked like he was being a little more aggressive with his shot, too.

COACH ROBIC: None of this affects Dominique, I don’t know how many people were here, the 23,000, it doesn’t affect him. But he just — he does what we ask him to do. He doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t lie. We try to tell him to lie every now and then. The hustle, he’s where he’s supposed to be.

Defensively he puts pressure on the ball. Like to see him have a little bit more confidence to shoot the basketball, because he shoots it well in practice. I was glad to see him knock down his free throws. He just brings an energy that you have to find time for him on the floor, and that’s why he’s out there.

Q. Kind of just answered my question there, but does Dominique have a full green light? He seemed hesitant in shooting the ball.

COACH ROBIC: I think he’s probably not 100 percent confident, because he wants to do the right thing. And if he misses his shot, he probably thinks he did something bad. He’s just that type of kid.

And I think what he’s — if you watch his game, he’s more comfortable trying to get to the paint and jump over somebody, even at his size, and he’s comfortable with that. He’ll get there. Shoot, he’s played in 14 games, but he’s great, because he just gives us everything he has.

Is that it? You guys get an early night tonight.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

Kentucky Student-Athletes

#22, Alex Poythress, G

On his performance…

“It felt good. I was just trying to bring some energy and just play. We were down at first so we had to pick up the energy and start playing. ”

On a slow start in the first half…

“They hit some shots early and we were missing a lot of shots. We should’ve been more focused on defense. That’s how we gave up 40 points in the first half and that’s way too much. In the second half, we started guarding, started defending and tried to hold them.”

On their improvement in the second half…

“Offense will take care of itself. We were trying to guard and try to pick it up on the defensive end. Get blocked shots, get steals and get more shots.”

#44, Dakari Johnson, C

On how it felt to be playing again after the long break…

“It felt great. Being able to get in the game and make an impact felt really good.”

On adjusting defensively…

“It has been tough. I am used to playing all the time. It has been humbling, but just listening to Coach Cal during practice and getting better is the main thing I have been focusing on. They had another big guy and I felt that I could play good defense and take advantage of the opportunity. Teams are going to try to put me in pick and rolls, so that factors in how I play.”

On hustling on every play…

“Yes, I have been pushing myself to do that. Whoever is the big man used to take it out, but during the break Coach Cal has been telling me to run.”

#1, James Young, G

On his performance today
“It was just a good game. I practiced really hard, got a lot of shots on the floor before the game and I guess it just carried over.”

On working Julius defensively and seeing a need to step in…

“Yeah, they were pressuring Julius a lot, double-teaming him like they always have, the other team. I scored on the outside a little bit so we could ease it up on the post a little bit.”

On Alex’s game off the bench…

“Alex is doing great. He’s been working really hard in practice and that’s carrying over into the game. I guess you could put him anywhere on the court you want and he’ll catch a lob and you saw that today.”

Mississippi State Head Coach Rick Ray

On holding Julius Randle to eight points …

“Well, that was our gameplan. We felt that we had to limit Randle’s touches and when he did get touches and make sure that we were there to get the ball out of his hands. But I told our guys that he really does a great job of drawing fouls and if you don’t want him drawing fouls and getting in foul trouble the best way to do that is to keep him from touching the ball. So we wanted to make sure that we fronted the post in hard three-quarter form and when he got the ball we called it 31, that means every time he’s catching the ball he sees three people, he sees the man guarding him, the man to his right, the man to his left and then that’s our principles. The biggest thing that disappoints me about this win for Kentucky is the fact that I thought we did a great job in the first half. I thought we really competed and no one will know that because of the final score and that’s something we have to fight to get past. I think against good teams there is always a point in the game where they go on a run and we just don’t deal with that adversity very well and if we’re ever going to grow as a team we’ve got to be able to fight that adversity because I think it’s a shame that people are going to turn on SportsCenter tonight and they’ll see the final score, they’ll think it’s a blowout, they’re going to see us get dunked on in the second half. I just don’t think that’s indicative of the way we played and fought and competed in the first half. I just don’t think you give yourself a chance to be reputable when you just lay down and die when you have adversity and that’s something as a young inexperienced team, and to be quite honest with you too, we just don’t have enough bodies. We only have eight scholarship guys, we’ve got three front-line guys, we’ve got guys out there tired and winded. I always say this, every player says they want to play 35 minutes a game and then when they play 35 minutes a game they simply can’t do it.”

On the first half …

“I thought our guys did one thing and that was simply follow the gameplan and I thought we did a great job of following the gameplan and I thought in the second half we totally went away from the gameplan. We wanted to make sure we limited Kentucky’s possessions, that means like when we got a defensive rebound or steal we wanted to push the ball and try to get something in transition. I told our guys, if you want to run, if you want to push then get defensive stops but if they score, we’re going to walk the ball up the court, we’re going to execute our sets, that’s a way to limit their possessions. But we got to a point in the second half where guys started to go their own way and we’re just simply not good enough for guys to go their own way.”

On what Kentucky was able to do inside in the second half …

“In the second half we just didn’t follow the gameplan. Here’s what happens, guys get so wrapped up in their offense and when you’re not having success offensively they carry it over to the defensive end and that’s something we’ve got to get better at. We talk about it, we’re not going to start the ball all of the sudden better than Kentucky, we’re not going to start finishing at the rim all the sudden better than Kentucky, we’re not going to become a better one-on-one basketball player all the sudden than Kentucky. You know this going in so when you miss a wide open shot or you don’t finish at the rim that’s been happening the whole season, don’t be surprised by it, you have to continue to fight and compete at the defensive end because you know the outcome on the offensive end. If you’re a 27-percent 3-point shooter and you don’t make a 3, why are you surprised?”

Mississippi State Student-Athletes

#32, Craig Sword, G

On getting off to a hot start…

“We came out listening to coach. The second half, we did not. They won because we didn’t listen to coach the whole game.”

On the difference in the second half…

“They got a lot of post touches and we weren’t getting back on defense. We were shooting bad shots. Coach told us not to shoot bad shots and it is like a turnover because they can push the ball. We didn’t do all of the things we were doing in the first half.”

On lacking transition defense…

“We were very lackadaisical and we weren’t getting back at all. They pushed it down our backs and the game turned out how it did.”

#4, Trivante Bloodman, G

On what the gameplan was coming out …

“The gameplan was to come out and play hard. We were ‘31-ing’** everybody. When a guy got the ball, we showed someone was there. That’s what we did in the first half and we kind if lacked off of that in the second half. The lead kind of fell away from us and we ended up losing big.”

**31-ing according to head coach Rick Ray means that for every player that had the ball in the post for Julius Randle, Mississippi State had three players guarding that player.

On not being intimidated by the atmosphere …

“We weren’t intimidated. We came here to play basketball, just like they came here to play. We ended up losing at the end of the day, so we have to go back, practice and get better.”

On the changes that Kentucky made in the second half …

“I’m not really sure, but I know they were getting the ball more in the post. They took advantage of us because they knew we had a lot of people in foul trouble. Our bigs were in foul trouble, so we had a lot of guards out there playing and (Kentucky) really took advantage of that.”

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