University of Kentucky Basketball Media Conference
Saturday, December 1 2018
Postgame Media Conference
Kentucky – 78, UNC Greensboro – 61.
Q. 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.
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. Just wanted to ask you, 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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. The 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.
Q. 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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?
Q. On defense you started with Keldon on —
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. Yesterday Kenny was refreshingly candid in his assessment of the team. You ought to send him out more frequently —
JOHN CALIPARI: Why, I don’t tell you the truth?
Q. He put a big, big emphasis on PJ —
JOHN CALIPARI: Do you know they pull credentials for this kind of questioning. (Laughter.)
Q. 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
Q. 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 —
JOHN CALIPARI: 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 layup. 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 rebounding 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.
Q. You started with Keldon on him, 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?
JOHN CALIPARI: 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.
UK ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
UNCG at UK
DEC. 1, 2018
RUPP ARENA – LEXINGTON, KY.
#3, Keldon Johnson, Fr., G
On fighting to win the second half …
“That’s what it’s all about. We had to come back and fight in the second half. They weren’t going to back down and we weren’t going to back down. We just had to keep fighting.”
On how good the second half felt …
“It felt pretty good. I know we sat down in the second half and guarded. We did what we were supposed to do in the second half, we played, we fought and beat a good team today.”
On Ashton (Hagans) and the team’s defense…
“He stepped it up, and we were all just behind him. If Francis (Alonso) happened to beat him off the dribble, we were right there to help him out, try to make sure he could get back in front of him and guard him to best of his ability.”
#22, Reid Travis, Gr., F
On his first double-double as a Wildcat …
“It feels good, it feels good. I had a good week of prep getting ready for the game. I thought I was put in some good positions by my teammates and was able to stay on the board. It was a combination of all those things working out so, I’m happy with that.”
On if this was the toughest game since Duke …
“Yeah, for sure, and we knew that coming in. Coaches preached all week that this team was going to test us. They have veterans, they run good stuff on offense, the 1-2-2 press that they run is something that we hadn’t seen before. We knew it was going to be a challenge and it was going be a good game. I’m just happy with the outcome and the way we fought through in the second half.”
On the difference defensively in this game compared to previous ones…
“We just matured. That’s something that I’ve said every week; the more games we get to play, the more film we get to watch, the more we can go back on the practice court and just work on things we’re not doing as well. I really feel like we’re starting to piece together some more things like moving out feet, staying in front of guys, our rotations are a lot better. The more games we can play, get on film and learn from, just means the more games we can have like this one.”
On this game having an early “March Madness” feel…
“That was hype. I loved it! When the noise was going, the atmosphere, when we were really trying to lock down on the defense, the fans really helped us with that and gave us a lot of energy. To have a game this early in the season when there’s that much energy in the building we loved it. I think we just really fed off that and I think that’s when you saw those big spurts and runs that we had in the second half.”
On what changed defensively by giving up only six points in the last 13 minutes…
“I would say it was just consistency. There wasn’t any big system type of deals that we were switching up towards the end of the game except for the fact that we were sticking with what we were doing. We were chasing out trying to make their best scorers and shooters take tougher looks. We know they got hot early on and we were a little disappointed about that, but the biggest thing was just staying to them. We knew their legs were going to get tired. So, we just kept running, kept following off those screens and it just came together towards the end.”
On Hagans defense…
“It’s big time. He just disrupts the offense. The best way to put it is that he has an unorthodox way of how he does defense, but it’s the perfect way for our system. He gets people in uncomfortable positions and makes them run a play they maybe didn’t want to play, just because he’s making that point guard work so much. To have him in the game flying around, making plays like that he does a lot of things that don’t appear on the stat sheet, but we know the way that he affects the game as far as making runs when he’s in there.”
#14, Tyler Herro, Fr., G
On Kentucky’s second-half performance…
“In the second half we came out, and we were able to fight as a team. We played with a lot more intensity. They came out making a lot of shots so we had to make some defensive adjustments coming into the second half.”
On Hagans defense….
“I think it’s no secret that he’s one of the best defenders. Coach always says that Hagans can come in and change the energy of the game because of what he brings defensively. He’s been playing really good offensively as well. He is able to control and be a leader on the court.
On Johnson’s back-to-back dunks…
“When I skipped it to him I thought he was going to shoot the 3s. Then he took the one dribble that opened the lane up, so I knew he was going to hammer it hard. When he makes plays like that, not only for our team, but the crowd got into it a lot more as well.”
UK ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
DEC. 1, 2018
RUPP ARENA – LEXINGTON, KY.
UNCG Head Coach Wes Miller
“First of all, we’re really, really grateful to Coach Calipari and Kentucky for giving our program the opportunity to come in here and play. This is really neat, you know that environment out there, Rupp, the history, the tradition. It’s really special and we’re really grateful and appreciative of this opportunity. Certainly, I’m really proud of my kids. I really like my group. I think we have a long way to go to become the team we’re trying to be, but I think they like to compete, they like each other, they like to fight and I thought they showed that in stretches, and at times, on the big stage here tonight. So, that’s the first thing. I want to give Kentucky a lot of credit. I thought their defense was tremendous in the second half. We had a hard time coming by quality shots. I’d like our execution to be a little bit better, but you’ve got to tip your cap to them first because they made it really difficult for us and it hasn’t been that hard to shoot the ball and hit quality shots on us all year. They really turned it up on us in the second half. We’ll learn a lot from this game. We’ll learn a lot about the things we’ve got to work on defensively, things we’ve got to do to execute better. You know, it’s interesting when you play this kind of an opponent. Your mistakes are just so much more magnified because you can’t get away with, you know—if you make a mistake entrenched in defense, it’s a 3-point play or a dunk. If you don’t rotate, it’s a 3-point play or a dunk. If you don’t communicate well enough, it’s a 3-point play or a dunk. And so, we’ve probably been able to get away with some of that stuff in some of our previous games, and we couldn’t get away with that tonight, so we’ll use that as a learning tool. We’ve played Virginia the last two years. It’s been great as well, and we’ve really gotten better after those games and I hope we’ll get better after this one the same way that we did after Virginia the last two years.”
On how much of a difference Ashton (Hagans) makes as a defender…
“Yeah, we saw that in scouting the knee checks in the game. They build the pressure out 94 feet and he’s got really active hands. That was kind of the main thing we talked about in scouting, was the impact on the game he has defensively, and I think he’ll do that to just about anybody in the country this year. Francis (Alonso) is a phenomenal player, a phenomenal offensive player and he had it going there for a little bit. Again, they did a nice job of making it difficult, getting him off the line and putting him in tough positions around the basket with all of their size.”
On if he thought Alonso wore down at all…
“Yeah, you know, we’ve got to get our team in a little better condition. I’ve got to do a better job of utilizing our depth. We have some young players that are going to be terrific for us and we’re not able to play them yet because they’re not up to speed on who we’re trying to be defensively and with our execution. I think it will help, you know, to go through the year if I don’t play Alonso, James (Dickey) and Kyrin (Galloway) 30-plus minutes. So, I do think that we wore down a little bit. But again, give Kentucky credit because they made it really difficult for us to make quality shots.”
On how the energy has changed since the coach played here in 2005…
“Yeah, I remember thinking that it was pretty dang neat then, and it’s pretty dang neat now. You know, this is special. Our guys know that. I mean, there’s a handful of places in college basketball that are just different—this is one of them out of probably four or five. This is a special place to play. Again, I’m really grateful that we got this opportunity. I wish the outcome was different, but no, this is a really special place to play. It’s neat as anywhere I’ve experienced as a player or coach.”
On what makes Hagans effective as a defender…
“Well I think his on-ball pressure in the back court is where it starts and he’s got long arms, got great feet, and so he makes it difficult for you to get the ball off the floor and you know, enter the ball into your offense. And, we do quite a few things where we try to bring Alonso and others off the screens and it puts some pressure on our point guard to handle the ball. When a guy like Hagans checks in it’s really difficult. You know, again, as somebody already mentioned, he did a really nice job defeating screens off the ball and playing off the ball in the second half, but in scouting all we were really worried about was pressure in the back court.”
On the ability of Kentucky and UNGC to meet down the road…
“Well, I think this Kentucky team… when you look at their pieces, you look at their coaching staff. They’ve got guys that are going to have a really good chance to play in the NBA and they’ve got a coach that’s been able to do it year after year. You know, and being one of the premiere basketball programs in the country, this team will have the chance to play in the Final Four I’m sure you know. As far as us, again, I really like us. I think we can compete within our league. We try not to talk too much about things we can’t control. Certainly like everybody else in college basketball, we want to be playing in the NCAA tournament in March. I believe in my heart that my team is good enough to get to a place where we can achieve that, but we’ve got a long way to go. We have one heck of a league in the Southern Conference. We’ve already had a team win at Villanova, we’ve had teams win in the Big East, I think at South Florida. It’s been one heck of a year. I think Wofford beat South Carolina in the SEC by 20 the other night, so our league is going to be really, really challenging. We’re one big league, so to say that we’re going to be in the NCAA tournament right now, that’s impossible to predict, but I think my team can compete within our league and give our self a chance to do that.
On biggest takeaway…
“Well, you know, as I told them in the locker room, I’m proud of them, but I expected to be proud of them. I mean, we have a group of kids that really compete, that like each other, they try to approach it right every day. I didn’t expect to feel any other way after the game. I think we have to mature some things up if we’re serious about coming into an environment like this and not just competing for a stretch during the game, but winning. I believe in my heart that this team can get to a place where we can do that, but as you saw tonight when things got difficult, we weren’t quite as good. Again, I give Kentucky credit for that, but I believe my team can take some steps and that’s what we will take from this game.”
What UK has going height wise…
“They’re the No. 1 team in the country in offensive-rebounding percentage, so I’d say that they showed why tonight, you know, you look down and 15 offensive rebounds, I was hoping it would be better than that, but I thought it could be worse than that as well after watching film. Again, the No. 1 in the nation in rebounding. I thought we battled and fought, but they are well aware of the size that they have and that was very difficult for us. I was pleased at times with how we guarded the post. We knew their size was going to be a problem. I thought our post-double was really ineffective early and that hurt us because we needed that to be effective, but we did some nice things guarding the post and then we had some moments there, especially in the second half where we didn’t do as good of a job making catches difficult.”