John Calipari, Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker talked to the media before UK faces off against Auburn.

John Calipari 

Tyler Herro 

Jemarl Baker 

Head Coach John Calipari transcript from UK Athletics 

On how important 3-point defense will be in this game

“Well, let’s say this: They are going to shoot 35 of them. If you really guard them and you really guard the 3, they are going to shoot 35 of them. They do it off the bounce, they do it off the catch, they do it in transition, and they do it in pick-and-rolls. But, they also got (Austin) Wiley, who’s a heck of a post player, and they are very active rebounding the ball. They’re a really good team. They are really good.”

On if he thinks they have made strides in their 3-point defense …

“Yeah, and then the team (Georgia) dunked the first five shots. We really guarded the 3 and they dunked every ball on us. This is a work in progress, it really is. Trying to get guys to conquer themselves first, you can’t feel pressed about your performance; you’ve got to lose yourself in the team. What does the team need you to do has got to come before what you’re trying to do or what you think you need to do. That’s going to be an ongoing thing. We’ll all know. You’ll be able to see it when you say, ‘They’ve blended, man. They’re engaged with each other. They’re doing it for 40 minutes.’ We’re not there yet.”

On shuffling the bigs …

“I like the minutes, how they were kind of divided. Probably PJ (Washington) got three or four more minutes and that could be distributed to the other guys, but I kind of liked the last game.”

On him mentioning Ashton Hagans buying in and if anyone else on the team close to buying in …

“It wasn’t buying in; it was what am I asking him to do and is he doing it? What am I asking him that, in saying, this is what the team needs you to do and is he doing it? They all knew. He’s the No. 1 guy and he’s comfortable playing that way, and that may be part of it. They all know what is expected and what we need them to do for our team to do well. Now, they just have to go out and perform and do it and make it part of who they are.”

On how he expects EJ Montgomery to react going back to Auburn after initially committing there …

“Hopefully good. Ashton Hagans reacted pretty good.”

On any sense of urgency with a tough couple games coming up …

“What’s the date? Is it still in January? We’re good. Were fine.”

On what he thinks of the matchup of Jared Harper and Ashton Hagans …

“You’ve got two really good guards. We’re not counting on Ashton to score. Let’s run our club and get people involved, and if you have opportunities to score do it. It’s not as though lets sit him out, but it’s going to be a good matchup. Those guys are veterans. They’ve been through it.”

On how Austin Wiley has developed since coaching him with USA Basketball …

“He got hurt there. He is a wonderful person, a terrific competitor, really, really skilled with that ball near that basket. He plays. I mea,n he competes. He’s good, he’s big, he’s physical and he’s wide. Really good and a great kid. Salt of the earth kind of kid. I love coaching him.”

On what he’s seen from Hagans’ instincts during the last five games

“Well, the one thing is – and I said this yesterday as we started game planning a little bit with the guys –  I said, ‘The funny thing is what we just told Ashton to do I fully expect he’ll do that in the game. Some of you, not so much.’ Him, he watches. You tell him what you want him to do and he goes out and tries to do it. That’s part of what has made him what he is right now.”

On how Keldon Johnson will bounce back after a scoreless game vs. Georgia …

“He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. Teams are collapsing on him. So we’re saying, you gotta find people. Well, yeah, but you gotta score. That’s what you do for us. So, yeah, you’ve got to see people. ‘But Coach, you’re telling me to score and see people if they collapse?’ ‘Yeah. That’s how you play the game. You take what they give you.’ He’s not quite there yet with that, but when he does he can pass. He can handle it. But we need him to score baskets. How about we win that game like we did and he didn’t score a basket? That’s what’s crazy. And it shows you, whoever it is, whether it’s PJ Washington, whether it’s EJ, Nick (Richards) whoever, Reid (Travis) – we can win without you, so don’t feel that. This is about how do I make sure I’m helping this team win?”

On not getting to the free-throw line as frequently the last two games …

“I don’t think the other teams got to the line that much either, so probably just calling the game in a way where you’re not (shooting free throws). If I remember – who was the game before, the last game (Vanderbilt)? Yeah, they played zone. It’s hard to get to the line when a team’s playing zone.” 

On if he’s considering changing the starting lineup to prevent another slow start …

“Not yet, but it’s obviously I made the statement – when one guy is not engaged or not very good defensively, when two guys are not engaged they dunk the first five shots they shoot.”

On what goes through his mind when he sees that …

“Hopefully it doesn’t continue any more. My thing to these guys are, when you’re playing really good teams and they get you down, they’re not letting you get back in. They’re going to try – then you’ll make your run. Well, you’re exhausted and then they make a run and it’s back to what it was. So, the start of the game is important. First five minutes of both halves are important. Now, against Georgia the first five minutes of the second half is where we won the game. We went on a 9-0 run.”

On Auburn playing a similar style of up-tempo basketball and whether or not he’s looking to run with them …

“No. We’ve got a good bench. We have a deep team. We’re going to play and do some things against a team that’s shooting 35 3s and if they make 20 – what’s the next game? They’re shooting them whether you’re on them, hanging on them, they’re shooting them. Long rebounds matter in this game. I like to press a pressing team. I like to drive a driving team. I’m not so apt to shoot the 3 with the 3-point shooting team. We don’t play that way, but I guess that would be the other side. We’ll shoot more 3s than they do.”

On Auburn’s approach being different from other teams UK has played so far …  

“Wel,l it’s kind of neat; every team we play is doing different stuff. It’s helping our team as we prepare for what’s ahead of us, from a zone, to hold the ball, to shoot it quick, to bring the bigs out, to shoot 3s to – I mean, every game has been different. So they’re all learning experiences for us.”

On what it says about the SEC that there are so many ranked teams …

“The league’s good. I mean, we’ve got a couple of teams people didn’t know about that are good on top of the teams they knew were good that are good. So now you’re talking like, wait a minute, where do you get a W from? And especially on the road. It’s gonna be a tough road for all of us, but at the end it should prepare our teams for that run. In the NET that evaluates all of us, our league is one of the best. And it’s not just one or two teams, you’re talking like 10, 11 teams.”

On whether Bruce Pearl is a friend or a foe …

“Why do you keep asking? You know, we don’t send Christmas cards, but I respect him and if I see him out on the road we’ll talk.”

On Ashton Hagans being an example for playing to your strengths, and if there are other players following his example …

“They’re still learning, all of them. They’re still – and again, there’s not a pressure to win. It’s a pressure to perform. Me, perform, which is affecting our team. You can’t have a bunch of guys that are feeling pressed about how they’re playing. So they’ve got to come and play. Lose yourself in the team. If we win it works for everybody. You all know that. You’ve seen it. They don’t know that. This is their first time living it. They just know, if I shoot all the balls, and I score the most points, my name is in the paper more.“

On DeMarcus Cousins’ scheduled Warriors debut on Friday …

“Yeah, I’m happy for him. I just hit him about, oh, maybe it was his birthday or something? Why did I hit him? I just texted him about something and he hit me back, but yeah it was funny. I told their people out there, I was kind of happy they haven’t been playing great basketball. The guy laughed and I said, ‘No, I’m serious. So when he comes in this thing goes up, he’s going to get the credit he deserves because he’s a terrific player. He’s an All-Star.’ “

On Cousins saying the Warriors are the most hated team in sports …

“He did play – here.”

On having extra motivation going back to Auburn based on the game there last year …

“No. Most of these guys weren’t here. I doubt if they even watched it. It’s – we know it’s a ranked opponent on their court where they play well. It’ll be a hard game for us to win. We know that. I just need them focused on preparation so we can give ourselves a chance.”

Kentucky Players Quotes from UK Athletics 

#13, Jemarl Baker Jr., R-Fr., G

On UK’s depth being a strength …

“It’s definitely great. We have a lot of depth and a lot of players who can play and it helps, for sure. If somebody’s having an off night – if anybody’s having an off night – we have other players that can step up.”

On the importance of depth during this upcoming stretch …

“It’s definitely important. We’re ready for it. We’ve been working really hard and it’s just a part of the process. It’s a long season and it’s just a part of it.”

On 3-point defense vs. Auburn …

“We’ve been stressing it a lot. That’s something that we have to guard if we want to win. We just want to push up on them and force them into our length.”

On whether he has watched Auburn …

“Yeah, I watched them a little bit. Just listening to the coaches and the game plan we have set. Just gotta execute it.”

On Coach Calipari saying he plays within himself …

“Just all my life my dad telling me not to do too much, never to do too much and play basketball the right way at all times. That’s just something I’ve always tried to do.”

On the strength that Coach Cal wants him to play to …

“Just defend and hit shots. I still have a long ways to go comfort-wise to feeling like myself and trying to get to where I know that I can help the team and getting back to myself. Right now I’m just working hard and just trying to do whatever it takes to win.”

On how Keldon Johnson handled his scoreless game …

“It’s always tough for a guy that’s a scorer to have no points, but we all back him. We all support him. It didn’t bother us at all. We know that when the time comes he’s going to have big games.”

On why Johnson was held scoreless …

“Games go like that sometimes. Even the best stars have bad games sometimes. Just gotta keep working and it’ll all come.”

On how he expects Johnson to bounce back …

“He works and he’s a competitor, so I’m not worried about it all. I’m not all worried that he won’t bounce back, for sure.”

#14, Tyler Herro, Fr., G

On what he has seen from Auburn …
“They get up and down, shoot a lot of 3’s like a few teams we have seen already this season. It’s going to be a fun game, good atmosphere. Just playing defense, limiting their 3’s. They’re going to make a few shots, but just staying with each other and competing.”

On how UK’s 3-point defense has adapted …
“Coach has been emphasizing limiting 3’s. He gave us a few ways, putting our hands up early, so the shooter sees our hands. It makes the shooter think a little bit before he shoots. Just putting our hand up early and getting out to shooters.”

On the mindset of the team as they face a tough part of the schedule …
“Just being focused. We’ve got to have the best practices we’ve had all year now. However we practice is how we’re going to play, so staying into it, being engaged and competing every day in practice, getting better and ready for the games.”

On why the team seems to struggle early in games …
“I’m not too sure. I think we just have to be engaged right from the tip. If we have one or two guys that aren’t engaged right from the jump, then breakdowns on defense and that’s when they get 3’s and dunks. So being engaged right from the tip is important.”

On Ashton Hagans’ ability to defend the ball, complimenting his ability to get steals …
“He puts a lot of pressure on the ball handler, so that just puts pressure on him and the ball handler doesn’t have as much time to think and react to the pass they want to make. So, not just me, but a lot of the other guys anticipate and get into the passing lanes.”

On how important defending the 3-point shot will be against Auburn …
“It will be huge. They shoot a lot of 3’s. Coach said they’ve had a few games where they’ve attempted, I think, 40 3’s a game. So, just being there early, not allowing them to get the shots off and when they do get it off, it has to be contested.”

On if he thinks the team has improved its 3-point defense …
“Yeah, we’ve worked at it every day. Just not leaving corners and not allowing a wide-open corner 3, having a hand up early on close-outs. Just being there early will be key tomorrow.”

On the atmosphere at Auburn …
“Yeah, they said it’s going to be loud, so I think, we’ve had a few road environments so far, so I think just adapting to it early and I think we’ll all be fine.”

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