Before Kentucky travels to Mississippi State Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards and assistant coach Tony Barbee spoke tot he media.

Ashton Hagans

Nick Richards

Tony Barbee


Quotes from UK Athletics 

#2, Ashton Hagans, Fr., G

On what he remembers from the first game against Mississippi State …
“I think that’s when we started stepping up a lot more on defense. We started coming together as a team, realizing what we needed to do and getting better at stopping the 3. That’s when we were getting that all together, just coming along and getting better from there.”

On his first half versus his second half against South Carolina …
“In the first half, I was turning it over a lot, I think I had like six or seven turnovers. It happens sometimes. Sometimes, it’s just not your game so the next player has to come in and try to help the team out. In the second half, I just had to get back in the groove of playing my game and just trying to get a ‘W’.”

On how the team is preparing for tomorrow’s game …
“First game, it was just locking in on the game plan. Same thing for this game. We’re just going over film and seeing what we can do better and just go out and try to get the win.”

On if there is any danger in overlooking Mississippi State …
“They’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder. They lost at home yesterday (Wednesday). So, they’re going to come out ready to fight. So, we’ve just got to be prepared and stay focused.”

On how the team is handling being a target for other teams …
“It’s just like any other game. Everybody is going to come out and give us the best shot that they’ve got. So we’ve got to stay focused and play as a team.”

On whether teams are playing him differently …
“Not really. I’m actually getting in the lane more. I’m just not knocking down shots that I’m taking. I just have to keep taking the shots that are given to me. I’m just trying to stay in my role that coach gave me, just get my teammates involved and just move on from there.”

On how much the team has bought in on defense …
“I bring an intensity on defense, but I wouldn’t say it’s just me. I think everybody is trying to get better on the defensive end. Tyler (Herro) made a big stride on the defensive end. As it goes along, Keldon (Johnson) is getting way better on the defensive end. We’re all there for each other, knowing that we’re going to go out there and fight for each other. As the season goes along, the defense is going to get better.”

On if playing defense is fun …
“It’s fun to me because once you get the steal, you’re going to have a lob, a fast break layup or something like that. I just love playing defense, getting into somebody’s body and just being aggressive.”

#4, Nick Richards, So. F

On the things Coach Cal focuses on with him …

“Each guy on the team has different things that he tells us to do. For me personally, he tells me to rebound, block shots, play with energy, get easy baskets for the team, change shots, make a presence inside the paint for guys not to get easy layups. I just try to do those little things for us.”

On what Cal means when he says he is “close” …

“I guess when I do it he’ll tell me what it is. He just wants me to do the little things that I just explained about. Just rebound, block shots, play with unbelievable energy. I think he just wants me to play with more of a spirit that he talks about.”

On when Cal took him and moved his feet in front of him at the last game …

“I really wanted to smile but I knew I couldn’t because he would have got mad.”

On the point Cal was trying to make …

“He was just trying to get across that I should have done my work early before I caught that foul even though I didn’t think it was a foul.”

On what he sees on film when he gets called for ticky-tack fouls …

“When I watch the film I go back and I see that it’s not really an aggressive foul. It’s more like a little ticky-tack foul the refs are going to call. It’s just in the heat of the moment, just have those reactions and then when you go back and you see the film that’s when you see those are actually fouls. Some of them are fouls. Some of them aren’t fouls.”

On his on-court chemistry with EJ Montgomery …

“We just like to play basketball. We just know what each other likes to do. He knows what I like to do. I know what he likes to do. Just play basketball and figure it out from there.”

On the key to team buying in on defense …

“We just noticed that we hate losing. Everybody on this team just loves winning, so we just gotta do whatever it takes to win. We just figured out that defense is one of the most important things that we gotta do.”

Assistant Coach Tony Barbee

On the defensive play as of late …

“Really well. The guys are taking a personal challenge on individually not being the guy that breaks us down. When it comes that important to you individually to protect each other collectively then we become pretty good, especially with the pieces that we have, the length, the size, the physicality and size, the quickness on the perimeter, and then when you’ve got a couple of pit bulls at the top of your defense in Ashton (Hagans) and Immanuel (Quickley), it makes it really hard for the other team.”

 

On John Calipari saying in the past that “this was the worst defensive team he has had” …

“It was 100 percent true. We were bad through the first seven, eight, nine games of the year. It was just the young guys getting a feel for it at this level and us collectively trusting each other defensively. And that just comes with young teams like we have every year and you see the breakthrough usually happens late December, early January when we have that Christmas break when we do a lot of practicing, a lot of film work, and then you see the guys grow and improve rapidly during that period, And that’s what’s happened again this year.”

 

On the young guys possibly overlooking Mississippi State after beating the Bulldogs by 21 at home …

“I don’t think so. I’ve heard a couple of times trap games and this and that. Not with this team. This team is focused. I mean, you see it every day in practice. Practices are so competitive that you can’t expect a letdown in the games. These guys have been practicing, going after each other, competing against each other, they’re having fun together, and so, it doesn’t matter the opponent on the floor, they’re going to come to play every night.”

 

On what Mississippi State does well …

“They’re physical. They’re as big and as physical as any team in the league, and then you’ve got the experience in the backcourt with (Lamar) Peters and the Weatherspoon brothers (Quinndary and Nick). They have all of the dynamics to be a fantastic team, and you see Reggie Perry kind of growing up before your eyes the way he’s playing the last five games or so. It’s really made them a potent team.”

 

On how Kentucky’s rim protection compares to previous years …

“We’ve got it in spots. Again, you see the emergence of EJ (Montgomery) coming along, and he’s provided some shot blocking. Nick (Richards) is getting a better understanding for the timing of it. Those are two guys that are good shot blockers. You have PJ (Washington) with his length is a good shot blocker when he needs to be, and Reid (Travis) is the ultimate rim protector because he just does a great job of the vertical jump, which you can be inside that circle as a secondary defender and as the driver comes at you and as big and as barrel-chested as he is, and he jumps us vertical and chest at the guy trying to lay the ball in. It’s not a foul and it causes a lot of misses. Even though we don’t block shots like Karl Towns, Anthony Davis and those guys, we do have some significant amount of rim protectors in the paint.”

On free-throw shooting and if that’s a strength of this team …

“Yeah. Cal said all year long this is one of the best shooting teams that he’s had and you see that in our free-throw shooting percentages. You know, you win a lot of games when you can make 75, 80 percent of your free throws.”

On how they get the guys to buy in to defense …

“Hold them accountable every single day. You see it in practice, what coach does and what we do, the systems to hold them accountable, to teach them, to show them on film, the goods and the bads. Then, they’ll grow from it.  Then the experience of seeing, especially for the young guys, seeing multiple offenses all year long now they’ve gotten used now to college basketball and what they are going to see offensively. It’s with experience comes success.”

On if Nick Richards believes in himself that he can break through …

“Yeah, I think he does. He’s getting better and he’s getting closer. He has some mental breakdowns at times on the court where he’ll repeat the same mistakes and we’ll show him on tape, but he’s gotten better at it, so we just need him to get over that last hurdle because he’s a big part of where we’re trying to go. He provides this team something that we don’t have.”

On the 10 or 11 plays a game where they let teams back in it and if that number has changed …

“Yeah, it has shrunk, it has shrunk. Again, it’s sometimes its playing through fatigue. When guys get tired late in games you can have some mental errors and subbing yourself early in the game and different things. It proves in practice that we do so many situations in practice, and then they see so many different situations in games now that they are getting used to playing in those moments.”

On Cal taking Nick Richards out in the last game and dancing in front of him on the bench, what was the point he was trying to get across …

“I didn’t see it. [Laughter.]”

On catching Mississippi State after a tough los s…

“You know, they are going to be desperate. They are as talented and as big, and as physical and talented on the perimeter as any team in the league. That probably stung giving that one away on their home court, so it’s going to be obviously a sold-out arena like we face everywhere and our guys are getting used to playing in those kinds of environments on the road. We’re going to come out and give them our best and I’m sure they’re going to do the same as us.”

 

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