John Calipari spoke to the media after Kentucky ‘s win over Wofford
THE MODERATOR: Coach, some opening thoughts about this fantastic basketball game today.
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you know, I’ve got to give Wofford — they’ve just played, and they knew they were going to run down that shot clock and they knew we had a bunch of freshmen and one of them would break down, which is what happened at the beginning of the game. Every last five seconds, one guy broke down. Hard for young kids to do that and play this way.
We got it going at half, and then they never went away. I thought there were chances, we got up eight, we just couldn’t get the lead any more. The way they shoot threes, they’re just dangerous, and they change how you have to play defensively. And I thought our bigs did a great job. I thought Nick was unbelievable in what he did today. And even EJ did well, where we really helped those guards and played the way we had to.
Q. Just the defense on Fletcher —
JOHN CALIPARI: First of all, let me talk, you guys haven’t asked Jemarl Baker a question, but let me just tell you, I said it after the game, we coach every kid like they’re a starter. That’s how they’re trained, every one of these kids. And I keep saying, we don’t know who’s going to be a star. What he did today defensively, he made a basket or two and we needed them. What he did defensively meant he was prepared for this moment. Immanuel didn’t play as well and he had been playing really well, but you know what, this happens. Today Keldon didn’t play as well so we had to go and say, are you ready, and he’s like, I’m ready. And so I’m proud of that, and it’s hard.
I mean, these kids, I told you before, what they go through, what they hear, what’s thrown at them, and staying the course, I just appreciate the kind of kids we have and the kind of families they come from.
I don’t know what you asked me, but go ahead.
Q. Defense on Fletcher Magee.
JOHN CALIPARI: What we did was we were never going to go under any screen. The bigs were going to help as long as they had to. We hoped our length would bother them. But we also knew we were just as afraid of Hoover, and he goes 6 for 9, 4 for 5 from the three. We talked about one, but we said the other one is an assassin, too. He just throws darts out there.
Again, but it was the effort and energy, and my hope is they got a little worn down because these guys did not stop. They just chased, and they knew they couldn’t let up in this game or they were going to score baskets because it’s how they play.
Q. Cal, any relief in getting to the Sweet 16? That’s what you’re supposed to do.
JOHN CALIPARI: Who told you that? (Laughter).
No, here’s what I would say to you: In this profession I’m in, if winning is a relief, it’s time to retire. Now, I may not be showing it right now, but I danced in that locker room. I am ecstatic when my team wins, and when we didn’t finish the game off like we normally have, maybe it’s because PJ is not playing, but no, there’s no — I don’t think that way, and I don’t — I just want my team in the hunt. I want them playing at their best. What I told them prior to the game, roll to your training, then you don’t have to think about the moment, the other team, the NCAA — just you know how we’re training you, just play to the training, 40 minutes of unbelievable energy. If you’re not there, sub yourself. I said, I know if you get subbed you think you’re not going back in. We’ve only got eight guys. We can’t even practice. So if you take yourself out, you’re going to go back in. We don’t have enough guys.
But it’s hard because they don’t — if I’m on the floor, I may get another shot. We’re just a bunch of young guys coming together. I do believe they’re still getting better. I do believe that. Tyler didn’t make shots today, and we still win.
What happened to us in the first half, there were no willing passers on my team. No one was a willing passer. An extra bounce, they would collapse defensively, they’d tried to shoot it anyway. They’d collapse and I’d go an extra bounce so now it made it hard. The pass is thrown to me, the guy is in the corner, I shoot it anyway. He’s open. That was our whole first half. So hopefully we’ll be able to break down the tape and say, going forward, this can’t be you. I mean, they made us play the way they played. Give them credit. And if they hit a normal amount of threes, they’d probably beat us. Thank goodness they didn’t.
Q. Coach, I know we mentioned PJ was out; how impressed were you with the young guys stepping up? Got off to a slow start offensively but they rallied back and fought hard.
JOHN CALIPARI: I was really impressed but I was happy for Nick. Every player you have, you know how hard they’re working. You know what a good person they are, so you want them to do well, but you can’t do it for them, and you can wish all you want, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to go in and perform. I can’t build their confidence. They have to build their own confidence. Well, you take them out. Well, if they’re not playing hard and they’re not playing with great energy, then yeah, I will take them out. It’s not about missed shots. You’re going to have some turnovers, but if you’re not competing, if you don’t come up — I had to take EJ out. There was a rebound late. That could have cost us the game. He let the guy run — you’re out. Well, you take me out. I’m trying to win the game. Get that ball, and we win this game. So there’s things like that that I’m not going to budge on.
But happy for them.
I thought Ashton just has a will to win, and I come back, you see him make every free throw, and then you say to yourself, he should probably shoot perimeter shots better. Again, it’s mental. Get in the gym more, build your own confidence, make a couple in the game, which he has this year. Last couple he’s not made shots. He’s got to get in this week and get ready for this weekend.
Q. I missed what you said at the beginning about Baker, but Hero and Baker, two guys you recruited, known coming in as shooters. Both played excellent defense today. Can you talk about their defense?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, and I worried about putting Tyler on Magee, and I worried about it because I didn’t want to wear him out because we need his offense because PJ is not playing. So we need to go to him and get him to make some baskets. But if he’s running around with Magee, running in circles, running out, dribble hand-off, get being bumped, screen down, we’ll do that, like every possession, do it 12 straight possessions. It’s like being an offensive lineman in football. And so I worried about it, but he said, Coach, I’ll be fine. Well, obviously probably took away from his shots and he missed some shots that we’ve all seen him make. But I’ve never been afraid to put Jemarl in because of his defense. Even his rebounding, he’ll go after balls, just got make some shots. He or Immanuel, if they are making shots, like Immanuel is kind of taking a step back this weekend, we’ll take a step up next weekend. You’re going to get your chance. Get ready, get yourself mentally ready and go play. But our guard play was good defensively, shaky offensively.
Q. How did you have to adjust for the way Wofford was attacking you on the offensive and defensive glass?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you know, what happened on a couple is that our bigs helped and we didn’t crack down and they got some offensive rebounds. I believe we out-rebounded them 30 to — yeah, we out-rebounded them by six, and we’re a pretty good rebounding team. But offensively we were trying to get to the glass to get some tip-ins because we thought we could, and defensively you’ve got to fight like crazy because all of them from Jackson and all their other big guys, they attacked that glass.
Q. How important was it to have a guy like Reid Travis with his experience, with a stable presence at both ends of the floor? He’s had a long career to this moment.
JOHN CALIPARI: He trained his whole life for this. Before the last game, I just told him, you’ve been waiting for this your whole life, and yesterday he was unbelievable, had eight of nine or whatever he did, 18 points, and today he did well again, and every time we needed a basket to separate, we were throwing it to him. And just once he didn’t get something. Every other one was either a basket or a pass-out.
But let me say this, what a pleasure it’s been to coach him. He is truly professional in how he deals with everything, from training to weight training to keeping his body right to being where he’s supposed to on time. People that have come in my gym and watched us coach said that kid never takes his eyes off you. He is totally engaged with what you’re saying. And I get on him, now. Like I’m on him like I am these young kids. I just don’t have to as much because his is never effort. Theirs is always effort. His is never effort. It’s like some other things he may do, and basically it’s revert back some.
But it’s been — I’ve loved it, and I would say that what’s — he’s helped us, but he’s helped himself in this. He’s really put himself in a great position.