Kentucky – 76, Alabama- 67
Q. On Immanuel Quickley’s confidence?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He hit that two in the corner, it was big. He’s a confident kid, and what he does, he spends so much time in the gym, he expects to make them. If you know you’re not 100 percent, you’re not spending the time you can, you still look in the mirror. And if you’re giving 80 percent and then you get in the game and it doesn’t play out for you, you know, he’s — the kid lives in the gym. He’s kind of like Tyler (Herro), he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, those guys. He’s just like them.
The guy, the energy, he finishes first on every run. He’s built his own, I mean, and you know, the last one, it’s kind of tough, we knew we were going to run something like that. And then when I called timeout, and you’re the guy shooting the ball, and then I — I ice you. I ice you, and you’re my guy. And he still makes it.
But I didn’t feel comfortable. You know, I had the timeouts and I didn’t feel comfortable not using one right there to make sure, because I’ve got to have guys that sometimes say I didn’t hear that, so I did it seven times, “Did everybody hear it?”
Q. Better from EJ Montgomery, Kahlil Whitney was better.
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: They were all better.
Q. How much does peer pressure come into play when everybody else is doing well; so it’s time for me to step up and do my thing?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It kind of works the other way sometimes. What I keep saying; “Please let me coach you. You’ve got to shut the clutter down.”
I was so happy for Kahlil today. Now, you may have looked and said, well, he missed shots. They were all the shots we want him to take. Instead of passing that up and trying to throw a ball, just shoot it.
And the second thing, that was a block. He went in and blocked it. That’s what I want him to do. That’s who you are. Go for balls.
Now, again, I was trying to win the game, so I can’t experiment. The game was too close and those three guards deserve to play.
You know, Tyrese (Maxey) is still learning. He still makes high school plays. Drives baseline; throws a bounce pass to Nick (Richards). To Nick? Seven-foot, head-on-the-square? You throw a bounce pass, so the other guards can go in there and grab it?
“Well, he was open.”
“Oh, my gosh. Stop. Sit. You’re all right.”
I wasn’t happy with Ashton (Hagans). See, I think Ashton’s the best point guard in the country. I think we have three pointguards, by the way, but I think he — and the reason is, he is a tough defender, pick-and-roll defense. He’ll rebound. He can get in the lane. He has a good twitch, which means if someone’s open late, he’ll find you. He’s shooting the ball better. But I didn’t think he brought it to the level.
Now, I made him this morning, normally we don’t shoot around. I made him shoot around this morning because I wasn’t — there was a gut feeling like if he ain’t ready, I see Evansville all over. He didn’t play that game.
I’m on him, he’s 15-9-9, almost a triple-double. I said, “That’s how much I think of you. You’re a triple-double, and I’m saying you’re better. You’re still undisciplined both offensively and defensively, you make four or five plays a half that hurt our team, and only because of discipline.”
But you know, he’s getting better. Believe me, Nick, a double-double, we didn’t go to him. They scored 44 in the post and we scored 20, but many of them were offensive rebounds. They just crashed and got it.
And the second thing was when they drove, for some reason, I had three guys go at the ball. The guy guarding him and two others were leaving. I’m like, why are you all going that way and they were dropping it off to a guy under the basket? So, it wasn’t really they posted it up and scored. It was on that, or it was on an offensive rebound.
Q. Alabama forcing Kentucky to shoot 3s and Kentucky making them?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, that’s about – everybody’s game plan is going to be to try to make us take 3s. But you have Immanuel, you have Nate (Sestina), you have Tyrese, and even Ashton, so I mean, we can make them, but we’re one of those teams, we get to the foul line, we get you in foul trouble, we’ll take 3s. But it’s not how we play.
My problem with that, historically, the NCAA Tournament is a one-and-done tournament. And if you’re taking 30 3s a game, there’s going to be a game where you don’t make them in those six, and your chances to win it are done. That’s just me. I may be wrong.
There may be teams that have taken that many and won. I’m not comfortable that way, and it’s the same thing stretching out the defense too much.
At the end of the day, can you give them one tough shot and rebound, and then you create good shots for yourself; and if they are threes — we took 15. We didn’t take 25. We took 15. Our job was to keep them in transition from getting threes. And when they got them, they made them. That was the whole thing for us.
But I told Nate after the game, no one — I said, do we play you again?
He says, “No.”
I said, “Thank goodness.” I said, “There is no one that wants to play Alabama right now. They are taking 30-some 3s.” They are making shots from four different positions. They are driving the ball.
And when you have Herbert Jones doing what he does, I told him after the game, “The way you play and your energy and your effort, that is a skill.” That’s a skill. And the way he did it, look, we’re done. If we have to play them again, it will be in the tournament, and I will dread that if we have to.
Q. Go back to talking about the easy shots that Alabama was having. Is it because the team’s out of position, or is it because of something else completely different, and how do you change that defensively for rest of the season?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we — they had three back cuts. John Petty got one. One was on Ashton. One was on Immanuel. One was on Kahlil, but he blocked it.
Then they had offensive rebounds, and then they had where we sent three guys to the ball. That’s just an error on our part.
Again, now you’re saying all these open shots, they shot 36 percent for the game. But they did shoot 19 percent from the 3. So, if we had done that, they would have shot 20 percent and zero percent.
We broke down some. But you know, we can block shots. We’re long. I like our guards. They can stay in front of people. But yeah, you can’t send three guys — a normal college player will say, I have three guys on me, I’m just throwing it to anybody, which is what they did.
Q. You did seem to do a good defensive job on Kira Lewiswho can really get to the rim quickly. How much pressure is it when they have the shooters in transition, plus the point guard like that, and how did you feel?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It’s hard. You know, what they do is they are unique. Like he laughed because Nate (Oats)said before the game, “This looked like a Memphis team when I was there.”
And I said, “You’re running the dribble drive better than I ever ran it.”
And what they are doing in transition, even there, we weren’t relying on 3s. I had Chris Douglas and Antonio Anderson. I had those kind of guys. Derrick Rose wasn’t a 3-point shooter. We were more of an attack.
But what he’s doing in transition is they are trying to get a 3 in transition. All of us teach run to the rim, go back, protect the basket, run. None of us run out. So, they are running, and you go in and here comes Kira and he gets in the lane and all of a sudden he’s open, he’s open. They are scoring 40 percent of their 3s in transition. I’ve never seen it before.
Like even if you get a layup, you throw it to the guy in the corner and he makes a 3. So he’s doing — it’s hard when you have two days or a day to prepare for that. I’m telling you, we had two days and I’m, believe me, I told guys, you have a choice. You can make people dribble or you can guard them with your hand-down. That is your choice.
If they shoot it, you’re coming out. That’s your choice. Not my choice. You make them bounce it. They have to dribble. That’s all we said. We did for two days.
Q. I’ve heard you say EJ can be a monster.
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He was good today.
Q. I’m hoping you can define monster for me and how he’s progressing.
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Today he got — rebounded the ball. So, he gets six rebounds and he gets eight points, and he could have had a couple more.
But you know what, I just need them to start climbing the way they need to climb. I hugged Kahlil after. I’m like, “Kid, just stay the course. Please stay the course. I want you to be a stopper on defense, and don’t worry about anybody else. You guard your man. Go grab some rebounds, because you can put your head above the rim.”
And then on offense, be a finisher. Shoot it when you’re in there. Don’t go in there to try to pass. Shoot it. And if you can’t get a shot off, you know it when you catch it; I don’t have a shot. Pass it, cut, and we’ll get you another shot.
Keion (Brooks Jr.), I thought did he some good stuff. He made that shot in the corner to start the game, and look, this — what we do here, I look at this, the only way my team can get better is if each individual is improving. It’s not like I’m trying to coach a better scheme or we run better stuff than everybody. No. Our individual players are improving. If they are, my team will improve.
I’m looking at the three guys I feel are better than they are playing, and I’m saying, if they get it right, and now we have a full complement — I thought Nate was okay today. You know, he was okay. He wasn’t great. But it was a good win for us, guys.
Q. When you guys get up 15, it seemed like you build that lead by making easy plays and finding the open guy, but after that, it seemed like they tried to maybe raise the level of difficulty. Did you see that at all?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. I watched the tape. I thought we did — we came out at the half and had three opportunities. We were 0-for-3 right out of the gate and we started with the ball.
We end the half on a simple exchange, and we give up a 3 after a missed free throw. Could have been up 14 at the half. Could have been up more. Again, when you’re playing this kind of team and you’re holding those 3s down, do you think, okay, we got an advantage. If they are making 3s, that’s when they score 90. They score 90.
So some of the stuff we gave up, we did it on purpose. If we give up something, give up a tough two. Give up a layup. Don’t — let’s not leave somebody that’s wide open that we are not doing that.
Q. About a minute and a half to go, I think you’re up three and Nick Richards comes up with the offensive board on the other end of the floor. He gets the contest and the defensive board. Can you talk about that sequence a little bit, and is that part of his continued growth?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. Yeah. And how about we went pick-and-roll with him and threw him the ball and let him shoot jumpers. I don’t know if you saw, I don’t know how much time was on the clock. I ran an out-of-bounds play for him to shoot a jumper in that far corner away from us. He was wide open. He missed it but I’m feeling comfortable he can do that.
But his rebounding, his ability to make a difference in the game, again, he’s another one that has built his own confidence. He’s finally getting in good shape. He’s not in great shape because he tires out.
But he’s in good shape compared to where he could go two minutes and he was done, couldn’t catch a ball, couldn’t get a rebound. Couldn’t get a fight. He’s now in the type of shape that he can sustain it.
And that’s where, again, I would say EJ, and even Kahlil and Keion, get in the greatest shape of your life. I mean, do all the running. Don’t worry about anything else. Get in shape and then let the stuff happen for you. Not worry because, again, if you remember, the year we had Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, first 10games, I didn’t even start him. He didn’t start. I came in and said to him, you know, you probably need to be starting.
He said, “I’m good, Coach. You do what you want. I trust you. I trust you.”
And then after that, you said, this kid’s got to start. He’s the best player on the court. But he worked his way into that. He was that guy in practice. He worked. That’s all you’re trying to tell these guys. It’s not high school where just get me more shots. It isn’t. Stuff that worked then — you ready, probably not working now.
So now, you want to build your confidence. Brad Stevens said there and I sent all the kids and I told Brad, I sent what you said. He said, look, if you want to build your confidence, you do what’s really hard for you. Focus on what’s really hard for you and do it over and over and over and over. That’s how you build your confidence.
The other way is, well, this worked in high school, so instead of doing what’s really hard, I’m going to do this, and then it doesn’t work for our team and it doesn’t — it’s all a process. Some kids get it pretty fast. Some kids don’t.
I’m telling you, I believe in every one of these kids. I wouldn’t have recruited them here. But I’ll tell you, it’s really hard here, and like that shot Immanuel made, how about the free throws we’ve got to make. How about everybody game we play is someone’s Super Bowl. How about we walk in this building and if we don’t win by 20, they are calling Doc and saying, hey, we need another basketball coach; the game’s gotten by this guy, he’s not winning by 20 anymore.
There’s four million coaches in the state — is there more than four million people in the state? Okay. So there’s a little over four million coaches in the state (laughter). But this is what this is. I told each of them: You know what, you decided to come here and you knew this would be this way. So deal with it. I can’t do it for you. I can’t play for you. I can’t build your confidence.
I can give you opportunities, but here is my big thing: You have choices to make. If you choose to play like you did in high school, you’re not going to play much. If you choose to play the way the team needs you, you stay on the court.
But it’s your choice. You break it off and I’m going to do this and I just decided, that’s a choice you make. And so like I said, we had two good days of practice. They get two days off now. They got today off and they got tomorrow off. So they get two days. Then we come back and go after this.