The Kentucky Wildcats needed a win over Louisville in the worst way, but it looked like the worst possible scenario was playing out that had the Cardinals poised for victory.
Isaiah Briscoe was hurt. Jamal Murray was erratic. Skal was a no-show again. Starters Marcus Lee and Charles Matthews were in foul trouble. UL's Damion Lee and Trey Lewis were on fire.
But somehow, the Cats gutted out a win and picked up their eighth win over the Cards since John Calipari took over. It was also the 200th win for Cal as the Cats' head coach, making him the fastest coach to reach 200 wins in program history.
As you can imagine, Cal was in quite the festive mood following his team's hard-fought win over a top-15 team and their biggest rival. Here is a recap of what Cal had to say following Saturday's Bluegrass thriller:
"We spent two days doing all kind of drills to just loosen them up offensively. Let them shoot 3s in transition, getting back to how we play. We did a lot of screening in the last two, three days.
"I really believe having Christmas off for these guys was great. Cleared the mind. Let's come back and let's do this. I've done that every year since I've coached. Part of it is for them, the other part is I like spending time with my own family.
"But when we came back, we zeroed in on those areas and I thought it helped us today. But Louisville is a good team. They're well coached. Those guards are really, really good. The big kid, they were throwing it in and he scored on us. 10 rebounds, they out-rebounded us by 10 rebounds. We missed some free throws down the stretch and we had a chance to do some things, but it was a good ball game."
On attacking UL's zone with Alex Poythress:
"We put Alex in the middle and told him to attack. That's what he did. Then I love the fact that Tyler (Ulis) just threw him the ball down low and he posted and he was -- Alex is an elite athlete. Be that guy. Just play. Be that guy. Did you see the block he had coming down in front of our bench? It was ridiculous. Only Superman can make that play. And he made it.
"So, again, we're still coming along. Skal (Labissiere), I wanted to leave him in the game. That one rebound he could not bring in. We got to win the game. I told him, you're getting better, you're way better, let's just keep this going and see what happens."
On putting Alex on Damion Lee on the final possession for Louisville:
"It was a switch. They switched out. That's what happened. We were just -- we told them to, if he comes off, just someone else take him. We were going to -- as a matter of fact, the goofy coaches, we were thinking about trapping a pick and roll. So thank God they didn't pick-and-roll because someone would have made a three and we would have lost by one. But I just didn't want to sit there and let them dictate what was going to happen. So, if they had gone pick-and-roll, we were trapping."
On the importance of Dominique's Hawkins:
"I had a flashback. What was the flashback to? What game? Oh my gosh -- how do you remember all this? And then what happened? The other guy came down and banged a three and we lose by one. Why do you bring that up?
"He played good. He played good. We got to get Jamal (Murray). Jamal's got to try to make easy plays. He's still trying to make the most difficult play. But he's going to be fine. He made 3s that really broke open the game. He's a great free-throw shooter who went 3-for-6. So his numbers -- the turnovers, a lot of the stuff he tried to go all the way into the middle of the lane before he passed. He really didn't need to. And it's stuff that just we got to show him on tape and correct and that.
"Never changed his emotion the whole time. He defended, he'll fight like crazy, he's got a great temperament, a great demeanor. One of the great kids of all time. I mean literally one of the great kids. He's kind of like Alex, you want him to do so well, but they got to do it. You can't do it for them, you could wish it, you could hope it, you could say that's the guy you really want to make it.
"But they got to go do it. They got to go fight. Telling them -- part of our issue, and I said this, is our -- we needed enthusiasm and I thought we had it today and we had it for two days in practice. I demanded it."
On plans for this week:
"I'm giving them two days off. They get the rest of today off. And they get tomorrow, we're going to have dinner and watch the tape at my house. And then we start up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and we're going, two-, three-a-days. We're going every -- just throw your phones out, throw your computers out, because it's on. We have to get better.
"And what we're going to do -- I mean, I did two things. I'm mad at myself. The 3-point shooting stuff I should have done all year. It should have been who we were. I should have known we were struggling shooting 3s. You got to free up their minds.
"And the second thing was screening and making Skal screen. I'm telling you, Ty (Wynyard) screens. Like he screens. He screens. His man, your man, and your the guy coming off, y'all get screened. And Isaac (Humphries) is the same.
"So, now we're doing a better job. Alex (Poythress) did a better job. Alex is in a great frame of mind. You have it to understand, before the Ohio State game he didn't practice for four straight days. I could have told you what was going to happen in that game to him. I could have told you. And I told him. You were injured, you had to take the days off, but that's who you are. When you take days off, you come back, that's what you look like. He's practiced, when we came back and he went hard and he's really proud -- I'm really proud of him."
On Isaiah Briscoe's injury:
"It's funny, we walked in, no Isaiah (Briscoe). What? What happened? He stepped on a foot. What? Where? On the way into the building. What? And then we got to figure it out. But this guy, that may have brought us together, who knows. It may have helped us.
"I was surprised he didn't play. But I walked in, I said, are you going to give it a try? He said, let me go out there. They came back in and said, he doesn't want to start. I looked at him and I said, do you think you're going to play the second half? He said, I don't think so. Then I had no intention of playing him after he said, I don't think so."
On Tyler Ulis playing so many minutes:
"He was cramping up. I was just trying to get out of the game. That's all I was trying to do. One of the things that I saw, the players at Louisville were playing 29 minutes a game -- and not the Michigan State game. That game they played 39 and 37 -- and so I said, if they're not subbing theirs, I'm not subbing mine. They're not in better shape than us.
"So he didn't sub his, I'm not subbing mine. Now, you know, I thought Jamal tired out a little bit. I thought Dom really fought. But Tyler figured it out. With a minute to go, whatever it was, he was cramping, I said, can you get through this? He said, I got this."
On Ulis courage to take so many big shots:
"Yeah, courage. Courage. He's not afraid to miss. I've said to all these guys, the guys that make game winners or make big plays that are like just the knife in the back, they're not afraid to miss that shot. The guy that's afraid to miss it will ball fake it and take a tough one. That I was trying to draw a foul. No, you weren't. No, you weren't. You did not want to take that open shot, so you ball faked, you drove and you threw a lefty up and then look like I got fouled.
"The guy -- I had Sam Cassell. That's when I said, Sam, you, like you like throw daggers, what is it? He said, I'm not afraid to miss. If I miss, I go to the next game and I'll try to throw a dagger next game. If I miss that one, I know eventually I'm going to make it, because I'm not afraid to miss it. And that's Tyler."
On he and Rick Pitino getting called for technical fouls:
"I think he got a T, too, didn't he? Mine was not deserved. His probably was deserved. I don't know. I'll watch the tape. Merry Christmas, everybody."