It will also be a nice opportunity for the Cats to bounce back from an abysmal second-half showing against Mississippi State Tuesday night. Despite leading by as many as 20, MSU rallied to cut UK's lead to just three points late in the game due in large part to frequent defensive breakdowns and dumb fouls that allowed the Bulldogs to get easy points at the free-throw line.
All of this had John Calipari in not one of his best moods Thursday when discussing Saturday's game and what UK must improve upon from Tuesday. Cal also went into detail about the new NBA draft early entry rules, which will undoubtedly affect his teams as they often feature several underclassman who will be drafted into the NBA.
On the NBA Draft rules:
"Well ,we were behind it. There was a group of us that just said, look, we got to do right by these kids, give 'em an opportunity to be in a combine that's not controlled by college basketball. It's controlled by the NBA. Let them get the right information, the real information, from the NBA, and then if they choose to come back, let them come back.
"So what will happen is just about every player on your team should declare for the draft to see if they get invited to the combine. Now, they don't get invited to the combine... Probably you're not getting drafted. Maybe."
On players being able to go work out for teams:
"If they - right after that combine, they'll know. Now if someone wants to go anyway, that's fine. But I think it's the right thing for these kids to get the right information. So maybe it saves one or two kids. There are other kids that'll go anyway. 'I'm going whether they tell me I'm in the combine because I'm in the first round.'
"You're not in the combine. Can't be in the first round. 'Yes. I've been told by people, and my barber told me I'm a first-rounder.' OK. That'll happen, but you're like, throwing life preservers and they don't want to swim to it, there's nothing you can do. I think it gives these kids the real info so there's no delusion on their part of what they're up against."
On if he had players in recent years that could have benefitted from these new rules:
"I think so. I think so. And I'm telling 'em, a two-minute, four-minute meeting. I'm not trying to brainwash a kid into staying. I mean, that's not what I do, and I don't force kids to leave, either. I want them to make the decision on the information that the NBA gives them. At that point, you can only call and they can give you information.
"But I think it's good. I think it's good for the game, it's good for the student-athletes. And now - you hate for a young man to start his career and be told one thing and you know it's not true. And you look at him, like, 'Why are...' And for most coaches, they're being told that we're gonna do what's right for us in this program. We don't care about players.
"They want you in school to win more games. That's what they're being told. Now it's you're hearing it from GMs, player personnel directors, the NBA. They're telling you, after you get to the combine. After you get to the combine, they can say, 'You need to go back to school.' So now, they're saying, 'Here's what it is: You 20, I'm gonna be honest, you weren't on anybody's list. You probably need to go back to school. If you want to put your name in the draft, that's fine.'
"But this will give those kids now the opportunity to know, 'I got to go back and work. I'm not ready.'"
On Derek Willis losing confidence defensively:
"It's a great term. Like you would say ‘confidence defensively?' Yeah. Oh yeah. When you're confident defensively you'll let loose, but his habits are so bad, like what's the word below so bad? We're working everyday for him to create better habits but they are what they are right now. He's helped us in other ways though."
On improving defensive habits:
"Hands, not lunging, hands are down. Knowing how we play late pick-and-rolls. Just fundamental things that he just doesn't have. You go to guard a guy and he drives you can't just turn sideways and let him drive. You have to get around and lunge to get in front of him so he's gotta go through your chest. It's like we're teaching a different language to him. But there's other guys right now. There's other guys who are getting beat on the dribble left and right.
"Mississippi State scored 30 points in the last 10 minutes. When I watch the game with Mississippi State, we're playing pretty good, and then the last 10 minutes we gave up 30 points. Are you kidding me? You understand that's 120 if we played the basketball game that way? It's nutty. I don't know if it's because we got up. Why did you do this?
"We're going to show some tape of some very basic fundamental things they broke down on that they shouldn't have so they can see it over and over. This stuff you can do, you just have to do it."
On Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee disappearing:
"It's not just them. We had some other guys. No show means you look at the stats and they have whatever gazillion. You know what a gazillion is? There's a number there, maybe 30 gazillion. It may be one, 12, 120 gazillion. You play 12 minutes and then everything else is a zero. You just had a gazillion.
"The whole thing is relishing the responsibility. I relish that responsibility of having to come everyday and do what I do. But it's hard. It's not easy. Especially if you've never had to do it in your career."
On what he's told Poythress and Lee:
"Not much. I hit all the guys last night just to see if any of them hit the lottery. And they all hit me back, ‘No.' And then I hit them and said, ‘You still have the ticket, you.' But that cuts to the point of Marcus and Alex. You've got a ticket. You've got to scratch it. You got the ticket. We have time. We have a month, month and a half maybe. It's not like we're in the last week of the season."
On Poythress saying the key to this team is defense:
"We have to guard, but you have to have some guys that will make baskets around the goal too. You have to have guards - you're not going to win a game shooting all jump shots. You just can't. Not a big time game. So yeah, this is a team that has to really defend, but we got to execute offensively. You got to score baskets.
"We went to Alabama, we had two dunks - missed the dunk. And then missed both free throws, both times. You're not winning that way. Dunk the ball. Or make the free throws. Either one. Can't (miss) both. So those are the kind of things that we have to demand and get them to understand. If you want to win, if you want to do your job for this team, you'll do it.
"They'll do it. They know what it's like. They're trying. Got a bunch of great kids who are learning. It's like Jamal (Murray). He's learning how to play winning basketball. He's learning. You see it every game, he's getting better. You'll also see signs of the old Jamal. Still in there, we're just trying to keep it in there."
On Lee's fouls being from him not being in right spot:
"Most cases, he didn't fight early enough to get his position, to get that ball. He waited, and then the other guy fights and he's in a bad position - he doesn't weigh enough. He weighs a buck-seventy-five. So all of a sudden now, you weren't down and ready to wedge, you get pushed, you're grabbing, you're grabbing, and you just foul. A lot of times, you get out of position and you're embarrassed about it, what do you do?
"I'm going to grab the guy so he doesn't score. It's not football, son. It is not football. That was not a touchdown. That was two points, which we could've scored in seven seconds. But it's hard for them, because it's an embarrassing thing, too. Just grab the guy, keep him from scoring. I'm not going to be embarrassed."
On what he sees in Auburn:
"They play loose. They shoot balls. They spread the court. They'll beat you on the dribble. They're pressing not as much as he used to. Same baseline out, they're switching stuff, sideline out, diamond press, pick-and-roll. Their guard, this kid, he's letting it go. And if he has a big night, we'll probably say, ‘Who's next on the schedule?'
"But they're going to shoot balls and they play loose and when you're at home and you know they're ready for us, it's just how it is."
On if the new draft rules affect recruiting:
"I don't know that. We need to let this - this needs to run for a couple years so we can really see the result. Let's say it doesn't work. Then they can throw it away, try something different. Had to do something. Wasn't fair for these kids. They had to do something.
"And I'm telling you, again, the players and their families in most cases didn't want to hear it (draft feedback) from coaches. I mean, now you think about it: Me, how I am, I asked one parent at one point, ‘Do you want my help?' No, we got this. ‘OK, tell me how I can help you.'
"Kind of gave me the idea that young man was leaving. Mom said, ‘No, we got this.' And that's me, so you think about how this was playing out. I just think let's do right by these kids and the programs will be fine. It hasn't hurt our program, kids leaving early."
On if either side - college ball or the NBA - was a tough sell on this:
"We were together on it. The NBA, I'm really - the group that met with the NBA, I think all of us know that we're in this together. They don't want players that do not belong in the league. They don't want to draft a guy that ends up being a wash-out. They don't. They want players that are prepared emotionally, physically, skill-wise, to deal with what's coming at them. And they agreed.
"But they have also - you have to understand what the dates are the way they are; they have the Players Association that they have to deal with, which we don't, so they have to go back to the Players Association and look at that agreement and say, ‘We have to work within this.'
"That was part of the reason with the dates where: Why don't we move the date (of the) combine up? Like, why don't you do the combine earlier? Because they have an agreement with the Players Association that they couldn't. So there were some other things there."
On Dominique Hawkins:
They tell me he's going to practice today, which is good for us. Because I think he'll - right now, we need that one guy (off the bench) that's going to play. Mychal (Mulder) gave us a lift and did some good stuff and then last game, he just wasn't there. Now all of a sudden, you're like, ‘Wait a minute, who is the next?' You need another guy. So ... but Dom will be fine.