The Cats open SEC play Saturday night against the Ole Miss Rebels. Coach Cal met the press Friday afternoon to preview the game and more.
Last season, the Rebels gave Kentucky all they could handle in a double overtime thriller at Rupp Arena, but John Calipari does not think that tight games with Andy Kennedy’s team are not an aberration.
"But every game we’ve played against Mississippi has been that way. Whether it’s down there or here, they’re dogfights, and this one will be the same", he said.
Calipari said he anticipates the Rebels will test UK due to the number of different defensive schemes that Ole Miss uses.
"They’re playing a 2-3 (zone). They’re playing a 1-3-1 trap. They’re spreading out the court in a 2-2-1. They’re man to man and they’re getting after it."
Ole Miss is led by star point guard Stefan Moody, but the Rebels are far from a one-man team.
"They have a four man that can really shoot the ball. They play different. You can’t trap big to big. You can’t play pick-and-rolls like you normally do. They do a lot of picking with the four and spacing. They’ve got an athletic three-man that just crashes the boards and is driving and is coming at the rim that you’ve got to be prepared to guard", said Calipari on the subject.
Prized freshmen Skal Labissiere has come off the bench the last few games after starting for most of the season.
So what brought about the change?
Coach Cal simply said it was because of "the way we were starting. The way he was playing."
Calipari also said that the talented Haitian has adjusted well to the move and that several aspects of his game have gotten better.
"He's fine. He's gotten better. Now he's got to do it in the game. What he's doing in practice, go do in the game. So, he's gotten better."
Specifically, "Finishing, rebounding, fighting, going after balls" are areas Cal has noticed Skal improving in.
There is good news out of the annual practice gauntlet known as Camp Cal.
"Well, they haven’t broken down so they’ve survived it", said Calipari, and he later added that the extra practice time has "been really productive. Individual players are getting better, and our team has a better idea of how we’re trying to play."
Coach Cal also took the time to explain why the team improves so much during the holiday break.
"You have time. Like, one of the sessions we’re shooting free throws 10 at a time, trying to have 20 different times the team has to make 10 in a row as a group. When we do we’re done, and then the guys who didn’t make 10 in a row have to stay until they do. We can go over situations better. We can zero in on an offense and just get better at that. You can really work on fundamentals."
The big man from New Zealand came up at the press conference and Calipari said that so far Wynyard has been "really good" in practice.
So, far Wynyard physicality impresses his coach the most.
"He is a bull. He’s a moose physically around the goal."
However, Calipari also said that that there is more to Wynyard’s game than that.
"He’s got good skills around the goal. He’s got a good feel to where to get it up. He’s a good free-throw shooter. I’ve been pleasantly surprised."
And as for freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who injured his ankle during warmups last week and didn't play vs Louisville, Cal expects him to play Saturday night.
"He's been good. He's back in."