Following Kentucky's loss at Auburn, few saw the kind of bounce-back stretch of games Kentucky is on right now.
After that brutal 75-70 loss, UK has won three straight by an average of 22.3 points per contest. A big reason why is their latest win, an 88-54 thrashing of Missouri that was effectively over as soon as the game tipped off.
John Calipari gave his usual "we played as good as we can play" line he always says after his Cats blow someone out, but he also admitted there's still several areas UK must improve upon. He also said Dominique Hawkins' return could help while also keeping certain guys on the bench who aren't ready to play.
Oh, and the Breakfast Club is back, so watch out America.
Anyhow, here's a recap of what Cal had to say following UK's win over Missouri.
"Here's the crazy thing. No, it wasn't by default, he went and grabbed them. And I just said after the game, I said, Derek (Willis), you've taken minutes from people in this room, do you want to give anybody back minutes? And he's even being honest. He said, Coach, I just want to win. He's playing desperate. He's rebounding with two hands. He was a double-double.
"And basically, he's put a couple guys on bench. And they're good players, but this is about performance. Now, it's good though because now they got to fight to get minutes back, which means our practices will be better or they will give up. They got a choice. You can give up or fight. And so I think we'll have even better practices. Tyler (Ulis) was ridiculous, Isaiah (Briscoe) was good, Jamal (Murray) wasn't as good, but he rebounded. He missed a front end one-and-one and he missed a layup in the open court. He tried something crazy which he does occasionally.
"And Skal (Labissiere) jumped in on a free throw, which he would have made, he made it, it would have been a one-and-one he would have made two. You're talking eight points, six. That's my good math. Two 3s."
On Jamal Murray contributing in ways other than scoring
"He did. It may have been his best game all around. May have been his best. Two assists, he didn't have a turnover. Two steals. Nine rebounds. It's one of his better games. Our team, we're playing desperate now. We're playing with an attitude. Refuse to lose. Now Alex (Poythress) didn't today. Instead of saying I'm getting 25 today, Alex didn't. I don't know why. Is he coming out today? Okay. Can't ask him until Friday. I have no idea.
"But Marcus Lee, not enough energy. So, let's go with Skal. Now the issue with Skal and again, I probably screwed him up to this point, because now you're seeing I'm letting him play different, and I'm putting him in different spots, and he looks more confident. But he had no rebounds today. He had five blocks. The blocks left him in the game.
"But let me say this, we have to go play a Kansas team that's an inside-out game, that's how they play. What if he can't rebound in that game? Can I leave him in the game? You know I can't. That's what I just said to him. (Missouri head coach) Kim (Anderson), we're playing a team. If you can't guard their big guy, and you can't get a rebound, I can't leave you in the game. I love you, come and stay with me tonight, but you can't play in that game.
"So, we're trying to hold these guys accountable as they grow and become more confident. But we're getting better as a team. I'm going to be honest with you, a big part of it is putting Derek Willis in the role that he's in has changed us. It's just changed our team.
"Now you have all guys that can play basketball. If you can't shoot, dribble, or pass, and you have two or three on the court at a time, you can't -- it doesn't look good. It's not -- now all of a sudden Derek gives us that, another stretch guy that you got to go play with Tyler, with Jamal, let's -- let Isaiah do his thing, it posts up Alex where he should be, it puts us all in the right spots.
"We need Dom (Dominique Hawkins) back. I'm -- Dom is going -- if Dom does what I think, there will be a couple other guys in positions where they're not going to get many minutes."
On Skal's impact when he's blocking shots
"It makes our team different. When he blocks shots, you can't go in there and he goes and blocks one. But I'm going to say it again. You must rebound and attempt to guard a post player. The guy can't just turn and score on you. All right? Think of the games we have coming up. You ask me why Vandy didn't you play him more? Because of that. They had a moose in the post and they had a 3-point shooting big. And I didn't think he could guard either guy.
"The way we were playing with Alex doing what he was doing, Derek doing his thing. I just said, we'll stay with where we are. Because at the end of the day, as much as I'm for each of these kids, I have a job here which is put this team in the best position to win basketball games."
On Isaiah Briscoe showing more confidence on offense
"Well, he's been working and it's funny because he and I think if you remember back when we had Michael Kidd and he did the breakfast club and he was dragging guys with him. Tyler and Jamal or Tyler and Isaiah have started a breakfast club, and so they have been working out in the mornings.
"There's some times where we coaches, we we're working out in the morning, we're working out in the afternoon, well, that's okay when they're not in school. But you have to have guys that want to do that, because if you do it with school, you're wearing them out. If they're doing it on their selves, they're building their own confidence. So those guys have been doing that and they did it this week and it looked like it helped both of them."
On finding the role for Derek Willis
"He's rebounding, too. We can call it a stretch four. We got guys that are still trying to grab rebounds with one hand. They never bring them in and then they give you this one, my fault. No. No, it's my fault for having you in. Not your fault. He's going after every ball with two hands. You look at his last -- since I put him in the lineup, I think he's averaging double-digit rebounds. And he's stretching the team out, which gives us room to drive.
"Look, today, they did not play Charles Matthews, and they did not play Isaiah. Now you put one more guy out there that can't shoot, now what's that look like? Now you got three guys in the lane. Not playing, you can't, or leaning toward other guys. He's made us a different team."
On playing Willis at the 4 spot
"Well, he, one, I think it's easier for him to guard the position. Just got to fight. And it gave us -- I really think Isaiah, as he gets better and better and he and Jamal play more to win than just play, really understand shot selection every time down and playing to win basketball games. You have to get those two are really good. Isaiah is the best defensive guard and rebounding guard in the country. Jamal is a big guard. He's still not playing big, but is he a big guard.
"And then you got Tyler. Tyler's, he's basically coaching the team. I mean, he's making comments at halftime or telling, where are they playing, how are they playing this, and he'll go tell his teammates, and he's on the board. So he's -- they're beginning to be empowered, they're not there yet, because we got guys like Skal that are still learning.
"I still got to coach Jamal and Isaiah how to win basketball games. Alex isn't coming every game. So we're still not quite to where it's, go guys, you got it. Just let me sit over here and watch you."
On teams being unable to expose Tyler Ulis' height on defense
"Because there's just -- no one really posts up point guards any more. They just don't. And he is a pit bull. I mean, if you try to post him, he's, he's guarding 6'-10" guys in there. He'll front you and fight you and push you. He's not going to make it easy. He's not going to just stand there and say, okay, you're going to score on me.
"I also think we're doing a great job of helping, coming off the weak side, doubling when we have to, and scrambling. We did a lot of that today. And I told him afterwards, that was one of our best games. Like, you just faced our best team. I didn't want him to think anything like, because it was a three-point game when they played Texas A&M at Texas A&M, not a week ago. They beat Auburn's brains in. They beat Auburn by like 25. So, they got us as, they got the buzz saw today. We played well."
On how different he's feeling about this team than at Auburn
"I was fine. You guys, look, I knew we were getting better. And just somebody said what do you feel about that? If we hadn't lost that game, we, I may not have been able to get this team to think more desperate. To play with the refuse to lose attitude. It may not have happened. So, there's, you go through a season, there are ups and down, I've done this 30 years now. My whole job is are we playing our best in March?
That's what I do. That's my mentality, I don't want to beat them up, I don't want to bury them with practices, three and four-hour practices. I'm trying to figure them out. The hard thing here, coaching here, is every team's a new team. I mean, I'm not coaching the same team. My seventh year and this is the seventh different team I've coached. And they're all like, okay, I got my same guys back.
"That makes it more difficult because you're trying -- like Skal -- I probably screwed Skal up, I'm trying to make him Karl (Anthony-) Towns. He's not Karl Towns. Can't play like Karl Towns. He probably shoots better than Karl Towns. Karl will love hearing that, but he's not Karl. Karl had a nasty beast streak in him. And it's, he's in the -- here's the thing, he averaged more rebounds and points in the NBA than he averaged here. He let us down here."
On Missouri and their struggles under Kim Anderson
"Well, one, you understand his background, a championship level coach. And he's not 35. He and I are a little bit older. So we have been through all this. He'll be fine. And he knows, they got to get a guy here and there, they're going to have get some guys. But what you'll see his teams -- I'm telling you, Texas A&M, you can say, well, they lost to Texas A&M, everybody's lost to Texas A&M and they played Texas A&M better than anybody other than Arkansas today.
"He went in with a game plan and those guys stuck to it and they had a chance to win. They, you can't judge this game. This, we played as well as we can play. And we did it the entire time. So, and that's what I said to him after, don't judge on this game, now, because that's as good as we are."