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John Calipari talks Michigan State win, Briscoe’s rise, Monk’s shooting and more

UK is looking the part of the No. 2 team in the nation.

State Farm Champions Classic Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats already look like a veteran team, especially on the defensive end.

That was evident Tuesday night as they put Michigan State in a stranglehold and rarely let up en route to a 69-48 win over the Spartans. John Calipari has already made it clear he thinks these Cats can be special because of their defense, and we’re already seeing flashes of that.

Kentucky led by as many as 23 at the 3:59 mark of the second half and held the Spartans to just 32.3 percent. The Cats also notched nine steals and forced 21 turnovers while blocking seven shots and holding Spartans star Miles Bridges to just 2-of-11 shooting with more turnovers (9) than points (6).

Needless to say, Calipari was pretty happy with UK’s performance after the game. Here’s a recap of everything he had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics.

On Isaiah Briscoe

“Well, he is—what I’m proud of is everybody that watched him in high school can’t believe he defends and rebounds like he is. The people that come in our gym that watched him a year ago can’t believe he’s the same guy. He’s the first one in the gym and he’s the last one to leave every day.

“Him and Bam (Adebayo) are bumping heads as they leave last. He’s also taking care of business with all the other stuff. That doesn’t mean—in the past—this is all new to all these guys. The structure that we have, the standard that we’re held to as a program and individual players.

“And that’s, you know, I want to go do sneaky this, that—you can’t here. You’re here on a mission. When I say that to you, he’s way more mature. He’s way more mature, he’s way more comfortable in how we’re playing. He told somebody, ‘Coach and I are getting along way better.’ ‘I fought you all last year.

“No kidding. Now I don’t have to fight you. You’re doing everything the way you need to be doing it as a player. The first half – and I told him at halftime – he didn’t want to take the shots that were there and then do them off the bounce. He has been shooting great.

“I also told him, ‘If you have a 3 and don’t take it, I’m taking you out. Don’t you run through a 3 to try to go get a layup. And then in the second half, he just played. He’s tough. He guarded three guys at times. You talked about the defense, if you watch it, a guy almost got beat, he helped, he threw it.

“This guy almost got beat, he helped. And then he want and guarded his man and blocked a shot. Holy cow. He has a will to win. And the good news for him, as his career goes on, everything is becoming positionless. It just is. There’s no, now, you know, the guy that sets up—it isn’t.

“So you can be who he is and have great success. He’s just gotta continue to improve that shooting and all it is is being more confident. Because the shot is way improved from where it was.”

On guarding the three-pointer

“We’ve gotten better, but we’re still—what happened is these guys took some pride defensively here. And some of it—Michigan State, they run great stuff and they iso and do things that force us to prepare beyond where we are. In other words, we’re playing the elbows and blocks when he hasn’t.

“That’s how played (Miles) Bridges, so when he drove there was already somebody in his lap, which is why he turned it over. But we hadn’t worked on it. We did it in one day, but that shows you how smart these guys are.

“Our pick-and-roll defense still stinks. Like, they were going right down the middle for layups. We gotta go back and look at that and figure out what we gotta do there. We still got out-rebounded again. We get out-rebounded every game. I don’t understand.

“I thought Wenyen (Gabriel) was great today. Wenyen was the high motor, hands on balls, tipping balls, made his jumper. He’s one—three steals, two assists, no turnovers. Wenyen Gabriel is a 6-10 wing and he keeps getting better and better.”

On team’s offensive identity

“We’re still not there yet. I’ll tell you what we found out: You understand, at the end, the grind game, we know where we’re putting people know. That’s the first time we’ve done that. And that’s what happens. As we go through a season, these guys are so young it’s like fail fast, do stuff.

“Malik (Monk) ran in front of me and I said, ‘Pull it out. Pull it out.’ He went 1 on 3 and tried to shoot it and I think he got fouled and I killed him—that’s losing basketball. De’Aaron Fox on a breakaway tries to dunk it?

“You’re exhausted, your legs are burning and you lay that ball in. So those kind of things we’re learning and also how do we, like—Malik has it going. How are going to get him shots and where are we going to get them from? We’re still not there. De’Aaron Fox, the same. How are we going to get him—he is so fast. I told John Wall, he’s faster than John Wall. He didn’t believe.”

On how UK guarded Miles Bridges

“I watched Arizona and I also watching Saginaw Valley. I watched those two tapes. It was a quick turn, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to do much, but we did a couple things knowing that if he got going he would be a beast. He had 12 rebounds, guys.

“The way we played, we just made it made it really difficult for him to just play basketball. And that’s what—and Tom (Izzo) will use that and show ‘em and they’ll come up with stuff. Tom, great coach and a good friend.

“What he said to me after: ‘You guys defended better than us this game.’ And that’s what it was. Because our offense, we shot 38 percent. We shot 38 percent and won by 18 or whatever it was.”

On Malik Monk

“You know why I did (expect Monk to play well)? Because he had an unbelievable shootaround today. I’ve done this 30 years. We had two other players on the team that had so-so shootarounds and guess what. They had so-so games, and it was a great lesson.

“Because getting him and De’Aaron to not be casual. They think they’re getting ready for an AAU game. They’re hungry. They need a hot dog right before the game. ‘Can I get something to eat?’ What are you talking about? So these guys play casual, they practice casual and that’s what we gotta teach them. You can’t be.

“They gotta have another habit. They gotta create another habit of really getting after it and Malik Monk had one of the best shootarounds that any of my players have had in the last few years. And I expected he would go in and play well. And I also expected the other guys, there were two of them, they were so-so. They played so-so.”

On Monk getting shots to fall

“The other thing is, guys, we have to still teach him when we throw it ahead quick, you’re not driving baseline. You’re not. And if you go baseline, you’re going for one reason: to dunk the ball. You’re not going to lay it. You’re not going to pass it. You’re going to dunk it. Or you go middle.

“And again, when you watch the tape, he doesn’t know it. We gotta teach. We gotta tell him. We gotta help define how he’s gotta play. But I’ll say this: what a great group of kids. Every day I walk in the gym, extreme talent. Young, but extreme talent. Good guys that want to be coached.

“If you walked in and watched us practice, you would say, ‘Man, he’s not on these guys.’ I’m not on them cussing and—but the bar is raised. We hold them accountable and you know what? They play for each other. Every one these guys scored 30 in high school and they’re here playing in Madison Square Garden on national TV and they share.

“We had 17 assists. On 23 made baskets. Think of that, for a young freshman (team). And then you got Isaac (Humphries), who’s 18. He might as well be a freshman. And you have Isaiah. That’s our team. Freshmen and those two. Dom (Hawkins) played a little bit, Derek (Willis) played a little bit. Two seniors, but it’s all young guys.”

“He is one of the most athletic kids that I’ve coached. He’s a little antsy right now. His mind moves really fast. When his feet move fast, his mind moves fast. So I gotta slow down his mind and let him see the game a little different. That’s all I’m talking about to him. But athletically, jumping, speed, all those things, whoa.

“He can defend. He’s tough. He’s got a curious mind. He’s got a quick mind. He reacts to stuff quick. There’s things that I can’t teach. Now it’s like, OK—I’ve had to tell he and Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox, you’re taking most of the shots. Don’t you take a bad shot.

“You’re taking most of the shots, so don’t you ever take a bad shot. Those shots go to the other players on the team, so he’s gotta learn that. He took two bad shots, but let me say this, son: That’s better than 20 bad shots. Because there have been some of those now, too.”

On Briscoe buying in as a second-year player

“Well, the only thing that held him back was he shot 14 percent from the 3 and 48 from the line. That’s a hard deal, man. He said, ‘I was a shooter. I said, ‘You’re a shooter. You’re just not a maker.’

“Again, you see him come back and he’s still a great defender, which he never did in high school. I watched him. I was like, oh my gosh, I hope this kid will accept defending. And you see him rebounding. You see his leadership. You see his toughness. You don’t have to make all the shots. You just can’t miss them all. And free throws, he’s a 70-percent free-throw shooter, 75.

“I think what he did was right for he and his family. I’m not ready for this. I need to do this. And he’s on the path we want him on and I’m proud of him. That’s what this is about. Not every kid leaves after a year. You just know about them all, the one that (do), but there are kids that leave after two years, three years.

“They’re on their own timetable. I’ve had some kid leave early that shouldn’t have. I tried to talk to them, but I would never try to convince them. I just said, ‘Are you sure?’ They left and it was a tough deal, but it’s their life. It’s not my life.

“And their life is more important than our program. So if they chose to leave, my job was to help them get drafted in the best position I could and say whatever I had to say. That’s why a lot of teams aren’t calling me anymore.”

On Bam Adebayo

“He’s fine. He made free throws. He dunked balls. He defended five positions. He rebounded like crazy. He’s fine. He have five turnovers, but three of them were charges. Might have been four charges. So of our 14 turnovers in a game that played that fast, three or four of them were his. And again, I’m proud of that, that these kids are playing that fast, that aggressive and we end the game with 10, 11 turnovers, which is crazy for the third game against a team like Michigan State.”

On the freshmen playing well on big stage

“It’s the same freshmen that played against Canisius and we were down with three minutes to go in the first half. We got a long way to go. This shows us what we’re capable of. Now we have to build from this and have to convince them of that, that if we become a great defensive team—we blocked shots today. We had eight blocked shots.

“This is the first team that I’ve coached in a while that I don’t feel comfortable that we’re blocking shots. Part of it was probably me not crowding the lane a little bit, not working on rotations and all those things. They’re afraid to go block. Someone may not go and pick up their man.

“But this is one that the hard work they know now is worth it. Now it’s like let’s step on the gas. Let’s go another level. See, the great thing with us: You walk in the gym, you don’t come with us thinking I want to be the only guy, I want to shoot 30 balls a game, I want to be the center of attention, I want to—you go other places.

“You don’t come here. So now we walk in the gym, we have 10 really good players and every day they’re practicing they’re trying to kill each other, in a good way. I’m trying to get time. I’m trying to prove that I’m way better. I mean, the rebounding and everything we’re doing, that’s how our players get better individually.

“And then you have good kids that are unselfish, so they play together. They’re not—somebody that didn’t play well today had his head hung and I said, ‘You don’t do that. You be happy for Malik. Don’t worry about you. Because you’re going to have a big game and you’re going to want people to be happy for you.’ I have to teach everything.

“At the shootaround today I was teaching. I was teaching them how you do a shootaround. What? I enjoy it, I’m telling you, I love coaching talented kids. The youngness of them doesn’t bother me because they let me coach them, but this team is far from where we need to be. I know that.”