The Kentucky Wildcats are off to a hot start this season, thanks in large past to Tuesday’s demolition of No. 13 Michigan State.
UK enters this weekend with a 3-0 record as Duquesne comes to Rupp Arena on Sunday. Before the game, associate head coach Kenny Payne met with the media on Friday to preview the game.
Payne also discussed UK needing to improve rebounding, Bam needing to cut down on fouls, and these young Cats staying focused on the task at hand while not getting too high over a big win.
Here is a recap of what Payne had to say Friday:
On needing to rebound better
“I think one of the things that’s been a little bit disappointing with our athleticism and energy and length, that we haven’t dominated teams on the glass this far. Don’t see that as a long-term problem, but it’s something that we have to focus on and get better at.”
On if that surprises him with so many talented big men
“A little bit, but basically we’re playing with a high school team.”
On Wenyen Gabriel’s impact on defense
“I wouldn’t just say defense. I think from the day Wenyen Gabriel has walked into this program to today, he’s made major strides. We are a defensive team historically with Coach Cal’s teams. Defense is a premium here.
“The kid has learned. He still makes some mistakes but he’s trying. His energy and effort is really, really good and we love that about him.”
On teaching energy and effort
“I think being in shape, playing with energy, being active with your hands, active with your feet. Keep your feet moving. Helping and stunting off the ball. We teach all of that. A lot of it is a will to fight. He has that.
“Between him, Bam, at times Fox and Monk to go with Wenyen, I mean those guys really at times show that they can be elite defenders.”
On Sacha Killeya-Jones
“What we're really trying to get Sacha to understand is that skill wise, he's really good. He's talented. He's long, he's athletic. To be on this floor at Kentucky, energy, defense and rebounding. You give us that, your offense will take care of itself.”
On keeping Bam Adebayo out of foul trouble
“The good thing is the fouls aren’t happening on the defensive end. They’re all happening on the offensive end. Now the adjustment for him is just catch the ball. If you just catch the ball you’re going to be a problem to guard.
“So just catch it. You’ve done a good job of fighting for position. You don’t have to get them directly under the basket. Just catch it and make a strong move.”
On Adebayo being called for fouls for establishing position
“Two things is I would rather him show his hands with a bent elbow opposed to an extended elbow. That's first. Second thing is once you get to a certain spot on the floor, when you beat the defensive player to that spot, there's no need for you to fight to keep him all and push him all the way under the basket. He's literally trying to push him all the way under the basket.”
On John Calipari chiding De'Aaron Fox for passing Adebayo the ball in a bad spot on the fast break
“Just De'Aaron to be a little smarter. He caught it in a position where De'Aaron should've saw where the defender was so it was hard for him to make a play. There was nothing really – it wasn't Bam's fault.
“It was just where you are on the floor. As an offensive player you got to see where the pass is and not make that play.”
On Derek Willis has responded in practice after Michigan State dud
“He's been good. A little disappointed in the way that he played. Obviously, he is. But he's so much better than that. He spent so much time working on his game. He's came so far as a player. He's matured, he's been through some hard times, but you got to go out there and play, man.
“You got to go out there and play, play with confidence. The one thing that’s really noticeable with this team, they’re not playing against the opponent. They’re playing against themselves, which is a good thing, but when you’re that young, it could be a bad thing.
“So, we want them to go out there and be at their best, perform at their best. You’re going to make mistakes, but play with energy, play with confidence, have fun with it. They’re a good team.”
On Isaac Humphries’ performance vs Michigan State
“I thought he was good defensively. I thought he tried hard. Again, I’ll say this and it’s one of the examples that I was saying earlier: He’s playing against his self. He’s skilled, he’s 7-foot, he can shoot it, he can post, he can rebound, he’s quick, he’s in the best shape that he’s ever been in.
“Now it’s just not about the opponent. How willing are you to fight for everything that you need?”
On having three good defenders in Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Dominique Hawkins
“Yeah, we have three. They’re very good. All I know is that I wouldn’t trade our three for any three in the country, and I’m going to put Malik (Monk) in that group as well. We have really good guards who are really talented, athletic, who can defend it, score it.
“Isaiah Briscoe, it probably doesn’t get talked about enough. The jump he has made on the court and off the court from one year to the next is unbelievable. It just goes to show you don’t have to be a one-and-done, quote, unquote.
“Yeah, the hype was there for him, people to say out of high school he’s one and done, but he’s came in here and done nothing but gotten better – and he was pretty good last year.
On if anyone is helping Briscoe lead
“I think that what De’Aaron Fox does naturally makes us a better team. He’s special. His energy, his – not just being vocal, but his presence on the floor makes us different. He’s doing a good job, and he’s learning.
“Again, he was in high school a few months ago. He’s running a team. He’s doing good. I like what he’s done.”
On UK playing against their own standard
“No matter what the defense does, no matter what the opponent does, it’s probably not going to affect you. What’s going to affect you is, ‘Are you doing what you practiced? Are you mentally prepared?
“Are you focused on what you’re doing, defensively and offensively?’ It’s not so much about who you’re playing against. It’s your preparation and your focus.”
On UK harnessing their potential
“Well, they don’t really know. They’re learning. For every one of these kids in this program, other than Isaiah Briscoe, everyone’s still learning who they are as a player. There have been times when they haven’t been in dogfights before. So, they’re getting a chance to see.”
On if it’s players can be too nice on court
“I think so. They are nice kids, but what’s amazing about these kids is that they have a competitive spirit. They just need to know what exactly that is and when to use it and when to be nice. On the court, you’ve got to compete, man.
“You’re at an institution where this whole thing has been about competing at a high, high level. Everybody is watching. Everybody – not everybody, but a lot of people are hoping we fail, hoping that individuals fail, but they have to go out there and play with a fire and a desire to go dominate their opponent.
On if they have worry about players being overconfident after big wins
“We don’t have to worry about that. The way we coach, the way we prepare those kids know after that game is over with we celebrate, it’s over. On to the next. The issue is outside of this environment.
“The friends, the parents, the families, the friends that are from high school or where they’re from. Now they may talk to them about, ‘Man, y’all are the real deal,’ but when they walk in this gym and they walk in our offices, they know it’s on to the next.
“So they have no time to relax and feel good about anything. We’re trying to get better.
On how the staff gets that message through
“It’s in everything we do every single day. We’re going to get better every single day. Are we happy we beat Michigan State, that’s a really good team? Yes, we are. Did we play our best? Not even close. Not even close.”
On getting the ball in the post more
“I’d like to see it a little more. Like to see it go inside a little more. What happens to us is, similar to last year when you have such great guards, it’s hard to like understand that you’ve gotta get your post guys involved.
“But in order for us to be a great team, Bam, Wenyen, Derek, Isaac, Sacha, Tai, we’ve gotta be able to go to them and get something out of them. I think that’s the key to being a championship team: being versatile enough to where you’ve got an inside game and a perimeter game.”