If the Kentucky Wildcats keep their current pace up, it’s hard to see them not cutting the nets down in March.
While there still are plenty of things UK needs to work on, they’ve seemed to look better in every game they’ve played thus far, including Sunday night’s 93-59 win over Duquesne.
After the win, John Calipari talked about the improvements he’s enjoyed seeing from his young Cats, but also continued to harp on some of the same issues that UK must correct sooner rather than later.
Here is a recap of what Cal had to say following Sunday’s game, courtesy of UK Athletics:
“The only thing is he was really good, the only thing is, we had De'Aaron (Fox) off the ball to start the game. You can't do that. He's maybe the best on-ball defender on our team, maybe one of the best in the country.Isaiah (Briscoe) is the overall best defensive-guard rebounder. He can play on the ball, but he's just as good off (the ball).
“You saw he got two or three steals off the ball, especially with De'Aaron on the ball. But, no, he's doing good. We’ve got a ways to go. I have to go back and watch this tape, because you're going to ask me some questions and I'm going to just tell you (I don’t know) until I can see the tape and really look at it.
“I like that we had post presence. We forced it the last couple days in practice. And we put in some things to just make us throw the ball to the post.I thought Bam (Adebayo) was outstanding. He's getting closer and closer. I thought Wenyen (Gabriel) played really hard.”
Q. How is Isaiah (Briscoe) health-wise?
“I think he'll be fine. I think he saw the score. We were up 30 and he just said, you know what, I'm going to step off the gas. I let Malik (Monk) out the last six or seven minutes. I just said I'm not going to put you in up 38.”
Q. You talked previously about the importance of the players establishing ownership of the team. How realistic is that this early in the season? What percentage of the plays are they calling on their own right now?
“It's not realistic right now. Especially when you're playing five freshmen. And of the five freshmen, four of them are getting a lot of minutes. Then the sophomore you're playing is 18 (years old). He's the youngest sophomore in the country and that's Isaac (Humphries).
“So, it's hard, but that's where we have got to be by the time February hits, and they understand what we're looking to do. They have a better idea. Our discipline defensively is not what it needs to be. In other words, there's a pick-and-roll. Well, we were never going under pick-and-rolls.
“We did today. We're not running gaps. Very rarely are we going to run a gap. We did today. We took shots that we never work on. Like invented shots. That's just lack of discipline. That's the normal process you go through with young guys. They just don't have the discipline to play every possession to be graded.
“In other words, you look at a possession, everything that was done right. Whether they score or not, it's not that. Did we do the whole possession until they shot. Did we rebound, did we block out, all of it, did we finish the possession? I would say, no, not on this team right now.
“We're not able to go seven perfect possessions. Don't worry if they score. Did we play it the right way? We're not disciplined enough right now.
Q. You talked before about Mychal Mulder needing to be better on defense to get more minutes. How is he doing?
“He did fine. He had four rebounds in the minutes he had in the first half. He still puts his body up on people, he still gets turned down and he'll get beat baseline at times. But, like I said, because he made big strides today. He made a shot or two. Then he missed two shots.
“Now normally we have all watched, he would never go make another shot until maybe the next game. He made one. He came off of a side screen and he made a shot. That was a big step for him. In other words, I can't, I've got to feel comfortable and he's got to feel comfortable. If I miss a shot, you can leave me in the game, I'm going to make the next one.
“It can't be OK, he missed two, he's done. Might as well take him out, stick a fork in him. He, today, made that shot. It was a big, big step for him.I told him this week I was going to give him an opportunity because he's been here now a year and a couple months, and he's the one guy that hasn't been on that court to give a chance to go play.
“The guys in front of him have always been better than him. But now, alright, let him get that chance to play and that's why we did it.”
Q. Sacha (Killeya-Jones) had a nice little stretch there. What are you seeing from him right now?
“Well, he made some shots that we're saying, those are the shots you should take. And the one he hesitated, we walked right out of the timeout, I said, if it's thrown back to you and you're open, shoot it. And if you're not open, then pass it into the post. He was open, he looked to pass, and then he went to shoot and missed.
“But, again, rebound and defend. Come up with balls. Be disciplined defensively. We're not disciplined this way. Whatever you're going to do as a big man in a pick-and-roll, you have to yell it three times. That's our rule. Reason is, to get it out three times, you got to yell it early.
“If we're going to switch. Switch, switch, switch, three times. You can't say, switch, as it's happening, because we can't react. That's discipline.Sacha, even Bam, they're all learning that. But like I said, we're one of those teams, we end up with 11 turnovers, a young team, we're playing fast, and three of those were when?
“The last minute and a half. There were three right there, bam, bam, bam.”
Q. What did you think of Bam's offensive positioning?
“It was great. He's making strides. He's getting better every day. Making his free throws, he's rebounding in traffic, he's coming up with balls. He's still got a ways to go, but he's getting better.
Again, for Duquesne, we came out of the gate, we were pretty aggressive defensively. And we were able to throw the ball. (That is) Something we haven't done so far, we did to them. We really worked on throwing that ball inside.
“So, and they're playing with young guys. Jimmy's (Ferry), he was starting two freshmen. He put and probably rightfully so in this building, he went with his senior instead of the freshman today.”
Q. How good a job is De'Aaron Fox doing with the pace you want this team to play?
“He's doing good. I think he's doing good. Six assists, one turnover. He had seven rebounds. And I thought he was just OK today. Think about that. 16 -- how about he misses three free throws. I told him go back to the other hairdo I don't know what you did, just, go back to the other.
“So, here's a kid that we're counting on a lot of stuff from him. I think he's got to get more consistent shooting the ball. He is, in my mind, especially when he pulls up from 15 feet, he just doesn't miss that. He's missing them lately. These guys, we're four games in, and you got to understand, it's like they're high school season, they never worked like this. Look, it's not just the games.
“Every practice they're going at each other. They have never done that before. They were by far the best high school player on their team, they practiced when they felt like it. Doesn't mean they didn't work, but they practiced against a guy that couldn't guard them.
“Now, they're in this gym, and you're going against another guy that can play. And it's every day. And we're not letting up as a staff. And we just got to be, we got to get more consistency, more disciplined, and I'm just saying it's a process that's going to take time.”
Q. Coming off of a win against Michigan State, what were you looking for from the young guys, for the freshmen and where do you feel like they kind of made gains tonight?
“One thing I was anxious to see was how would we play. Would there be a letdown. And then I would know that we were going to have young guys. I thought we played well and I think Isaiah kind of dragged them in the first half. I also, when Malik got his second foul, it's a great lesson, I didn't care what the score was, if this was a five- or six-point game, you were not getting back in until -- I just didn't put him back in.
“More of a lesson than anything else. Because I could have played him because of the score. But it's just to let him know, you can't get a dumb foul, you can't run a gap and then push up on a guy. A guy drives baseline, we're forcing everything to the middle, how do you go when he drives?
“ You got to give him ground. So some of that stuff happened. But you thought we played hard. We're still learning about each other.”
Q. You tied Coach Hall's Rupp wins record tonight. What does that mean to you?
“Yay! The only thing here is, Final Four's and national titles. It's not league championships, it's none of that. It's not wins in the building, it's not wins on the road, it's not wins in neutral.
“It's Final Fours and national titles and that's what we chase here. So that's all nice. And I would say this, let me clarify that. Every coach that's been here has won big at home. That means we have the greatest fan base. Did it matter who was coaching here? I just lasted longer than the other dudes.
“How about that. This building is, it's a hard place to win if you're an opponent and the fans make it that way. I walked in today, nine o'clock on a Sunday night, we were missing some students, but other than that, the place was packed.
“Are you kidding me? Go home, folks, it's really late.”