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John Calipari talks Hofstra, freshman growth, Camp Cal and more

Can a 23-point win be underwhelming? Yes, apparently.

NCAA Basketball: Valparaiso at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats remain undefeated in New York City this season after a 96-73 win over Hofstra on Sunday. The Cats struggled early, but made a 12-0 run to end the first half that really deflated the Pride’s effort.

Malik Monk led all scorers with 20 points, while De’Aaron Fox posted his 9th game in double figures with 15. Derek Willis and Bam Adebayo set the pace on the glass with 8 and 7 rebounds, respectively.

Coach John Calipari saw some things he liked on the defensive end, but continued to bang the “we are young” drum throughout his post-game comments.

A full transcript of his post-game interview can be found below, courtesy of UK Athletics.

On how he’d feel if he had to face Hofstra again, and Camp Cal coming up

“Not good. Joe (Mihalich) has them – they were not afraid of us at all. They were physical. They made shots. It was a three-point game and I’m sitting there like, ‘Why did I schedule this game? What was I thinking?’

“And you gotta understand now they lost like 4,000 points from that team from last year, and they come back with this team and do the stuff that they’re doing. We got away from them and there was a gap.

“But at the end of the day even the second half was 48-40. It wasn’t like we just buried them. I’m worried and we have a long way to go. We still have some players (who) aren’t playing with the confidence they have to play with. I’m not sure what it is about them.

“I did tell them this: I am so happy because Wednesday will be our last final (exams). I don’t have to worry about anything academically. Nothing. We’ll go 29 straight days four-a-days. Got nothing to worry about except basketball. Right now, we gotta get through Wednesday.

“They’re off tomorrow, get through these finals. But we have a lot of work to do. Literally, I tried to play two bigs to see what it looked like and I just wasn’t happy with it. We went to four guards and Dom (Hawkins) fouled right away. I wanted to see what that looked like. We just have a ways to go. Just got a ways to go.”

On where his freshmen have grown as players this year

“I would tell you that all of them – even Sacha (Killeya-Jones) is way better, he just gets in the game and he’s not ready. He’s 17 years old. He’s not ready for this. Isaac, I mean, he’s playing so much better in practice than he does the games. I just don’t understand it right now.

“Malik is playing and trying to do the things we’re asking him to do. Only thing is he has to get fouled more. Don’t go to the basket trying to avoid everybody and flip a ball. Get fouled. De’Aaron Fox, way better, yet didn’t play with the speed we want him to all the time and some dumb fouls. Bam, you’re just seeing him come into his own. You just see it game to game. I think they’re doing fine.

“Derek and Wenyen, Wenyen struggled a little bit today. I didn’t play him as many minutes but he still got four rebounds. We’re going to have games where that position is a tough position for us because they’re going to play a power game against us.

“Unless we’re on fire offensively or we can outscore – we couldn’t against UCLA. They outscored us. We scored 92 points, create 19 or 18 turnovers and still lose. That other big position is the one that hurt us. We got some things we gotta figure out.”

On getting out-rebounded by Hofstra and committing 27 fouls

“Well. Sometimes when you get up like we do the fouls happen because they get sloppy. The rebounding really bothered me because a bunch of them were perimeter shots and our guys all just looked at the ball. And either they tipped it away or jumped over our back, or the ball went over our heads.

“It was just frustrating because we’re working on it. But, it is what it is right now with us. I thought Derek fought 50 percent better than he’s been fighting, yet there were still balls that he didn’t get. Bam only gets seven rebounds in a game like this, but he was fighting like crazy to try to keep that kid (Rokas Gostys) away from the ball.

“But their big guy, who led the country in rebounding, got eight rebounds too.”

On UK’s 12-0 run to end the first half

“Well, we made some shots. We defended better. We switched pick-and-rolls. Like, pick-and-roll was killing us. I couldn’t get our four-man high enough, so then I said, ‘That’s it, we’re switching.’ And then we did some things at half to play pick-and-roll a little bit different so they couldn’t just get a downhill run.

“But we made shots. Malik made two big shots. One at the free-throw line he jumped over, and then the last 3 to end the half that put us up that much – whatever it was – at halftime.

“Look, this team has a long way to go. We’re young, we show it. We’re talented. We do some good things in stretches and then we do some bad things in stretches. We need to get in the gym and we need to get to the camp part of our season, which is two- and three-a-days. They get time to sleep, to eat and give them video time, phone time. They gotta have that or they’ll climb walls.

“You gotta let them do some of that. But the reality of it is: let’s get down to getting better. These guys, every one of them has gotten better. Now, it’s like, you gotta do this with confidence. There’s nothing on our shoulder now. We’re not undefeated, we’re not No. 1 in the country. Come on, just worry about getting better.”

On what they get out of facing a team that’s playing in its Super Bowl

“Well, I heard the Cleveland Cavaliers make the statement that they lost three in a row because we didn’t defend for three games and you’re not going to face a team that’s not at their best. So, if you don’t rebound or defend, you’re probably going to lose. And that’s (the same) with us.

“And I told them after the game going forward, ‘We’re not going to have games – the games that we’re going to start playing are all going to be seven-, eight-point games. They’re not going to be 30-point games where you can break off.’ And every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl.

“Every game we play, whether it’s at home, on the road, I can’t remember the last time a team played poorly against us. I would hope that Joe would look at how his team played in that first half and say, ‘If we can play like that – if that’s who we can be – we’re good. I’m happy.’ But it’s every game we face, and that’s the challenge of being here. But they knew. Coming in here, there’s a couple things you know: that you better bring it every day in practice because there are other guys that can play. This isn’t just about you shooting balls. This is about getting better.

“That’s why you come here. You challenge yourself to say, how good can I be as a player? And then the second thing is, the other team, they’re coming at you. Every game. If you’re cool. Like, I’m cool. I’m going to run with my thumbs up and stuff, you can’t come to Kentucky. You’ll get killed. I mean, you gotta know it’s a dogfight, a rat race, here I come. He either jerks it from me or I jerk it from him and I gotta fight and battle and then I’m exhausted when the game’s over.

“What we’re trying to do – and I did a really poor job – and, please, not to take anything away from UCLA. Everybody knows now how good they are. But we had no substitution pattern. I knew they weren’t going to sub a lot, so I decided not to sub a lot. Well, these guys aren’t ready to play eight straight minutes. Not like we play. They’re ready to play about four or five and I just gotta start rotating guys in and out.”

On Hofstra’s coach saying UK is unstoppable if it hits 3s

“Well, if we’re making 3s we should win by 30. So if we’re missing 3s – which we have over my seven years. This is my eighth year. There were many games where we were like 2 for 10, 2 for 15. You still win the game. We don’t rely on 3s. Malik Monk, who’s a really good 3-point shooter, I’m trying to get him to drive the ball more.

“I know you can shoot 3s. Any inside-out 3, I know you get. Let’s create fouls. I think, whether it’s Dom (Hawkins), whether it’s Derek (Willis), whether it’s Wenyen (Gabriel)—that’s not our game, like to shoot 35 3s. How many did we shoot today? Twenty-three, which is a lot for us. But they played zone, which means you’re going to shoot more 3s in that kind of game.

“Our team, I like to shoot – the guys in here that know – have a team shoot 32 percent and still win a game. That’s a gritty, fought—we won by six and couldn’t make a shot, made one 3. Made some free throws, but we couldn’t make a basket and we still win. That’s when you have a good team.”

On Isaiah Briscoe

“He’s good. I said, I’m counting that as a one-off game. He yawned, at halftime in the huddle on the floor. Like, I’m getting ready to start the second half and it was a 12-0 run. I go out, guys, he goes (yawns). No. He did it. And I looked and I said, ‘Really?’ I looked and I said, ‘You know you did that,’ in my office. He said, ‘I did it. I did it.’ I said, ‘Look, man. If you take away your toughness, your leadership, your talking, your diving on the floor, your tough plays around the goal.

“You take that away from you, what are you left with? But that and now make some 3s, make some free throws, get your layups, make some 15-footers, all of a sudden you’re as good as anybody in the country. But let me remind you, without the energy, without the fight, without the battle, without the toughness, leadership, talking, what are you left with? He said, ‘Coach, I got you.’

“And I said, ‘Let’s just – that’s a one-off. That happened one time. Let’s stay away from it.’ He’s been great. I mean, he listens, he talks, he calms these dudes down because I’m trying to coach them. Like, I told them 20 times in this game, ‘I’m not coaching you for this game. I’m not coaching you – we’re up 25, what do you want me to sit and cross my legs?

“I’m not coaching you for this game. This is for the next two, the next three, the next five. And what we’re doing right now we can’t win playing this way. Individuals that I got on. He’s been great though. Been really pleased with him.”