The Kentucky Wildcats will get a much-awaited chance at revenge when Tennessee comes to town Thursday.
After holding a 21-point lead in Knoxville just two weeks ago, the Vols stormed back to stun the Cats and hand them arguably their worst loss of the season (Auburn may disagree with this). While any loss hurts, it did appear to wake the Cats up as they've gone on a tear since then.
The past three games have seen UK win in dominating fashion as they've played suffocating defense and been unstoppable on offense. John Calipari has been very pleased with his young Cats' growth, but knows there's still improvements to be made if his team is to become a legitimate title contender.
Cal also went as far as to compare what Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are doing compared to the impact John Wall and Eric Bledsoe did in 2009-10 as one of the best backcourt duos in school history.
Here is a recap of what Cal said during his Wednesday meeting with the media to preview UT and talk other UK-related topics.
On Alex Poythress' status
"He did some stuff yesterday. I don't know exactly what he did but I saw him stretching. I heard he went on the court and did some stuff. He won't play, I doubt, this week."
On if he's on track to return soon
"I don't know. You would have to talk to Chris (Simmons, the athletic trainer). When a guy gets hurt for me I sometimes forget their name. I'm like focused on the guys that are playing. Then when he comes back ‘Hey man, what's your name by the way?'"
On improving perimeter shooting
"We've been doing stuff in practice to get them in transition to let balls go. We've done that, and defensively - main thing is what we're doing on defense and scrambling it up, playing better schemes and playing a little bit different and doing the things that we're doing.
"I think that's helped us and that's gotten us easy baskets and transition baskets and jump shots that are open, and guys are making 'em. We got a good shooting team. We do. I think Derek Willis being a stretch four changes what we do and how teams have to play us. So that makes us different."
On if that impacts the defense when shots are falling
"Yeah, probably. You miss one-footers, you miss free throws, it's deflating. So when you're making shots and guys are playing well - but this team plays off of Tyler Ulis. It's just obvious. Everybody sees it and knows it. Say, 'Oh, they're playing confident.' Well he's building everybody's confidence.
"That's what he does. He's shooting the ball better, he's getting guys balls where they can make plays, he's controlling the tempo. We play fast when he wants to play fast. We scrum up the game when he wants to scrum it up. He's helping 'em.
"I would like to see we throw the ball in the post a little bit more. See if any of these guys can give us anything down in there. Maybe throw it to Isaac, maybe throw it to Skal a little bit and see. As we move on in the season, it would be nice to get a couple easy baskets by throwing it in there."
On who will step up if Tyler Ulis has a bad game
"Probably the other guards. They'll step up and probably a frontline guy. They'd cover for him if he wasn't playing well. But here's the biggest thing: He's playing way better than he was a month ago. You can't say, 'Well, he was playing this well early in the year.' No he wasn't. He is way better as a player right now.
"One of the things he's figured out, there are games we walk into and I say it's a 15-assist game. Because they're gonna crowd the lane. You're not gonna go and split it, and there's nothing there. You're gonna be an assist guy. Last game he had 12 assists, and he still scored because he had shots and he knocked down shots.
"But he's way better as a player and he's way better as a leader than he was a month or two ago."
On closing out games defensively
"Everybody's taken on that responsibility. This is - when you have a new team like we do, one, the stuff we're asking them to do is very hard. They'd rather do something else because it's easier, and defensively is one of those. I'd rather let someone else defend and I'll mess around over here and hope my guy doesn't get the ball. Well, they've all taken on the challenge of defending and rebounding.
"But, again, I told you guys a couple weeks ago, we're going game to game. We're worried about Tennessee. We're not worried about anything else after that. We're worried about what we're doing in this game and how we'll play. This team beat us last time.
"We had a nice lead. They came back and basically just ran us over, beat us by 30 in a 25-minute stretch. So we've got our hands full with what we're doing. And again, how we're preparing: We're just trying to say we're not backing up, let's keep going forward."
On Jamal Murray clicking
"Well, he's getting the ball by the man and he's not messing around with it as much, which means he's not turning it over as much. His shot selection has gotten better week by week by week. He's getting to the rim instead of settling for all jump shots and step-backs and fades. When he has shots, he takes them. He's just - his decision making as a basketball player has gotten better and better and better."
On how Murray is learning to take a back seat to Ulis
"It's not really a back seat. I mean, the kid's probably one of the leading scorers in the country. That's a heckuva back seat. Can I jump in there with you? He is probably playing a lot like Eric Bledsoe played when he played with John Wall. I can remember Eric getting 32 against Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament, just going crazy.
"I remember 27, 28 on the road down at Florida. You know, they play off each other. One game, one does it. The other game, the other does it. He's still playing in pick-and-rolls. He's playing as a scoring guard, which is helping him. The whole thing is not the position, it's your decision making.
"And that's what's improving for him, which is making him a better player and us a better team."
On how Ulis' importance to this team
"Well, your point guard is always important. It's always. And I've had some really, really good ones. They're important. It's like anything else: There's 25 teams in the country right now, if something happens to that player on their team, they're not the same, they're done. So his importance to this team, it's obvious.
"I think he's playing like a Player of the Year in the nation. And a lot of it will be how we finish and how we do. But when you look at what he's done and how he's doing it and our team just now coming together and him being the leader, the things he's doing with the breakfast club and all the other stuff, he should be a candidate for Player of the Year."
On if Murray has greater leeway on his shot selection
"He has the green light. He has to respect that. He knows what a good shot is. He knows the kind of shot we don't want him to take: a bailout 3 when he can create. Look, when you're bleeding you have to stop the bleeding. You cannot take a bailout shot, because you will not get fouled.
"A bailout shot has about a 25 percent chance of going in, especially when you're bleeding. To stop the bleeding you've got to create a shot that you can either make or get fouled or do it for your teammate. You cannot shoot a bailout 3. That's the only thing. He has the ultimate green light, and he does.
"Early in the year, he didn't handle it as well, and that's why everybody said, ‘Shot selection, decision-making, dah, dah, dah.' Well, now he respects it, and he's doing fine."
On Isaiah Briscoe saying he's had more fun lately
"They're becoming empowered. The guys that listen to anything I say in this group know every year that I'm talking about empowering the team and it being about them. They're getting there. You're seeing each guy flow into a role that suits them and this is what this is about."
On if seeding in the NCAA tournament
"It's always important. The history is the higher seeds win more than the lower seeds. It's just how it is. Very rarely, every 10 years, you'll have a 10 seed or an 11 seed pop through. Every 10 years. You can say ‘well, is this one of those years?' We won't know until the stuff starts.
"It's starting to group.The disappointing thing for us is, in our league if you lose a road game it's like devastating. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we lost at Auburn. Auburn hasn't won a whole lot since then. So? OK, well you lost a road game and we're fine. I just hope a game like South Carolina played, they just played bad.
"These kids aren't machines. They're not computers. They play bad at times and you lose a game. It happens in every single league, except in our league it becomes this big issue which is just disappointing. At the end of the day, we'll get five to six teams in and we'll have teams advance like we always do."
On making a push there to get a higher seed
"For all of us. When we walk into the conference tournament that's all I talk about. It's about seeding more than anything else. My concern right now, and I'm focused on this team, we have three weeks left and the season has flown by.
"There's been ups and downs to it but the greatest thing has been seeing the progress. You see the guys are doing it. We're still not where we need to be but we're moving in that direction."
On how blowing 21-point lead at UT got guys' attention
"That's so long ago, I can't even remember what happened. You just - stuff happens. You hope you don't get a big lead and lose, but sometimes you do. Somebody gets hot, somebody misses free throws. A play here, a play there, all the sudden it's six and it's a different game on the road.
"We're by that. We're worried about this game. Rick's doing a great job like he always does. They've taken on his personality. They're defending, they're tough, they're packing it in defensively. They're playing you, but everyone else is in the lane. They're rebounding like crazy, they've got some guards that can score.
"Even with their size, they're scoring around the basket. Playing man, playing some zone, will press you a little bit. He's doing a heckuva job with his team."
On what Marcus Lee did to stay out of foul trouble
"He was really active. He was really alert. He was playing before the ball hit the rim. He wasn't waiting for stuff to happen and then trying to react to it. He was the initiator, and some of the other games he's not. He was on his heels. He's you know, but he's doing good. He's doing good."
On if the zone defense can help prevent foul trouble
"Yeah, yeah. We work on the zone. Tony has coached a lot more zone than I have, but we've worked on it. We work on it every day. And when we got in foul trouble we went to it. Even the kids said, ‘Let's go zone. They're trying to foul out our whole team.'
"So they went zone, and all of the sudden it slowed them down in their tracks. Yeah, we have that. I just - the history for me is when they go zone we cannot make a shot and when we go zone they make every shot. Don't know why that is, but I've done this 30 years and that's what I - probably just a feeling."