The road hasn't been kind to these young Kentucky Wildcats, and they'll have another tough test at Texas A&M this weekend.
Now sitting at 3-5 in true road games this season, UK now gets to face an Aggies team that's only lost once at home this season. That was to a South Carolina team the Cats just destroyed in their own building.
But this is a different kind of test. Not only are the Aggies are very deep, talented and senior-heavy team, but the Cats may also be missing starters Derek Willis and Marcus Lee. Willis was able to finish Thursday's game vs Tennessee, but he was clearly hobbled after the game and said there were several injuries he was dealing with.
Lee suffered a back strain in the first half and sat out the entire second half of the 80-70 win over the Vols. If either one of them is out Saturday with UK already dangerously thin in the frontcourt. John Calipari discussed those two while previewing the Aggies during his Friday meeting with the media.
Asked about the health of Willis and Lee, Cal simply said he hadn't seen them yet and couldn't give a definitive update as to whether they'll play Saturday or not.
Here's a recap of everything else Cal had to say:
On how important Lee and Willis' availability is
"Obviously, you want to have a full team, but you go with who's there. I mean, Marcus went out and we played better. Next man up. That's what we've done. I walk in the locker room, ‘Alex (Poythress) can't go today.' ‘What?' I walk in the locker room, ‘Isaiah hurt his ankle in the warm-up line.' ‘What?' Next man up. That's how we do it here."
On if injuries have been more of an issue this year than years past
"No. No. It's normal stuff. Normal wear and tear."
On how Derek Willis is coming along defensively
"Doing great. Really proud of him. He's just like, just like the two that just walked in, we have five games left, it's a long season, and they're all beat up a little bit. Everybody else's team is beat up the same way. You just have to go play. They are isolating him a little bit, but he's getting better.
"The confidence he's built in us and in himself in his offense - now he's got to do the same defensively. There is such a thing as defensive confidence and he doesn't have it right now. His feet are moving, like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,' well, if you shoot the ball like that you ain't making them.
"If you try to defend that way you're going to get beat on the bounce. Jamal (Murray) was there for a little bit, now he's getting more confident in his defense and his ability. And the only way to work through it is we just go every day and we do the drills to get those guys to move their feet, to stay in front, to make the guy score through their chest.
"Don't go for ball fakes - they still do. Doesn't matter that every day in practice we make them stay down. They're not machines, they're not computers. They revert back to some of their old habits at times."
On what Texas A&M does well
"They have great post game. They have guards that are creative and make plays. Obviously (Danuel) House can go for 40 (points). They have other guys that come off the bench that can shoot the ball well. (Alex) Caruso is one of the best passers you will ever see. He tries to steal every ball so you have to be aware, you can't just throw a lazy pass, it's a layup.
"And when they get in transition and they run they're really good. They throw it ahead and just put their head down and go at that basket. And they've struggled some, but everybody has. We're all in the same boat. You got six teams that are right there to have a chance to play postseason, and we've all struggled.
"At one point in the season or another, we've all struggled. So, we have five games left, so do they. It should be a terrific basketball game."
On what Texas A&M did better against Ole Miss than in other games
"They did, but they're so big. If you don't have a presence that can hold them back a little bit, they can dominate you around that goal. They're big and they're long. Mississippi has a guy (Sebastian Saiz) that almost got his eye poked out. Mississippi is undermanned right now, but I thought they had a chance.
"Andy (Kennedy) is doing everything he can to keep his team alive right now. When you have injuries and they're you're best two players and you're trying to survive, it's hard."
On how much pressure is on Isaac Humphries and Skal Labissiere against Texas A&M
"Well, I think both of them are going to have opportunities like they did, and then whichever one is playing better stays in the game. Just gotta fight. Gotta fight and stay in front, go get balls and do all that kind of stuff, and you stay in the game."
On discussing redshirting with Tai Wynyard
"No I haven't talked to him. Haven't seen him today either."
On if he's really happy to see the media today ...
"Yeah. I was excited when he told me ‘You know you have media today?' Ah. Looking for Novocaine."
On if he told Isaiah Briscoe to rebound more or if it's something he knew
"He knew. When Marcus Lee - He said, ‘Coach, I got this. Don't even say it. I know what you're going to say to me.' And he just went in. They're feeling empowered and the best part of it is I don't have to battle anybody. They already know what I want them to do. We have to get Charles (Matthews) playing with more energy.
"For some reason, he's playing a game that â We have to get Skal to come up with balls and fight more. But it starts in practice, and then it'll carry over to the game. Short of that, I mean, everyone of these guys - Tyler Ulis, the only thing he did last game - and I got on him about it - you have to take the first open shot.
"If you go 1 for 12 and we lose, that's too bad. You have to take the first shot. If they're going under pick-and-roll, shoot the 3. And he's not a kid that wants to miss shots, so he'll figure it out. And so this thing with Isaiah, he had a couple layups that he passed out. Just take the layup, just don't get fouled.
"Don't try to go in and get fouled. Go in and score the layup or make a pass. But when he rebounds and defends the way he did, let him go 2 for 10. Be careless. Just don't get fouled. Shoot a layup or pass it, and then it doesn't matter."
On if Texas A&M is a team that collapses on defense and if it's a 15-assist game for Ulis
"They do. I don't know if it's a 15-assist game cause they're really - I believe they're going to trap him some and do some stuff. Billy (Kennedy) will do some different things. So his pass may be the initiating pass, and the next pass may be the assist.
"You just don't know. But they do collapse on drives, but they're really big, so around the basket, you almost have to get those bigs away from the goal some so you get some in at the rim."
On when did the players stop battling him
"I think the South Carolina game showed me they get it. Like Jamal, Jamal only made three 3s and had like 30 points. That means he got to the line and he got to the basket. So there was one bailout shot he took that game, one. Well, just think about where he was a month and a half ago.
"Think about how he's defending, think about how he's rebounding. He's not perfect, but none of these kids are. He's becoming that player now. It's a winning player. And the other guys are doing the same. I mean, Derek broke down a little bit densely, but he rebounds balls, he blocks shots.
"And, if you make seven 3s, break down a couple of times. You can't miss every shot and then give up layup, layup, rebound. You can't do that, but there's times you're going into the game and saying, ‘This guy is going to get 18 on me.' Okay, get 22 on him. We'll win that battle and we'll make sure the other guys do it."
On whether he's amazed how far Willis has come
"I'm amazed that he's fallen in love with this as much as he has. Because before you can be that guy, you gotta fall in love with this. Falling in love means you love every day to come to practice. You don't become the first one out and the last one in. Like, you run when practice ends.
"You can't be that guy. You're not going to be out on the court and be special. You gotta fall in love with the process. He has. We do the drills; he goes. He's not the one stopping. He fights and he does his thing and if he makes a mistake he owns up. He'll say, ‘That's my fault. I know what I did. I got you. I know it.'
"Like I said, he's on a normal path, guys. He's on a normal path. You sit the first couple years. Your junior year, you hope to play. Your senior year, youâhe's a junior. So a normal path for him."
On Murray and whether he compares to any of his former players
"He's not battling (me). ‘Tell me how you want me to play because there's a lot of different ways I can play.' But right now he is playing winning basketball. And I've had guys come on. I can remember Tyreke Evans early in the year. Oh my gosh. They were telling me one and done?
"I said, ‘He's going to be four and done.' And then by the middle of February, you start seeing him. By March he's the fourth pickâhe's the Rookie of the Year in the NBA after one year. So I've had guys do this. They all get it different times. Sometimes it takes years. It takes guys years.
"And basically, the way you have to play and fight and your will to win, your will to compete, if that's not there you cannot make it at that next level and then you gotta stick around. You have that will to win, your size doesn't matter now. My man (Tyler Ulis) is 5-9. It doesn't matter. It will not matter."
On whether the quick turnaround is good preparation for the NCAA Tournament
"You could look at it that way, but I asked the guys after the game, ‘Would you rather be practicing or playing games?' They said, ‘We'd rather play games.' Good, that's what we're doing. A bunch of games we're playing. Won't do much today. Most of the guysâthe guys who didn't play a whole lot, six guys, will do individuals.
"The other guys will get treatment and stretch. Do a little tape work. Do scripting some things that we need to do against them, we'll script it. We'll script their stuff and then we'll watch the tape of yesterday's game and then get on our way down to Texas."
On Isaac Humphries saying playing rugby helped him become more physical
"If that's what helped him, then we're going to do some rugby with Skal. But he's doing good. He's not afraid. He's in there. He's fighting. He makes some mistakes and stuff, but he's notâyou either have this look (makes intense face) or you have this look (makes scared face).
"When you have that look (makes scared face), you can't play. This look (makes intense face), you're trying to kill somebody. That look (makes scared face) with white lips, you take our heart away. And that kid's look is like this (makes intense face). Come on. Bring it. He makes mistakes. He'll say, ‘My fault.' But proud of him."