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Tony Barbee previews Alabama, talks injuries, zone defense and more

Tony Barbee previews Bama while giving brief injury updates and talking about how he's helped UK implement more zone defenses, something Calipari hates.

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The Kentucky Wildcats will need to get over Saturday's loss to Texas A&M quickly with Alabama coming to town on Tuesday.

Though the Crimson Tide are coming off a debilitating loss at home to Mississippi State, there's no question Bama has been one of the SEC's best teams this season and are someone capable of knocking off a wounded UK team.

The Cats will come into this game wounded physically and mentally after Saturday's crushing loss at A&M. Derek Willis suffered an ankle injury that will almost certainly keep him out this week, and there's still no definitive return date for Alex Poythress.

Assistant coach Tony Barbee gave brief updates on those two bigs while previewing Alabama and talking about a variety of topics during his Monday meeting with the media. Here is a recap of everything he had to say.

On Derek Willis update
"No. I know he's been real diligent in his rehab and I know he's going to want to be out there with his teammates tomorrow. I haven't seen him today. We'll get an idea of what he looks like today in practice."

On update for Alex Poythress
"Same. I know he'll resume activities today. Whether he goes tomorrow I have no idea."

On how much the team needs those guys
"You always want a full complement. We don't want to go without anybody but I know we've got some other guys who have stepped up in some other guys' absence. I know with coach's philosophy with ‘next man up,' you look at what Isaac (Humphries) did last game, really stepped up and was big for us. We would like to have everybody but I think everybody is confident that if we do miss a couple of pieces then other guys will be ready to step in and do their jobs."

On Poythressresuming activities
"I don't know. I just saw on the medical report we get from our medical staff. It said he will resume activities today. I don't know anymore beyond that."

On how Poythress has stayed plugged into the team
"He's very engaged, obviously. Again, a senior, a guy who's been around for this many years. He's one of those guys that can finish Cal's sentences before he even starts them. If you saw the game on Saturday, how engaged he was on the bench, I mean, he was a coach/cheerleader/mentor for all the guys as they were on the floor coming to the bench. So, whenever he's ready to come back he's not going to miss a beat because he's stayed engaged."

On Isaac Humphries
"It went a long way with the tone (John Calipari) took after the game with Isaac with how positive he was. Isaac played a big part in that game and gave us a chance to win at a hard place to win against a team in Texas A&M that's hard to beat there in College Station.

"We just stay positive with Isaac because he did a lot of positive things. It was just a kid who got caught up in the emotion of the moment. He was happy and excited that he thought he'd given us a chance to win.

On carryover from a loss like Texas A&M
"I don't think so. I think this team has a pretty strong resolve. We were all crushed in that immediate 24 hours after the game, but we have since moved on to Alabama."

On what Humphries did on the boards
"Isaac has always been a physical presence. He's not afraid to go in there and mix it up and bang and throw his body at people. He was able to do that against one of the better bigs in the leagues in (Tyler) Davis. He's a confident player defensively and he's confident in his rebounding ability, because of his size, his physical strength. And then you couple that with his mental approach to it, he's not afraid to go against anybody out there."

On if Humphries is more motivated now
"Yeah, he's a motivated kid anyway, so I don't think that'll motivate him any more than he already is. Again, Isaac, he didn't feel like he was trying to slam the ball. He was just caught up in the emotion of the moment. He was excited for his team and being able to get that rebound, thinking he was going to go shoot free throws and have a chance to give us some more room at the end of the game. So it was just more so he was caught up in the moment and excited for his team."

On the SEC race
"I think it's big, particularly (given) kind of how we came out of non-conference play. There were some question marks for everybody about this team and where we were headed, and the guys really rallied around each other and turned things around. We talk about it all the time. It's important for these guys to win the SEC. Even though we lost a game in College Station, we still remained in first place, and the guys were excited about that."

On being the engineer of the zone defense UK is using some now
"Well, I'm the engineer only when it works. When it doesn't work, I'll put it back on Cal. But no, we played zone quite a bit at some of the other spots I was at, so I'm familiar with teaching it. As far back as I've known Cal - and everybody knows how long I've known him and played for him and worked for him, all those things - he hates zone.

"Let's put it that way. You guys all know that. I just stay in his ear that there are some teams that I think we can use the zone against and it'll be fairly effective and some that we can't. It took him getting thrown out of the South Carolina game for us to play it for half a game, and it was fairly effective.

"But I think he understands it, too, that zone, sometimes you can't give a team a steady diet of one thing. And then we've got a good zone team, too. We've got good length. We've got good quickness. Our guys are smart and really play well off each other in the zone."

On why Calipari hates zone defense
"I think it comes down to accountability. That's why his teams have always been so good defensively. He's been able to hold everybody accountable out of the man to man, whether you stopped your man, whether you were in the right position in help. So it's easier to do that than it is in zone."

On if he was happy for the opportunity to play zone after Calipari got ejected at South Carolina
(Laughs) "No, actually we needed it because the foul trouble our bigs were in that game, so we had to out of necessity."

On if he's surprised by the players are embracing zone
"No. Our guys are excited about it. We work on it quite a bit in practice because you never know when you're gonna need it. We've struggled guarding the dribble some this year, and I've always been in coaches ear. It's a good way to stop dribble penetration, is out of that zone. And it worked in that game."

On if Calipari turns his back to the floor when they switch to zone
(Laughs) "No, but the first time they make a shot when we got to the zone then he's in my ear."

On how Alabama is different than first matchup
"Well, they're playing a different lineup. They start a totally different lineup than when we played them. They're shooting a ton more threes than when we played them. So they're a fairly different team. Shannon Hale, who's a fantastic player, wasn't playing particularly well at that time when we played them.

"And now he's a guy that they're going through offensively. Obviously, (Retin) Obasohan is the straw that stirs their drink, but Shannon Hale is a guy that's really sparked them in the run that they had because of the level he's playing at."

On what make Retin Obasohan so effective
"You go strength, you go athleticism, you go speed, you quickness, you go skill level and the ability to handle the ball, to get anywhere on the floor that he wants off the dribble and then finish and create fouls against bigger guys. And now he's seasoned that he's been doing it now for four years. And he shoots, the ball, off the bounce, off the catch. So he's a hard matchup. He's one of the better guards in our league, if not in the country."

On what he sees from Avery Johnson in his first season
"Fantastic. You could see early in the year, anytime you have a new coach come in, players have got to learn the system, they struggle early to figure out their roles and what he expects, and now you see them very, very comfortable with what he wants to do and how he wants his team to play.

"They're guarding at a high level, they rebound at a high level, they're a physical team - as physical as any team in our league. And now offensively you can really see them comfortable in their roles, where he wants them to score, how he wants them to score. That's where you see a guy like Hale, who's gotten more comfortable in his system, really starting to blossom."

On Thursday-Sunday-Tuesday turnaround
Again, it's easier to find motivation when you're in first place or at least in the hunt to win the conference. Then you're playing bigger picture, playing for seed in the NCAA Tournament, so we don't address that with our guys at all and the guys have shown no signs of slowing down. So we're not concerned about it.

On how Tyler Ulis' stamina is conditioning or something about him
"It's a combination of both. You've got some guys that you can train like an Olympic athlete, but yet (with) their constitution or their makeup they can fatigue fairly quickly. Tyler is one of those guys that at the tip or at that 40-minute mark at the end of the game there's no difference in his speed, athleticism, his mental sharpness.

"It never stops, it never slows down. He has that special makeup about him, coupled with the job that our strength coach, Robert Harris, does with our guys."

On how team has bounced back after A&M loss
"Well, Cal gives everybody 24 hours to sulk or pout after a loss and then he demands they immediately forget about it after that. So everybody - it was a quiet plane ride on the way back. Everybody was hurt about the loss, but when you come back to practice yesterday and see them come back into the gym as excited and as positive and as ready to go and as focused on what's ahead and not what happened behind, don't worry about this group. We've got a lot of guys on the floor who are leaders, not just one."