The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off one of their best games of the season, one that's unfortunately featured a lot of bad ones as well.
Just last Tuesday, UK suffered one of the worst losses of the John Calipari era, an 84-77 loss to an 11-12 Tennessee team. It could have been the kind of loss that derails a team this late in the season, and with a hot Florida team coming into Rupp, Saturday was going to say a lot about where these Cats are going.
They responded with an 80-61 beatdown of the Gators, which was the biggest loss Florida has suffered this season. That includes losses to No. 8 Michigan State, No. 12 Miami, No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 18 Purdue. UK has more than shown they can be the same caliber of teams those aforementioned clubs are, but there's still a lot of work to be done.
John Calipari echoed those sentiments during his weekly SEC Coaches Teleconference appearance. Here's a recap of what he said there:
On facing Georgie and South Carolina this week
"Mark (Fox) is doing a great job with his team. He lost a lot on the front line and when you watch them, they’re playing in a way that you have to play. They’re defending, some of it zone, some of it man. Offensively, he still runs some great stuff for his team to put them in position to win our league.
And then Frank (Martin) at South Carolina, it’s obvious what he’s doing. They’ve got 20 wins already. They’re probably one of the few teams that have 20 wins already. They’ve won on the road, they’ve won at home, they’re tough as nails. Again, he’s playing some zone and they’re playing man and they’re taking on his personality. So you’re talking about a team that’s like 20-2 or whatever they are and Mark 6-4 in our league, what he’s doing, we’ve got two hard games."
On Alex Poythress
"He’s day to day. I doubt if he practices today. He had swelling on that (right, non-surgically repaired) knee. They took an X-ray. I don’t think the X-ray showed anything, but there’s some reason it is (swelling), so it’ll be day to day."
On other schools embracing the one-and-done approach
"Well, the thing that you have to understand first of all: It’s not our rule. That’s an NBA rule in conjunction with the Players Association, and we have no say over it. But these kids have to go to college for a year – if they’re that good. Most of them have to go two or three or four years.
"But the players that have that opportunity, I think coaches should be more about them than ourselves, which means if they’re able to leave after a year, then so be it. So Duke last year, where they did what we did in 2012, had three freshman starters (and won a title) and then they all left, just like what happened to us in 2012.
"Last year, we lost seven players that are playing right now professionally, so that stuff is part of what we have to deal with. Now, what happens, though, when you start losing those guys: You find out this is really hard to have a new team every year. It’s really hard to have really young guys on your team.
"And it’s the best thing for the players. It’s not the best thing for the coach. Like, I can tell you it makes it a really though thing that we’re trying to do."
On Georgia’s defense
"What they’re doing, it’s great position defense and he’s mixing up a matchup 3-2, 2-3 zone and he’s doing some things that put them in great position so that you’re getting one tough shot and they’re rebounding the ball – and they’re rebounding with all five. They’re a good team, and they’ll play physical and they have veteran guards and if you have veteran guards like they have, you have a chance to be in every game."
Later in the day, assistant coach John Robic gave his preview of the Bulldogs and updates on other things around Kentucky basketball. Here's a recap of what he had to say:
On Poythress' health
"He's doing OK. Right now he's just day-to-day. Expect him to play tomorrow. It's one of those things where he just felt sore. He's getting treatment on it right now."
On if he expects Alex to play Tuesday
"I do, yeah."
On Georgia's Defense
"Really good question. They do have very good numbers. Both from the 2-point and 3-point. They even defend the free throw line pretty well too. They really don't overextend defensively, man to man wise. Sort of more like a pack-line defense packing it in. Which we've seen a bunch of this year.
"We're doing a good job of that. They'll also sprinkle in a couple of zones. They'll try to keep you off balance with what they do. Just really solid defensively. Play the ball well. Been impressive to watch on tape."
On Georgia's Charles Mann
"He's lived at the free-throw line for four years. I don't know if it's big guys as much as it is your guards being able to guard the dribble knowing that he is a driver. He's a big physical kid that creates contact. I think it starts a little bit more out on the floor. Our big guys have to challenge at the rim."
On UK's guards improving defensively
"We're getting better and better at it. I thought Saturday's game was terrific defensively. Coach put in a great game plan of how we were going to guard Florida. Players executed it really well and we really guarded as a unit, as five. I think that takes away some of the pressure off individuals.
"It was truly a solid team effort in the half court. And then in transition, they did a really good job of not letting Chiozza and Kasey Hill get transition layups, which they're both very good at. That was a key to the game."
On Tyler Ulis' performance vs Florida
"Well, he's just such a smart player. He sees a play ahead. He's a great anticipator. We had him off the ball a little bit more. He did play both, but like him off the ball some at times too because of the anticipation. But he just has a great knowledge of the game. It's really impressive. He's a smart player."
On Isaac Humphries
"He played terrifically. He stepped up when the opportunity was there. He did the things exactly what we needed him to do. So sure. Getting back to it today. We had a late workout yesterday, but getting back to it today he was solid and it was nice to see that he stuck with it."
On Ulis' coaching impact
"Your great point guards are an extension of your head coach on the floor, for sure. Everyone that I've personally ever been around, and most of them have been with Cal since we've been together so long. He thinks like the head coach. After two years, you get pretty solid bond of what you're thinking, when you're thinking of it.
"Again, it gets back to he makes suggestions, because actually on the floor so he can get a better feel than us on the side watching it. And we trust him. That's the biggest thing, especially you need in a point guard."
On what makes Mark Fox teams special
"Yeah. We were actually talking about it today: They're always really solid. They really execute offensively how he wants to play. A little bit more of a pattern-type team with reads off of certain plays. They've gone this year with this lineup they've had a little bit more ball-screen action because of the three guards.
"They're playing (J.J.) Frazier, (Charles) Mann and (Kenny) Gaines together a lot. I think the difference this year, on this year's team as a opposed to the last couple of years is that they don't have that four man that can step out like a (Nemi) Djurisic did last year that was a threat from 3.
"So the ball is in the hands of their guards a lot, but (Yante) Maten, boy has he gotten better. Putting up great numbers. You can see his confidence level is really high. He's gotten good, and he gives them a solid low-post threat."
On other Calipari point guards that are coaches on the court like Ulis
"Yeah. Yeah. I think you go back. I think Derrick Rose was like that. I think John (Wall) and Eric Bledsoe were like that. I think Brandon Knight was like that for sure. It's just that they have that - even with Andrew last year, being two years, they remember stuff that we forget. So we've had probably six or seven in that time. I think, again, it gets back to that feel of the game and they've done a good job running our teams."
On if Humphries has earned more playing time
"Well, I just think, one, it's going to depend on the flow of the game. Like, for instance, this would be a good game for Isaac because of (Georgia's) post players, that they actually have size in the post. If it was an undersized - say a Tennessee, where they really don't have a true post, that would be a tough game for Isaac. This is a matchup-type game that benefits all of our bigger players. I can't put a number on it. It just depends on the flow and how he's actually playing."
On Ulis saying that Humphries could help
"I told you he was smart. Well, one, Tyler likes playing with Isaac because he sets great screens and that frees Tyler up, but then that frees other teammates up as well. Isaac is a smart young man, so he knows our offense, he knows what we're doing, knows exactly what's expected of him.
"So Tyler has liked Isaac, but there was a ton of games during the stretch (that Humphries didn't play) where more times than not, they were bad matchups for him."