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John Calipari on LSU win, Derek Wills' return, Skal's emergence, home perfection and more

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats finished off another perfect home record with their 94-77 win over LSU on Saturday.

It was an astounding fifth perfect record in Rupp Arena that John Calipari has achieved during his seven seasons in Lexington. The Wildcats also won their 47th regular-season SEC championship, tying Texas A&M for league honors.

It's been a bumpy road getting to this point for the Cats, but Calipari is proud of his team battling and working hard to make it to this point. Here's a recap of everything he had to say following Saturday's game.

On what's' led to Cal's five seasons with a perfect home record
"We've got really good players. That's why. The year we weren't undefeated, that was on me. We've had really good players. And we were just trying to win the next one. I don't even know we were undefeated. If that's what we are, that's great."

On Skal Labissiere
"He was okay. I thought he was too worried about a matchup with him and Ben [Simmons] instead of just loving that you're playing. Be excited you're playing now and you're an integral part of with what we're doing. Be excited. That's what I got on him about after practice.

"And he was great. Here's a kid that's taken a lot of grief and goes for 18 and nine and six blocks. Like he looked really good in that game, and he's getting better. The biggest things, folks, if you understand, it's two things.

"First, we try to empower or team. South Carolina empowered them. There were things that happened today that they called on their own, not from the bench. And when we had a timeout, I told them, I said, you know what, I love it. But empowered is first thing.

"And then the second thing is you gotta have a confident team going into that tournament. And it can't be two guys. So now you look at Alex [Poythress] playing with confidence, Marcus [Lee] playing with confidence, Derek [Willis] playing with confidence, Skal playing with confidence, the other guys playing with confidence, and now all of a sudden we got an empowered team that's playing with confidence.

"Now, again, I told them after, I said, by the way, you won the league championship. I don't know if you even know or care, but you did. They just said, yeah, where's the food. They don't care. They just want to go on to the next thing. But it was a good win and a good game."

On if Skal was trying to get himself worked up for a matchup against Ben Simmons
"No, no, because you can't -- just be -- you gotta be into yourself in this. You can't -- you can't worry about the game the day before, lose sleep worried about anxiety. You just gotta stay in the moment and be the best you can be. He's beginning to be the best he can be. I'm really proud of him because it's been hard.

"And the reason he started is because he had an unbelievable practice, and I look at Tyler [Ulis] and I said, ‘I'm thinking about starting him, what do you think?' He said, ‘yeah, do it.' I said, ‘you know what, I'm going to do it.' And now he's kind of broken through from that.

"How about Tyler, 14 assists, one turnover? And again, we can make arguments. I looked at him after, I said, ‘you had 14 assists one turnover; if you had made any shots, you'd have had 20 and 14.' He missed every shot. And he laughed. But you know, you're talking about a player of the year candidate nationally.

"If there's a better point guard in the country, you gotta show me who he is, and I gotta watch tape. I told the team after, he's made their job easy. He's built confidence in big guys and how he's letting them play, and he makes my job easier because he's coaching that team on the floor."

On UK having 26 assists
"Well, again, we're throwing to guys who are more confident right now. When you're throwing to guys that are missing one-footers and layups and missing wide-open shots that are almost air balls -- you know, right now we got a confident team.

"So the way we play, which is we're playing fast; we're trying to score in the first ten seconds. That's how we're playing. But we're also grinding it. I mean we shot 52 percent, 53, and the reality of it is we were probably about 56, 57 until we missed about three shots in a row at the end."

On the ceiling on this team and if it's championship level
"I don't know. I don't know what we are, but the best thing we can hope for is the best version of ourselves and a confident team, an empowered team. Whatever that means it means. And we gotta live with what that means.

"I mean there are other really good teams in the country. But right now, you know, if there's 15 teams better than us, I got to see them. I mean we're pretty good right now. We've had one game where, you know, where we'd have one more.

On Jamal Murray
"He's more than a shooter. He's a scorer. But what we're getting him to do is catch and shoot, and the rest of his game where he's getting the ball by people, where he's scoring from the foul line, where he's doing those kind of things have really made him the most efficient player.

"Now, let me say this. Again, he took 12 shots and scored 22. I think down in Florida he had 18 points on six shots or something crazy down there. He may be the most efficient guard who's a volume scorer, but not a volume shooter. No one wants to play with a volume shooter, a guy who's trying to take 25 shots. No one wants to play with that guy.

"How about what I said after, he's not getting the ball and not getting points. He never said one word. Never said one word. I went to him and Tyler and said, Tyler, you gotta get him more involved. Tell him what you want, Jamal, how he can get you involved. But he never said anything, which makes it kind of neat."

On Jamal's bow-and-arrow move
"The only thing is they had a three- point shooter back in the corner, and he's doing the bow and arrow and the kid is shooting a three on him. Thank goodness he missed it. Again, he still does some freshman things.

"Let me say this. Really all these guys, but him especially, I love coaching him because he always has a smile on his face. He's not afraid to say stuff to me. Isaiah [Briscoe] laughs at all my jokes; he gets them. Some of the guys have no idea what I just said, and he's laughing with me, so he and I laugh together.

"But you know, I want them all to do well. I want them to be the best version of themselves. I want them to be able to go in games, in heated games against an opponent that's unbelievable and you're going to war and you know, all right, let's go do this.

"And that's what we're getting to. And it's what we try to do every year. There are some years that we may not be like this. But I can remember '13-'14, and we went into that tournament just starting to play well. I mean this has been a pretty good effort."

On Derek Willis' return
"Yeah. Oh, I loved it. Absolutely. I told him after he was terrific. We all were in the huddle. You shoot the ball. If you don't shoot it, you're coming out. Let it go. Doesn't matter if you make it or not. You just gotta get comfortable shooting balls.

"If you're covered, that's different. You're not passing up ball faking on open shots. And the team finds him, and you know, he lets it go. He's really made us different."

On how Cal's relationship with Jamal changed from the start of the year
"No, he's been great. I mean it's been hard on him because I had to get him to think different in how he played, from shot selection to casual play at times to trying to make the hardest play instead of the easiest play, degree of difficulty on shots, how hard can I make this to make it look -- that's done.

"Defensively, getting him to really buy in, all that's been a fight now. Now, I've been on him. It's not been easy for him. But you know what, he's responded -- he wants to be coached, tell me. You know, he wants to be coached.

"Been hard on Skal, and that's why I'm so happy for him."

On the reception that Alex got before and after the game
"Yeah. And I took him out because I was afraid he was going to get hurt. I didn't know if he and that kid would get into it, and I just told him, I'm going to put you in for another second here and get you out.

"But our fans are the best. And you know what, they love senior night in this state. It's a big deal. Senior night's a big deal. Bigger deal for our fans than those players. They'd rather have been drafted already. If you want me to lie, I'll lie. And then come back and get their degree.

"But the great thing for Alex, he graduated in three years. He's been a part of this program and seen all the highs and lows of it. He's made unbelievable friends and he's going to be a professional basketball player. It's kind of neat to see and neat to see how much he's grown.

"Today -- and for the first time he struggled early, and he changed it. And then he became a beast. That hadn't happened. So I told him that was a big breakthrough for him."

On Jamal taking one shot in the first half and UK being up nine at the break
"Well, but again, he's the guy that creates the gap for us to be up 20, he and Tyler. But the other guys playing with confidence, you know, you can still be up if they're not getting shots or making shots.

"And like I said, we tweaked some things, we did some things to try to get some of this stuff changed, and the kids are responding to him and doing great."

On UK went from lacking confidence to becoming supremely confident
"Well, first of all, we did -- there's two parts of it. First of all, they gotta understand, their confidence comes from within, not exterior. It's not someone else that builds your confidence and it's not someone else that takes your confidence away.

"By working hard -- what a coach can do is drive them to do more than they think they can do to push them so they look at themselves and say, wow, I didn't know I could do this. Man, this is making me better. I love this. And you can be hard on them; you can challenge them. You can be tough. That helps them build their own confidence.

"When they build their own confidence, there's nothing I can say or you can say or a fan can write or say that takes it away. They have their own confidence. So we had to explain that to them because I think a bunch of them were thinking exterior things are making my confidence Wayne. No, it isn't. No. That's your excuse, but no one here is buying it.

"The second thing as a coach is you put them in positions that they can build -- don't have them do stuff they can't do because that doesn't play into them building their own confidence, because it's hard work, demonstrated performance, on the court, in games that builds your confidence.

"So my job is to drive them. Second thing is to put them in the great position. But they have to understand, I don't build your confidence. And I don't take your confidence away. You do that yourself.

"And we kind of went at it, and then we tried to tweak a couple things that put them in better positions, for them as individual players. And should have done it earlier. I didn't. I'm still figuring out this team. But I'm proud of them and proud of what they've done. Thank you."