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John Calipari reacts to Kentucky Wildcats surviving Vanderbilt

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. He’ll take it.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With whistles galore and an abysmal effort from 3-point land (only 1-9 on the night), the Kentucky Wildcats escaped Memorial Gym with a narrow 87-81 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores.

In his post-game press conference, Coach John Calipari praised De’Aaron Fox’s effort on the court and credited his performance (22 points on 11-17 shooting) to his extra time spent in the gym in Lexington.

Again referencing his team’s lack of discipline, Coach Cal took the blame for that issue on this occasion. He also emphasized how hard it is to play in such a tough environment, and he was pleased to get out of there with a win. “We need games like this,” according to Cal.

See below for a full transcript of John Calipari’s post-game comments courtesy of UK Athletics.

Opening statement

“Great environment. (Vanderbilt head coach) Bryce (Drew) did a great job. It’s exactly the type of team – and I told the guys, more of this is on me than these kids, because I have a talented group of kids. What they don’t have is discipline and the focus they need to win when another team is disciplined.

This is a disciplined team. They turned it over seven times when we pressured. They’re going to run their stuff and you cannot break down. Last night, in that football game, if anybody made a mistake, what happened?

“Touchdown. You couldn’t make mistakes. We just can’t play this way right now and I told them, ‘Not your fault. This is what I have to do.’ They run and the game’s fast, it’s all fun, but when this is a grind it out game and you break down on defense and – you ready?

“Then take a quick shot contested down at the other end and then break down again and take another quick leap and leaner, or try to dunk one when (you can) just lay it in. Just lay it in so we can win the game. We’re a ways away.

“But, I’m really happy we won this game because they’re going to win a ton of games and, like I said, Bryce is doing a great job with his team.”

On Briscoe coming up big

“Yeah, he has played well, but he had seven rebounds – he did more – five assists, one turn. Again, he’s 10 for 18 and I’m on him when he took two jumpers that he should have driven the ball. But I want him to just play. He’s not the issue. He gets it and he knows. When you’re playing all these young kids, freshmen, we’re all freshmen.

“I gotta get Isaac (Humphries) – I gotta figure out what we’re going to do when Bam (Adebayo’s) not in. We’ll keep trying Isaac, but if it can’t be Isaac, it can’t be Isaac. You saw that I went small. I kind of liked that. You’re still 6-(foot)-10 and 6-9. What do I think we’re the Lakers? We gotta have two 7-footers out there?

“I mean, we’re 6-10 and 6-9 and that’s with Wenyen (Gabriel) and Derek (Willis). But, a good win for us.”

On Fox’s mid-range game

“Yeah, he’s really spending time in the gym right now. He’s really mastering his craft. He made a 3, he made his free throws. He played well. He’s 11 out of 17. I told them after the game, we were 1 for 9 from the 3 and I ecstatic, because when you’re 1 for 9 and you still win you prove to your team you do not need to make 3s to win.

“Many teams in this country if they’re not making 3s they got no chance of winning. We’re not one of them. This was a prime example. They played well. They shot a ton of free throws and made them. They shot 3s, we guarded a bunch of them, but 10 assists to seven turns.

“I mean, an exciting game, it’s just that it’s a different game for us and we need all these kind of games to show us where we gotta go. And mainly me as a coach. Again, I’m not here with veteran guys.

“I gotta figure out, OK, if we’re going to be playing and trying to be one of those teams, OK, you’re going to play a disciplined team, what are you going to be able to do? Can you win the game? And if you can’t your season ends.”

On his freshmen stepping up in close games

“Look, I got good players. I’m sitting here, it’s not about me coaching. I’ve got really good players. My job is to get them more disciplined, more focused, playing when another team’s playing a certain way.

“But we got talented kids now. Watching this team play, you’ve got to have fun. Like, wow, this is fun watching them. The stuff they do, as fast as they’re playing, some unbelievable plays that they make.”

On playing more half court

“The only issue was I had to make calls every time down the floor for us to get us the kind of shot we needed. That means they’re not empowered yet. Like, I had to come out of a timeout – when your team is empowered they can do it themselves. They know where to go with the ball, they know what kind of shot to take, who’s getting the ball.

“We’re not empowered yet. This team, that’s all part of the discipline, the focus and then the trust. Right now we still don’t trust each other because guys aren’t doing their job defensively, what they’re supposed to do. We ran gaps, we didn’t switch when we needed to, we didn’t talk.

“So now, that lack of trust makes you a little timid. But that aside, at some point this year if this team is supposed to be what everybody thinks then we better be empowered. It better be their team.”

On never having a team before that was empowered in January

“You’re right. You’re right. It took us awhile – last year I had to get thrown out of South Carolina, which I did on purpose so that I could see if they were empowered [sarcasm]. You know what I just said to them: I said, what I’m asking of you is probably not fair.

“And I looked at them and I said, ‘But you’re at Kentucky. That’s not fair.’ So, we just gotta do it. They all know. They know. This stuff’s not easy. How about every game they play is like this? This kind of environment. This kind of effort. Every game. If we come in and don’t give a great effort we have no chance of winning.

“That’s unusual. And yes, freshmen coming out doing it. There are like three or four guys that have got to step up their play so we can get ‘em out on the floor and let them help us and have more of a rotation. The only thing that happened thing game is because some of those kids didn’t play in the first half that much, the minutes don’t look crazy except Isaiah’s.

“But I played two guys with two fouls. Believe me: If I’ve coached a thousand games, I’ve done that a handful of times. Normally I would not—you’re out. But I did not like the feel of the game. I didn’t like their energy. I didn’t like—I just said, ‘We gotta make sure we’re in this.’

“And we went into the half up five, which was pretty good.”

On whether he liked the way Monk and Fox handled playing with two fouls

“No, I was mad at how they handled playing with one foul. I mean, what are you—the kid fouled before he fouled. And I’m yelling the whole time, ‘Don’t foul. Give him some space. Play him. Don’t body him when he goes up and tries to steal the ball.’

“And then he goes inside—and then Malik did the same thing. Wenyen broke down. OK. I keep saying it’s not a touchdown. It’s two points. In eight seconds we’ll get another two and it’s even. Don’t foul. Wenyen broke down. Why would you foul? Let the guy shoot the layup. It’s two points.”

‘At least he didn’t go back in and get a third foul’

“Right. But we broke down defensively. There were times that they would have fouled but they didn’t want to foul so they just let a guy drive and they’re shooting layups. That team did what they wanted to against us. They missed some open shots. Thank goodness they missed some open shots, but I liked the way we rebounded and fought.

“Like I told these guys, you gotta enjoy the wins. I’ve been doing this 30 years. Enjoy the wins. When we game a game, it’s not relief for me. It is joy. I am happy. And it was a hard-fought game, which even makes me happier. The kids have tomorrow off for the first time in what they feel like a month.

“They didn’t have a day off in a long time. Tomorrow’s their first day off. Now we start, every Wednesday they got nothing. No basketball. Get away from it. And then on Sunday, we’ll figure out what we do with this team because we play Saturdays and Tuesdays.”

On how Briscoe consistently gets to the rim

“The one thing we did—and I told Bam, screen lower because they were going under. And the lower you go, you’re near that foul line, it is really hard to get under if a guy is going fast. And he gets to the rim because you can’t—this guy is going here and he can’t get there when you go like that.

“And Bam’s about that big. So we screened lower and he got there. The other thing is, his first step and his ball quickness is as good as it gets. He was 3 for 4 from the line. He reminded me today, I think he’s shooting 75 percent from the line. Bam was—well, Bam was 8 out of 10. How about that? Wow.”

On Briscoe not admitting that it’s better to shoot high on drives

“No. He’s hard-headed. There’s no way. He hates the fact—I’d rather get five blocked and make one than miss four and make one.”

On Briscoe’s importance in a game like this

“No, I just left him in. He was good. The only thing I told him—you saw when he was bringing the ball up, because he was—he’s played point, but he’s not—you can’t get into a walk-it-up game with a team like this. You gotta always keep them on their heels by flying down the court.

“You don’t have to shoot it quick, but you gotta fly and explore. That’s what we do with De’Aaron Fox. You get a layup here, you get a dunk here, you get something. He was kind of jogging it up and I called him. I said, ‘Listen, you jog it up, I’m putting him back in with two fouls because we can’t play this way.’

“And then he started playing with speed. He’s fast. He’s fast. And how about how he guarded the ball? He just went up and—he has a will to win. He’s—all the stuff that he needed to work on, he has. From his free-throw shooting to his 3 to his handle. His assist-to-turnover ratio is ridiculous, so I’m proud of him.”