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John Calipari recaps Mississippi State; UK “May be 2 months away”

The Cats are struggling to play a full 40 minutes, and Coach Cal is growing impatient.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Mississippi State Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky continues to win in less-than-impressive fashion.

Their latest performance was an 88-81 win at Mississippi State that, while thrilling at times, was not a game that should have been close. Kentucky led by as many as 18 points in the second half, the young Wildcats let that lead dwindle to just three before they pulled away.

As you can imagine, John Calipari wasn’t too thrilled about letting the Bulldogs come back from the dead and almost steal one from the Cats. Here is a recap of everything he had to say after the win, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On if the Malik Monk technical foul for hanging on the rim was similar Karl-Anthony Towns’ in 2015 at LSU

“(Nodding) I almost did the same thing. Again, we go into the AAU mode. When you’re playing all freshmen and sophomores, there’s a point in the game that they just think it’s like, ‘OK, watch this.’ You’re never going to be that team if that’s what your mindset is.

“I told them at halftime: ‘I’m taking you out.’ And I did. Not just him, I told the whole team. We’re still leaving timeouts and guys are doing exactly the opposite of what (he says). ‘We’re not setting a moving screen this time.

“So I don’t care if you even screen the guy. Do not …’ And the guy set a moving screen. We’re up 16, ready to go to … ‘What did you just do?’ That’s who we are right now. I thought we were a month away. We may be two months away.

“Now, that being said, Mississippi State played well. They shot 54 percent. They turned it over some, but we did, too, and the crazy thing was they didn’t press, they didn’t trap, they didn’t do anything and that’s the most turnovers we may have had all year.

“So their pressure and their toughness and, like I said, they shoot 54 percent from the floor and we win the game, which is incredible for us. Now, Wenyen is starting to get it. He’ll break down a couple times in the game, but he’s starting to get it.

“And I thought Derek did well, too. So you have our two ‘four’ men going 10 for 11 and getting 26 points and getting 13 rebounds from that position – that’s big. And I played them together some.”

On 144 total fouls in Kentucky’s last three games

“I guess. I just – if they’re going to call 144, just make sure they’re on both of us. Don’t just make them on our team. Call them on everybody. If you’re calling hand checks, call them all. If not, let them all go. I really don’t, honestly, I don’t care what they call.

“Just, if you make a call, then you better make that same call for my team, and that’ll be my beef. If I’m upset, it’s based on that: You’re letting it go here and why are you calling it there? That’s the only time I get upset.

“But here’s what I would say: If you know they’re calling it this way, then adjust. Your team needs to be smart enough.”

On how he keeps players from getting frustrated by whistles

“Tell them don’t foul. How about that one? Which, if you listen to me the whole game, I’m yelling, ‘Don’t foul.’ Don’t foul, don’t foul, give them space, don’t foul. And then at the end of the game, we get the most fouls called on us.”

On De’Aaron Fox

“I just said, ‘You know what? Malik’s not playing as well as he’s played. He’s struggling.’ And Malik Monk struggles and has five turnovers, but he gets 14 points in a game he really struggled. So we just said, ‘Here you go, De’Aaron, go do your thing.’

“Now, De’Aaron’s got to make free throws. Can’t have your point guard going 1 for 2 or 0 for 2. Just can’t have it. That guy’s gotta make free throws. I liked the fact that Isaiah held it to get fouled and made those two free throws. But again, we’re still – we just have a long way to go. I know we’re winning games, I know we’re winning some close games where teams are coming at us and we’re finishing, but when you get a team down – (Monk) hung on the rim when we were up 18.

“Why would you do that? ‘There was a guy …’ No, no, there was no one near you. You chinned up. He had to call the tech. But it wasn’t just him. We had, you know …”

On if he’s concerned about being a “month or two away”

“Well then you’re basically saying their will is stronger than my will. You know me pretty well.”

On Wenyen Gabriel being more aggressive

“Yeah, he grabbed balls. In the first half, he grabbed a ball with one hand, it got away. ‘You’re out.’ And then in the second half, he grabbed everything with two hands. That’s my will versus his will. You’re not playing, you’re out. And I’ve got to do more of that.

“But it’s not on a missed shot. It’s if you break down, you’re not focused on what we’re doing as a team, then you can’t be in there and we’ll win without you. That’s where we gotta go. I’d like to be a cheerleader.

“Last game, I had to coach every play. The last nine minutes of the game, I was coaching every bounce. It’s like I was 35 again. Went home and passed out.”

On if Gabriel had a breakthrough moment recently

“You have to ask him, but I’m proud of him. I really am. And we all know: If he and Derek do what they did and Malik will give us – then all of a sudden.”