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John Calipari previews Kentucky vs South Carolina

Coach Cal previews USC, talks improvements he’s hoping to see, and what to make of all these fouls with SEC refs.

Kentucky v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to host South Carolina for a Saturday clash of the SEC’s top two teams.

Kentucky enters this weekend 16-2 and 6-0 in SEC play. While they may be unbeaten in league play, the Cats have had to grind out wins recently with narrow escapes from Vandy and Mississippi State.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, John Calipari spoke with the media about the Gamecocks, his young team improving and more.

Here is a recap of it all, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On UK having the second-highest scoring offense, South Carolina being defensively sound as well and what UK has to do to be successful

The one thing they’re going to do is get offensive rebounds. We’ve had teams not send anybody to the glass. Again, what he’s (South Carolina head coach Frank Martin) been able to do down there to build it year to year. To lose their whole front line. They lost good players and they came back to be able to do what they’re doing – being undefeated in our league and win games on the road like at Georgia, which is just am impossible place to try to win a game.

“They led from start to finish. Rebounding? They do it. Giving you a tough shot? They do it. They have full rotations as well. They’ll bring four guys to the ball. If you drive, they’re bringing three to four guys at you. I have to give them credit. I’ve always liked Frank. He knows that, and I’ve always respected him as a coach. I know how he doesn’t baby kids. He’s coaching them.

“You watch him. I need our fans to watch him closely because he’s harder on his guys than I am on our guys. You guys think I’m hard. But I respect that. That means he has a great relationship with the guys.”

On Sindarius Thornwell

He’s like one of those guys that can score baskets. He can rebound. They play him at the four at times when they go small. Now they have four guards and he’s a pick-and-pop guy or they just run their action. They’ll give him the ball and just say drive it. When he’s going against fours, he’s like a two or three with size. He’s really good and he’s tough. He’s physical. This is another team that will be scrappy.

“Auburn played that way. Mississippi State played that way. They’re going to come to play and they’re not backing down. They’re coming in with an expectation, and it’s going to be a hard game for us.”

On how he felt about how many fouls are being called

People must be fouling. Let me just make my position clear. I think we’ve got to keep calling fouls, but you have to make sure they’re fouls. So there are some replays that you look at and you say, ‘Well, that wasn’t even close to a foul.’ Those shouldn’t be called, but I mean, there’s a forearm on a drive, there’s a body check on a big, those should be automatic calls. Call the fouls on both teams.

“If one team is fouling and the other team is not, that’s when you have those kind of fouls called. Because you’re feeling like, I can’t call them all against the other team. But why not if they’re fouling every play? If the other team isn’t fouling, don’t call them. That’s when you get asked, ‘How can they call that a foul?’ How can they call this a foul?’

“Call the game the way we all want it to be. We want freedom of motion. We don’t want a guy driving to get banged three times before he shoots a layup and you say, ‘Why did he miss the layup?’ Well, probably because they guy has a finger in his eyeball, and his knee and his thigh it probably affected the layup. So I am about calling fouls that are fouls. If the game is physical it should be called.”

On referees having fear about physicality of games

“No. They’re being told to call fouls. The only issue is there’s some that aren’t fouls that they’re calling. I mean, if you look and everybody is like, wow. The TV, the people, the fans and everybody says, ‘Well, no one even touched anybody how did they call that? Probably not a foul they should’ve called.

“But look, I don’t blame officials. I don’t. You know, they’re not perfect. I appreciate it when an official comes over to me and says, ‘I missed that.’ And then I don’t say anything. Um, you know, these guys, they have got a tough job. And I said it the other day: When you are officiating our game and it is this fast and you have to run five times to try and stay up with these guys and then there’s a play happening in front of you, there are going to be some fandom calls. What foul? ‘Well, I thought I saw it.’ It’s a mirage. You just ran seven times up and back.

“It’s hard. But, you know, they’re doing what they’ve been told to do, which is if it’s physical play, call a foul. I am all for it.”

On a lot of foul calls on the offensive end

“Yeah, we are trying to tell Bam (Adebayo), if you put your hand out away from your body, you are giving them a chance to call an offensive foul. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Keep your hands tight. When he goes like that, they have a right to call that, even if you looked at it and said, well, there was not a whole lot of contact.

“Well, yeah, but you gave him a chance to call it. The other thing is on a drive, if a guy puts that forearm on you and you are driving the ball, or hip checks you, that is supposed to be a foul every time whether my guys do it or the other guy does it. Call it a foul. I mean, does anyone really want the game to go back where they can just beat the crap out of each other?

“I mean, I don’t think anybody does. I mean, I support what they are trying to do. As a matter of fact, I was one of the voices behind it. Call the fouls. Now, we all adjust how we coach, and I am telling my team, ‘There are games where you are playing and they are calling it really close. Well, then adjust You’re in the game seeing it. You have got to adjust.’ ”

On why it seems like there are mores skirmishes in basketball this season

“I don’t know. I am just watching our games. And I think, again, there is a frustration level when you are playing us. When you have practiced two weeks to play our game and you’re fighting and you’re in the game a little bit and then all the sudden it gets away from you, I think there is a frustration that develops.

“I have to beat Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky and then you push a guy. I mean, come on. There is no one in there fighting anybody, but there is a frustration level when you are playing us. We have seen it. I have been here eight years and I have probably seen that 50 times, and I get it.”

On being if he was still upset at Malik Monk for hanging on the rim last game

“Yeah. It wasn’t (as bad as it looked) but why do it? Here is what I am trying to explain to him: He is so good. J playing hard and making easy plays, you will do three outrageous things that they will put on SportsCenter. Not even trying. You are trying to get on SportsCenter.

“And if you remember, John Wall, when I went through that with John Wall, I said the same thing: ‘John, you don’t have to lose your mind and do something nutty. Just play hard and you’re going to make a play.’ Then he goes one for nine, but that one play was so outrageous they put it on SportsCenter. He’s the same. But they are young – 18- and 19-year-olds.

“So, he (Isaiah Briscoe) and Malik just played bad last game and they had to go hug Derek (Willis) and Wenyen (Gabriel) for that. So the hug went the other way this time. Those two saved those two guards. ”

On Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel stepping forward after last game

“Oh yeah. Big. It is big to build your own confidence. You know, I keep telling Derek, ‘I know you are working on defense, I know you are trying, but you hang your hat on making shots. Not dribbling, spinning, throwing passes. Not cross-court passes for baskets for them. You can’t. Just shoot it, make an easy play. That is who you are.

“That is the strength of your game. Offensive rebounds. Fly in transition. Dunk balls. Work on your defense.’ But is he ever going to be a defensive stopper? He is a senior. He is what he is. Be the best version of that. How do we get you even better knowing what you are as a player? ”

On this team being different in terms of confidence and other mental factors

“ I don’t know because I can’t remember year to year, but I can tell you we have a ways to go. I am going to explain some of this stuff today. We are going to meet for about five minutes in looking at what we are as a team offensively and where we have to go; looking at where we are defensively as a team and where we have to go.

“And a bunch of that is you have to do your job. If you don’t do your job, no one’s trusting anybody. Just one guy that doesn’t do his job and what he is supposed to breaks down the total trust of your team, the unit. That is what we are having. We are just going to work on it.

“It is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. We are starting four freshmen. Starting four freshmen. We are playing two sophomores. There are younger teams than us – like two. It is a process. It happens.

On Isaiah Briscoe

“I had a call and I called him into the office. Two or three people called, basketball people, after the Mississippi State game, and said that he is so much better as a player. It’s incredible. He’s making free throws. He can make perimeter shots. His decision making. And he’s even better defensively and in rebounding that he was a year ago. It’s incredible.

“So when I called him in, I asked him how he thought he played, ‘I was awful.’ I said, ‘You were awful, but let me tell you about the calls I got about you. Part of the reason this is happening, instead of blaming me that you were awful – like a year ago – you’re taking responsibility for yourself. This is your performance not mine, and that’s how you’re getting better.’ Last night we had a team picture, a short film session, we practiced for two hours, they had a film session with the coaches for another 15-20 minutes.

“While they were in there, I went to take a shower, looked out of my window and Malik (Monk] and Isaiah Briscoe are doing a full body workout, totally soaked, going again. I’m proud of that. That makes me feel great because they have to master their craft. They have to be responsible for their own performance and not blame. If you blame you’re not getting better, but if you take responsibility you’ll get better. You’ll figure it out.”

On if he knew Karl-Anthony Towns going on the air a couple of games ago to talk about the program

“I didn’t know he called in. What did he do? No one tells me anything around here, just so you know that. They put stuff on my Twitter – YOLO – don’t tell me. So what happened? He’s the best. He didn’t Mississippi State after the chin-up, did he? ‘I did that against LSU.’ He didn’t do that? Oh no! Did it for the other one.”

On players being ambassadors like that for the program

“It’s what this is about here. I mean, we’ve got a bunch of them trying to get to the Kansas game. We want to come. This guy, this guy, that guy. Five or six of them. They’re connected to the place. They understand that they have people here who care about them and love them and were a part of what they had to do and look after them.

“Again, they’re in that league and they’re responsible for their performance. They understand that. It’s like Andrew (Harrison) when he went to the D league. He said it was what he needed to get himself right and then he goes up and does all the good stuff he’s been doing. It’s good for them and I appreciate the fact that they look back on this experience with good feelings.”