Coach John Calipari’s post-game press conference was a bit different after Kentucky’s 85-69 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday. Almost every question stemmed from De’Aaron Fox’s injury that ended his evening early in the first half.
It took a while for the Wildcats to find their footing without their point guard, but thanks to the contributions of Dominique Hawkins (5 points, 7 assists), Derek Willis (12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 murderous dunk), and Wenyen Gabriel (11 points, 5 rebounds) they managed to
cover the spread. cruise to yet another victory in SEC play.
Kentucky was led in scoring by Malik Monk (27) and Bam Adebayo (18). In addition to being without Fox for most the game, Isaiah Briscoe had a tough night in committing 7 turnovers without managing to score a single point.
Given the circumstances, it is encouraging to see the young Wildcats perform so well. Coach Cal seemed to agree with that sentiment. See below for a full transcript of his post-game comments, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q. What’s the latest on De’Aaron Fox?
“I don’t know exactly. It’s not swelled. I think it might’ve been a stinger, I don’t know. Something hit his ankle, so he’s in a boot. But they said there’s no swelling, so I don’t know.”
Q. With Fox out and Mychal Mulder not available, how do you think Dominique played?”
I thought Dominique was great. You know what I'm going to hear as soon as I get home? "Why aren't you putting in Brad? If you need another guard, he's there." So, I’ve got to deal with that when I go home. Just one more thing to deal with.”
Q. What are you saying?
“I'm saying I may have to put him in. But Dom was terrific, and the other thing is, we play with Derek or Wenyen at the three every day in practice. We do. So we can play with those two on the floor. Malik has had back-to-back, you know, kind of bust kind of games. I mean, he's better than this. And at one point in the first half I just said, “Look, I'm going to go without you now. You got minute.” And what I ended up doing -- and Kenny Payne said, "Well just put Dom at point," because Dom plays point every day in practice against De'Aaron Fox. Every day. So Dom looked fine. Again, Dom had seven assists and two turnovers, and one was late when no one could get open for him. So, he did fine. I thought that Derek and Wenyen, again, they're just giving us so much now – 23 points, 12 rebounds at that position, making threes, making open shots, rebounding balls. They had 23 points combined, 12 rebounds out of that position, and then I played them some together. But it was, for us to be down that way and against a team that creates havoc because of how they play. And Frank, I tell you what, I said it to him after, the job he does is ridiculous, because he'll make you play the way he wants your team to play. They make you into a driving team and then you’ve got to be a decision-making team. They're physical. They make every shot a tough shot, and I thought our guys performed and were prepared, knew where to throw balls because of how they play.”
Q. It was 18:29 to go in the game, they scored two quick buckets, I think it was 47-42. You called a timeout. You and Briscoe were barking at each other and then the team got better. What was the barking?
“I just told him, “You got a minute to get going and you're out and I'll go without you. Because you're not going to do this.” And he goes, "I'm okay, I'm okay." And I go, “All right, you got one minute, if you're okay, to play and then I'm going without you.” And then I put Dom at point guard and then he didn't have every second on his shoulder. And then he started making plays and coming up with balls. I was on him throughout the rest of the game where we're up again 16 and 17 and one of our big guys rebounds a ball and tries to advance it. Up 16 and we lose it. Why? Just go get the ball from them. Let them know in huddles, we're not doing that. If a guy's wide open, throw. If he's not, give me the ball. We had Malik on a breakout, throwing a ball out of bounds to Bam. Why? Why did you do that? It was too risky. Don't throw it. And those are things that we just have to learn, because every time we do it, we let the team back in the game. That's a team that's going to win a lot of games. There was a lot of stuff that happened in our league today. Crazy. But let me say this, it's happening all over college basketball. It is hard to be at your best every game and if you're not, you get beat. And that's the hardest thing in what we're doing with all these young kids.I thought Isaac (Humphries) was terrific today. I told Bam after the game, you're too nice. I said I would strangle a couple of these guys that aren't throwing you the ball. If I was you, I would. You're so nice, you don't say anything. And we're throwing him the ball, but it's like it's forced. It shouldn't be forced. He's that good. I even said, “Is he selfish?” They said, “No, he's not selfish.” Well, then throw him the ball and if he's double teamed he gives it back to you.”
Q. I think you said there that Malik had had back-to-back
“Did I say Malik?
“No, Isaiah Briscoe.”
Q. And Malik today, obviously he bounced back a little bit, what was different about him, other than the ball going in the basket?
“He's been doing unbelievable work the last week. Man, he's put in his time. He's mastering his craft. We had a great practice film session. I go up to my office and I shower and I look back and he and Isaiah Briscoe are like in a full body sweat getting a workout in. That's what we need to see. My job is to get them to come together. Their job is to be responsible for themselves. Like Isaiah knows, this isn't about me or barking, it's how he played. And he said, I'm not playing well, I got to get this going. And we're not the team we need to be unless he's playing well. He had no points today. Come on. He backs into points. He had nothing today. That's okay. We still won and he was happy as heck in there, but there's a concern for him. Now it's like, come on, I know I'm better than this. The kid had seven turnovers. What? Seven turnovers. And he's not the kind of kid that does that. Not the kind of player.”
Q. It seems like a couple of weeks ago that, or a few weeks ago you were hoping Wenyen or Derek would step up. It looks like both have.
“How about Derek's dunk? I mean, that was crazy. No, they're both stepping up. I also held them accountable and said, “Look, if you guys can't get this done, I'll play a small lineup or I'll play a big lineup. It's on you.” And they're getting better. I mean, the biggest thing we do here is we make these kids be responsible for themselves and then we bring them together. A bunch of unselfish kids. I thought, again, Malik Monk, you know, he shoots 17 or 14 balls and scores 27. That's crazy. He's not out there just jacking balls. But I got to let him go some, because he just does some crazy stuff. Not being selfish, he just can score.”
Q. If your son is one of the next options, at what point do you bring Diallo into the mix and why would you resist that?
“Because I would want to play Brad, mainly. And I would tell you that, if I have to play Brad, we're going to play some more zone. All you guys out there, you basketball bennies, saying, he never plays zone. I played some zone today, how did it look? Three, three, basket. Okay. Now you know why I don't play zone. No, we're not, that's not even in the cards.He's working hard. He's been here three, four days, and we have a kid on campus who knows him and he says, man, look at him. He's getting better. He came here for a reason. He wants to be his best version. How good can I get? How good can I be? What I want him to do is, I want him to go after Malik and Isaiah. He's a really good on-ball defender, like really good. Like go after these guys. Make them better. If they're not practicing hard, make them look bad. But yeah, he's not in the mix.”