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John Calipari talks point guards, rebounding, turnovers and more after loss to Kansas

Calipari is still trying to figure out how to manage the point guard situation.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Blue-White Game Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday didn’t go the way Kentucky Wildcats fans had hoped, but you still have to admire how hard hard such a young team fought against a top-five, veteran-heavy Kanas team.

But in a game that matched the two winningest Division I hoops programs, the Jayhawks prevailed after the two teams spent most of the second half trading baskets and leads.

It was the kind of game Kentucky could have easily won, but Kansas could have dominated as well. It was just a matter of shots falling, and on this night, a few more fell for Kansas.

After the game, John Calipari recapped the narrow defeat, what he liked seeing from his young Cats, and what he hopes to improve on going forward. He also admitted he’s still trying to figure out the point guard situation, especially when it comes to crunch time.

“I’ve just got to figure out how to play with four minutes to go,” said Calipari. “Who do I have on the floor? I should have had two point guards on the floor at that time. Do we go smaller? I don’t know.

“This is going to be a process of hit or miss, see what we like. When it works, we’ll all know that’s what we should be doing.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say:

On the play of Sacha Killeya-Jones

“He’s getting better and better. I mean, you have to understand, he was one of the youngest freshmen in the country a year ago. He was 17. So he’s 18 years old, basically a freshman. The shot he made at the foul line because they weren’t playing Nick (Richards), I just told him, ‘If you get it there, shoot it.’ He said, ‘You want me to shoot that?’ ‘Yes, I do.’

“There are things that – I’ll give you a couple things. They were throwing over the top and we were absolutely trying to get our weakside guys over there. OK. But they’re freshmen. The ball moved, bam, bam, bam and then the guy that was on the weakside would just forget it. So, the adjustment is you go three-quarter and kind of let them throw it in and then trap. But we have all these young guys, you can’t.

“I’m trying to get them to think less and play more, and just worry about competing. Late in the game, that’s not on those kids. We haven’t worked on late-game situations. We’re still working on slide, stay in front of people, help the guy when he drives. I thought we did a much better job of staying in front of people, but there was a conscious effort to say, ‘Hey, man, we can’t let thishappen.’ Now, they still got to the lane on us, but it was …

“I was stunned we were down one at half when we gave up 15 offensive rebounds and we had one. But I was very clear, if we didn’t rebound we would have no chance of winning the game. I thought we rebounded pretty good in the second half.”

On what adjustments they made to get back in the game after trailing by 11 in the first half

“It became about coaching at that point and I just kind of. <Sarcasm>

“I’ll be honest with ya, I didn’t even look at the score until near the half. In games like this, a lot of times I won’t. I’ll know there’s a 6-0 run and I need to call a timeout because, you won’t believe this, I’m watching the game. But I don’t have to watch the score because that would get me thinking different, especially in the first half. When you have young players you have to let them play through without calling timeouts like you’re bailing them out. They have to bail themselves out. I was proud. The time I looked up it was 28-28 and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s 28-28, we’re in this thing.’

“We have so much teaching. The thought of what I have to do, and our staff has to do, is kind of tiring to me. Like, I don’t want to think about it. We just walked on line-throughs, we just worked on if we get double teamed before the last game. We just started working on it.

“I still don’t know how we’re going to play late in a close game. Obviously, I thought Quade (Green) was going to throw that lob and he shot it. He’s a freshman. We had a lot of those, ‘I’m going to get mine.’ Like, passes. ‘Why would you throw it there? Just throw it here to there to there.’ ‘I can make that pass.’ ‘Well, it was turned over.’ We had 18 turnovers today and most of them were not, like, forced turnovers. They were like us trying to make a hard play, which is what freshmen do.”

On the play of freshman forward Kevin Knox

“Yeah, we’re a better 3-point shooting team than we did today. I mean, usually Quade, Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and those kids are not that bad. Other than Kevin, he was the one guy, but we’re still trying to get him to do the hardest thing. If the ball swings along the perimeter, don’t shoot 3s. If the ball goes inside and out to you, shoot it. Shoot the 3. If it swings along the perimeter, drive it. You get it in the lane and you shoot that runner. But you’re gonna get bumped and you’re gonna get hit. It’s way easier to shoot a 3. So, even the last play, he probably wasn’t ready for that. I just said, ‘We’re throwing it to Kevin, you get a shot.’ How about that? That’s great offense. Da-da-da-da, throw it Kevin, get a shot. I knew it was going to be tough, but I need to put these kids in those situations. Let’s see who can make a shot. Let’s see who can make a free throw.

“Again, you can learn about your team in games like this. We have a chance. Not every guy on our team played well. Then we had some guys that did not play well. Fine. They’re not computers, they’re not playing great every night out. But I need them to come in every day to practice to play great and play great in games even though you’re not going to. You come in with that mentality. We’re a ways away to being what we need to be, but playing in a game like this, in that environment and have a chance to win? Wow. Bunch of freshmen did pretty good.”

On if he wished he could combine his two point guards

“Shai had six turnovers today. Come on. I gotta go look at it. It didn’t appear as though he had six because we had to put him on (Devonte’) Graham and I thought he did a pretty good job on Graham. And that kid’s one of the best scorers in the country. But, we had three guys have 14 turnovers. Three. I’m going to have to go back and look at them with the players and say, ‘Was that necessary? What would have been an easier play?’

“We had a one-handed – and the guys who know me in this room, one-handed rebounds and catches drives me, I mean, I lose my mind. So, we had a one-handed rebound late in the game. My guy reached with one hand, doesn’t bring it in and they score a two. We go down the other end, another rebound and we fumble it and they score again. Well, that’s the ball game. Just grabbing balls.

“Again, I gotta keep being positive with these guys, and I gotta keep picking them up, and I gotta keep teaching, and coaching, and encouraging, and prodding. I can’t accept what they’re giving. I gotta keep pushing them. I’ve been very hard on these guys in practice, probably harder on this group than any team I’ve coached in my – how many years have I been at Kentucky? (Nine) So, it’s dog years I’ve been there 63. This is year 63. So, in all that time, this is the team I’ve been hardest on. And I’m not talking about mean. I’m talking about how we’re practicing, what I’m accepting, what I’m not accepting, how I’m holding them accountable more than any team I’ve had, and I’m trying to be lighter in the games. I’m trying to clap. I have to stand. We don’t have a leader yet, so I have to lead. I don’t want to lead. I’m too old to lead. I’m too old to stand the whole game, but they need me in that role right now because no one has taken this yet. It develops. It’ll develop over time.”

On the Champions Classic in the midst of controversy in the sport

“Well this is always a great event. This started, it was my idea, but having these teams be willing to come in and play in these games, it’s a big deal. It’s really good for the program. It’s good for the sport. Obviously TV’s happy. I don’t know what the first game looked like, but I imagine it was a pretty good game. Our game was ugly, but it was close. So that made it good.

“But it’s, you know—playing Vermont who’s going to win 30 games. Now you’re playing Kansas who’s going to win—and they’re two of our first three. We’re probably not ready for this, but it’s like throwing to the wolves and let’s go. Let’s figure this out.

“I’ve just gotta figure out how do we play with four minutes to go. What’s the team? Who do I have on the floor? I should have had two point guards on the floor at that time. Do we go smaller? I don’t know. This is going to be a process of hit or miss, see what we like and when it works we’ll all know that’s what we should be doing. But you have a bunch of blocks. We’re a long team.

“You know what was really funny? We were going to come in and I was going to play 40 minutes of zone. We were. My staff talked me out of it. And then I heard Duke played zone the whole. Like, the whole game. And I was going to do it simply to see if we can really play it then we’ll have to play it against this team. And then naturally I didn’t play one down of it, but I had come in with the idea. Like, let’s just throw it up and play zone the whole game. I laughed and I said look at—when you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do.”

On improved on-ball defense and the post defense

“The post was not bad. It was that they were clearing out the weak side and we couldn’t keep—we were telling them to keep a guy there. And he’s run that for years. Those swing, interchange on the weak side, throw it right over the top. He’s run it—if anybody’s watched him, he’s done it for years. The on-ball defense, we’ve been absolutely just telling guys, ‘You got a responsibility.’ We told them, ‘Give them a little space if you need to.’ You can’t turn and run where you’re trailing the guy. You gotta lunge and stay in front and you gotta guard people a yard on each side of you. You can’t let them just drive straight-line drives, which is what we were doing. And if you make them drive like that, we call can help and guard and our length plays a part. But if they drive like that, which is what they’ve been doing, you can’t—there is no help. And even today, when they turned corners and ran downhill on us, they got layups. The other one that really bothered me was when number 10 (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) got a breakout layup. Come on, not in a game like this. That was late. Like, late. I had to call a timeout. And again, we had three guys back there and guess what. No one said, ‘I got him.’ But that’s freshmen. I just know that every game we play we gotta figure out how do we get better and then how do we play late in games? What do we do? What does our offense look like late in the game?”