The Kentucky Wildcats picked up their seventh win of the season on Saturday. It wasn’t easy, but the Cats held on for a 79-70 win over a hot-shooting Harvard squad.
Don’t tell John Calipari that his team won. Despite leading by as many as 20 points, the Cats had far too many stretches of bad basketball to put a smile on Cal’s face. Instead, it a was a look of displeasure and frustration during Cal’s postgame press conference.
“I’ve done this 30 years, I’m not saying I’m a genius,” stated Cal. “I’m not saying I’m the best. I’m not saying that I could even do this, but I do know what winning looks like, and it doesn’t look like what we’re doing right now.”
That’s disheartening to hear for a 7-1 team, but it’s the truth. These Cats aren’t where they need to be in order to beat Louisville, UCLA and a daunting SEC schedule.
Here is everything Cal said after the win, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q: John, you'd said a couple times this week about don't get carried away with how things are going. Was this an example of that today of there's going to be issues at this stage?
JOHN CALIPARI: The issue with this team – and it’s just going to take time and I’ve got to demand it – if you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every time, especially with young kids. Playing winning basketball, there are stretches that we don't play winning basketball. I'm just going to make whatever play I want to make. We broke off plays at the end and guys just – why did you do that? Well, I was thinking of the tree, and then the bike came out, and the car almost hit me. What? I mean, why did you do that? So, we had a bunch of those today.
But let me give Harvard credit. They shot the ball. Tom (Amaker) did a great job of putting his people in positions. It was another good game for us to play where a team's not just going to give us a win. This team needs that.
Again, we got some guys that should be better defenders that are just getting beat. Again, look, we hold them to 37 percent, but we don't outrebound them the way we should. I'll have to go look at it and see what it is, but we make our free throws. You know, there was some good stuff, but I'm expecting more.
The biggest thing is, like I told them, you will not be in the game, and if we have to lose games because you're going to sit out, that's just how it is because we are going to play. When you get up 18, you're not just doing it, like, OK, I'm breaking off now. I'm doing my own thing. That's freshmen.
Q. What you saw from Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards today, is that a winning formula?
JOHN CALIPARI: Sacha got exhausted. Sacha almost passed out in the hallway at halftime when he came off the court. I didn't know who was behind me. I thought someone was going to get an ambulance.
Again, like, OK. You've got minutes now. You got to be able to – you don't just stay out there and get exhausted. But, again, they're doing better. Nick's doing better.
P.J. (Washington) got in foul trouble, and I told him at the half, when a guy gets two fouls, I'm not losing the game in the first half if we're OK without you. I'm not going to do that. I never have. So I left guys out that had two fouls, which is what I'm going to do in league play, so we've got to get used to it, and I've got to get used to it.
Q. Will they benefit more from the semester break that's coming up soon?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, it all depends. I mean, they'll benefit if they're choosing to benefit and really focus on what this team needs them to do. Like there are certain guys that are playing a certain way, they can't have success. They're going to turn it over, they can't make plays, and, you know, you have baskets you can make. On every team there are play starters, there are play makers and there are finishers. The issue you have when your finishers try to be play makers, it leads to turnovers. So we've got that right now.
You're a finisher, score the ball, shoot the ball. Well, I'm not sure I'll make it. Then get in the gym at night and shoot more, but you're a finisher. You're not a play starter. So we've got some of that rolling right now. But this team should be a great defensive team. This team should be a great rebounding team, and we're not right now. This team should be a team that can beat you different ways, scoring, shooting, I mean, we missed a bunch of threes. I wanted Quade (Green) to take them, but I could tell he didn't feel like he had it, so he passed up probably three or four 3s that I wanted him to take. I'm telling him on the side, "Shoot it." He didn't want to shoot it. Then when he did shoot it, he missed, so he knew before I knew. That's why he wasn't shooting them.
But we have to have guys that are willing to take the shots. We've got enough guys that can make them. I liked that Kevin (Knox) was driving the ball and doing some good stuff that way. But we've got a ways to go.
Q. This team needs games like this where the other team competes. What do you hope they can get out of it, the big lessons?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, they've got to be reflective on the self-reflective. You've got to look at what you're being asked to do, and are you really listening or you're not listening. And if you're arguing the point, this is going to be a long time before it changes. If you understand that, all right, I've got to change and I've got to get this right. The stuff we'll do over break will really help, because guys will focus on the areas they need to focus on.
If you're delusional, like delusional, and you're good, I'm good, well, you're really going to change? How are you going to change? You can't accept you need to change. So, I've told them over and over and I'll say it again, I'm asking the impossible of this team, but that's what I do for a living. I'm asking individuals to do stuff that's probably impossible for them to do right now. But I'm asking them to try and strive and do it. There are guys that will break through, and there are other guys that will look for alibis or whatever.
This team is a bunch of good guys. They're really trying. They're really trying to please me. They just don't know yet, and they shouldn't. I'm playing all freshmen. They shouldn't. But I'm expecting them to make strides, especially when we get up a bunch that we don't revert. We play the game as though it's a four-point game because we're going to have a bunch of those. We've got this weekend on the road, and then we've got four games, bam, bam, bam. Just believe me, you could go 0-4 in that stretch of games, easy.
Q. During that second half when you guys pushed out, you've been kind of struggling offensively, but that happened because of your defense.
JOHN CALIPARI: Right.
Q. Do you feel that that identity could be emerging here? That we could be a great defense?
JOHN CALIPARI: Then we get up and we have two or three guys that back up and stand up and lose their man. You know, we break off. But, again, it's what freshmen do. All right, I did it. Now I'm tired and I'm going to take a few plays off. You can't do that here. You don't take plays off. You sub yourself. You're jogging the floor, come out. Don't make me have to sub you. You sub yourself. We're not subbing for missed shots or turnovers. If I did that, folks, we'd have a lot of subs.
But I will sub for energy. You're not talking, you're not helping your teammate. You don't dive on the floor. You don't come up with the tough rebound, I'll take you out. That's all energy and effort. That should be expected of everybody. And they know they have the ability to sub themselves out and then if they do, they tell me I'm ready to go, and they go back in. Basically, they're subbing themselves in and out. Unless you never in your life will sub yourself, and I've got a couple of those, I am staying in the game.
Q. Any thoughts on the passing of Perry Wallace who broke the color barrier in the SEC?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, it's a sad day. I always say whether it's Sam Newton or others, the courage that they had, and I always wonder if I were put in that situation, would I have the courage to do the right thing? And a lot of times the right thing is not popular. I would hope that I would. That I would go against the grain, which I've tried to do most of my career, but I don't know.
I mean, would I have the courage enough to say I'm doing right even though it's going to hurt my career? Or I'm doing right even though this is going to be the most uncomfortable thing that I could do, but I know it's right? And I'm going to do right? I don't know if I were put in that situation.
I know this: When Sam Newton was put in that situation, you know what he did. When they had players come in the SEC or Kentucky or other places, they had to have courage now. And they had to know – I don't know at the time if they thought what they were doing was groundbreaking, but it was.
Q. What happened on the technical on Nick Richards in the first half?
JOHN CALIPARI: He said something. He came over and apologized. I mean, I said, what are you doing? Why would you do that? Coach, come on, I'm a freshman. I do stuff. Yeah, you're right. There was a lot of freshman stuff out there today.
Q. Was the second tech on you? What happened there?
JOHN CALIPARI: Just what I demand of officials is just be consistent. If you're going to call one here, then call one there, I'm fine. But that's my whole thing. I've always been that way. If he's not consistent, I'm going to let him know. But the officials had nothing to do with this.
Q. We saw a little bit of Sacha and Nick together in the first half. Is that a lineup you could use more often or is that just foul trouble?
JOHN CALIPARI: Sacha's been playing a lot of that in practice, as a matter of fact, he's playing a lot more of that than he's playing in Nick's space. But, yeah, we can do it. We can be really big then. Now all of a sudden you're like, holy cow, are we big. But, like I said, we've got a lot of work to do in what we're trying to do. They're going to be off tomorrow and then we're going to have two or three good days and then give them an individual work day, then get ready for the trip this weekend. Then come back and probably give them off Sunday next week. Then we've got a bunch of days to get ready for another really hard game. Then we have another off day.
We've got time. But it's got to be a team full of guys saying tell us what we have to do to win. What's winning look like? And I told them after the game, I've done this 30 years, I'm not saying I'm a genius. I'm not saying I'm the best. I'm not saying that I could even do this. But I do know what winning looks like, and it doesn't look like what we're doing right now.
If you want to argue with me, I can't get us to where we need to go. And they're good. Look, I'm maybe sounding frustrated, but when you think about what I'm asking these kids to do, they should not be able to do this. They're all freshmen. They're all freshmen. We're in the top 10 defensive efficiency in the country, and I'm not pleased. What? Because I think we could even be better.
I'm not pleased with our rebounding, and we're a pretty good rebounding team. Well, why don't we try to be the best? You can't be the best with all freshmen. Cool out, man. You're old right now. Just relax. You're getting angry and nasty, you're too old to be doing this anymore.
Some of you are too old to be doing what you're doing, so don't smile at me.