Ahead of the big game, head coach John Calipari met with the media on Thursday. There, Calipari discussed his young Cats, rebounding from the UCLA loss, Jarred Vanderbilt’s health, and what he likes about new Louisville coach David Padgett.
Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:
On what he got for Christmas …
“Steeler pajamas and slippers, a watch. What else? Coal. It’s not all bad when you get coal and you’re from Kentucky.”
On if he actually dropped $65 in a claw machine over the holiday …
“No, I would never. I am too cheap to drop that much money, but we were there. My two kids walked to the boardwalk, which is a couple miles. I told my wife, ‘It’s too cold. I’m not walking, but I’ll drive up there and meet them.’
“So we met them on the boardwalk and it was open. There was nobody on the boardwalk, and I can’t believe it was open but it was. I think Brad (Calipari) won something with the claw. It’s a good thing because you do end up paying $65 for a quarter bear.”
On the UCLA game and if he likes a rivalry game to get people excited …
“Got beat to everything. I don’t know. We’re going to see. We had no aggressiveness. We showed them the 12 3s that they made. We didn’t guard them. It was a set shot. We weren’t aggressive on the ball. We weren’t aggressive going after balls. It kind of reminds me of last year when we beat Arizona State by a bunch and come back, play UCLA here, get up 12, should’ve put the game away and all of the sudden it’s anybody’s game and they end up beating us in the second half. Very similar.
“This team defensively, we still have a couple of guys that aren’t desperate enough, similar to last year. You know, we followed that UCLA game up with – I hate to tell you – a game that we went to Louisville, lost, and got beat to every ball there. It’s when do you get the importance of coming up with balls that you defend together.
“I told them yesterday, ‘When the house is burning, everybody gets it. You either get the fire or the smoke, but you’re getting it.’ We have to come together and know that we have to defend better. We have to be more aggressive. We have to make easy plays.
“Again, I come back to when you don’t want to grind it, you have to make a layup look difficult because you want to do the hero plays every fifth time down the floor versus I’m just laying this in. I have to add. The pass, instead of just throwing it to the guy, I have to look away, take a bounce and then throw it sideways. I don’t want to grind it out every possession.
“It takes time to break through that. We had a good practice yesterday and we’ll see if we have a good one today.”
On how Rick Pitino’s absence will affect this game …
“I don’t think my guys (will notice) one way or another. For us, it will be you’re playing a game after a loss, you’re playing a game after Christmas, let’s see how we perform. For us, my guys, if you ask them, I don’t think they’d – knowing my guys, they don’t even know. They may go into the game, ‘Where is he?’ If I didn’t show, they probably wouldn’t even know I wasn’t there.”
On if there’s something good about having inexperienced guys going into a storied rivalry …
“I don’t know. After the UCLA game I would say no, but prior to that, young guys, sometimes that’s a good thing.”
On how the guys have looked coming out of Christmas break …
“We’re OK. We had a good practice yesterday.”
On his message to the team when they returned after Christmas …
“Hope you had a great time with your family. Now we get back to work. Let’s get better. I told them, ‘I wasn’t mad about the game.’ I don’t think in those terms. I’m not angry with anybody. I’m not mad. My thing is how do I get them to play different? If they’re unaggressive, I created a culture that was unaggressive. If they’re not beating anybody to 50/50 balls, that is a culture that’s been created. Well, that’s my job – to change that culture and get them back to being aggressive and attacking and being a scrap kind of game.
“Sometimes it’s one after the other. The other thing is, I thought you win some games, then you’re arrogant and you revert back. So those are all things that I’ve gotta keep in check. And I told them, ‘I’m not mad. I’m asking questions of myself. Are you asking questions of yourself?’ There’s the one that when you’re young you’re not ready for and you love hearing alibis. That they’ll alibi for you. Everybody there, I said, ‘If you didn’t play well, raise your hand.’
“They all did except for Wenyen (Gabriel). And I thought Wenyen played well. Everyone else was like, some guys no-showed. I said we played a game last year, Malik (Monk) no-showed us. Like, went from 47 (points) to a goose egg. What? I mean, these are young kids. They’re not computers. Just try to get them in a fighting mode and see if that is good enough. May not be.
“The tape I’m watching, I think Dave (Padgett) is doing a great job with this team. He’s putting them in great positions and situations. They’ve had a lot of battles, most of them they’ve won. Couple of them they should have won. The two they lost, they probably should have won. They had the games real late. Had a chance.
“Big guys, the returning players are all playing well. They’re making shots. When they make shots, they beat you big, but they’ve won games without making shot where they’ve made, four, five, six 3s.”
On if this team is pushing the idea of playing more zone defense on him …
“I don’t think they want to, but I just – like I said – there are times that we’re gonna have to play zone. We’re big and long, but you can’t look at zone as a way of backing up. You’re looking at zone as a way of disrupting, of changing the pace, of changing. We have played zone earlier, that’s how we played. In that game, we kind of got lucky.
“We weren’t as aggressive. We gave up the 3 in the corner, we gave up some other shots he just happened to miss. You gotta play zone harder than you play man, and you have to talk more in the zone than you do in the man. And we’re still learning that. We’re still, like I said, experimenting both offensively and defensively. Trying some different presses.
“Again, you cannot press, unless you’re aggressive. UCLA, we were three steps from the guy. So he stood there and like, what? Just threw it to that guy. You’ve gotta be up in him and occupy his eyes. Occupy the guy’s eyes so he’s not looking around. These guys are like, whooo? That man. I mean, literally when I watched it I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’
“And again, then that’s a culture that I’ve accepted. So, like I said, I’m not mad at anybody. We’re a young team. Stuff happens, and hopefully it was a one-off, but we’re finding out because we play this one and guess what?
“We start league on Sunday. So this stuff comes, and then we’ve got two road games, and they’re waiting in the weeds for us, those two teams. And then we play and this thing comes real fast now.”
On if he’s changed anything in practice regarding defense …
“Part of it is doing drills, and playing more to make them more competitive. You just think about the guys that I coach here. I have to get you to play? I thought you wanted to do this for a living. And I’ve gotta get you to play? Then you’re kidding yourself. No, no, no. You’re going to play, but it’s YMCA; it ain’t going to be NBA. You’ve gotta want this. It ain’t me pushing you.
“Now, my thing is let’s put in the drills, let’s put in the competitiveness to let them get after each other. And again, they don’t play great. We all forget last year some of the games we didn’t play great, and especially early, we weren’t a great defensive team. By the end of the year, we were one of the best defensive teams in the country. Early in the year, we were doing the same things this team is doing.
“But, like I said, this is a great challenge. I don’t know how football teams do it where you play one day and then you’ve got a week to have to deal with what just happened. It stinks. I would rather play back to back. Just play, let’s get that last one, that taste out of our mouth.”
On sharing the spotlight with football for the “biggest game of the season …”
“This game is? Well, there may be in some minds; it’s not in my mind the biggest game of the year. The last game ends up being the biggest game. That game is you go forward. But, I hope the football team wins. I hope we win. Both of us are up against it. It’s going to be hard.
“And I’m happy for what they’ve been able to do. I think it’s a great bowl and I think it’s great for our fans. That we’re playing on the same day, I mean, I guess we had to do it. Didn’t’ know what was going to happen with football or where the bowl would fall so you just put a schedule together and it happened to fall there.
“I’m excited for Mark (Stoops) and what’s he done. I’m excited for the recruiting. I’m happy that they had an early signing period where they could get some guys in check and know who they had, which is a big deal.”
On how concerned he is with rebounding in a zone …
“Well, you should be fine because you’re rebounding areas. What happened in the last game is again, a couple balls went back towards where the guards should have been and our guards weren’t there; they were out of position. But we should be (a good rebounding team) because of our length. Again, this is we’re playing a team that really goes after the glass and they’re long. They’re as big as we are. They’re as long as we are.”
On Jarred Vanderbilt’s status …
“Hasn’t started practicing so. I think I saw that he’s working out individually but he has not started. Haven’t asked him. We’ll see when he’s going to be capable of doing it.”
On what he remembers about his first UK-Louisville game …
“Boy, that was a long time ago. Was it at our place or their place? [Reporter: It was at UK. Louisville tried pushing Eric Bledsoe around.] Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s not the good guy to push around. The one thing you found out about in that game is you’re not intimidating. You’re not going to intimidate us and we’re not trying to intimidate you. That’s not how I coach. But that wasn’t working, and it became two teams fighting like crazy. Every game has been a great game. Two scrappy teams that aren’t playing. It’s always a good game.”
On how impressed he is with Louisville and how things have come together for them given what the team has been through …
“No, I am. I think David’s done a great job. They’re pressing. They’re doing some of the things that he’s learned. Some of the zone stuff is the same. They’re pressing at times out of it. Some of the man stuff is the same but some of it is his own. Some of the stuff that he is using is really creative stuff. It’s good and it plays to his team, so yeah, I think he’s doing a good job. I really do.”