Kentucky used their length and athleticism, and fed off of a rabid Rupp Arena crowd, to blitz Louisville in a 90-61 victory.
After trading early runs with the Cardinals, who saw many of their bigs get into foul trouble in the first half, the Wildcats ripped off a 17-2 run to take control of the game. They then outscored UofL 26-12 in the first ten minutes of the second half to turn it into a Big Blue rout.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the MVP of the game, coming off the bench to score 25 points, grab five rebounds, and dish out four assists. He continually took the ball to the rim, and his three steals were part of a terrific defensive game.
Calipari’s post-game comments were very praising of his team, and he said that he will no longer call them “freshmen” after this performance. He also said this was the most complete performance of the year, and praised multiple players individually for their hustle and desire.
Read the full transcript of his comments below, courtesy of UK Athletics.
JOHN CALIPARI: That's as good as we play. The fans in Louisville should not be – I mean, their team has played well, and as a matter of fact, should have beat Purdue. They had them. Should have beat – I mean – the Seton Hall kid made like a runner at the buzzer. So what they did today, we just played about as well as we can play, and mainly because we finally competed and battled for an entire game.
Now, I had to sub some guys because we started reverting, and I just wasn't going to let it happen, even late the last two minutes because we're still learning. But I really like their team. They did not make shots today, thank goodness for us, but they're a 40 percent 3-point shooting team.
You saw when they started going in the post, I had to go zone because they were going to score. They scored like three straight buckets to start the half and we went zone.
David has done a good job with this team, and we just -- they hit us on a bad night. I mean, this is one of our better games.
Shai was ridiculous. I thought Quade, the way he started the game, I liked the lineup of Quade, Shai and Hami, a little bit smaller but I liked that lineup. Nick -- they're not computers, folks, and you saw that today. It's not a computer game. Nick was not good at all. But that's okay. Next game. Sacha was good. Wenyen did the stuff that he's doing for us. Hami -- and PJ played in my opinion his best game of the year.
Now we've got a quick flip. I've got to go to the office here in a minute and watch this tape, and then I've got to watch our Georgia game last year. Hopefully we didn't play them twice because then I've got to watch both of them. And then I've got to watch the last couple of times they played because we have to start tomorrow because we play Sunday afternoon, Sunday at 6 p.m. That's my afternoon.
Q. Knowing how much this rivalry means to the program and how your rivalry with Coach Pitino over the years affected like the way fans viewed it, how did it feel to look over today and him not be there?
JOHN CALIPARI: I'm going to be honest with you, I was so worried about the game, I really didn't -- that never entered my mind. I mean, it's the next game for me. It didn't. I mean -- the one thing is obviously his imprint because of how they're playing, and I thought they'd play more zone today than they did. They tried to get into zone a couple times, but they played mostly man. Some of the pressing stuff, some of the offensive stuff, that's still stuff they've run over the past years.
Q. What exactly got into Shai today? He was really in attack mode from start to finish driving. Seemed really confident finishing. Did you see something in a matchup there?
JOHN CALIPARI: Let me tell you the biggest thing if you were watching. Most of you here don't watch the game, you're just tweeting and doing stuff. But if you happen to glance at the game, what you see on his face is a smile. That kid smiles, and I asked him after -- I don't know if it's a Canadian thing. I don't know what it is. But every Canadian that I've coached has fun and smiles and doesn't feel the weight of the world on them. I've got some guys still feeling the weight of the world. You can see it. They miss a shot, they shrug their shoulders, they get pushed, something happens, they -- and again, these kids are 18 and 19 years old. They're all first year in college. Nine months ago, guess what, they were playing high school. So some of it's expected, but Shai, he just plays.
Now, here's the thing with him and Kevin and even Hami. Teams are starting to collapse defensively, which means, you won't believe this, you have to pass. Like you're not going to shoot a lay-up, and you have no reason to dribble into three guys. Make that pass and be willing. We've got guys on the team we're trying to get better at that. Teams watch us, and like Louisville said, they play all one-on-one. I looked at my team, and I said, do you understand they're saying you don't pass? Pass the ball to each other. Make the game easy for each other. And I thought we did a lot of that tonight.
Q. What did you like best about PJ? Was it just his energy and his effort or was there something else?
JOHN CALIPARI: He had a way -- look, he's got to be -- a great guy for him to watch and emulate is Draymond Green. Draymond is not a bully, but he can be. He will be, but that's not what his game is. If he's open, he's shooting 3. He's making free throws. The entire time Draymond has a spirit about him that drags everybody else. See, your body language screams. It screams. And you can drag people one way or do what Draymond does and drag them the other way to get them more inspired, wanting to play. I'm just telling PJ, be that guy. I'm telling him to shoot balls. There's no one telling him not to shoot. I'm telling him to drive, but you've got to get by them and you're not trying to bully, you're trying to have a spirit about you.
But I'm proud of him, and Wenyen, I mean, again, the kid fights, and I told him after, this is who we should be every game. Now, it's hard to be that, but it's okay because I know Wenyen and Shai will be that, and if I have three others, then those are the five that will play. The rest of you won't play. I'll just play those five. And the good news is we can play zone now. So I can play those five. And when I was at UMass, I played five guys. My guards played 39 minutes, and my other guys played 37 and 38 minutes. I played five guys. I can do that.
Again, that was 30 years ago. I'm still standing, which is amazing.
Q. Yesterday you said you guys needed to defend better, needed to be more aggressive. Today you held Louisville to just 3 of 25 from 3 and 35 percent from the floor. How pleased were you with your team's effort on the defensive side of the ball?
JOHN CALIPARI: I was happy, but understand that they missed some shots today that they normally make from the 3, thank goodness. But I think, again, we contested. We made (Quentin) Snyder bounce it a couple times when he had threes and made it that tough. We tried to take as much as we could away from (Deng) Adel, make him bounce it and try to know when he bounces he's going right. But we were able to go zone and man. Look, most of my teams haven't been able to do this, press a little bit, play man-to-man, and play some zone. So we have some bullets in the gun. We're not stuck like -- at the start of the half they scored three straight baskets. I said, that's it, we're going zone. And it looked good.
Q. You always have young teams, is there a concern or how do you guard against the sense of, okay, we've got this, we've arrived?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, I told them that there was an arrogance when we played UCLA unearned, unearned. They haven't done anything yet. We haven't done anything yet. And the other team was playing us to prove individually I'm better than you, and their team collectively and their coach, we are better than you. We didn't fight. We just let it happen. Well, you can't -- if you want to do this for a living, you'd better fight or someone else is going to fight, and you're going to be watching TV. You'd better fight for what you want.
Shai hasn't had all the accolades. We've had a lot of guys in there that have been told how great they are for a long time. You start believing that. But the guy playing against you doesn't believe it. He's trying to take your heart out. And you've got to fight back. And we're learning.
I mean, I said today before the game, we're no longer freshmen, I'm not saying it anymore, we're not freshmen now. We're 10 games in, 11 games in, we are not freshmen. And the other thing I said, we've got to start smashing people. When you drop 11 in the polls, lose in a neutral game to UCLA, pretty good team, I thought we'd be out of the top 25 to be honest with you. There was a lot of hope for that.
But I still told them before the game, look, we've got a good team, and I'm not trading my team for any team.
Q. You mentioned going to the zone to help the post defense. Why isn't the post defense up to what you want?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, PJ was guarding -- I can't remember who it was that just got the ball three times. Oh, Ray Spalding. And he just got it and just jumped over him. So your option is on the second bounce to go trap, leave the court open, or you play zone. And now instead of going against PJ, he had to go against either Sacha or Nick or someone big.
But I also like the small team when Wenyen is in. Wenyen, PJ, Kevin Knox or Hami and the guards, and I liked that team, and when we went zone with that team, it was pretty good; put PJ in the middle and let Wenyen and Kevin Knox be the wings.
Q. We always love it when you self-reflect; what grade would you give yourself this year for the way you've coached this team?
JOHN CALIPARI: Look, here's what I would say. I have no rear-view mirror in my car, to just let you know. Everything I'm doing is that way. I don't look back. At some point I'm going to retire, probably sooner than later, and then I'll sit on the beach and think about games we played and players I coached and some of the worst games I've coached. There's only been a few. And then some of the -- no one laughs at that? I mean, what? And then some of the games where a good game plan worked. But I'll tell you, UCLA, I did a bad job. I said it, they were more prepared. Their team was ready to play, mine wasn't. And Steve had them in a mode, here's how we're going to have to play.
Now, we did show our team the 12 3-pointers that they made. They weren't guarded. Like literally weren't guarded. And that's why they made them. It was like horse for them. This game we made them bounce it, we made it contested 3s, we played the drive going in to out instead of being wide and then coming in and giving up 3s. We started in to go out and play. We worked on it. But again, I gave them an extra day at Christmas. I really gave myself an extra day at Christmas. But when I was home, I was like, I shouldn't have done this because we needed more time than a day and a half to prepare for this game. It shows you if these guys fight, they can do this. If they don't fight, we will lose. We will lose. We have no easy games left. Every game we play is going to be a war.
Q. You said it's not going to be like this every night, this performance, but is it for you a little bit of a relief to finally see a performance like this, kind of a complete on both ends and a bunch of different guys kind of stepping up?
JOHN CALIPARI: I told them after, I said, you should all be like Shai, because you've got a coaching staff that has your back personally. But I'm not letting you off the hook, Nick, and I'm not letting you off the hook, Kevin, and I'm not letting you off the hook in the second half, Quade. I'm not letting you off the hook because I care enough about you to make sure that you're trying to get better and we're there for you. But they should be smiling, and I would say I really -- at that stage I still really enjoy winning, and losing, as I get older, gets harder and harder. But I love to win enough that it keeps you going.
If winning becomes a relief, it's time to quit coaching. For me, I'm telling you, you won't see me, but I'll do two backflips when I go through this door and a handstand on the wall over there because this -- no, seriously, because this kind of performance from your team when you coach in this environment, in this kind of game, it's big time.
Thanks. Happy new year, by the way, for everybody.