Kentucky showed dramatic improvement on the defensive end of the floor, and it also happened to be a good shooting night as the Cats shot 44% from three.
Malik Monk led the Wildcats with 20 points and 8 (!) rebounds, while Derek Willis came up huge in knocking down 4 3-pointers on his way to 16 points.
See a full transcript of Coach John Calipari’s thoughts on the game below, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q. Could you talk about Malik's overall stat line and especially the 8 rebounds?
“Yeah, he did good. He did good. I didn't look at the whole stat line. I know -- or where is it here? I can't see. He did good. He did good. He played better, he played within himself. He had a couple shots, the first shot he had was a better shot than the second and we're working through it. This is still a work in progress. I'm going to say it again, it took us three weeks to get to where we were. If you look at our stats the last five games, we were atrocious.
“I think now it gave me an idea of what I needed to do with them and, basically, I told them, I'm going to be brutal in practice and I'm backing up off the game. I want Tony talking defense and I want Kenny talking offense. If they have anything they want to do in practice, for the defense, Tony and the offense, Kenny, we're doing it. And if a guy's not playing confident, Kenny's keeping an eye on it and taking him out.
Q. What's the change when he gets rebounds like that?
“He went after it, he was committed to it.”
Q. Is it a sign of progress that there were a couple times Tennessee started to chip away at that lead and you guys had answers for it both times?
“Yeah, I like what -- the start of the game, Derek Willis was ridiculous and he spaced the court. Now, you may say, you guys took 25 threes, it's how they play. It's how South Carolina plays. Those teams, when you drive, collapse. And you're going to have to make some jumpers. Now, they can be 2s, 15-footer, elbow jumpers, Isaac made a short one, or maybe threes, if you're feeling it. And so we, I thought we did a good job. The threes we took were the threes we should have taken. And we passed up shots to give a guy a shot. And it's great to see. 17 assists and only 7 turns and one of them was Dom at the end of the game.”
Q. Is this as close to a complete game as you've had in a long time, do you think?
“It was good. A team we, that beat us and beat us good, we could say it was a 2-point game. It wasn't a 2-point game, it was a 10 point game that we tried to fight to get back in. They did whatever they wanted last time. I think you see us different defensively. I think you see us different in transition defense. I think you see the difference offensively. Some of the rebooting you're seeing. And that's part of the what we did. The other side of it is, a friend of mine calls and says it looks like you're more intense than your team. That you want it worse than they want it.
“Well, I said that I'm not doing that. No. No. I'll coach them in practice and in the game, their energy and their effort and enthusiasm, that's on them.Now, as I back up, I said, now you got to be responsible for your play. So if you play poorly, I can't take responsibility anymore. Someone got to come out there and say, this is on me, I didn't play well. And I said, I've taught you that by me doing it. Now, I'm backing up, you do it. If you didn't play, you come out there and you tell them, I was awful today, I hurt us.So, today was -- it's kind of growing up. It's being a man. It's all the stuff that we got to teach. But this is only the beginning of what we started what was it? 10 days ago? I worked yesterday and I will work again up 18, how do we play?
“Can I tell you, they didn't know. I said, well, what would you do here? And so what we did was we went three segments. Three. Up 18, four minutes on the clock, how are we going to play? This is what your mindset is. This is how you get to 25.So we're going to keep working and we got to get better at our zone defense and offense, because I think teams coming up are going to play us some zone. They're going to pack it in. But when you shoot the way we shot from the three, it's hard to say, okay, we'll pack it in on them.”
Q. You harped on the importance of confidence. Who played confidently and who didn't?
“I thought Derek played really confident today.I thought De'Aaron Fox was unbelievable.Isaiah, six assists and no turns and--or six assists, one turn.De'Aaron Fox, six assists, no turnovers.So you had a lot of guys. I thought Bam was playing, he got tired. When he gets tired he stands behind people. We just got to see it and get him out and then get him back in.
“I thought Dom played confident basketball. We had a couple guys that need to keep stepping up and I told them, you got to do it in the practice first and then you got to carry it over. And I said I'm going to be on guys, if I think you're playing timid in practice, I'm going to bury you. If you can't take me, how in the world are you going to go in these games and take the other team? I'm rooting for you. But I'm going to call you out. And so we're just, this is a work in progress. It really is. On all fronts.”
Q. With regard to how they collapse defensively, Rick Barnes said one of their main keys was keep your fours from getting off and yet they did. Was this a testament to the extra pass or how, why were they so effective?
“I think it was the extra pass. And then we started the game, it's not just ball movement, it's player movement, too. You can't just move the ball and stand there, because then it becomes a zone. We started the game and we had worked on it and one of the guys didn't do it, you're out. Then all of a sudden you saw pass, cut, cut, cut, pass cut, and all of a sudden it was like the dam burst. It's boom, here we come.So, it is a work in progress. Our fours can play perimeter basketball.
“I thought our defense was as good as it's been since the beginning of the year. I thought we crowded the lane a little bit, I thought we helped, we rotated. I was really happy about the rebounds. Bam got 12. That's who he should be though. It's who he should be. He should get, 12, 15 a game. Most of them on the defensive end. On the offensive end, they're putting two guys on him, so he doesn't rebound.But on the defensive end, you got inside position and they're going to miss 30 shots. Go get 10 of them. Go get 12 of them. He got seven of them today, which is pretty good.”
Q. All the teams you have are extremely young, but I'm wondering are the levels of maturity different? And how vastly different from year to year?
“It's also the level of the feel of basketball. That becomes different, too. But, yeah, the maturity level's different on each kid. They're all different. What I keep coming back to is, we got to focus on them and get them to focus on each other. It's a different way. The program, the program, the program, you're about the program. This is the program. And then you're out.Well, this is about these kids. But to win, they got to make it about each other. So, everything we do is, how are we doing coaching that young man whose maturity may be different than this guy.
“That's what we do. It's how we do this here. I'm not saying it's the only way, the right way, it's what we do. And they're coming together. They're understanding that they got to be about each other if we're to win and then they're to succeed. They got to be about each other. This is a good group of kids. They just -- I'm just telling you when I started doing 18 down scrimmaging and looking I'm thinking, oh, my gosh. We started talking defensively what we had to do, it's just, they don't know. Any time I think these young kids know, I know I'm wrong. They don't know.”
Q. Dominique has spent his career behind a lot of high profile guards, he's getting a lot more minutes this year. What does he give you and did you envision this role for him
“I did. And I'll tell you why. Because he is a fierce competitor, he's tough as nails, he will come up with -- any 50/50 ball, he's getting -- and offensively he's gotten better each year. So, yes, he's like old reliable. You know you can go to him, he can play point guard, he can play off guard, if you want him to guard a big man he'll go rebound. Yeah, we kind of did. Now, Mychal we're still trying to figure out.
“Now I started Mychal playing some four today. I hate to tell you, he did pretty good. He did pretty good at four. Like he fought the post, he went in and rebounded. So we're trying to figure that situation out. But I'm proud of Dom. Really, how about ball pressure? If we're not pressuring, you put him in. He's going to be energy. He's going to be on the ball.”
Q. If you could talk about Malik's defensive growth in terms of him spacing the guy that's watching, I mean how much has that matured?
“He still has a long way to go, but he's getting better. And we have to continue to do it through scrimmaging and maybe some four-on-four stuff. And get these guys to understand how you truly are helping each other. When you're away from the ball, it's not time to take just stop playing, which is what we were doing.
“And it then you looked at our team and you kept saying, how are they getting so many lay-ups against our team? Well, the guys off the ball were not worried about it. My man's over here. So, we're trying to continue to work, it's a work in progress.”