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John Calipari recaps win at Vanderbilt, fighting through adversity

It wasn’t always pretty, but it looks nice in the win column.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In a tale of two halves, the Kentucky Wildcats pulled away late to defeat the Vanderbilt Commodores 74-67.

Vandy was ice cold in the first half, only making 1-11 three pointers allowing Kentucky to lead by 9 at the break. However, the Commodores got hot in the second half and regained the lead before Kentucky finally showed some “toughness” and got the big road win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Kentucky with 22 points and 6 assists. Kevin Knox had his best game in weeks scoring 17 points, including 9 in the last four minutes of the game. Coach Calipari seemed pleased with the effort overall, especially the energy of Wenyen Gabriel (7 points and 9 rebounds off the bench) and the aggressive play of Knox late.

See below for the full transcript of Coach Cal’s post-game comments, courtesy of UK Athletics.

On how difficult it is to play with seven scholarship players available …

”I go back to my team I had at Massachusetts when I played five and six guys. One of the great mentors I’ve had in this game, his name was Jack Leaman, coached Julius (Erving) at UMass. He told me I play too many guys. So, in 2010 when Coach (John) Wooden was still alive I called him and I said, ‘Have you watched my team? We’re not an execution team. Do you have any ideas?’ Coach Wooden: ‘You play too many people.’

“And he said, ‘I know why you do, because kids will transfer. We played five guys and you earned your space. I played a sixth guy if I needed to. You earn it in practice.’

”So, these guys should be happy. They got tired. PJ (Washington) didn’t play well. I mean, he got tired. Hami (Diallo) and Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), when they get tired, their decision-making is not the same. But I played two guards 39 minutes a game when I was there at UMass that year.

“It was the best team I coached – I didn’t say the most talented, even though Marcus Camby may be one of the most talented guys I’ve ever coached. The rest of the guys were really good – I hate to tell you, they were juniors and seniors. They were veterans. But, I played five.

”If you asked these guys, would you rather play half-a-game, or just play every minute, what do you think they’re going to say? ‘I’ll be good. I’ll play every minute.’

On how well Kevin Knox took it to the rim and didn’t settle …

”Yeah, and I told the guys on the bench the first one when he took (it in), I’m going to keep going at him. Whether we lose or not, he’s got to figure this out. The only way they’re going to figure it out is if they do it in a game.

”They have a desire to win and I thought Shai, at the end of the day – PJ struggled, so it was Shai and Kevin Knox.

“Then Hami makes that big 3 in the corner. But then Wenyen (Gabriel’s) effort, just – you gotta keep him in the game. I thought Sacha (Killeya-Jones) played well, I just went to a smaller lineup and when we went to it we played good, so I just stuck with it. But I thought Sacha did well.”

On saying Washington was the only one fighting after Texas A&M and if Gabriel is there too …

”Wenyen was the other one. Wenyen was the other one. He’s always done that. ”PJ didn’t have the spirit today that he had (before). And I told him, ‘You can’t lead when you feel like it. It can’t be a sometimes thing. It has to be an every time thing, because no one wants to really listen unless you’re the guy taking it at people’s throats.’ That is both defensively (and) rebounding. And he’s playing good. He’s shooting the ball much better.

”Look, folks, I’m asking for the impossible. I’m playing a bunch of freshmen and I’m asking them to go on the road, in a hostile environment, blackout night, shirt night, and let’s win the game. And it’s going to be close, but you gotta tough it out. But that’s what my job is: to ask for the impossible. Then when they leave, they look and say, ‘I did more than I thought I could do.’

“But it’s not fair for Kevin Knox, the youngest freshman in the country, to be put in that environment and those plays, and have to make plays and free throws. It’s not fair to him. But, that’s how we do this.”

On if it was a matchup he liked with Knox, or is Knox the guy he wants with the ball late …

”Well, he got it at the basket, he made that and-one, but he also got it near the rim. You’re talking about a 6-(foot)-9 guy that should be attacking around that goal. He’s a good free-throw shooter.

”Again, let me give Vandy credit. I mean, they had a great game play coming in, what they were going to do. We could not guard them. They may have shot 20-something percent in the first half, but they shot the ball in the second half. And they put us in pick-and-rolls.

“Guys didn’t quite listen to what we were saying. We did not want to switch our big guy onto the guard because we knew he couldn’t guard him and they were not settling for jumpers. Coach (Bryce Drew) had them running downhill and they made tough layups and hats off to them.”

On if he knows how long he will be without Quade Green

”I don’t. I haven’t even asked him. I didn’t know if Jarred (Vanderbilt) was going to play. I was doing the board and I’m just acting like he’s not here and if he is—if they are, they are. The problem with being injured when you’re on my teams: I really spend no time with you. And sometimes – I don’t want to say this out loud – I forget names. Like, I even forget who he is. Who are you? What? What? Because I gotta focus on the guys that I’m coaching right now. They gotta get healthy and be ready to come back and be ready to go. Jarred, the same.”

On what Jarred Vanderbilt said to him before the game …

”I hope he’d give me more than what I would have gotten today, because I didn’t see him all day. I hope. But I don’t push kids. They know their pain. They also know their bodies and I’m going to tell you what happens when you’re injured: It’s not physically. It’s as much mentally and then conditioning. Those are the things that get you. It’s not the, you know—so when he’s ready, he’ll be there with us.”

On Nick Richards struggling …

”He’s going to have to go and rebound the ball and bend his legs and do what we’re asking him to do. You can’t stand stiff-legged and think you’re going to guard somebody. Now, are you doing that because you’re tired? I don’t know. But you’re doing it, and every time they drive right around you. Why are they doing that? Just bend your legs.

“We do it every day. Second thing is, if you go in and you don’t rebound and a guy grabs the ball from you—I told him after the game, I said, ‘Guys, if I stick you in and I’m saying you gotta rebound and the first play—walk to the bench. You don’t have to look to see if I’m taking you out. You know I’m taking you out. You know what you have to do. You have to rebound.’ ‘He pushed me in the back.’ ‘Push him back harder. I don’t know what to tell you, but you gotta get the ball.’ So, you know—I even woke up this morning thinking we should start the game going right at Nick. That was my thought when I woke up this morning.

“So, I haven’t lost any confidence in him, but he’s gotta perform. This is about winning. You leave him in the game and lose? No, not doing it. Nope. Not happening.”

On how much more these kinds of games should be expected …

”I would say a bunch of them and I would say our strength of schedule I believe is in the top 10. I think our RPI is six. I know we’re rated 29th, but our RPI is six. Is it seven now, Jerry (Tipton)? Thanks for correcting me. And strength of schedule—I mean, these kids, you know—and they go on the road and they’re not intimidated. And it’s, again, a bunch of young kids.”