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John Calipari recaps win over West Virginia, what it means going forward

This may have been the season-turning game John Calipari was hoping for.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats scored a signature win thanks to an 83-76 victory over West Virginia.

This was easily not just the best win of the season for Kentucky, but also one of the best wins of the John Calipari era. In a game where the Cats trailed by 17 in the second half, the young Cats battled back to pull off the big upset in Morgantown.

After the win, John Calipari was in a festive mood who sounded like a proud dad watching his kids grow up.

Here is a recap of everything Calipari said, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On what turned the game around …

”I thought we—unforced turnovers in the first half killed us. I thought they were tougher than us going to balls. So you give them that. They made some shots. They play at the end of the half: They make a 3 and we miss a layup. It’s just, ahh. But I told them, ‘We’re in good shape. Just play.’ And then we start the half and we don’t set a screen on an in-bounds play. I just said, ‘We’re going with spirit. I’m playing spirit.’ PJ (Washington) was hurt, not enough to give us.

“We’re not—we just needed spirit. I thought Wenyen (Gabriel), obviously Kevin (Knox). Second half, our guards played for us instead of, ‘I gotta get mine and do—’ They played for us. Nick (Richards) played good down the stretch. Hami (Diallo) played good. We had a lot of good play today. And then to come on the road and be down (17), in this environment and (against) a top-10 team is a—for us playing all freshmen. Freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, sophomore, sophomore.

“That’s who we are. To be able to do that in this environment means we’re growing up. Part of it is we have a full roster, which we have not had for, how long, three weeks? Maybe longer, because Jarred’s (Vanderbilt) just starting. And we still haven’t figured out Jarred yet.”

On Knox …

”He didn’t settle. He didn’t settle. He went at it. He took fouls. He went at the basket. There was only one play, late – and he knew he did it – he bailed out and I—’Why did you do that?’ And it’s, you know, he reverted a little bit, but—the biggest thing, too, both Quade (Green) and Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) played the way you need point guards to play.

“You’re not playing for you. You’re playing for us. You’re running downhill to create for us, and they did it. Everybody talks about our shooting. We’re not that bad a shooting team, but we’re so big we just don’t play that way. And then I thought we defended and we hung around. Down (17) and a young team like this and to be able to come back and win and then make all the plays down the stretch.

“And obviously, Bob’s (Huggins) got a terrific team. I mean, you know, you got senior guards. You got the big people. What hurt them is when the kid got hurt. That probably tilted it to where we could beat the, because that kid just blocked every shot and got every rebound and did everything he was supposed to—scored. I don’t what happened to his knee, but that was a big piece of this game.”

On Nick Richards …

”These kids are so young, they have to know I’m for them and I’m with them and I love them, but – but – I’m going to hold you accountable. You have to hold yourself accountable. And if you don’t, I will do it for you. You have to take responsibility for how you play. We only had one play today where a guy wouldn’t take responsibility. And eventually I made him in front of the team say, ‘My fault,’ he said. ‘OK?’ ‘Thank you.’ And there was only one of those.

We’ve had 10 of those. Look, guys. They’re being defensive, because they’re trying to figure out who they are as players. And when you’re trying to figure it out, you’re defensive. You’re trying to—’It isn’t me!’ Stop. Take some stock in it. And I told them, my job is to make them uncomfortable every day so they can play in this kind of environment. And we started it for a couple days. It became like football practice. We had helmets and pads and we did some stuff to get ready.

“And so, they dinged heads a little bit, but I’m trying to make them uncomfortable. I’m just kidding. We did not have football pads.”

On toughness …

”Down the stretch, we made those plays. And I think part of it is because now we’re doing a rotation, versus you’re in, you’re out. You’re in a rotation, unless, like, you don’t come up with a ball at a critical time. You’re out. Short of that, you’re staying in. And I think it’s better for them because what does it take off their play? What excuse? (Minutes) Can’t say it. Can’t say that anymore. You’re in a rotation. Uh uh. ‘Well, you did it two minutes after I missed a shot.’ I’m trying to take all this stuff off these freshmen, their play. That’s what I’m trying to do. And again, if guys aren’t playing with spirit, it’s good now. We got enough guys. Instead of me begging, like I had to at South Carolina, you’re out. We’ll play without you and we’ll win.”

On the environment …

”It’s hard. It’s a tough place to play.”

On him saying it would only be a big game if they won …

”It’s a big game now. This is a huge game. This was a huge game. Because we won. But for Bob and I, I am rooting for West Virginia. I always do. He is rooting for Kentucky. We’re not going to play anybody—well, we will face each other in the NCAA Tournament. There is no question they’ll put us in the same bracket, because they don’t want two of us to advance so we’re going to play each other.

“But, hopefully it’s later rounds. He knows this is them saying now he’s got their attention. And again, I didn’t watch his team. I was watching my team. But I imagine there’s some things that he’s going to talk about, whether it be shot selection. I don’t know. I didn’t watch his team. I watched mine.”

On the SEC winning the SEC/Big 12 Challenge …

”It doesn’t matter. You got two of the best leagues. And so whether they were 6-4 or 7-3 or we were 6-4, 5-5, it doesn’t matter. Both of these leagues are two of the best leagues.”

On Jarred Vanderbilt having 11 rebounds …

”Unbelievable, right? I gotta figure out offensively. I’m losing my mind. I called Jarred in and I said, ‘Listen, I need you on the court. I need your rebounding. I need your toughness. I need your ability to pass and be that guy. What do you want me to run? Write up a play. Tell me how you want me to use you offensively so that you’re comfortable. He’s just not comfortable right now. But he’s only been playing, what, 10 days? Is it 10 days? Somebody correct me. Jerry, what is it exactly? Eleven days and 36 hours, I don’t know.”

On whether Vanderbilt changes the dynamic when he’s in …

”Yeah. He brings that toughness. He’ll go get balls. We just gotta figure him out offensively.”

On whether this could be a moment where the light comes on …

”No. No. When you got all freshmen, no. Now we got another tough league game Tuesday. Travel tonight, we’ll get home at 11. We practice tomorrow, practice Monday. We play a team that should have beaten us earlier in the year. And we’re playing them.”

On how satisfying it was to see his team respond in this environment …

”I’m proud of them. They know how I feel. I told them, ‘There was a spirit about you the second half.’ And that’s what we’re trying to get them to practice with so it becomes who they are. The other thing is, I want to go see assists. Not the assists from the (box score). I want to see how many hockey assists, how many assists for the foul, how many assists to throw ahead to the next one. The best play, because we drove and threw it to Hami for a 3. Now that guy was going to shoot that, but he threw it to Hami for a 3. Hami makes it. You just made the game easy for Hami and you picked him up. Instead of getting blocked and acting like you could have made it. That’s what we’re trying to get out of these guys. I need them to create shots and make the game easier for each other. And then the rest of it is toughness, fight, how we’re playing.”

On whether he’s going to keep wearing the pullover …

”You know what, I might. I might. It’d be nice to travel this light. Does Bob take luggage with him or no? He doesn’t take luggage with him, does he? Does he brush his teeth? And let me say this, Bob—they lost. If it was me, I know how I would be feeling. But, what he did the night before for his mother’s charity. To do that before this game and then to ask me to be there, which is like, really? And he and I get in there and do what we usually do. But that’s who he is. And I’m going to say this. I said it the other night at the fish fry. I’ve known him since he was 24. That’s when I first met him. He was coaching at Walsh College. I knew him at West Virginia as a player, but we had never met. He has never changed in all that time. He is the same guy. Sarcastic, funny, cares about his kids, coaches him hard and they love him because he tells them the truth. Involved in the community. He’s never changed. He’s exactly the same guy. The dude’s a Hall of Famer. I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t get in, and he is what a Hall of Famer should be. Forget about he’s one of the best coaches in the last 30 years, forget about that. He’s also a great human being who cares about people and uses his position to leverage it to help other people. Now, you think about that, and I love that this state loves him. The people here love him, and they should. He’s one of them. It’s like I say in Kentucky, I grew up in western Pennsylvania. The people in Kentucky and eastern Kentucky, those were my neighbors when I grew up. Just like my family is from Webster Springs, West Virginia, - that’s my mother’s family. My dad’s family came through Clarksburg, West Virginia, as a coal miner. You do all know that there are a lot of Italians in Clarksburg, West Virginia. I think that’s one of the reasons that we respect each other and get along so well. You look at this and see that he’s at his alma mater and I’m lucky enough to coach at Kentucky. Can you imagine?”