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John Calipari previews Vanderbilt Commodores, talks about building off of win at WVU

Saturday was special, but the Cats have to play well against Vanderbilt to build off of the big win.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their big win at West Virginia, the Kentucky Wildcats now turn their attention to Vanderbilt.

The two SEC foes will face off for the second time this season when the Dores come to Rupp Arena tonight. The Cats managed to win the first contest in Nashville by a 74-67 margin that was closer than the final score indicates.

Even though the game was just over two weeks ago, both teams have changed drastically since then. For Kentucky, they now have Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green after neither played in Nashville due to injury.

For the Dores, star guard Matthew Fisher-Davis is out for the remainder of the season due to a shoulder injury. Even so, Vanderbilt is coming off an upset win over TCU this past Saturday.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari met with the media to preview tonight’s game. Here is a recap of everything he said, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On how to build off of Saturday’s win …

“Told them yesterday, ‘You guys, you can’t get arrogant about this.’ So, just to tell them – you know, you can’t be an arrogance here. You guys fought. You played with unbelievable spirit in the second half and you beat a really good team on the road. Now you’ve got to build on it. So you talk about it, but we don’t know until the game is – you throw the ball up and we see if they understand that’s how you have to attempt to play every game. That kind of fight.”

On if Jarred Vanderbilt’s woes offensively is shaking off rust …

“Yeah. Yeah. And him getting comfortable. You know, where he needs – you can see he’s questioning is ability to make baskets and stuff right now. But, he just hasn’t played. And he didn’t practice. It wasn’t like he was practicing. And so he only had like one or two practices and now it’s just a dog fight for him. Trying to get him – but 11 rebounds? I mean, getting every ball. Defending the way he does. We just gotta figure it out offensively. Together he and me and the staff.”

On Vanderbilt’s sweet spot offensively and if they’ll be able to find it …

“Yeah, but he’s missing baskets around the goal. We’re trying to figure it out. We don’t know.”

On PJ Washington’s injury and his status …

“Yeah, I think he’ll be fine. It was a knee or something that was slowing him down. We just couldn’t have anybody play 80 or 90 percent. You can’t. Either you’re brining it or we’ve gotta go without you. The good news now is with a full roster we can do that. It was hard when you were playing six and seven guys and two were in foul trouble and you’ve got five guys. That made it tough.”

On Kevin Knox’s aggressiveness offensively vs. West Virginia …

“Well, they opened up the court for him. It really was more of a one-on-one game than it was a crowded court and him having to drive. So, we’ve still got stuff that we’ve got to get after. But they opened up the court and it made the game – and then we put him up the court so he didn’t have to mess around and be a finisher and he did a good job.”

On Vanderbilt’s skill set that allows him to get 11 rebounds in 11 minutes …

“He’s physically tough. He’s got a quick twitch. He’s quick to balls. Mind moves great. He sees things before where the ball goes and goes and gets there. And like I said, we just gotta put him on different spots on the floor and then figure out what works for him offensively. Maybe we put him in some pick-and-rolls. We just try different things until we look and say, ‘There you go. He’s most comfortable.’ I really believe when he gets comfortable all these shots that he’s missing will go in. He’s just uncomfortable right now.”

On winning the rebounding battle in the second half vs. West Virginia …

“Wenyen (Gabriel). You have different people. We had some guys who played a lot of minutes and got one rebound and now all of a sudden, you know, what you find out is in most cases that effort is that denominator – that, you know, if you’re doing that and you’re really making the effort to attempt to get get balls. I thought Nick (Richards) played pretty good, rebounded in the second half. Kevin Knox had seven rebounds, some of them in traffic. So, that’s what we have to be as a team. You guys missed that the reason we won the game was in the second half we guarded. We held them to 30-something percent. Outrebounded them and we were able to guard them because we didn’t have unforced turnovers, which led to five for five in transition. They’re dunks and layups. So, unforced turnovers. You have a turnover that’s unforced usually you’ll have guys back. And you’re OK. Unforced, they’re breakouts. You kill yourself defensively on top of it. We started the game sloppy. Again, talked about, you want to win the game, you’ve got to be strong with it and unforced turnovers have gotta be eliminated.”

On Hamidou Diallo’s play against West Virginia …

“Hamidou was great. The biggest thing he did, he went to guard the guard – ‘I got him.’ And then he took pride in it. Now he has never done that, and I’ve watched him in high school. To get screened, you score on him, ‘That’s OK.’ No, this was you are not scoring on me. And I told him in front of the team, it was the first time I’ve seen you do it. Big step for him. That’s a big step. Why shouldn’t you be one of the best defenders? And not foul, don’t get screened, don’t come over with an excuse. The guy scored on you three straight times. In that game, no, there was no excuse. I’m guarding this guy. I was proud of him. That’s what this is all about. Everything is a learning experience, but then they’ve got to say, ‘OK, what did I just learn.’ Self-reflecting on your performance, what did I just learn? I said this to the team: ‘Wenyen (Gabriel), how did you play?’ He said, ‘Good.’ I said, ‘Stop. You played really good. You played unbelievably good. Your tip that gave Kevin Knox a chance to get fouled probably won the game and the play before you tipped in. You were unbelievable and you were one for seven and couldn’t hit the side of a barn.’ It shows you it doesn’t matter. You all worry about the wrong things. I had three calls on Wenyen Gabriel like, ‘Man, that’s the kid. He’s slender but he still fights.’ Trying to get them to think the right way and just come together and be about each other. That game they were. There was a desperation, and again, anybody that could not stay up with it we just didn’t play. For whatever reason, boom, OK now let’s go, and that was what you saw. And then we got on a run. They made three 3s now and some of them were bombs and we still won.”

On how often he reminds his players of Anthony Davis’ stat line in the 2012 national championship game …

“I’ve done it already to them but they weren’t ready to listen to it. They were not. Look, I’m going to tell you again and again, all the years I’ve done this, young kids are trying to define who they are as a player. Their thoughts are not on what this team needs and talking. They are trying to establish themselves as a player. When they get by that and stop worrying about establishing yourself, play the way you have to play for us to win, you’re going to help yourself and help your team. It starts coming together. Some teams it takes longer. Sometimes, I think it was the ’14 team where I had to get a couple of guys to play totally different, and they listened because we were dying and then they brought everyone else in check and we became that team everybody expected us to be. This one is kind of the same. You got all new guys trying to figure out who they are individually, and it’s natural. I’m not being mean and I’m not negative; it’s natural. And then there comes a point where they say, ‘I gotta stop worrying about this because I’m doing fine and let’s worry about each other.’ And then they find out wow the game is easier when I don’t worry about myself and it’s easier for me and everybody else. We are all having a ball but that sometimes you got to get hit in the mouth a couple times, sometimes you got to be right up against it. That is kind of where we are.”

On players enjoying games now …

“Well, when you step in the ring, you’re confident and smiling, and that dude hits you four straight times, your smile goes (makes face). It’s hard to smile when the other team’s the aggressor and you’re not getting after it. Smiling is, ‘Let’s go, I got this.’ Not like, ‘I’m cool,’ and then you step in the ring, you get bested three times. They want to have fun, you do it together, do it for each other and you play your heart out. You will have a ball. You ready? That’s really hard though. ‘Can I just shoot some balls and shoot a hook? Can you just let me do my And-1 tape and the rest of the guys watch me? Because I have fun when I do that.’ This is a learning experience for these guys, so having fun, you can’t say it that way because they think, ‘If he just lets me shoot every ball, I’m going to have a ball.’ They don’t – you know, you have to explain it, and then they have to feel like they did last game. The tape I showed them yesterday was the bench. From the seven-minute mark to the rest of the game, all we kept showing was the bench. On baskets made, on defensive stops, on running off the floor. ‘Look at you guys, you get it. You’re happy.’ Kevin Knox, when he walked in the locker room after the game, the whole team mobbed him. You ready for this? They mobbed Nick (Richards). And I said, ‘Nick, now you know. They all are happy for you. They all want you to do well.’ This is the greatest thing, and I talked to him. I’m not subbing you anymore. There’s a rotation. So when anybody calls you – ‘Every time you make a mistake it’s miss a shot, he takes you out.’ ‘It’s not him, I’m in a rotation and he’s not doing it.’ ‘Alright I’ve got to go, bye.’ Taking that off the table. This is your responsibility to play with spirit, play with passion. If you’re not going to do that you’re out. It’s your responsibility together collectively to make this game easy for each other. We’re not doing anything that’s crazy hard. I like how we defended. We didn’t play zone. One out-of-bounds play we played zone, the kid got 3 in the corner. We played man-to-man and guarded, and we guarded an efficient team. A really good team.”

On how Vanderbilt has changed since UK played there earlier this month …

“I’m just telling you, I watched tape and they’re playing good. Now, they weren’t starting him (Matthew Fisher-Davis) until our game, so I don’t know why that was. But I just watched Tennessee, they were down 20 and should’ve won the game. Like, I had to watch it twice, like, ‘How did they do this?’ They were down 20, and I’m talking like in 20 minutes, they got it to a two-point-game. And then they had the ball. And then the TCU game from tip to the finish they just, TCU couldn’t guard them. And TCU, ready for this, shot 60 percent, outrebounded them by 10 and lost the game. They made 11 3s. Listen, this league – nine, I’m gonna even throw out maybe 10 teams, should be in. Here’s an issue, when we beat each other, or we get beat, it’s like ugh, they (lost)? In other leagues, not as good as our league, a team will lose two or three games and they’re fine. I mean, we’ve got to get by this. We should have 10 teams in.”

On if winning the SEC-Big 12 Challenge helps the SEC’s basketball reputation …

“No. Heck no. It’s what you all say and write. Now you guys, what? I mean all I know is South Carolina, two teams we lost to, South Carolina is good. They had a chance to win their (Big 12/SEC Challenge) game. They go to Florida and win. What are you going to tell me Florida is no good? Florida just, they beat somebody by 25. I mean, we’re all pretty good teams. And if you beat each other it shouldn’t be a fluctuation like it is in this league. I mea,n it’s incredible. Other leagues you lose three and you’re fine. ‘Yeah, tough schedule, all those guys are tough. Hard road game, tough.’ ”

On if that reputation is built over time …

“Well, when you look at it, strength of schedule in this league and all that stuff, the numbers prove it. That’s what they use in others, but in ours well those numbers mean nothing. I saw this one: ‘Well, they were really close games’ What are we getting beat by 50? It is what it is. I mean, at the end of the day, the good news: You got to get in the ring and play. And it aint playing, it’s a fight. You’re gonna have to get in the ring. I’m just saying for your general thoughts, maybe chew on what I’m saying a little bit and think about. Yeah, maybe some of you will come up with your numbers to prove it wrong. And you’re wrong again because people will laugh at you, so please do it. And others will look at it and say, ‘You know what, it’s right, I don’t get it.’ And you’re just holding people accountable that way where I told my team, ‘Is it their hope or their opinion?’

“I don’t know. Let’s just go play another game and see how we do. Thanks.”