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John Calipari recaps LSU, praises young Cats for fighting

Coach Cal loves the fight his young team is bringing.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are now 12-2 after a thrilling win over LSU, 74-71.

After the win, head coach John Calipari was in a cheerful mood, and for good reason. UK has lost five of its last six first true road games. That includes the 2011 Final Four team, the 2012 title team, and the 2013 Final Four club.

Needless to say, UK’s often-young team usually gets dinged in its first true road contest, and the Cats came oh so close to suffering that same fate in Baton Rouge.

That’s why seeing UK pull out the win made this a very good victory for the young Cats.

“We fought. This team, when they fight and when they battle, we got a chance.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say about the win, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Opening statement

”We had the flu. Hami (Diallo), Sacha (Killeya-Jones) and Nick (Richards). They all could play about a minute-and-a-half and they were so winded they couldn’t even stand. So, we were just trying to figure out what would work.

“It’s kind of like the season. Everything is kind of an experiment and it seems to be game-to-game that we try to figure out what’s going to work for us both on offense and defense and then run.

“The biggest thing is they got fight. It’s hard to fight when you have the flu. We told them after, this is not personal, we’re just trying to win. I appreciate you trying to play.

”Again, we made plays down the stretch, but they got a big rebound, the ball out of bounds – Kevin (Knox) had it, bring it in. Don’t fumble it out of bounds, bring that ball in, that’s the game-winner. The game’s over on that. So, we gave them some chances, but I liked our will to win at the end.

”I told them after, that’s probably ever game we play. My hope is we have a chance to win at the end. But there’s not going to be blowouts in this league. I’m sorry. The league is too good.”

On if he’s had someone before who he’s used similar to how he’s using Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

”Maybe Brandon Knight a little bit. I like Quade (Green) off the ball because he’s got a great feel, the ability to score and do the stuff that he does. So, you have, really, two handlers who both can really make free throws. In the end, where we got it in to him and just said, ‘Hold it. Do not pass it.’

”We thought about, again, this team, I said, ‘Hey, if the clock gets down, seven, eight, six, foul.’ And the clock got down seven, eight, six and I’m like, ‘Foul! Foul! Foul!” And then I’m thinking they’re going to foul a 3-point shooter and we’re going to lose by one.

“This is all stuff that you try to walk through in the moment. If I’m right, we had four freshmen and Wenyen (Gabriel) on the court most of that game.”

On how big it was for Knox to see shots go down

”Good. He still, there were some rebounds he should have got, he grabbed with one hand, there were some other things. But, he settled for jumpers. I wanted to grab him, ‘Why would you shoot the jumper when we’re going inside every time and something good is happening? Why did you do it?’ ‘I was open.’ ‘No kidding, because they don’t want you to go inside.’ But that’s a freshman. I’m just happy he played.

”I thought PJ, again, see PJ took on the team in the second half. He just basically, ‘Let’s go. Pass the ball. Let’s get it to each other.’

”But give LSU credit now. They’ve played well all year. They’ve shot the ball well all year. Their big boy (Duop Reath), we didn’t have an answer. Again, a couple guys weren’t up to it, but we couldn’t do that to them. We had to run things to do it. They weren’t even running things. Just throw it in to him.

“That kid really hurt us. They’re going to beat people. I’m just happy we don’t have to play them again. Like, they’re going to beat people, and they play an open game. They’re not afraid to shoot 3s.”

On how much different this LSU team is with Will Wade

”Most times we come down here you know what happens: we get, like, smashed. I’ve lived through a bunch of those. But I think what Will has done – and again, the style of play and what he’s trying to do letting those kids, there’s some freedom in what they’re doing. He’s putting them in situations to make plays.

”Tremont (Waters) is somebody that we recruited really hard. I know how good he is. I know how he can get baskets and the things that he can do.

”I think for any of us, when you coach you’re just trying to put your guys in the best position for those players to have success and I think Will is doing it.”

On what changed in the second half

”At halftime, our big—’Guys, they want it more than you want it. What is going on here?’ And then we knew—’Guys, OK, listen. You’re sick, you’re sick, you’re sick. I’m going to start you, but I’m not—if you can’t play, then I’m not playing you much. I tried to get them in and out, in and out, but it was just to spell the guys we were trying to finish the game with. Let me say this: LSU distorts the zone because they’re willing to shoot deep 3s.

“We were, you know, it was something that we haven’t seen, so that confused us a little bit, but we played the second half. We fought. This team, when they fight and when they battle, we got a chance. The other team, we can’t win in this league. I’ve coached in this league enough to know.

“And you have—this year, top to bottom, you can lose games this year in the league and it’s not going to hurt you. We’ve had years where if you lost that game, you—well, with us it may be different. Win three and drop seven places in the standings. But I’m just saying that this league—think about Mississippi State.

“Think about Auburn. You’re talking Vandy and you’re saying, ‘Oh, they’re—’ What? Those teams can play and they’re good.”

On LSU senior forward Duop Reath

”He was unbelievable. He was unbelievable. And again, Will was doing some good stuff with him. Coach had him over the top some. He got him in some and had great spacing where if we left we were giving up a dunk, so we were saying, ‘Let him try to shoot it,’ and the kid just went crazy. He dominated us around the goal. Absolutely dominated us.”

On what changed for Washington in the second half

”Well, even in the first half I thought PJ was the only one trying to go at the rim. Like, he may have gotten a shot blocked or they, you know—but he kept telling guys, ‘Would you quit shooting jumpers? Go at this rim.

“And so in the second half, versus driving, we tried to do it from passing to get it near the basket and, you know, I’m happy for him. Somebody on this team has gotta step up and be able to tell guys more than just me.

“Part of it’s passing the ball. Some of it’s being engaged. Some of it’s being tougher. Some of it’s fighting. But you’re talking a young team. That’s the kind of stuff that it just takes time.”