Saturday was a night to forget for the Kentucky Wildcats.
After a promising first half, the Cats came apart in the second half in their 76-65 loss to Tennessee. Following the loss, head coach John Calipari met with the media to give some healthy updates on guys battling nagging injuries, why his team lost its fight, and what it all means moving forward.
”They out-toughed us. They just threw us around. It was embarrassing. As soon as we had PJ out of the game, we had no shot at winning because every one of their players at that point was tougher than our guys.
“Hats off. Rick (Barnes) did a great job. I liked our first half. I thought, ‘OK, we got it.’
“And then we came out—I told them after the game, ‘First two plays of the half, you run a guy over that’s standing there. How about you pull up and shoot it? I know you may miss it, but you gotta shoot it.’
“And then we throw the lob that goes for a layup on the other end. I mean, wait a minute. And that was the start of the half. And then when PJ couldn’t go, it was—we couldn’t do some of the stuff we had planned on doing and they’re not ready to shift in mid-gear.”
On PJ Washington’s status
”I think he was cramping up.”
On whether the moment was too big for some of his players
”No, they just got manhandled by men. We couldn’t grab a rebound. We got shoved out of the way on post-ups. Guys were coming over saying, ‘I can guard him.’ He just three straight times on you and-ones. You can’t guard him. I guess you could guard him; you just can’t stop him from scoring. Williams was really good, but the rest of them were too.
“They went after every ball and I knew they would be up against it. I was surprised that we were able to do some of the stuff in the first half and I came in at halftime saying, ‘OK, this is more than I thought we’d be able to get up in here.’ And then the start of the second half. I mean, we were literally standing with cheerleaders on a bunch of shots.
“Shot went up, I got a guy standing next to the cheerleaders. It just got too physical. The bump and grind, we couldn’t deal with it and we couldn’t make shots after that. We couldn’t make layups. It’s a lesson for young guys and we move on.”
On if this is why he wants Kevin Knox practicing with the big men
”Yeah. Yeah. You saw. He couldn’t bring in balls. All that stuff, he needs to just get it, keep doing it and that part of his game comes around and he’s that guy. Right now—like I said, PJ just went at them. Just was like, ‘That’s it.’ And he was trying to get some other guys to go at them. But they do a great job of collapsing.
“You gotta find people when they collapse. We were trying to throw some direct passes and the guys that have followed me know we only throw lobs. We don’t throw direct passes and instead of throwing lobs we threw direct passes. We probably did five of those.
“Hats off to them. They had two games—both of the games that they lost, they could have won. They needed this game and they went in at halftime and said, ‘That’s it. We’re not losing the game.’ And when PJ went down, they saw the wounded animal and they went right at it.
“They just said no. How about offensive rebounds on free throws? I mean, the ball skirts out and we got two guys around it and they reach that hand in and jerk it out. It’s a great lesson. When you’re playing this game, if one team wants it more than the other and is willing to play that way, you’re losing the game.
“That team is going to win. A lot of times it’s, you know, that’s what I want my team to do. We just, obviously, for a half we looked OK and second half we didn’t look too good.”
On if he played zone because there weren’t many other options
”If you got something else I could have played I would have played that too. I mean, and even then they threw it and then they threw it to a guy who pushed my man out of the way and it’s an and-one. What? And then another play we’re standing there and they lob a ball and my guy watches him tip it in. What? So, we could have played man and been just as bad.”
On his technical foul
”He said I was out of the box, which you’ll have to look and see, but I wasn’t. The box in front of my bench, not the 40-foot one. The other one. I was back. I don’t know. He called one on him (Barnes) and then he called one on me. I’m like, ‘Why’d you call one on me?’ Then I asked him to go back to the TV and check it, ‘Can you take it back?’ They said they couldn’t, they’re not allowed to.”
On Washington’s play against Tennessee forward Grant Williams
”Yeah. PJ scored on him and was able to play him, but he cramped up and that was the end of it.”
On if he felt he had to put Wenyen Gabriel in with four fouls when Washington got injured
”Yeah, I was trying to survive. Come on, man. You saw, I was playing the other guys, it was like basket-basket-basket. You’re like trying to survive. I wish he wouldn’t have fouled.”
On Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s play
”He, again, wasn’t throwing lobs, throwing some direct passes. They were physical and up in him. But I’m not worried about Shai. I mean, Shai is fine.
”I’ve got the toughness issue because people, what they do is they watch the tape and they say, ‘Just throw these guys around. They will not fight you back. Just throw ‘em and post ‘em hard. Go right at them. Don’t fade away. If a shot goes up, bum-rush them. Go rebound a missed shot. They’re going to let you run by them.’
“I mean, that’s what you’re going to see on tape and it’s something we’ve gotta fix day-to-day. That’s all it is. It’s a day-to-day thing. It’s a process with these guys. I hate to say it, sometimes you gotta get hit in the mouth to learn.
“The question is: Do they understand what just happened to them? And I believe they do.”