The Kentucky Wildcats were looking for a way to put Tuesday’s thrashing at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils behind them. Southern Illinois was Kentucky’s opponent for their 2018-19 home opener in Rupp Arena.
The Cats got off to a horrendous start offensively. Through the first 12-plus minutes of the game Kentucky was shooting 56%, but only scored 13 points. The Wildcats had 11 turnovers at the under-8 minute timeout.
The Cats grabbed their first lead of the game, and for that matter, the season when Quade Green nailed a triple. Green’s three-pointer was Kentucky’s only trifecta of the first half. Some nice hustle by Nick Richards to close out the half gave UK a 31-28 lead at the half.
Kentucky outrebounded Southern Illinois 25-8, outscored the Salukis’ bench 14-2, and shot 13 more free throws, but only led by 3 at halftime. UK’s 14 first half turnovers were a big reason for the slim lead at intermission.
Whatever John Calipari said at halftime did not light a fire under the Cats, as the Salukis regained the lead and led by one at the first TV timeout of the second half.
SIU increased their lead with 14 minutes to go in the game. However, an 10-0 followed by a flat out rejection by freshman EJ Montgomery helped the Cats push back in front.
A 13-6 run led by freshman Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley helped UK push their lead to 5 with 7:40 left in the game. The Cats led 58-52.
Keldon Johnson’s breakaway dunk with just under 3 minutes to go put the Cats up by 10 and sealed the victory for the Wildcats. Kentucky outlasted Southern Illinois for a 71-59 victory.
Here is a recap of what John Calipari and several players had to say about the win, courtesy of UK Athletics.
JOHN CALIPARI: Southern Illinois, veteran players, well coached, he does a great job with his team. An NCAA tournament level team. Missed some threes today that could easily have beat us, but hard second game. I’m still mad we scheduled it. I’m mad we scheduled the first one when we did. And, after we played two exhibitions games I knew where we were. But, we made strides today. Nick (Richards) made strides. Immanuel (Quickley) made strides. P.J. (Washington) made strides. Quade (Green) made strides. And, just so you know I’m riding the guys that are playing.
If you’re fighting like crazy and making good decisions, then I’m going to ride you and we’re going to play. We had some guys not play well. I said just be happy we won and figure it out. I got a pretty good mindset of how I’m going to do this now, and I’m glad that we really got smashed, so there’s no question. What if we would have lost by five or six? Oh, we’re okay. No, no, we’re not okay.
And, so my mindset and how I’ve got to go forward and what I’m going to emphasize and what I’m going to demand. If you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every time. If you accept them doing what they choose to when they choose to, that’s what you get and you get sloppy play and you can’t win ball games. So, I have a pretty good mindset. I was more aggressive today. Could you tell? I was a little more aggressive today. And, I was happy with Immanuel and how he dealt with it, because it’s what it is. It’s a man’s world, let’s go.
Q. You are down 44-37 and then you go on the run. What changed over the next couple of minutes for you guys to get everything going?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first of all, we were down eight because they made that free throw, I believe. Didn’t we go down eight? We never went down eight?
Q. Not that time…
JOHN CALIPARI: Fine. Well, at some point. And, I told the guys I was glad, because I have to figure out who is going to be able to make plays, stops, make good decisions. I tell you what a great play was. The play where Quade went under the basket to help Nick (Richards), so they couldn’t throw it over the top and still stole the skip pass and threw it ahead and we dunked. Basically that was the game. Now he could have gone under and if the skip went, let the guy get a three and maybe they win the game? And he says, well, you wanted me to help, which we’re getting some of that right now.
Well, yeah, we do, but we also want you to be able to play your man, a veteran move. I thought Immanuel played really well, made big shots when we needed. But again, he took a tough shot going down the middle with about 17, 18 on the shot clock. Why are we doing that? I thought Quade took one standing on the wing and threw a desperation three. We didn’t need it at that point. But, how about the play where we threw it ahead to Keldon (Johnson)? Did anybody think he was going to pass that ball? Not one soul who watched it who was in the gym, people were sleeping saying ‘oh, he’s shooting that one.’ And he passed it because of the shot clock. And he passed it. P.J. rebounded that last ball instead of trying to get his, he passes it out so he can finish the game. We made strides. Some guys didn’t play well. So, move on. Next game. Let’s figure it out.
Q. Especially in the first half you struggled with turnovers. Not so much in the second half. What changed?
JOHN CALIPARI: Look-away passes, make the hardest play, throw-bounce passes instead of lobs, loose with the ball. Keldon and P.J. had three each at half. Like, wait a minute, what, how? So we did have a lot of turnovers, and we got some guys who got to get better with the ball. We got to get better with the ball too. We’re going to show them tomorrow all 19 turnovers and I’ll have one question after each one. Was that necessary? Some of them were pretty good plays, okay, they got a hand on it. But my guess is nine of them were like, ‘why in the world would you even attempt that?’ Today I thought some guys played for us. I thought every single guy last game played for themselves. Every single guy on the court. Today they played for each other. But, we had to or we wouldn’t have won the game.
Q. Nick had 19 rebounds, that was as many as the entire Southern Illinois team. Is rebounding just a matter of effort on his part?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, that, and we need Nick on the court. I knew after Duke where they shot layup, layup, layup, layup, you got to have a shot blocker in there. So we need him on the floor. I thought E.J. (Montgomery) played well by the way. But the three blocks and E.J. got two, that’s five blocks, that’s five blocks between them. That changes - now you’re not going in there just to shoot layups. I thought we collapsed definitely better but Nick gives us something we don’t have. Now, he should have had about 10 more points, he faded away on shots, there’s still that stuff, he fumbled a couple balls, one-handed caught a couple balls. But look, if he’ll fight and go after balls and block shots, we can deal with the rest of it. He was good. Happy for him. I was worried. Exhibition games and even the last game, I mean, you worry. You just, you know, you want every kid to play well.
Q. What was the game plan coming into tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, they play a lot like Kansas plays. They play a lot of high/low basketball. They play a lot of pick and roll, kickback, post ups. And it was good for us because we had to really work on being tighter and not stretching the floor out and coming off on the weak side. And when you got young players, you know, they just forget and they’re guarding their own man and all of a sudden it’s a throw over the top and a layup. Or a guy drives and there’s a layup because we’re not collapsing on drives. And I thought most of the game we did a pretty good job.
Q. Is Tyler (Herro) not taking the kind of shots you want or is he just not making shots right now?
JOHN CALIPARI: Probably both. I thought the open shots he had he didn’t take. And then he had one where he bounced it and tried to shoot it and then the fade away late. I’m telling him, you got to have the shot before you catch the ball. Before you catch it, you know you got a shot. In high school you catch it and you say, do I have a shot. And then you bounce it and just shoot it or do whatever, you’re the best player on the high school team. As you move in this sport, most of your shots are before you catch it and if some of it is, boom. Because he can shoot, you know and then he drives for layups or does the things he does. He’s still not there yet. I thought he defended better. But you know and I told him after I’m happy he’s going through this. Deal with it. Deal with it. You’re not, this isn’t just easy, it’s hard. Every game we play teams are going to come in here and play and they’re going to give us a good game.
Q. If I heard you right you said you figured out how you want the team to play. What is that?
JOHN CALIPARI: I haven’t figured all that out, but I know how we’re going forward, what’s going to be demanded. There’s certain things that are game in-house stuff that I’m demanding when we practice. And we had some guys that got mad last practice. Got mad for holding them accountable. No, do it again. And I had to explain to them, you’re not supposed to be mad. I’m supposed to be mad. You got this backwards. And it’s, again, when you’re dealing with young kids and they -- and I told them it’s not their fault. Whose fault is it? It is my fault. If we went to that -- I told them you’re good, guys. I never saw coming what happened up there. You know why? Because I really didn’t have a good read. That’s my job as a coach is to have a good read on where we are. I had no read at all. I knew Bahamas there were flaws and I knew that’s not who we were going to be. Today we grinded, we need to score easier, but we had to grind it. But this thing, as we go forward, is you’re held accountable. This is what we’re asking you to do. And there’s no -- we’re not arguing, we have what we have, we have our buddy in the gym. He’s called the treadmill that’s going at 17 miles an hour for 30 seconds. Get on the treadmill. And I tell them hold on before you get on because it’s already running. Then start running and then let go and then run for 30 seconds and then hold it and then put your feet on both sides and then come back in and -- da da da, nope, on it. Go ahead, go on to buddy. Get over there. So it is holding their feet to the fire to say this is what’s acceptable. And what you’ll see is a much more disciplined basketball team. That’s not on these kids. That’s on me. The way they played up there, each of them looked bad. Not one of them looked good. That’s on me. And I let them go out there and play that way. I got a lot of work. We got a lot of work to do to get this team where it needs to go. But I’m loving this group of guys and I’m just saying, hey, be responsible, own your performance. Don’t blame anybody, don’t blame me, don’t blame the fans, don’t blame the other team, don’t blame the officials. Own your performance. That’s the only way you get better.
Q. I wonder with the freshmen you bring in here every year to play under this spotlight, especially when a kid struggles early, how much of it is maybe pressing for the first time in their life, trying to do that much better?
JOHN CALIPARI: There’s this thing you can’t explain how it’s going to be until you get here. And again, let me say this, I have friends, I got a bunch of high school buddies here. We went to high school together. But all of this, they’re looking at these guys saying wow, what they’re up against. Every kid that we bring here thinks this is going to be easy and that there’s a magic wand called Kentucky. You put the uniform on, you made it. Nope. You got to take what you want. You have to take it. And you have to be about your teammates. You can’t be about yourself here. Because no one makes it that. They talk about the fans. My guys are saying these fans… our fans are the best. Do you know how many people showed up in Indianapolis? It was crazy, people were blown away. They deserved a better effort than we gave them, but guess what, fans, we’re not ready for that yet. Please stay with us. And if you’re mad at anybody, you should be mad right at me, not these kids. They’re going to do what I’m asking them to do. Obviously, I wasn’t as disciplined myself or asking enough from them. But they get here, they find out, wow, this is hard. Tyler’s figuring it out. Keldon’s figuring it out. Ashton’s (Hagans) figuring it out. Stuff’s hard here. And you can’t just do what you want to do. Well, you don’t understand my game. I do. I do understand your game. I’m trying to get you to play a way that you look good and we win.
Q. Is there anything preventing P.J. from getting going offensively? And I noticed some tape on his fingers tonight. Is his hand okay?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know what, he’s struggling a little bit. And he’s still -- he had an operation on that hand, and I don’t think right now he’s confident enough yet in that hand. But my thing is, forget the hand, just run and go crazy and play with unbelievable energy and get away from what you look like in other areas. Just make easy plays and fly up and down. But he’s going to have to work his way through it. I can’t do it for him. I didn’t think Reid (Travis) played particularly well today. He played okay. But he didn’t play as good as I think he should play. But we should be able to cover for each other. This guy’s not playing great, I’ll step in and let me play. And kind of what happened today.
On his 19 rebounds…
“It was a great experience to get 19 rebounds. It was just the energy and effort that my coaches have been talking about since the Duke game. I’m just happy I was able to pull out a win for my team. ”
On the slow start to the game…
“We needed to come out with more energy. We didn’t really come out as aggressive as we needed to be at the start of the game. But, we picked it up throughout the game and we all got on each other.”
On team turnovers…
“That’s just another thing that just came with us not being aggressive in the beginning of the game. It lead to turnovers and them getting more points off of those turnovers. But, you can see in the second half we stepped it up. We definitely came out better in the second half than the first.”
On Coach Calipari talking about his two 3s changing the game…
“Just staying confident. It was just a matter of time before I started to make shots. I’ve been in the gym every morning before school so I knew eventually I was going to start hitting shots.”
On turnovers in the first half…
“A little sloppy. Some of it was just being aggressive and sometimes when you’re being aggressive you’re trying to make plays and you’re going to make mistakes. I think we sharpened up in the second half though and we finished with about 19, so I think we did a good job in the second half.”
Immanuel Quickley (@IQ_GodSon) talks adjusting from High School to College and says “we’re all still learning.” Continues by adding that the defense will be better with experience- “you can’t teach experience.” pic.twitter.com/OuYhZQEIc8— Tres Terrell (@TerrellTres) November 10, 2018
On what changed in the last 10 minutes of the game…
“Energy and effort were off the charts. This team is really good. With that I think we just have to keep getting better each and every day individually and as a team. Coach Calipari is doing a great job with us and we’re just going to keep getting better.”
On how hard it was to find that in themselves and show that they had it…
“After that Duke game it was a little tough, but this team’s resilient and I think we’ll bounce back from any challenge throughout the season. It’s early and I think we’ll just keep getting better and I think it was really important for us to show ourselves and each other just how we trust each other. You know, coming out every single day and every single practice and we’re going to compete with who we are.”
On coming alive in the second half…
“Just wanted to come out with energy and fight, it was a close game and I wanted to push the lead.”
On dealing with adversity in the last 10 minutes…
“It was definitely something that we wanted to show because we do that every day in practice. With the Duke game, I’m not sure what happened.”
On the spark that ignited them when they were down seven…
“We just tried to compete on the defensive end. We tried to get stops and get easy buckets in transition because that’s what were best at as a team.”
EJ says this week of practice was "very hard" pic.twitter.com/SM5DV1tVYe— Big Blue Drew (@BigBlueDrew33) November 10, 2018