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Basketball Wildcats preview IUP & talk UK Football

Several Wildcats met with the media ahead of Kentucky’s final preseason game and even talked about the football team.

Aaron Gershon A Sea Of Blue

Kentucky is only days away from their opening night battle with the Duke Blue Devils.

Before shifting the focus completely on the Blue Devils, the Cats will play Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Rupp Arena Friday night.

Nick Richards and Keldon Johnson were both asked if it was hard to avoid thinking about Duke while playing a lesser opponent in IUP first.

“I mean I don’t feel like it’s hard at all.” Johnson said. “I feel like we take it one game at a time. We’re focused. We’re locked in.”

Richards agreed with his teammate.

,“It’s not really hard to stay focused. Coach (John Calipari) really says don’t worry about games that are like three games away. Just got to focus on one game at a time.”

Like Transylvania, Richards expects IUP to shoot a lot of three-pointers. When asked how to contain them he had this to say:

“Stay down on shot fakes and just try to contest every shot.”

The IUP Crimson Hawks come from the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. They are coming off a regular season championship season and have plenty of returning players.

Assistant Coach Joel Justus broke them down.

“They’re experienced, they have great size, definitely at the three, four, five spots. They really have some experience in the backcourt and guys who have won some games, and I think guys that are expecting to win and play well regardless of who the opponent is.”

As for the football team’s matchup with Georgia this weekend, both Richards and Johnson expressed their confidence in the team.

“I got faith in them.” Johnson said. “If anybody got faith in them, I have faith in our football team. I think they can do anything. If they put their mind to it, they can it done.”

Richards offered a prediction.

“They’re going to get this win on Saturday. They’re going to go to Atlanta. I believe in them, I believe in my guys.”

Before the Cats take the football field, it will be the basketball team on the hardwood Friday night at 7 p.m. at Rupp Arena against IUP.

The game will be broadcasted live on SEC Network.

Here are more comments from Justus, Johnson and Richards, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Joel Justus

On what they are looking for in the final exhibition game …

“I think it’s the same thing that we’ve been looking for since we stepped on the floor after the Transylvania game: I think we’re looking to get better; looking for improvement both individually as well as collectively. I think you want to see guys take steps towards becoming their best version. Our goal – Coach Cal’s goal – is to achieve that by the end of the year. This is just another step in that direction, another time to test each guy, like I said, individually and also collectively. “

On how tough is it defensively to play a smaller, quicker team that tries to do straight line drives …

“I think you saw that it was a bit of a challenge (in the Transylvania game), not only for the big lineup that we showed the other night but for one through five. That was something that was addressed really at halftime as well as after the game. In all transparency, it’s been addressed every single day since last Friday. I think that’s something we want to see an improvement on defense, once again individually as well as collectively, is you have gotta keep the ball out in front. But yeah, when you play teams like Transylvania, we did have some matchups there at the three, four and five that were unique to probably that one game, and maybe you’ll have some of that later on down the season, but don’t anticipate that here in the coming weeks.”

On how Nick (Richards) said a lot of guys thought they were in game shape but figured out they weren’t once they played the other night …

“That’s Nick kind of saying that. That wasn’t anything that we went through or Coach went through this week of saying was a point for us to make. I think the defensive part of keeping guys in front, we had 26 straight line drives we gave up, and we had 21 to the Bahamas team the first game that we were down there at the Atlantis. Maybe that had something to do with it, I don’t know. It was the first time you’re playing somebody new. Same thing that we said first game, and we corrected that by the time we played San Lorenzo. I think Coach is in the same boat as the rest of our staff and our team, that we’re going to hopefully correct that by tomorrow night.”

On if there is a way to prepare for Duke on Tuesday during Friday’s IUP game …

“I think, really since I’ve been here, and I’m pretty sure since Coach Cal has been here, he’s been consistent in saying that the biggest opponent and the most important opponent that we play is ourselves. I think we’ve addressed that since we started practice in August and I think we’ve continued to echo that message this week in between Transy and then our game tomorrow night. I think that will be the message daily as we move forward this year. Every game is important, not only to our guys – it is a chance for them to show who they are, who they’re becoming. It’s a chance for them to be evaluated. But, it’s also someone else’s big game as well. I think for us, our guys are growing as individuals. We are growing as a team. So I don’t think that we worry about who we play down the road because we have tons of big games down the road. Our most important thing is having a really good practice tonight, having a great shootaround tomorrow afternoon and getting better tomorrow night.”

On the shooting in the Transylvania game …

“Once again I think we just had some times that we were getting used to playing in Rupp. I think you’re playing at a different time, you’re playing at a different kind of situation and I think all of those times you’re going to have some butterflies. I think you’re going to have some anxiety. I think you’re going to have some excitement. We got that out of our system. We had some shots go in and out. I don’t think that we really had any bad shots in terms of bad misses. Maybe they were early in the clock. I think this time of the year when you have young guys, you have new guys that that is going to happen. Just like with our defensive issues, we address them and you move on.”

On Tyler Herro coming back to Earth after not leading the team in scoring against Transy …

“I don’t know if Tyler is ever – I don’t know the last time Tyler was on Earth. You know what I mean? He is such a fun guy to coach. He has such a swagger about him, such a supreme confidence. That comes from how much he works and the amount of time he spends in the gym and the amount of love he has for his own progress and work. So, I don’t know that anything – You could probably ask Tyler how many shots he missed the other night and he has no idea. Now, I know he does. But, he knows how many shots everybody made. I mean, he’s a basketball junkie. But, he’s fine. Tyler’s in a great place. He’s had a great week of practice.”

On the challenges IUP presents …

“They’re experienced. They have great size, definitely at the three, four, five spots. And they have some experience in the backcourt with some guys that have won some games, and I think guys that are expecting to win and guys that are expecting to play well regardless of who the opponent is. So I think it’s a great test for us. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better and play a very good, experienced team that plays hard and is going to do what they do, and oftentimes they do it well.”

On IUP walking through a few moments ago and what they’re doing at the practice facility …

“I think they’re practicing right now. We’re going to practice tonight.”

On Jemarl Baker Jr.’s status …

“He just kind of day-to-day. He’s working out. I’m not really sure kind of what his status is. He’s working hard and he’s getting better. When he’s ready, he’s ready.”

On Calipari’s comments that no one has a person like Nick Richards and how much he has improved …

“I think you look at a guy who has put a significant amount of time and effort into his body but also into his skills. I think what Coach is saying is he’s a sophomore who’s been through it. He’s been knocked around a little bit. He’s been forced to build his own confidence. Coach is big on that. If you’re only getting your confidence from Coach Cal or one of us on the staff saying, ‘Good shot, good job, you’re doing great,’ that’s not how you build your confidence. And the same way if you’re rocked by someone whether it’s a coach or fan or someone on Twitter saying that you stink or you’re not very good, your confidence is going to be rocked off of that. Nick has built his confidence like a lot of our guys do and have done on this team and have done so in the past. He’s taken a look at the blueprint that’s been there and really worked hard. You’re happy for a guy like that. He’s confident, he’s smiling, he’s bouncy. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be a factor for us if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”

Keldon Johnson

On the objective of the last exhibition game …

“Just come out and execute. Do what we’re supposed to do, lock up on defense, that’s the main thing. Stay in front of people and not get in foul trouble.”

On what changes were made after the first exhibition …

“We tweaked some little things on offense, but mainly defense. We’ve just got to sit down and keep them in front of us.”

On if he was surprised about not being in the starting lineup …

“It doesn’t really matter. I trust Coach Cal and what he’s doing. If he doesn’t decide to start me, then I just come in and do what I’m supposed to do. If he does, same thing: I just come in and take care of business.”

On what he brings coming off the bench …

“I just do what I usually do – bring energy, talk trash and just have fun out there.”

On if the team has started thinking about Duke …

“Not really, we’re taking it one game at a time. We’ll cross that road when we get there.”

On the team knowing who they are …

“We’re Kentucky. We get after it. We bring a lot of energy, we’re young, we get all over the floor.”

On what area this team is already good at …

“I think we’re pretty good at shooting. We didn’t really show that in our first game. Our shooting aspect of the game is really good.”

On 3-point defense objective …

“We like getting teams to take tough 2s, contested 2s. We just go from there.”

On Transy’s straight line drives to the rim …

“I can’t give you any other expectation than just us. That’s definitely on us. It’s not Coach Cal’s fault; it’s not anything that Transy did special. It’s very important (to stop) because that comes with uncontested 3s. I think we know as a team that we can’t have mistakes like that.”

Nick Richards

On the biggest things he learned he needs to work on in the first exhibition …

“That I need to get in better shape. That I need to get more in game shape. We’re basically good in practice, but we just figure out what’s the rotation.”

On the three-big lineup …

“It’s very good. Coach, he only uses it as a standpoint for us to rebound the ball on the offensive end more because you have me, PJ (Washington) and Reid (Travis), so it’s going to be an easier task for us to get offensive rebounds.”

On bigs having to guard smaller players in that lineup …

“I don’t think that’s a thing to worry about. They teach us here how to guard multiple positions, so we’ve been working on it in practice and guys are getting better at it.”

On their defense vs. Transy …

“It was decent. We gave up too many straight line drives to the rim. We need to work on that a little bit more. We let them get too many second-chance points. Really they should have never gotten any second-chance points. Just gotta work on those things, gotta get better at it and we’re working on it in practice every day.”

On what Cal meant when he says no other team has a player like Nick Richards …

“I don’t know what he means by that. I’m just trying to be myself, be the best player I can for this team, and get better as an individual player and find out what this team needs me to do.”

On whether he has turned a corner from last season …

“I’m not really focused on last year. It’s in the past. The past doesn’t really matter what the future has for you. You gotta worry about what you can do right now to get yourself to be a better person or a better player. Those are just the things I’m focused on.”

On whether he expected Ellen Calipari to show up dressed as Brad …

“I wasn’t really expecting that. The tattoo is what really got me. … That was really funny.”