Today, the Kentucky Wildcats hosted the Winthrop Eagles for an afternoon matchup at Rupp Arena right before Thanksgiving.
Kentucky started out the first half of play shooting pretty good with some help from Keldon Johnson due to his two huge three point buckets. Kentucky’s ball movement seems to be continually improving, and it was no different today, as Kentucky was getting some open threes and dunks as well.
After the first half a few good things I noticed was that Kentucky shot 60% from the field, had 51 points in the half, and nine players had scored at that point. The bad was that Kentucky had 10 turnovers and allowed 7 made three-pointers by Winthrop at halftime.
PJ Washington had another monster game and he has now had back-to-back double-doubles. The last Kentucky player to achieve that was Bam Adebayo back in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky collectively shot really well from the field with 56.4% from inside the 3 point line and 38.9% from beyond the three-point line. Kentucky also won the rebounding battle grabbing 37 boards but turnovers continue to be an issue for the Wildcats as they had 19 of them today.
Kentucky’s offense has steadily improved since the beginning of the season, as the ball movement is getting better, and it seems as though players are getting more comfortable shooting the ball as well.
However, defense still seems to be an issue, as Kentucky allowed Winthrop to shoot 46.4% from beyond three-point range and allowing them to hit 13 of those 28 that they put up.
After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players talked about the win. Here is a recap of everything they had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. For most of that game did you feel like the offense was as good as the defense was bad?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, well the defense wasn’t bad for 18 minutes in the first half. And then the last couple minutes of the first half we just let down. And then we went for five, six minutes. So this team’s just played 24 minutes of the way I need them to play. About 24. Then the rest of it was Winthrop just slicing and dicing and driving and threes, and again we gave up eight threes to their centers and our centers have their hand down and the guy just shoots the ball or you just totally leave him and he shoots a three. I mean you know I’m sitting there watching. We had one we went under a handoff, number 13, who is their best three-point shooter, we went under. So he catches it and shoots it. He went off a double screen, we were switching out. Guess what we didn’t do? We didn’t switch out and he shoots a three. So some of this we’re doing to ourselves. The biggest thing this team doesn’t have right now is the discipline to play 40 minutes. We just don’t, but I’m happy it was 24 minutes. That’s better than some of these games where it’s 15 minutes, 12 minutes.
Q. Is that who you expect Tyler Herro to be with the seven assists tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: That was surprising. I told him. I said for the worst passer I’ve ever coached in my history to have seven assists, that’s an amazing accomplishment. And he says he’s not that bad a passer. I say, well -- but he did good today. But again, making him catch and shoot, all we worked on. And believe me I was all over him. If he brought that ball down or if he dipped before he shot, I was -- no. Now he doesn’t make as many because he hadn’t ever practiced that way, he’s never ever worked that way. It’s not like, you got to get these off. The one he missed I thought he wound up again, like he thinks, ‘Well if I slow down I got a better chance,’ -- no, you don’t. Catch it and get it off. That’s what your shot is. You got one shot, whether they’re on you, whether they’re not on you, catch it and get it off. Much better today. Keldon (Johnson) did some good things but still not defending, can’t stay in front of people. And we’re trying to tell him give ground. And the biggest play for us of the game was Nick’s (Richards) block in the second half, which helped us go on that run. Nick blocked it, Keldon got beat on a straight line drive, he bodied the guy, the guy ran right around him, Nick blocked it, we go down, make a three, make another play, make a three and they got to call a timeout. That was Nick Richards. But that’s who he must be. Or EJ (Montgomery). And if they’re both doing it, subbing for each other, we’re good. If one’s not doing it, I’m playing the other. We need that guy. That will change our defense. You saw at the end, guy reversed last play of the game and he shoots a six-foot-one guy, shot a layup on our six-foot-eight guy. Just turned and you know. Well that’s why you have EJ or Nick in there, one of those two.
Q. Are you starting to get the consistency out of PJ (Washington) that you want?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I’m trying. Again, he goes a double-double, but I still, I want more from him. I just, I want more from him. I want him to -- don’t ever let up ever or sub yourself. If you don’t feel like really, just go, man. And when he does it he’s as good as any player in the country. And when he doesn’t, he’s okay, but he doesn’t have an impact on the game. The other way he absolutely impacts the game. And I’m just saying I’m not going to accept anything other than that. I told him at halftime, I told him after the game, if those 24 minutes are what you’re going to give, that’s what we’re striving for to get that to 40. And if it takes us time to get there, that’s fine. We’re still -- we had 20 assists on 30 baskets. It’s pretty good stuff. But again, we don’t have enough hockey assists. Does anybody in here know what a hockey assist is? Some of you do? Jerry (Tipton), you have no idea, so don’t even act like you know. Jerry, you have no follow-ups, you ask one question.
Q. My one question is a two-parter then.
JOHN CALIPARI: Don’t laugh at him, you encourage him.
Q. How well do you think they bought into going to the post for scorers and what do you think of the feeding the post element that have?
JOHN CALIPARI: We still got work to do. What I saw on tape -- and Pat (Kelsey) has done a great job with Winthrop, I mean he’s got these guys playing a way they got to play. He’s got senior guards that space the court and get in and he’s got five men that can shoot three. He’s playing a way that they -- they’re a dangerous, dangerous team. We just started right out of the gate. We were pretty good to get going. But there are games that we’re not going to be able to just throw it and jam it in there. But you can do it other ways. And the one thing is, when you have that as an option and you can shoot the ball the way we do, that becomes tough. Now, what, are you going to give us something near the basket or are you going to scramble and see who is open? But we have a bunch of guys that I think can make shots. I got on Immanuel (Quickley), I don’t know if you remember, the ball came to him and there was no one on him and he hesitated. Why did you hesitate? And then he drove in, left his feet and threw a pass. Now thank goodness there was no charge but it could have been. Instead of just shooting it. We have that kind of team where he can shoot it, Quade (Green) can shoot it, Keldon can shoot it, Tyler Herro can shoot it, I mean we got a bunch of guys -- our bigs can shoot. I mean they put Nick at the line. That was a mistake. I mean, all of us said, they put Nick at the line? Thank goodness. Like you think, well, just because he’s big -- he can shoot too. So it was -- we’re getting better but we still got to work. I limited what our big guys were going to do today, we were just taking one dribble and shooting the ball. Or if you got trapped, one dribble out and pass the ball. No, we’re bringing everything we’re doing back to like the first week.
Q. You talked earlier about figuring out who your separators are. Are you certain of any of your players?
JOHN CALIPARI: PJ. If PJ plays, he’s one of them. But we’re still, we’re still searching. If he will compete and battle with a high motor, like high motor cuts, high motor going off rebounds on both ends, flying down the court, defensively coming up with steals so we can -- yeah, he becomes that guy. He had three steals today. But there’s only one way to be that guy, and that is with an unbelievably high motor and then sub yourself and say, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go back.’ Go back in.
Q. I know that you accept a certain amount of turnovers as being aggressive, but they had 27 points on 19 turnovers today.
JOHN CALIPARI: It was bad. It was bad.
Q. Was it one thing in particular?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we were offensive fouling in the post. When they do this and you’re trying to get them off you, they were, that was a foul, so we probably had four of those. Three of those at least, maybe four. We had a couple others throwing the ball to the post. So PJ had two of those, maybe three, Ashton (Hagans) had one that I can remember, so what I just told you is half of them were that. And then I’m going to watch the tape and see exactly, but again, we had our bigs with a lot of turnovers. So that means either we have got to not throw them the ball to put them in that position because they’re going to turn it over or we are going to have to work with them so that they see turnovers they’re making. And why? Most of it is you’re making the hardest pass you can make. Just make an easy play. And again, a hockey assist is -- if a man is in front of you, throw him the ball. ‘Well I can’t because I don’t get an assist from that, because he’ll throw it to somebody who may throw it to somebody else.’ Guys are fighting it right now. Like they -- if a guy’s ahead, I got to throw this for an assist. We can’t, that can’t be who we are. Especially with our size. Because if the court is spaced, pass, pass, PJ got it and drives, he’s too big, he’s too strong. Same with Reid (Travis), Reid just goes and shoots layups.
Q. Do you sense that this team is better served playing Sunday, Wednesday, Friday or better off in December when you’re playing just once a week?
JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. Like I said, we got better. I mean that was good. And again, defensively for 18 minutes and the first six of the second, 24 minutes we played pretty good defense. You understand at halftime, folks, they had 21 points from the three-point line. And they had 16 points from the two. Come on now. Let’s figure this out. Why is this happening? And so now if they had 21 at halftime you would have said, boy you got better defensively. But we’re still giving up threes and of those threes at halftime seven of them were from their centers. I mean, so now we went from the two or the point guard shooting them to now the center’s shooting them.
Q. You had nine guys play over 10 minutes, 8-over 15 minutes, you’ve done it with a lot of guys you’ve had six, seven-man rotations, do you envision this, how do you see it playing out?
JOHN CALIPARI: What I want to do is I want to challenge Nick and EJ, whichever one is blocking shots and having a presence, you will play more. So if you want to play more, you do that. If they’re both doing it, that’s great. With PJ and Reid if you want to play together, you can’t, somebody’s got to guard the basket. If you can’t and they’re shooting layups, I will not play you two together. That means you’re playing when he’s not playing and if he’s playing better, you won’t play as much. And then with the guard play, I’m trying to define how guys should play, but it’s hard because they got a lot of clutter coming at them of how they should be playing. And I’m trying to define a way that they can really look like a very good basketball player, as a matter of fact outstanding, and you don’t see any of this other stuff. But that’s going to take time. That will take time. But it was good that we had five guys in double figures and one had eight and that was Travis. Which is -- he had some kickouts for shots and so. Have a great Thanksgiving, folks, everybody out there. I hope you’re with family and friends and you enjoy your time. We all have so much to be thankful for.
On the offense …
“We were just moving the ball, trying to create for each other. I think that’s what started the runs we had. We shared the ball and just were looking out for each other.”
On the defense …
“We’ve just got to keep striving to get better each day. Just keep striving and making improvements each day. Going into each day so we can turn 24 into 30. Just keep making strives to the next step. Just making step each day.”
On the three-point game …
“Just working on the defense. We’ve just got to keep working on defense. We can’t keep relying on our opponents to hit threes from deep. I think that it just has to start with us. Nobody else is going to start that for us. It’s going to have to start with us for our own defense.
On opponent shooting …
“I think it’s mainly just miscommunication. Just a lack of talking to each other. That’s what leads mostly to threes. I think when we don’t communicate, they just send out wide open threes over and over again.”
On the condition of his knee …
“It’s doing better, it hurt really bad, but we put some ice on it and it feels a lot better. I had torn my meniscus before so I was worried, but it feels good. Back in the locker room the doctor checked me out and stretched and then was good to go.”
On their work in practice …
“He’s (Coach Calipari) been on me lately in practice and then we had individual workouts where I am just catching and shooting and elevating on my jump shots. Trying to shoot as many game-like shots as I can in practice.”
On Winthrop’s play and shot making …
“I think our guards did a lot better today, most of the threes are from the bigs trailing. We talked about it before the game how their big likes to come down and make some tough shots, but I think it was better today defensively as a unit so were working every day to get better on defense as the season goes on.”
On being disciplined …
“We play a lot of freshman and we’re young, so the more that we play we’ll get better each day and just staying on it continually.”
On having more energy in the second half …
“The first half we played really well and the second half we started off strong. However, we kind of fell off a bit and that’s something we got to work on in practice. We need to make sure that we play hard for a full forty minutes.”
On his double-double and if the game is coming easier to him …
“Yeah, I just try to find my rhythm. I try to get some defensive rebounds and get out in the fast break while getting my teammates involved.”
On Coach Calipari still expecting more from him …
“He just wants more rebounds, more blocked shots. He needs me to be more aggressive, and I feel like I need to bring a lot more energy. He says that I lack energy sometimes during the games, which is why I need to bring it more often.”
On Calipari talking about keeping the offense simpler for the forwards …
“We worked on it a lot during the off days. He wants us to catch the ball in the post and make a quick decision. It makes scoring in the post much easier.”