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John Calipari and Wildcats recap TSU: “We’re not a very good team right now”

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Swaggy Cal is turning into grumpy Cal, and for good reason.

Calipari Sea of Blue

Kentucky Basketball took care of the Tennessee State Tigers with a final score of 77-62.

Keldon Johnson had the best game in his young career in the blue and the white, putting up 27 points alongside 7 assists. Reid Travis was the only other Wildcat with double-digit points, adding 13. He missed a double-double by one rebound, but gave Kentucky the advantage in the paint when it was needed the most.

Kentucky started out slow and fell behind by a score of 14-10, but battled back by halftime to take a 12 point lead into the locker room. Tennessee State played zone for a majority of the half and caused confusion for UK’s offense, head coach John Calipari said.

Tennessee State hung around in the first half, but couldn’t keep up with the physicality of UK without committing careless fouls.

TSU came out of the locker room with a newfound sense of intensity, by finding open looks and giving the Kentucky defense fits when the tempo of the game picked up. Calipari and his Cats continued to make the shots in the paint, rebounded the ball at critical times and reached the charity stripe 41 times.

All nine of the players that saw time in the game scored and provided looks that kept TSU out of the game. Many of the freshman came up clutch tonight and played a critical role in the Cats’ record improving to 5-1.

But after the game, Calipari was less than thrilled about his team’s so-so outing, which has become far too common this season.

“The reality of it is, we’re a ways away. We’re not a very good team right now. We have no confidence defensively, which bleeds into your offense. Then you have no confidence offensively… I wish we were further along defensively. But we’re not.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari and select players had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

John Calipari

Q. What was working offensively for Keldon (Johnson) tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: He was seeing gaps and he was seeing opportunities to go at the basket and was strong at the rim and did a pretty good job.

Q. How surprised were you they (Tennessee State) didn’t take more threes and what do you think about the idea that they were even with you in the paint?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well they probably watched the tapes and said, ‘You know what, we don’t have to take threes. Let’s just drive the ball,’ which I thought they would do. My thing was they would spread the court, use clock and then try to beat somebody on the bounce. I thought they had a pretty good game plan in what they were doing. And then they were physical. You know how many one footers we missed again? I mean literally one foot. Well, ‘He bumped me,’ or – we got to make those or go up and dunk the ball. Look, folks, the reality of it is we’re a ways away. We’re not a very good team right now. We have no confidence defensively, which bleeds into your offense. Then have you no confidence offensively. You get beat three or four times, don’t think you’re going to be pounding your chest saying I’m great on offense. And then they become, you know, we wanted to -- and I’m going to just keep working on it, where we could open up the court and get some drives and do some stuff, and I’m going to continue to work on it. We -- they trapped the post a little bit. There were opportunities in the zone offense for to us post the ball and we just don’t have that feel yet. One time they switched out, both men took Tyler (Herro) going out and Reid (Travis) had no one on him, and we didn’t throw him the ball because he wasn’t supposed to catch the pass. ‘I know, but they put two guys out –’ You got to throw it in. Those are the kind of things that we’ll watch on tape and just say ‘Look, we got to get better.’ I told them I’m just going to keep coaching them. And we have been good against press, and then like just put on the board, this is our press attack, so why didn’t you do this and why didn’t you do that? Why did you catch it on the wing and hold it above your head? Why didn’t you play our press attack which is all about spacing. And you have freshmen out there. You have young guys out there and they start getting pressed. I mean, again, you get the game in the 20s, 24, well, how about it goes to 40. We turn around and it’s back to 12. This has happened every game. And they (Tennessee State) even missed some threes they could have made in the second half.

Q. When you have a team that you said has no defensive confidence, what do you do to get that back? I mean when offense is off, you make shots you get your confidence. What do you do on defense to get your confidence?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first of all we got to continue to work on straight-line drives. You just can’t, we got beat, it’s like we got tired. And they just beat us on the dribble. So we’re going to just continue to work on it, how we have to play, we have to be anticipate more, see what’s happening before it happens, not after it happens, which is where we are right now. And then we got to start helping the helper more so we can trust each other and we can be more confident on defense. We’re still – there are times we’re not blocking out. A man goes to help and we don’t help him on a check out. It’s all stuff that we just got to cure it, we got to keep doing it in practice, we got to keep talking about it. And if have you a couple guys playing with confidence and then you have others not, I’m talking, it’s hard to get that all together. We -- I told them -- until we become a defensive team that people know, not only can we rebound, but we can make you take a tough shot until we become that team. All this other stuff offensively, doesn’t really matter until we become that. And again, today their game plan was hold it, hold it, 11 seconds, 10, we’re going to take something and see if we can make a basket. And we were good and then all of a sudden we missed seven out of eight free throws, like almost air balls. What? Where are we on this? But like I said, this is where we are right now. I wish we were further along defensively, but we’re not. And Jerry (Tipton), you asked about post. They played zone and again we haven’t played against zone that much and I couldn’t get our guys to post the ball. Like there was one where Keldon (Johnson), out of the timeout we’re throwing it to you and you’re posting it. And he moved up and I had to yell to him to move down where he could catch it and post it. It’s that we’re just, that feel for they’re trying to keep it out of the post. That’s why they’re going zone, so post it.

Q. It seems obvious that Nick (Richards) is struggling. What do you think’s going on there? What can turn it around?

JOHN CALIPARI: Demonstrated performance. You got to go in the game and perform. And what I’ve been telling these guys, they got to play like they have nothing to lose like every team we play. They got to take it off themselves. And they got to, this is how coach is asking me to play, then you don’t have to worry about the clutter of how you’re playing. I’m playing the way he wants me to play. Take it off you. Play like you have nothing to lose and go play. But I’m telling you, if you’re getting broken down on defense, I’ve done this again 35 years, guys, you’re not going to have confidence offensively. Do you remember I’ve said that a few times here? You cannot have confidence offensively if you cannot guard. You just -- you don’t. So until we build that and become that team, we become the aggressor, we become the team that anticipates and rotates and trusts and all that and it just takes time. We’ve got a bunch of freshmen still. We got a new team thrown together.

Q. Between the last time you took a team to the Bahamas four years ago and that trip seemed to give you a head start --

JOHN CALIPARI: When we had the No. 1 pick in the draft and we had four lottery picks and we had pretty good players and six guys got drafted from that team. It was a pretty good team.

Q. Question comparing the players on the 2014-15 team to this team …

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t think so at this point. I would say no. Now, by the end you watch what happened with Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and (Kevin) Knox and Hami (Diallo) and the guys by the end. But where we were at the beginning of last year, I would say the same with that group. But I don’t, you know, could we have four lottery picks on this team? Yeah, if they want to be that. But it’s going to start with we’re all going to commit to defending. We’re all going to commit to doing this and rotating and listening and executing on defense. Then the offense will come. I mean offense hasn’t been the issue.

Q. Can you talk about Immanuel (Quickley) and what you see that he’s getting better at and what he’s still struggling the most with?

JOHN CALIPARI: You know, we’re trying to open up the court for him and Ashton (Hagans) a little bit of times to get them in that lane. But again, we just, we’re just trying to keep messing around with what we’re doing there. But I thought defensively he’s doing some good stuff. Much better job of playing in front of people, much better job of getting it up the court. Now, he still, we never outlet the ball to him up the court. He’s like under the basket. When we rebound he’s like, when you’re in high school just, ‘Here, give it to me.’ We need him up the court. And I just, we keep talking about it and showing him. So he’ll get there, but you get out to that sideline so we rebound, throw it to you, you can throw it ahead. He’s still not doing that yet. But there’s a lot of good stuff. I have a lot of confidence in him shooting the ball, I like his runners, makes free throws. So he’s going better.

Q. Do most freshmen arrive here with no clue on how to really play defense at this level?

JOHN CALIPARI: Most of them, yes. Yeah, they don’t know how to stay, really stop drives and stay in front and help the helper, forget about that. Like if someone helps and you got to help him, your big goes to help on a block and you have to take his man, block him out, that stuff, no, it takes time. I wish we were farther along, but you know...

Q. P.J. (Washington) said a lot of the guys have acknowledged that a lot of what you’re talking about there defensively goes back to talking or not talking. And PJ said, in high school most, the most people talk is trash and that’s about the only talking they do. Is that what you’re seeing or not hearing as well?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, and that’s trust. See, when you’re worried about you and you’re not real confident defensively, you don’t talk because you’re just worried about who you are and how you’re playing. When you’re a confident defender you’re chattering all the time, you chatter, you talk, “help me out,” that’s where we got to get to. And they got to commit to it. I mean, I can’t do it for them, the staff can’t do it for them. Please, if anybody, don’t -- the offense is not an issue. We’re fine. But we’re not going to play confident offensively unless we become that defensive team. And I mean every game you’re not going to shut people out. It means -- you all can watch and say, we need to be better defensively. Whether it be in pick and roll defense, we were having to trap and do stuff to keep them out of the lane.

Keldon Johnson

On his career night …

”It felt pretty good. The main thing is we got the win. That made it even better.”

On what part of his game got him going …

”Honestly, getting to the free throw line. That really got me going. Just staying aggressive, and it paid off.”

On Coach Calipari getting on the team’s defensive play …

”I mean he was pretty annoyed, as he should be. It’s unacceptable. If we want to be a team like we want to be, we can’t be having defensive lapses like that.”

On being a vocal leader on the defensive end …

”The main thing is just holding ourselves accountable on the defensive end, whether it’s the offensive end or defense, it’s holding ourselves accountable. Just letting us know it’s not ok to get beat and give up easy buckets.”

On getting to the rim …

”I was just staying aggressive, just kept attacking and eventually it just opened up. They opened up by the end of the game, and I was getting easy buckets.”

Reid Travis

On the defensive play…

”We’re all disappointed as far as keeping guys in front of us, moving our feet, blocking shots. There’s just a lot of opportunities were seeing on film and a lot of things that we want to do the right thing and putting in a lot of effort to do the right thing, then we get in a game and a lot of the work were putting in just isn’t showing as much as it should right now and that’s the frustrating part. We’re putting in the hours and we’re doing it in practice, then we get to the game and there’s lapses so it’s frustrating but it’s not something we can’t work through. It’s going to be nice to have another game on film to really look at where we are messing up and going in and trying to get better.”

On adjusting to the play …

”The expectation is raised. In high school, maybe you can trade baskets and maybe you had more talent than the other guy so you end up outscoring them by the end of the game, but in college you can’t trade baskets. If the team’s defending you, then they’re stopping you from scoring and then you’re just letting them score at the other end. That’s when games become toss-ups and games are closer than they should when you play certain teams. For us, it’s not expected to out-talent and outscore teams but just really defending teams.”

On Tennessee State’s three-point shooting…

”It was something we were expecting – for them to throw up a lot of threes – but at the end of the day that was something that was a point of emphasis for us. All we can practice was taking away the three and forcing them to drive so now I think the next step in the progression of our defense is if we’re going to take away the three, you can close out, make them put it on the floor, but also move our feet and stay in front and contest shots at the rim. We made improvements, but we can’t take a step back in other parts of our defense “

EJ Montgomery

On how comfortable he is being the shot blocker for this team …

”I’m getting pretty comfortable, that’s what Cal wants me to do and I’ve been working on it everyday in practice.”

On how frustrated Coach Calipari is with the defense …

”Yeah, I think he’s pretty frustrated. We work on it everyday in practice and sometimes we come out flat. However, we’re going to keep working and get better.”

On Keldon Johnson’s career night …

”I see that everyday out of Keldon, I knew that his day was coming. He’s a dog, that’s what he does—scores the basketball.”

On giving back to the community on Thanksgiving …

”It was a great experience going out there with the team and giving back to the less fortunate. It was a great experience for us and we had a lot of fun.”