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John Calipari & players discuss defensive woes and Monmouth

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The Wildcats broke down how they’re improving ahead of their upcoming game Wednesday night.

Aaron Gershon A Sea of Blue

The No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats will put their five-game winning streak on the line when they host the Monmouth Hawks of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

The two teams last met last season at Madison Square Garden last season, where Kentucky won big thanks to a big performance from PJ Washington. Despite Monmouth’s 0-7 record this season, head coach John Calipari does not see them as an easy match-up.

“They have nothing to lose,” Calipari said of a Monmouth team who played a close game with West Virginia just a few weeks ago. “They play fast; they play around their post player.”

Calipari went on to say if the Cats don’t play defense, Monmouth could beat them.

Bad defense has been a theme for this Wildcats team, which has allowed an average of 66.8 points per game, despite only playing one power-five team (Duke) so far this season.

“We have to get better defensively,” Calipari said.

Despite praising his team’s offensive potential, Calipari worries that the defensive struggles may start leading to offensive ones too.

“It’s hard to be confident on offense when you’re getting beat down on defense. You get beat on a dribble; you get beat on a three it makes you tentative on offense.”

As for how to improve, PJ Washington offered this:

“Just talking on defense, helping each other. Say if someone gets beat coming over and sliding over and taking a charge or something like that.”

Quade Green says the team has been working on getting faster on their feet.

“Coach Cal has everyone together working on that every day.”

Here’s everything Calipari, Washington, and Green had to say Via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On what he said on his radio show …

“You listened to the radio show? Oh. [Laugher.] I do repeat myself. Do I repeat myself? I really do. See, what happens you get older, you repeat yourself. And let me give you one story: So I go in and I’m recruiting and we had gone to two or three homes and I go into the home and there’s a story I like to tell that kind of makes a point of how we do this. It’s a funny story and I told the story early and they laughed and it was really good. And we got going and it went a little longer than I thought so then by accident I told the story again. They laughed and we walked out and I can’t remember who was with me but they said, ‘You know you told the story twice?’ And I go, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ‘Nope, you did it twice.” So I called the mom and I apologized and I said, ‘Why didn’t you stop me?’ and she said ‘It was pretty funny, I liked hearing it again.’ [Laughter.] ”

On if he got the player …

“I can’t remember. We probably, like many, we probably lost him.”

On if he has personally had to reboot …

“Yeah, what I told them yesterday is – here’s what’s happened to me personally: I’m expecting them to be farther than they are ready to be and there’s an expectation that brings a frustration. Like, you should know this. Well, they don’t know. I literally have to start coaching the games as though they’re practice until we figure it out. The issue is not what’s happening offensively. It has nothing to do with our offense, what we’re doing. We need to shoot it better but it’s hard to be confident on offense when you’re getting beat on defense and you get beat on a dribble and you get beat on a 3. It makes you tentative on offense. It just does. You could say whatever it is and it’s this this and this, but I’ve done tis 30 years. We have to get better defensively and that’s what we’re working on. So, as I was talking to one of my friends, he said to me, ‘You said the exact same thing a year ago.’ And then I thought back like, where were we defensively a year ago? How was Quade (Green) guarding? How was Hami (Diallo) guarding? How was Kevin Knox guarding and how was PJ (Washington) guarding? How was Nick (Richards guarding)? You want me to keep going? Wenyen (Gabriel)? We had one guy that was really guarding: Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). The rest of us weren’t guarding anybody and it was driving me crazy, if you remember. And when he told me, I busted out laughing and I said, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ We are in the same position we were in and I should’ve known this early. I should’ve seen it in the summer. I got enamored like everybody else and now it’s, how do we get better defensively? And it’s showing them tape and it’s every day and it’s a process. And I just, you know, the question I have is has there ever be an easy year for me? Like just one year be a team that I can just sit there like, wow. I mean, every year is a grind and sometimes I forget. But yesterday – this is a great group of young people. And yesterday – they’re going to do what we ask them to do so be right and then hold them accountable. And I put my head in the sand of whatever you want to say. I always say, don’t get mad at these kids. They’ve made a commitment to come here and play for us and play here in the hardest place it is to play basketball. Everybody (says), ‘I can’t wait to play them’ every game. We’re going to kill them.’ Well, you don’t play us for three months. I mean, that’s every game, and they chose to come here under this spotlight to be coached and be challenged and know you’re here to get better as an individual player. You’re here to learn about being a better teammate. You’re here to learn about what the better angels within you look like. You’re here for all that, and it’s hard. We’re not just saying play loose and play and we’re going to be better. And they chose to come here, and that’s what I tell the fans: Don’t get on these kids. If you want to be mad, be mad at me. They’re going to do what I ask them to do or what I accept that they’re doing.”

On what his standard is defensively …

“How about this: The standard defensively (is) let’s just be better than yesterday. Then let’s look at the last game and let’s get better. We don’t stay in a stance, we don’t bounce, we don’t anticipate and we don’t play with hands like we should because of our length. We’ve been working on it. It’s hard for us to stay in front of people because we come up out of a stance. We’re never ready to go. We’re never anticipating what the guy is doing and we’re never helping the helper. All stuff that it just takes time. Now, what a lot of people do, if you have to teach a lot of young guys, you just go zone. You just say I don’t care, I’m going to play zone. I just don’t want to be that guy. Maybe I will be, but the issue playing zone, and I told them this, we can back our defense up and be better. Back it up, don’t stretch it out. Let’s just get from 19, 20 feet in and lets just play heels on the 3-point line and let’s just play tighter and we’ll be quicker and were not so spread out. There’s a problem with doing that. Normally they are going to take 18 to 20 seconds to shoot the ball now. That means you have less minutes with the ball, less possessions, less shots. I went around the room, ‘Anybody want to give up three or four of your shots? Oh, you don’t think you will, but oh so this guy won’t shoot any now? Is that how this goes?’ We gotta learn and understand why we’re doing this and how we play. Gotta be disruptive some. But, you can’t take chances, it’s discipline, and guess what young players never have? Discipline. And guess what I have to have personally? Stay with the process. Have discipline. Don t lose your mind. Don’t get frustrated. These guys gotta know I’m for them, and if they ever get to where they don’t think I’m for them and that’s their perception then I’m wrong.”

On how often does he stop the tape when guy’s hands are down …

“No, you’ve got it backwards. When a guy puts his hands up we stop the tape. Oh, oh there’s one. [Laughter.]”

On if it’s easier to count those …

“Oh yeah. But again, I mean, we’re in practice now, every drill we’re doing, if you’re hands go down, ‘Do it again, do it again.’ What happens when they get in the game? Slippage. Here’s what I said to them: We’re doing enough offensively and we’re still not clicking perfectly, but offensive rebounds, free-throw line, efficiencies, we’re throwing between 275, 300 passes a game, we’re getting guys to move the ball. We’re doing a lot of good stuff. This should be the best 3-point shooting team I’ve had here. We’re not there yet, but this has the ability, including our big guys, (to be the) best shooting team overall I’ve had. Well, let’s get to that. Best post-up team I’ve had until the end of ‘(15) when Karl -(Anthony Towns) was going crazy and Dakari (Johnson) and we could throw to a couple guys. This team right now is ahead as a post team. Take pride in this defense, man. Take pride in stopping people. Understand, watch tape and work on yourself and us collectively. I’ve come to, for me, reflecting and looking and saying, how do I do this? It is going to be a process. I’ve gotta understand that defensively we’ve just got to hold them more accountable every time out and hope we’re better game to game and hope they start taking more pride in it. We got good kids; it’s just they’ve never – the discipline of a possession of you personally staying and then if one guy breaks down the whole defense breaks down. It takes five guys being disciplined at one time. I told them the last eight minutes of the game, ‘Tell me who wants to be in and defend? I don’t care if we score no baskets; just don’t let them get one. Who wants to play now?’ ‘Well I gotta shoot. ‘Then you’re not coming. I need to know who is going to guard. Who is going to guard somebody?’ ”

On Ashton Hagans’ defense and whether or not it’s what he expected …

“Off the ball? No. On the ball? Yeah. Like, he could play, he could do some stuff that Shai did. Off the ball, he’s like the rest of the guys. He’ll stop. Shot goes up, we’re not rebounding, but that’s where they all are. But, I’ll tell you on-the-ball defense, he’s as good as we have. He really is, and there will be games where I put him in and say, ‘Shut that guy out.’ ”

On the NCAA’s first NET rankings …

“Too early. Somebody told me there was a team that was five or eighth that you’re like, what? It’s too early. Don’t care.”

On describing himself as an overrated recruiter and having never heard him say that before …

“I’ve always said that. Then they’ve never heard me talk about me. I said it when I was at UMass. I said it when I was at Memphis and I’ve said it here.”

On how he would characterize himself as a coach …

“It wouldn’t matter how I would characterize myself. It would be what anybody else thinks. It’s probably across the board. At the end of the day, what we do as coaches will be evaluated 30, 40 years from now. Fifty years. None of us will be here. You won’t be here. I won’t be here. They’ll look back and they’ll kind of – what kind of job did he do with the kids he had? How was he with the program and the state that he was in? You’ll be evaluated. Right now, stay in the moment, keep moving.”

On keeping the guys focused against a winless Monmouth team …

“Well, you say winless, but again they have nothing to lose. It was a five-point game with West Virginia, who is a pretty good team. At halftime it was five. It was like nine late and then two or three 3s and it spreads out. I’ve watched enough tape. They play fast. They play around a post player. I’ll be honest though, I think King (Rice) does an unbelievable job. But, I’m not worried about them. I know they can beat us. If we don’t guard, anybody can beat us. So, this comes down to let’s really guard. They have a three-quarter court trap that’s pretty good. They have a good two-three zone that they can go to. They’re aggressive man-to-man. They’ve been in almost every game except one and in that game a kid had 30 points at halftime. Every other game they’ve had their chances to win.”

On if you can motivate the guys to play defense …

“We’ve talked. The teams that I’ve had here, a lot of our offense is generated off rebounds and steals, bump-outs and 50/50 balls. That’s how you generate offense. That’s how a team that did not shoot it and not as skilled as this team had a higher percentage of stuff offensively. When they were in high school and there were stories written about them and their game, did it ever talk about how they defended? Or did they just put their points in there? So-and-so had this many points and then the next story, this many points. Who’s the leading scorer? Who are the best defenders in the state? That guy never gets any recognition. They were told not to foul. If you play too hard you’re going to foul and then you can’t be in the game. And then they’re here. And then they’re not here a long time. And then you’ve got a short period of time. And then I get to where I’m frustrated. And then I’m not having fun coaching. To be in this job and do this job job you’ve got to have a ball every day. You must have fun coaching. And so, you almost have to look at, OK, look, here’s where we are. I accept it and let’s move from here and let’s just get better. That’s the process. I like my team. These are great guys. I mean, yesterday, they tried everything that we were talking about. We did a couple of wrinkles of things just so I could look at stuff. We’re going to have time after this weekend and again I’m not getting ahead of ourselves but that team (UNC Greensboro) we play (Saturday) is really good. I mean, they can – they’re really good. Well-coached and they can play. After that we have some time to really do some stuff. Right now, it’s like let’s just get better. Let me coach the games as though it’s practice. Let’s learn from the situation and move from there.”

Quade Green

On what practice has been like the last couple of weeks …

“I think we’re trying to make better for ourselves, for the team. Breaking down difficulties, breaking down what we do good, what we do wrong, that’s pretty much it.”

On if the freshmen are learning what to expect …

“They get it now. They already know what to expect from Coach Cal and what to expect from the team, what we need them to do. They just come to work.”

On if it matters who starts games and who does not …

“It’s Kentucky, it doesn’t matter who starts, who comes off the bench, it doesn’t matter. Who played the last five minutes, who started the last five minutes, it doesn’t matter.”

On improving one-on-one defense …

“Our emphasis on that is working every day at it. Playing against each other one-on-one, no straight line drives.”

On common defensive mistakes …

“Slow feet. Coach Cal got everybody together, we’re working on that every day. I think we’re going to work on that for the rest of the year. I (shouldn’t say) slow feet, just slow reactions off the closeouts.”

On the emphasis of having hands up on defense …

“If you put a hand up, he’s shooting and you don’t jump, that’s giving him a clean look to the rim really. If you jump with a hand up, that means you contested it really. We’d rather take that than straight-line drives, really.”

On who is taking leadership roles on the team …

“Keldon (Johnson), Tyler (Herro), Quick (Immanuel Quickley), Ashton (Hagans), everybody, PJ (Washington), Reid (Travis). Everybody has a voice in this locker room.”

On the team, and Coach Cal, having more fun …

“It starts with the head master. Once he has fun, we have fun. If he’s good, we’re all good.”

On the biggest adjustment during the five-game winning streak …

“Just no straight-line drives. Just cutting that down. Nobody gets in the paint without being touched. If you come in the paint, you’ve got to get touched.”

On Coach Cal telling the team not to worry about offense …

“Everybody’s got an offensive game. Everybody can score on our team. Reid came here, he was averaging 20 and 15, and he’s doing his job right now without doing that.”

On offense vs. defense …

“I like defense more. I think everybody is going to like defense more now. There’s nothing better than stopping somebody and having pride into it. On offense, you’re going to score, regardless.”

PJ Washington

On the state of the defense …

“Just experience. We don’t really have too much experience with our younger guys, so I feel like as the games go on we can get a lot better than what we were in the beginning of the season.”

On the importance of dominating an opponent …

“We haven’t done that in any game this year, so that would be a great start for us. That’s what we’re looking to do. We feel like we’re a great team. We just need to do what we do in practice in the games. We’re just going to try and do that tomorrow.”

On whether the spotlight can be a hindrance to young players …

“It’s definitely hard because in high school there’s no spotlight like this. There’s nothing like Kentucky basketball. When you come in in front of all these fans, it’s hard to be yourself and just come out and be comfortable in your own skin. It takes time for the young guys and they just gotta come out and play their games and they’ll be fine.”

On what Cal means when he says he wants more from him …

“Just bringing energy and effort the whole time I’m on the floor. No letdowns, no give-ups on the defensive end. I just can’t afford to do that on the defensive end and put my team in jeopardy.”

On what Cal’s standard is on defense …

“We’re definitely going towards March. For right now, we just need to keep the ball in front of us and not let people get to the lane as easy as they are right now because that’s creating open 3s for everybody and they’re making them right now.”

On the importance of communication on defense and how hard that is with a young team …

“It’s definitely hard when you have a bunch of young guys because we don’t really talk like that on the floor. Once we get to talking, it’s going to be a lot easier for us to rotate or get to each other’s men and play help-side defense.”

On facing a winless team …

“We gotta go out there and not underestimate them. We know they’re a pretty good team. We know they can score the ball, so we gotta come out and lock them down and play defense the whole game. I feel like if we do that we should get a win and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

On the focus in practice …

“Just talking on defense, helping each other. Say if somebody gets beat, coming over and sliding over and taking a charge and stuff like that. And just being in the right spots at the right time.”