The No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats improved to 6-1 after blowing out Monmouth by a final score of 90-44.
It’s hard to argue that this wasn’t Kentucky’s best performance of the young 2018 season.
Kentucky’s defense finally came to play as they did allow Monmouth to hit a three-pointer until almost halfway through the second half. They held the Hawks off the board for five minutes to end the first half.
It was a big night for freshman Tyler Herro. He dominated on both sides of the ball leading the Cats in nearly every category with 16 points, five steals and eight rebounds.
Quade Green had a big night with a career-high four three-pointers, helping him to a 14-point night.
Lastly, Keldon Johnson was good for double digits yet again dropping 15.
This win for Kentucky has shown the fan base and nation what the team is capable of.
John Calipari and his players were more than happy to discuss the excellent effort post game.
Here’s what they had to say via UK Athletics:
Q. How close was today?
JOHN CALIPARI: I have to watch the tape but it was, the energy was unbelievable and we just rode the guys that had energy. I said late in the game, we had a guy get beat two or three times straight line drives late. Seven minutes to go, you’re out. Ashton [Hagans] went in and settled it down. Which may look like Ashton should maybe be in the game the last part of the game. Let him be in there guarding and keeping people in front and mixing it up. Tyler [Herro] played well. I thought Keldon [Johnson] really did some really good stuff. And they’re figuring out to sub themselves. I left Reid [Travis] in there too long at the beginning of the game. He should have been in four, five minutes and -- the beginning of the game there’s anxiety and it’s not just playing the game, there’s all the stuff that goes with the beginning of the game. And then after that they settle down and played. A few turnovers we didn’t need to have but you know what, we passed the ball to each other, we were trying and again trying to get five, six seven guys in double figures, you know, it was good.
Q. Yesterday you emphasized defense. How well do you think your guys did it deep into the shot clock tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Better. Better. Look and I told them after, my whole career if my team’s not doing something, I look back at what I’m doing and what I’m teaching and saying, how do we do this. Because in most cases the teams I coach will do what I ask them to do. So am I not doing the right things, do we need to focus on other stuff? We are zeroed in right now defensively on what we have to do. Now we made some mistakes but effort and energy we scrambled, we didn’t stop as much. There were times where they left the -- they held them under four points and I went to sub and the guys in the game said, what? They don’t have six yet, leave us in. And they stayed in the game. And so they’re taking pride. We also added something, three stops in a row equals a kill. Now we had two stops in a row probably eight times, seven, eight times, nine. But we had five kills. That’s how you stretch games out. And you could say what you want, these guys are a little bit snake bit now because the game I watched they were up 12 the last game they played at home and they, the guy makes a three at the buzzer and beats them and so King [Rice], he’s going to get this thing right, they got a young team they’re inexperienced, but to be honest, they’re probably better than a couple teams we played already. And we didn’t do this to those teams. I told them, this is the best we played. And it’s because of what we did defensively. And as they guard, do you see them building their own confidence on offense? When you guard and you build confidence in yourself you’re going to be aggressive on offense too. Well, no, you take me out when I make a mistake. No, you got scored on four straight times, that’s why you didn’t have confidence. Don’t put that back to here. And so again, you play with that energy, you play with that, it’s easier. I told them I’m going to be tougher in the practices and lighten up in the games and accept where they are. We are who we are. I’m not going to try to force it along, we’re not skipping steps. This was a good first step for us.
Q. It hasn’t shown all the time but I think in right before the season started you said Tyler was a better defender than you realize. He’s now had two five steal games, when he’s locked in and engaged is that what he can do?
JOHN CALIPARI: And he anticipates, which we’re trying to do. I put on the board, to have defensive confidence, first of all you got to talk, so if everyone’s talking and they’re chattering you’re more confident. If you anticipate, you’re going to be more confident defensively. That’s what he does. The third part of it is, you have to trust that you’re teammates have your back if you try to do something. That’s help the helper. You’re going to get beat some. But if you’re aggressive and you know and you trust your team, you’ll go and do the stuff Tyler’s doing, you’ll run through, you’ll go for a steal that’s thrown over your head and your teammate steals it. We got to go from day one and just keep building. We did it this game, we have two days to prepare for this next game and this next team, Greensboro is really good, by the way, had LSU on the ropes at LSU. I mean they’re, this will be a hard game for us. And so we need it going into this stretch of games that we have coming up, which are all going to be hard games. So we needed this to say, here’s who is playing, if you’re not playing with energy, you’re not playing. I’m just not going to put you in. Or I’ll put you in with two minutes you choose not to play with energy, you’re out. No matter who it is. Because we have to get to that point to see what kind of team we are. But again, I’m telling you, it’s the best three-point shooting team I’ve had. Come on, Immanuel [Quickley], you can’t shoot 19 percent from the three. No. No. Not when you’re making 60 some shots in practice. Not when you -- no, you’re not, you have to, you add him to what we’re doing and he starts making threes, with Quade [Green], with Tyler, with Keldon and our bigs? Because our bigs can shoot. So now you have PJ [Washington] and you have Reid who can shoot threes. Now that’s what I’m saying, this team, we also did a little more random offense which helps Ashton. So we’re trying to -- I’m tweaking everything just trying to figure it out and again, this, a game, we needed a game like this. And it also, I thought E.J. [Montgomery] again just played with unbelievable energy. Had two steals and a block. Nick [Richards] went in and had three blocks in his time in there.
Q. What should we make of Nick going from starting the last two games to not playing the first 16 minutes tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Because he’s behind those other three. Like in the Bahamas, you do understand I only played three big guys -- because everybody wants to talk about the Bahamas. Only three big guys played. I didn’t play four. So now who is the fourth big? Whoever chooses not to play with energy. Whoever goes to practice and if you’re not practicing then you’re the fourth big, you’re out for a minute. Now you’ll get a chance to play, but you better play well because you’re that odd man out right now. So if you looked at our practice you would say the fourth big on your team is Nick. At halftime you saw what I did. What did I do? Did you watch the game? Who did I? I started E.J. because he played with more energy than anybody else. I’m just going with the guys that are going to go with energy. We don’t need cool, I don’t care what it looks like, we got to get going. And holding them responsible for it and but when for me when I don’t have to coach that, I’m happy. Like today was a fun game for me to coach. I got on them a little bit like why would you do that, you’re doing what you’re choosing to do not what we’re asking to you do. So there were a couple of those. A couple crack downs that we didn’t get to to rebound balls. But the reality of it is we just played harder. Are you watching any games? I can’t stand watching games to know TV compared to how we were playing before. We’re not playing as hard as some of these other teams and I’m not used to that. Then I get frustrated, then I get mad, and then I’m not happy coaching. I am going to be happy coaching. You may not be happy because I’m not playing you much, but I’m going to be happy coaching. I’m just coaching guys that are going to go crazy and play hard and talk and fly around and we’ll play a little more random so you can play, but we got to get better.
Q. Was that trust you’re looking for on defense markedly improved today?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. Did you see us scramble and get to things and we, Tony Barbee said, we got to put in a transition defensive drill because that’s where our issues start. And we did it for two days and we did it today. It was great move. And again that’s why you have a staff of experienced coaches, so they can come up and have ideas too. And we did it for three days and all of a sudden our transition defense looked a little bit different today. Look, here’s what these guys need, they need reps with everything. We can’t practice for six hours. It doesn’t matter what it is, they need reps. We’re young, inexperienced, we need reps. So when I went to the random basketball stuff, we didn’t really do much man offense we didn’t do much zone offense just don’t have enough time with the reps these guys need. Defensive reps, playing the ball, transition defense, scrambling and helping, I mean we just need reps after rep and you know what, we’re not going to be good at everything, so let’s figure out what we need to do.
Q. Is there any update on Jemarl [Baker]’s status right now?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s every day I look at the sheet it says he’s out, so he’s telling me his knee’s feeling better and so at some point when I look at that sheet it’s going to say full. Right now it says out. So, he’s out.
Q. You guys attempted the most threes you’ve taken all season was that an emphasis going into today’s game to get more three-point shots up?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’ll say it again, this is the best three-point shooting team I’ve had since I’ve been here. We need to take between 18 and 24 threes. I don’t -- any time my teams historically have shot 30 threes, we don’t ever win. We just don’t. I don’t know why, the way I coach, the way the system is, the way we do this. But when you have a team like this they should shoot 18 to 24 threes. They really should. The second one is, any time my teams scored 84 points, we never lost in 30 years. We did this year. You score 84 points and you lose? How about you lose by 30, no, no, 40, could have been 50? So again, what our teams usually are, we’re getting closer, but now we got to play better competition he every time we play. This next game is tougher, the game after that is tougher on the road, the next game at home is tough, the next game is really tough. And the next game is going to be ridiculously hard. And then guess what? We start in our league that’s my guess right now if there’s a stronger league in the country we’re one or two when you talk top to bottom our league.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with King and playing Monmouth.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, King and I go way back to where when he was at North Carolina as a player and I followed his career and I’ve watched him and been around him and I just have so much respect for him, not only as a coach but as a person and what he stand for. We had an opportunity to play in New York and it was like, hey, you got a pretty good team, I mean it was like a game that he appreciated the fact that we would play them because he can’t get games, it’s hard for them -- no one wants to play them. And they had won 28 or 27 and so, but I have no problem playing and being a part of a series with guys like him. Great coach. And again, like I watched the tapes, they were down five to West Virginia at half. They were down five. It was a 10 point game with a few minutes to go. One game they got beat pretty good. Every other game it has been anybody’s game. And he’s got young guys. So defensively and rebounding and they can’t afford foul trouble, but he’s a terrific guy, terrific coach, and now they just got to win a game because I think when they win a game they will go on a run of wins, I don’t know who they got coming up, they just got to win one.
On the origin of the energy they played with tonight…
”Practice has been way different. Before every drill, we’re running. We’re getting our conditioning in. We changed up the defensive strategy. We’re doing what we need to do on the defensive end. We’ll do some lunges, then we get right back to running. He [Calipari] is just trying to get us up and down the court to defend on transitions and half-court play.”
On getting back to the basics…
”Like he [Calipari] said before, he tried to go too far in the beginning. We thought we were ready, but now it’s just going back to the small steps we need to work on now. Now, we’re just getting back to the defensive end, the offense is going to come. We’re just worried about defense.”
On having the greenlight from deep...
”Not really. I’m focused on attacking and getting my teammates the ball. We have some shooters – Quade (Green) and Tyler (Herro)… Keldon (Johnson) can knock down the 3 too. He’s better at driving though. If he’s open at the three-point line though, he’ll hit the shot. That’s what we expect though.
On overall thoughts of the game…
”I felt good. Thanks to my teammates, they found me when I was open. Thanks to them, I was able to hit the shot.”
On if he thinks this is the best 3-point shooting team at UK…
”I don’t know. I’ve never looked at it like that. I’m going to do some research and find out and I’ll get back with you all.”
.@Q_Green1 says a new defensive drill to stop transition is starting to pay off in a big way. The Cats held Monmouth to just 2-of-16 from behind the three-point line tonight. #BBN @ASeaOfBlue pic.twitter.com/1i5xBFNK9w— Greg Goins (@BBN_CoachG) November 29, 2018
On Calipari saying this was the best game the team has played all season…
”Best defensive game we’ve played so far. We had no straight line-drives… nobody got easy straight lines to the runway with lay-ups and stuff.”
On working on transition defense the last few days …
”Yeah, I think that helped us. That influence helped us focus on stopping the ball the majority of the time, so that’s what really helped us. It doesn’t really matter what stops the ball, just that the ball stops.”
On the thinking behind offensive rhythm …
”Just trying to make baskets. That’s what it really is, offensive confidence. It starts with defensive confidence first.”
On what the team has improved on…
”I think we played much better defensively. I think just communicating and talking, we did a lot better. Staying in front of our command and not giving up 3’s, we did really well on tonight.”
On what the team has been focusing on in practice…
”I think we started it two days ago. The first day, from both sides we all struggled. It kind of showed that we were lacking in transition defense in there and yesterday. It got much better and then, today, it was better again during shootaround this morning. So I think just continuing to do that every day, same with the other kinds of drills that we’ve been doing and continuing like coach has been preaching. It’s going to be a process but I think we’ll be fine.”
On his shooting…
”I’m just trying to make the right play every time I’m on the court. Quade’s just as good or even a better shooter than me so whenever he gets the opportunity he can let it go.”