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UK Basketball: John Calipari recaps win over Ole Miss

“I got lovers, I don’t have fighters.”

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In what felt like the longest game of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats were was able to grind out their fourth straight victory in routing Ole Miss 96-78 in their home finale.

Four technical fouls in the first five minutes of play made for a slow pace, combined with numerous other fouls committed on both sides and a steady stream of free throw shooting for the Cats. Ole Miss’ Marcanvis Hymon was ejected after two early technicals, but the Rebels fought tough throughout the first half, only trailing Kentucky by eight at halftime, 50-42.

The difference in the game ended up being Kentucky’s ability to get to the foul line, as the Cats outscored the Rebels 26-9 from the charity stripe.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss’ offensive strategy was to try and shoot as many threes as possible — 30 to be exact — but the Rebels didn’t quite capitalize, only making nine from long range on the evening.

For the Cats, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a heck of a night tallying 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Kevin Knox led Kentucky in scoring with 22 points to go along with four rebounds. Quade Green, Wenyen Gabriel, and PJ Washington also broke into double figures in scoring for Kentucky.

Kentucky looked lethargic on defense at times, and the refs certainly altered the momentum for the Cats early on, but a win is a win.

With the win, UK moved to 21-9 on the season with a 10-7 SEC record, keeping the Wildcats in a three-way tie with Arkansas and Florida for third-place in conference play.

UK will travel to Gainesville Saturday for a noon tip-off with the Gators. A win would certainly be huge in terms of Kentucky’s seed consideration in the NCAA Tournament, but also for Kentucky’s seeding in the SEC Tournament.

Let’s take a look at what Coach Cal had to say following the game, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Q. How were you able to calm your team down after those first three minutes saw three technical fouls?

JOHN CALIPARI: I got lovers, I don’t have fighters. They were fine.

Q. Does it say anything about your team though that they were able to withstand that physicality and what Ole Miss was doing early?

JOHN CALIPARI: They showed some maturity. We had a couple guys that didn’t play well in the first half and then we played well enough offensively to get 50 points, but they get 42. We couldn’t really get away from them, even the start of the second half. But I thought Quade did well, I thought Shai and P.J. in the second half.

I didn’t think Jarrod played well, and he had 11 rebounds. That’s like a bad game for him. I didn’t think he did all the stuff he needed to do, he just didn’t play as well. Hami, I was happy to see him make some shots. Quade, like I said, Quade was good. Quade again away from the ball, one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. When he’s got it and they’ve got their defense synced in, he’s not that guy. But away from the ball, killer. Absolute killer. And makes basket, he’s a scorer. He makes great decisions. He was great today.

Q. Did they learn that “lover not fighter” philosophy from their coach?

JOHN CALIPARI: I’m a fighter, not a lover. You guys know me. You hit one of mine, I kill two of yours. Come on. You know how I am.

Q. Then you talked yesterday you were worried about they might revert back a little bit. Today did you see that?

JOHN CALIPARI: They didn’t revert back but we didn’t play with the kind of intensity and passion we had been playing with. And I thought that Ole Miss outhustled us, beat us to 50/50 balls. And until the last 15 minutes, I thought then we got after it a little bit. But short of that, I thought and Tony (Madlock) did a great job. It’s a hard position to be in and Tony’s in there, those kids didn’t give up, they fought their guards, they missed some threes down the stretch there that could have made it close, they just missed them and we rebounded them.

It was a win we had to have and I told them after the game, I didn’t want to tell them that, this was like the biggest game of the year for us. This was it. We had to win this game. If I had approached it that way, you all know they would have peed themself, yeah. And so I’m just saying to them, look, let’s just be the best we can be and don’t worry about. Now we got a tough one. We got to go to Florida, senior night, they’re waiting in the weeds, blue out, orange out, whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be a hard, hard game for us.

But we’re in the position we want to be in to see if we can go do something special. But it will be hard. They’re a good team, they just went to Alabama and won by 25 or whatever they did, so they’re good.

Q. Why is Quade (Green) better away from the ball?

JOHN CALIPARI: Size. Size. His size, it’s an open, more open court for him, he can see more. They have five guys back in there, it’s a little tougher for him to see the court. But he was good in pick and roll today too. We put him in some high pick and rolls, but he did what I wanted him to do, he came off and shot it. But it’s nice that we’re making shots. Again, we had six guys in double figures, I’m putting Hami in double figure, he had nine.

But we had six guys like and that’s what’s happening because we’re passing the ball. Again, 17 assists, last couple games we’re being willing passers and part of it was we had to play a little different. I told you play a little bit more like UMass. Those days, those were in the 90s. Shows you, it still works.

Q. Earlier in the game was it ever communicated to you what No. 2 was so upset about by your players or by anybody else?

JOHN CALIPARI: I can’t remember.

Q. Why would you determine that today was the biggest game of the year, the most important?

JOHN CALIPARI: Because it took everything off this next one, so we can just go play a basketball game. I don’t know if we’re good enough to win or not, but we didn’t need anything else on our plate. Less just go play this game. And I knew that the next game and it’s the very last game of the season and it’s all that was, it was going to be, and we have gone down here now and gotten smashed a couple times, like smashed.

So just, I know how hard it will be and I’ll try to relay to these guys that this is going to be a hard game. Good team, good players, well-coached, in that environment. Would you want it any other way though? You’re at Kentucky, let’s go, see what happens.

Q. What did you think of Wenyen’s performance tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: It was good. He did some good stuff. I thought again that there was a rebound late that he got caught up with a guy versus just go get the ball. But he made shots and made drives and we were dying and he went and made plays. Look, I look at this right now and we’re getting that, a good solid rotation.

I’m still, we’re talking and working with Nick (Richards) and Sacha (Killeya-Jones) because they’re going to be important for our game and there’s going to be games as we go forward that they have to be in the game. They got to be out there. And they’ve got to be in a positive way. They got to get rebounds. You got to go block a shot, you can’t just say, well I tried. You got to go do it and we’re going to stick with them and they’re both great kids. But right now that other seven guys have kind of stepped up and are playing a little bit better.

Q. When you guys were in the losing streak you said you had a meeting and defined everyone’s roles. I’m assuming you didn’t come out and say, you’re going to score points, but yet in all four games that you won you had five players in double figures. At least.

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, what I did was defined how we would play as a team and then how each individual would play. And that who we would go through. In other words, we’re not just running offense to run offense, we’re playing through a player. And we’re going to play through this guy and this guy, if you have a problem with that, come and see me, I’ll just, you’re sitting the bench. And we will count on them to make plays for us. And occasionally we’re going to play through this guy, because he’s a beast. And if he gets it going, we’ll play through him. The rest of you, we’re not playing through you. And what happens is we score more, less turnovers, more assists, five guys in double figures. I think we’re scoring what? 12 or 15 more a game.

What is it? Averaged 87? So it’s probably 17, 16, 15 more than we have been scoring. But, and again Quade (Green), you are going to be away from the ball and you’re going to make plays and you’re going to shoot jump shots. I don’t want you to go driving in on 6’-9” guys unless the court is wide open and you have something easy. Short of that, shoot balls. Defined Hami’s game more. Here’s how we need you to play. I asked, can everybody commit to what I’m asking you to do? They all said yes. Anybody have any issues?

Look, guys, I’ve done this 35 years, I know you look at me and it looks like I’ve done it 60 years, but I’ve done it 35 years. I’ve been through all the stuff, I know when a team is getting better. My team was getting better. We got better when we played Auburn. I mean we were getting better. We needed a break through, we needed to build their confidence, they had to go win a game. One of you guys said to me don’t you think at some point they got to win and I’m like, yes. For all of us. So I can can sleep at night. But I haven’t lost any faith in this team, I never had. And some of the guys were fighting me and they were hurting themselves and when they finally decided and I told them, you’re will is not stronger than my will. Nope.

Now I had to sleep more, I had to take my naps, I had to go home after practice and take a nap. But I knew I was in a dog fight the next day and I would win. And my will would be stronger. And now all of a sudden, like you’re looking at a team full of guys all playing well. And they’re playing together. And they’re helping each other. Now we broke down some defensively today, but we were behind the eight ball because Ole Miss played harder than us. They did. Which was a little disappointing.

Q. Why do you think you guys are on a roll now shooting from the perimeter when it was such a struggle for a good while?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well part of it is that we’re putting certain combinations on the court. But the other part is like the scout came in and said, I don’t get it, I’m in 10 practices, you’re one of the best shooting teams I’ve seen and you get in the game and go 0-8. A guy shoots two air balls. I just saw him make 18 in a row. How does he shoot an air ball? And I told the guys, most of this stuff is in your mind. It’s mental.

And again, miss a shot, can’t lead to three more misses. Miss a shot, expect to make the next one. Why? Because you made 67 in five minutes, that’s why. You’re capable of doing it. So I always said this is -- it’s not one of my best shooting teams, but it’s far from being my worst. I would say right now it’s in the top-three of my shooting teams.

Q. I wanted to know a little bit more about what you had said about Jarred Vanderbilt. What do you want to see from him. You had said that you didn’t like or you weren’t as pleased with his play today.

JOHN CALIPARI: He didn’t have the passion, he didn’t have the energy he had had those other games. The guy he went against played harder than him and that’s unusual for him. But I would want him playing exactly how he is. Secondary offensive player, unbelievable passer, he had two assists. So here’s a guy that can be away from the ball, we’re trying to make a play, it comes to him, he drives and makes that extra pass or the lob or the finish.

And then rebound, he’s a great screener, he may be our best screener. So when you come off of him, you’re getting open. So he’s doing all that and playing basketball and rebounding. He’s like last game he could have had 20 rebounds. This game he had 11 and I didn’t even think he really got after it.

Q. Why didn’t you think Jarred played well?

JOHN CALIPARI: He’ll be fine. He’s not man, he’s not a robot. They don’t play great every night out. But we won. Which was big in this game.

Question from moderator. As most of you all know, it’s Alan Cutler’s last game at Rupp Arena. He is retiring. Since it’s his last game, we’re going to put him on the spot and give him the last question.

JOHN CALIPARI: Last question and since you never chased me, I’m giving you a pair of shoes that you can chase me at any point I’ll let you come to practice, there’s no way you can run me down, but here, give those to him.

Q. First practice next year I own you.

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, you better train for a year, my man.


Q. A year might not be long enough. Thank you.

JOHN CALIPARI: You’re welcome. Last question? I’ve never seen this before. Put all the cameras on him, please. I mean you don’t have something to say?

Q. No, I’m not going to ask what I really want. Thank you, man.

JOHN CALIPARI: Thanks. Thanks, folks.