Ahead of the game, John Calipari met with the media on Monday to preview the big SEC clash. Tennessee has been one of the surprise teams of college basketball this season, as they’re now ranked 15th in the latest AP Poll.
Calipari loves how well the Vols are sharing the ball and playing for each other, something his young Cats need to do more of.
“They are scoring because they are being efficient” Cal said of Tennessee. “They’re not scoring just coming down and jacking balls. The other thing I like that they are doing is, their assists to made baskets, that number is probably one of the top in the country. They’ll have 25 assists on 30 made goals. That’s great. That’s team basketball. That’s creating for each other. That is making the game easy for each other.”
Sounds like the complete opposite of what we’ve seen from UK recently. Hopefully, that changes in a big way Tuesday, or else, the Vols will sweep this series for the first time in the Calipari era.
Here is a recap of everything Calipari said, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Opening statement …
I heard from Eric (Lindsey) that our distinguished guest is retiring – Alan Cutler – from chasing coaches and sliding across the floor. Congratulations. Happy I outlasted you, let me say that.
On how important it should be in the team’s mind to be able to get back home and play in front of the home crowd …
“I hope important, but we just gotta play a little bit more competitive, a little bit more physical, locked in collectively. We’re not. It’s one or two guys breaking down, and when you show it on tape it’s really kind of like, ‘Ouch, are you watching yourself here?’
“And so, you have to get five guys together doing it, and they’re still learning. Then the other thing is offensively, when I watched – and we went through this last year. Last year at this time we lost to Tennessee by 20 (in Knoxville), lose to Kansas at home, Georgia should’ve beat us – we won by one – should’ve lost that game, no question. Go to Florida and get beat by 25, 20, whatever it was. It then gives you a chance to evaluate: What are we doing, what can we do a little different, what do they have to do and what are they learning?
“The biggest thing is, as a coach, you cannot enable them to create excuses for their performance. The way you are playing is no one else’s responsibility but yours. You can’t put it on teammates, coaches, fans, nothing. You have to own your performance. Hard for young guys.
“That’s a hard one. The only way is you just keep watching tape and learning and hope at some point it clocks on how we play. As a coaching staff, like I said, we came back and spent a lot of time and just looking at it and meeting with the staff, going over things, and talking about ideas.
“You know, we’ve had to do this before. We had to do it last year, and then last year we played a little different. There were things that we said, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to narrow into.’ Then I’ll say this: It didn’t change after that. I mean, we were up 20 on LSU and they almost came back and beat us. I mean there was – it took us time and it took more time than – like, it’s hard for me because I don’t like to look back. I don’t like to. I’m going to look back at some point.
“Alan and I are going to have our toes up on a beach talking about the run, those years together, or talk about Pittsburgh when he was wearing tennis shoes and stuff. But right now is just not the time, but sometimes year to year there are lessons learned and you can look back. This one kind of is the case.”
On his tweets about wanting the fans to be into the game tomorrow night …
“I just want them to be really into the game for these kids. Be really into the game. I’m not listening to our fans, the loudness, but I know what that building (Rupp Arena) is and what it stands for when our fans are really into the game. Students: the same. Don’t care what goes on around the country. I know every game we play (opposing arenas) are sold out and people are losing their minds trying to beat us, and I have to explain to these guys that again too.
“We’re getting everybody’s best shot, which is if you can sustain it, learn from it, grow from it and you can get your act together, then you’ll be ready for the end of the year because you’ll know every game is a war. That stuff and now we come home, having the fans activated, I’ve done this a few times in my time here and I think it’s time for them to say, ‘Hey, you need our help here. We’re going to be here for you.’ ”
On what Hamidou Diallo gives him that others may not …
“Again, he’s a freshman like all these kids and every one of them are breaking down one way or another. He gives us a size at that guard spot and some athleticism in that guard spot. Again, how the team has to kind of help each other – we’re not doing. So now, every guy suffers, including him. How we’re playing offensively also puts him in some situations so, you know.
“Going forward, like I said, guys are responsible for their performance. If guys are not performing, they can’t be in (the game). Most of it, I’ll be honest with you with Hami, is defense. It’s not what people are seeing offensively. You have to be responsible for your man and our team. You have to be where you’re supposed to be when we’re trapping because we’re no longer man-to-man, we’re in zone.
“All those things are new and it’s new to all of these guys. When they play man-to-man defense, all they’re worried about is their man. Now we’re trying to say, ‘OK, we have to do this collectively as a glove – five guys together.’
“Our fans will say, ‘So-and-so is not playing well.’ They’re thinking about made shots, turnovers and all – that’s a part of it. Now let me say this, when you’re doing that – turnovers, missed shots, bad shots – and you throw in the defense, now it becomes an issue. Then it becomes, OK, how are we going to do this?”
On how Tennessee plays …
“They are playing efficient on both ends of the court, offensively and defensively. They go small at times. I mean, they go with three smaller guards in, two smaller big guys, so they are interchangeable. They still with (Grant) Williams have someone to throw it to in the post whenever they choose. But they are good. They shoot the 3. They’re a team – their guards come down and if you crowd the court with those bigs, they are going to shoot 3s and score points.
“But they are scoring because they are being efficient. They’re not scoring just coming down and jacking balls. The other thing I like that they are doing is, their assists to made baskets, that number is probably one of the top in the country. They’ll have 25 assists on 30 made goals. That’s great. That’s team basketball. That’s creating for each other. That is making the game easy for each other. That’s what they do. But again, it’s a team that has been together for a couple years.”
On if he gets frustrated of repeating the same message …
“Not frustrated. You get tired. I’ve been to bed early. But I have a responsibility. My responsibility is to each individual player and then collectively to get them to understand that I’m going to try to have us play in a way that everyone benefits and you help each other. So the tinkering never stops. Lik,e it just continues all year until you figure it out. That wears you down as a coach. Frustration isn’t the right word but I do get tired. You get tired.”
On which player plays like Grant Williams on this team …
“PJ (Washington). I think Nick (Richards) can do it. I even think Sacha (Killeya-Jones) can do it. I think Wenyen (Gabriel) can do it. I think we can do it in different ways. So, you know, like I said, we started the season OK, it looked like this was going to be us. We went to this is going to be us. We are not this may be us. And what I would tell you is that we are surviving with a really hard schedule.
“And now we have maybe as tough a part of our schedule coming up as we’ve played and we are still tinkering a little bit. But it’s OK, yesterday was kind of refreshing, exciting for me because I said, ‘Alright, stop, this is what I’m seeing.’ What we emphasized and what they were trying to do, it kind of makes you look different. Not within in one day,. I’m telling you, we lost three or four. It wasn’t in one day last year. We did some things and made us play a little different.
“Made them think about things. And it took the next two weeks for us to start saying, OK now, and then we took off. So I’m not saying this happens overnight, but I kind of like where we are. And you know, young kids. No one is trying to do this. And if they were trying to do this, I’d say, ‘Why are you trying to do this? Are you crazy? You’re nuts. You’re going to wear yourself out. Look at you, you have grey hair. You didn’t have grey hair when you went there. You’re slim, why are you slim? Is it diet or you can’t just eat? How many hours can you sleep?’ ”
On if this is a “tweak”…
“An adjustment. not ready to say tweak yet, but it’s an adjustment. Again, you know most of it. Truthfully with these guys, as I said it today on the conference call, to get them to think the right way is really a struggle. Because the first thing if you are not playing well, ‘I am not taking responsibility. That is not because of me, it’s because of you, it’s because of him, it’s because of them, it’s because of something. It’s the weather or if it was the food. It is not me. I don’t care what you saw, that wasn’t me.’
“That’s hard for young guys to come in and look I got to own this. And get them to think different about how they are playing. Example: You’re a high school player and you’re just going crazy and getting into the lane. Yeah but everybody was 6-2. They are not 6-2 anymore so you cannot play that way. But away from the ball you can play that way when it gets to you.
“There are things like that to get them. You are playing the way you’re playing because of you. Nothing else, and that’s the beginning of changing and accepting. I’m not afraid of it, I’ve seen it before and it’s a process that young kids go through. I’ve just haven’t had a team this young.”
On what the message is he’s sending to the team about offense to try to get them sparked …
“I’m as concerned defensively, to be honest with you. If you defend and we get out and run, you’re going to be fine. But if they’re scoring and they’re being the aggressor on defense, you really have issues so I’m as concerned defensively.
“The other side of it is, let’s play to our strengths, let’s do what we do, let’s do some things that make us look different that give us the advantages we have. I said it in the past, I’ve had three point guards on the floor almost exclusively for three years. Three point guards. Well, we’re not playing that way now. How much could we really post our four (man)?
“There were things that we could not do that we can do now but (former teams) did stuff that maybe we were trying to do that’s difficult for this team. Hopefully getting them to think a little bit different is going to be good for us.”