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John Calipari and Wildcats preview Texas A&M

Calipari also talked about the unique way he’s challenging players to become the best version of themselves.

Texas A&M v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats will look to pick up their first SEC win Tuesday when the Texas A&M Aggies come to Rupp Arena.

The Cats are 0-1 in SEC play after suffering a tough loss Saturday against the Alabama Crimson Tide. In what wound up being a thrilling game, Kentucky came up just short after Tyler Hero’s potential game-winning three-pointer missed.

Kentucky led 40-38 at halftime before the offense completely sputtered in the second half. Poor shot selection and getting out-manned on the boards put the Wildcats down by double-digits with under seven minutes to go. The outstanding comeback attempt fell just short with the final score being 74-72.

All five starters score at least a dozen points in the game with PJ Washington leading the way with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Ashton Hagans was fantastic throughout with 12 points 6 assists and 3 steals and was the reason Kentucky was able to stay in the game, despite how poorly the offense was executing.

Now, Kentucky has a quick turnaround as the Aggies come to town for some Tuesday night basketball.

On Monday, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview Tuesday’s matchup. Here is a recap of everything they had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On what he tells the team after a loss with a quick turnaround for Texas A&M …

“We watched the tape about 11 o’clock in the morning so we could be done with it and move on to the next game. We showed them I think 15 or 16 one-foot shots we missed. We showed them defensive breakdowns. We showed them we had 25 offensive rebounds. Why no more breakouts? We reverted in a lot of areas. We went back to where we were, and Alabama played well. And I told them, ‘Teams are going to come, and they’re not going to play bad against us.’ They made some shots and now all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ballgame. I like the fact that we fought to come back, and I said it after the game: You just move on. We lost a couple games this way now that you have your chances to win and should win, and you don’t you give credit to the other team and you move on.”

On Immanuel Quickley’s performance Saturday …

“Better. Better. We’re trying to figure out – what’s interesting (is) I went to dinner last night with Dave Wahl, who is a GM in the NBA, and he said that in the NBA point guards are different. There are some that are slashers and get in the lane, and there are others that are hit and slide away. Well, we’ve got one of each. So, we’ve got a guy who should hit and slide and be ready to make a play, be ready to make a shot. One is really good on-the-ball defender; one is better off-the-ball defender. You can play them both together. But, he’s getting better. I’m holding him accountable. There’s some things that we had in that game it wasn’t just him, when Reid (Travis) had it going I kept saying in these timeouts, ‘On these pin downs, if Reid pins you down, get it back to him. Throw it to him.’ We had two or three guys catch it and throw it the other way. He came off and walked. ‘Are you in this huddle listening to what the team needs you to do?’ Not just one guy. It was – again, we just kind of reverted, and I wish it didn’t happen but that’s part of a growth of a program. They see, ‘Well, the way that you’re asking us to do this is really unselfish and I’d like to be a little more involved, and it’s really hard what you’re asking me to do. I’d like to do it the easier way.’ So, they have these. They’ll revert. Now you have another tough game. Learn from that one and let’s see how they play.”

On the importance of getting a high NCAA seed …

“Important. The reason you want a high seed: The higher seed you get the better chance you have of winning because the numbers say that, and I’m a numbers guy. So, you want it to be as high as you’re supposed to get, as high as your team deserves to get, and that’s why I get upset when we seem to be short changed. Why are we there? Why aren’t we two notches up? That’s why I go nuts. It has nothing to do with anything else. It’s numbers. The higher your seed, the talent around you is not as good as when you’re seeded low the talent around you is touch and go. That’s why. Look, there’s a lot of basketball. We have as tough of schedule as anyone has left. Now, bad news is you have as tough a schedule as anyone is going to be left playing. Good news is you have an opportunity to beat ranked teams. You’ve also got a chance to get beat by those ranked teams. But I’ve been in leagues where we had to win every single game we played. Now, I don’t know if you heard what I just said. We could not lose any games because we weren’t playing any ranked teams. So every game was you have to win and it’s the other team’s Super Bowl and every game came down to, wow, ae we going to make shots?’ But it made us strong for the NCAA Tournament. It’s tough to play that way. Believe me when I tell you, we’re not in that boat this year.”

On there not going to be any blowouts now that it’s conference play …

“There were two things: We had some guys that were upset they missed shots late, and I said, ‘Listen, you gave up two offensive rebounds for baskets late. If we didn’t give those up, that game wouldn’t have been at 11. It would have been seven. Now, all of a sudden it’s a different game and you get it to two or three and instead of with 1:25 left. It’s a different ballgame.’ Again, young kids don’t understand that every possession matters as you wind down that clock and you can’t give easy baskets. They’ll make tough baskets. Live with it. But you can’t give them second shots. You can’t miss one-footers. You can’t walk on breakaways where you have a layup. You can’t do those things, but it wasn’t one guy. It’s like I said, we weren’t as willing passers as we’ve been. We threw 270 passes versus 325 against Louisville. How does that happen? Why so many less passes? Our spacing wasn’t as good as it has been. But again, your spacing is good because you’re worried about the big guy. Your spacing isn’t good because you don’t have the ball and you really don’t worry about anybody but where you’re standing. So, all that kind of stuff we hit on. We came back yesterday and practiced, and they did great. We’re shooting free throws and walking through some stuff and we’ll practice this afternoon and get ready for a tough game. I watched (Texas A&M) play Arkansas. They had Arkansas beat. Arkansas made four 3s down the stretch, and they went 1 for 4 down the stretch from the 3. That’s why they lost or they would have beat Arkansas, so it’s another tough game for us.”

On dealing with the clutter from the loss to Alabama …

“I didn’t see any. The issue for them: The clutter is what’s near them, not social media and all that. The clutter is – that (social media) could be part of it. If they’re looking at social media they’re out of their minds anyway. But it’s all near to them, and they just have to shut down all that stuff and focus on what they have to do for this team. And what you’re asking them to do as the head coach is what’s best for them and what’s best for this team. And you have to sacrifice. Everybody is giving up something. It’s what makes this program what it is. There’s not just one guy doing everything. It’s everybody gives up something. Now, what I hope is different games different guys stand up. We have different stars different games so you can’t really play one guy. But these guys – the clutter has changed over the years based on what’s at stake. Like, as this thing becomes bigger and bigger, what the pot of gold is for these guys, the clutter becomes even more. Every basket matters, and that’s why I say you’ve got to stay away from it. You can’t listen to that. You stay in the moment, try to get better every day, do something away from the court, read a book. I’ve given them books to read. You cannot get caught up in, ‘What happens if I make this basket? If I make these two baskets.’ Well, you ain’t making them then. You can’t. And if anybody around you is talking to you in those terms – ‘You must do this, you must do this, you have to hit the lottery, go play that ticket, you must hit the lottery.’ – well, you ain’t hitting the lottery. And that’s why I say – that’s the kind of clutter – just stay away from it. Social media, is there something I should have (known)? I didn’t see anything. I didn’t. If anybody is mad, I feel bad that you’re mad, but I don’t read it and I don’t see it so. I got one thing: It’s coach these kids.”

On how PJ Washington is coming along …

“Better. Better. He’s playing better. Like, again, I want him to be more dominant. Like, the Louisville game there was a two-and-a-half, three-minute stretch where he couldn’t grab a ball, missed a (shot). No! I want none of those. If you eliminate that from the game, he ends up with a double-double and looks like a dominating player who can shoot and make free throws. Well, all of a sudden, wait a minute, how do they really guard you? They can’t guard you in the post, they can’t guard you on the perimeter. If they foul you, you make free throws. And you rebound and you defend and you block shots. Be that guy every game. Whew, is that hard. That’s hard. And that’s what we’re asking. And I told him, I’m not accepting anything other than what his best is. So, I’m proud of him and what he’s doing. Now we’ve just got to, you know – this thing is game to game and every game is a war.”

On how Travis has been shooting in practice to call his number for a shot at Alabama …

“I just told the guys today, ‘Look, he missed a 3, he missed a couple of one-footers and he missed a free throw, and you still called the 3 for him. Because I know how much he’s in this gym and I have a lot of faith in him.’ Probably the chances of him making it weren’t great, great, but he was wide open and I knew it would be and I wanted him to know I’ve got faith in you. Go make it. Part of it is I was trying to get him going. Make that 3 and maybe, you know, (he gets going). Obviously it didn’t work out that way. And PJ’s 3, too, that was a call for PJ to shoot that 3 in front of our bench. That was a call. They did exactly what I thought they’d do. They both ran to the corner to Tyler (Herro) and PJ was standing there wide open. I said, ‘PJ, let it go.’ We were lucky enough that Reid got it and kicked it out and we make a 3 off it, but I have a lot of faith in these guys.”

On implementing strategies at this point in the season that might not work but may help later vs. trying to win now

“Well, at the end of the game we had been working on playing that way. We’ve been working and so we got the shots we wanted. We got the corner 3. Keldon (Johnson) was wide open; just happened to miss it. We got what we wanted from how we had been preparing to play in late-situations, which we worked on. You could see a little different than earlier in the year. But now, here’s what I told to them today: The last time we’ll have anything morning-wise. This is it because they start classes on Wednesday. Every Wednesday will be off. That means they’re going to have, I think, eight or nine days off. We have eight or nine Thursdays. That’s our practice day. That’s what we have left. Then we’ve got 18 todays -- practices before a game. Well, what are you going to do the day before a game? What are you going to go three hours and beat the crap out of them? Run the stadium steps? What are you going to do? So now, what I’m basically saying, it’s on now. We just went through camp. We should be conditioned. We did start slipping. We had slippage the last game. Now we’ve got to refocus and get back on track.”

On what books he had the team read recently …

“‘Life Word’ which is a book that was written (by Jon Gordon) and it talks about – instead of a New Year’s resolution (you have a life word). How many of you have New Year’s resolutions? None of you? Some of you? You won’t, it won’t – within a month you’ll be done. It’s already done? Yeah, it’s already done. We’re nine days in – you’re out! So what this becomes is you pick a word that best describes what you’re trying to accomplish, what your strengths and passions are, and something you need to work on. And so each of them picked a word for this year. And they thought them through because they were all pretty good words for themselves to keep them focused, and I know each word. So ‘fight,’ you’re the one that put that. Fight! Come on, man. ‘Determination.’ Where’s the determination? You’re the one that picked the (word). But the book talks a little bit more in depth, so I gave them all a book, and I’ve got another one, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ (by Ryan Holiday), that I’m not giving them yet, but I’m gonna give them that book and let them read through. I’m trying to get them to think. And I say this: We’re here obviously, they’re at a great university. These kids have done well academically. They know they have lifetime scholarships, all that good stuff. Then it becomes, OK, what are you teaching in basketball? Just plays? You’re teaching them how to defend the pick-and-roll? What? Well, if you guys know, part of it is how you create joy, reaching out to others, and being involved in others and picking up others. The other side of it becomes creating opportunity for other people creates more for yourself so there’s more than just – you’re trying to get a bigger picture for them, and if I can get them to think bigger than just play to play, I think it’s beneficial. I know it is to them and I think it is to your team.”

On what his word is …

“Build. Build individuals. Build the program. Build day-to-day. Stay in the moment. Build. Build’s not sprinting; build is build and stay. You win or you learn. You move on and let’s go. It keeps me focused where I want to be.”

Tyler Herro

On whether he thought he had a good look at the potential game winner vs. Alabama …

“Yeah, I thought Coach drew up a great play. It was supposed to go to Keldon (Johnson) and it kind of broke down and got to me. I thought it was going in. It just back-rimmed and I missed it.”

On how long it takes them to get over a loss …

“Playing this game, you have to have a short memory. We’re bouncing back on Tuesday. We had a good practice yesterday. We’ll have another one today. Like I said, you gotta have a short memory, come back and be able to bounce back for the next game.”

On the word he has chosen after reading Life Word …

“My word is win. Just getting up every morning trying to win whatever I’m doing. Whatever I’m doing, just trying to beat the day. Whether that’s in the classroom, helping somebody. Mainly away from the court. Just trying to get better and win whatever I’m doing.”

On whether Alabama was a tougher team than expected …

“They were a good test for us the first SEC game. Being on the road, it was a tough environment. They had a large crowd, even with the football game today. I thought they showed pretty well. So I thought they played pretty well.”

On falling behind and then coming back …

“We dug ourselves a hole coming out and giving up a lot of transition baskets in the first half. Then coming in the second half, we kind of started slow and they jumped on us a little bit. Once we dug ourselves a hole, we knew we had to turn it up a little bit. Going forward, we know we can’t dig ourselves in that type of hole again, otherwise you see what happens.”

On whether he likes that they have a quick turnaround …

“Finally we don’t play one game a week. We can come back, have a good practice yesterday, another one today and be able to come back and hopefully bounce back on Tuesday.”

On watching the video of the Alabama loss …

“I think mainly just transition defense was key for us. We gave up a lot of 3s in transition, a few dunks and layups too. So I think being more focused on that coming out from the beginning of the game being focused. Even the second half we started pretty slow.”

On how hard it is to avoid reverting …

“It’s pretty hard. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to build for March. Every single day we’re trying to get better and better. I think we did take a few steps back in some of the areas we were making strides in. I think continuing to improve on that and drilling that in practice and just keep making strides.”

Immanuel Quickley

On what word he is focused on in 2019 …

“Mine was ‘feel’. Me and (John Calipari) have been talking a lot about that since I got up here as a point guard. Just feeling my way on the court and stuff like that. Having an idea of where everybody is, stuff like that. Really, just a point guard type of word.”

On what he did well against Alabama …

“My defense was a lot better. I was making shots, that always helps. Getting to the rack, finding open people, talking on defense, all the little stuff we need to do to help us win.”

On if he is trying to be more of a scorer for the team in the absence of Quade Green

“I always try to come on the floor and be aggressive. Quade was a big part of our team, but we just try to fill that gap, what he brought, his toughness and leadership, stuff like that. So we just all try to pick up on that.”

On what the team saw in the Alabama film …

“We did a really good job in a lot of the games before Alabama of playing together, being unselfish. I think we kind of reverted, not that we’re a selfish team, but we kind of missed some passes, (not) helping each other on defense, things like that. “

On fighting old habits …

“Yeah, especially (because) a lot of us are freshman or sophomores, second year. Just coming out every day and trying to be consistent is the main thing.”

On how the team is progressing in handling close games …

“I think we’re doing really good. The more close games, the better, that means we’ll be ready come March. All the March games will be close because all the teams are good, so that’s what we want.”

On playing with Ashton Hagans …

“First of all, Ashton is a really good player. I go against him in practice every day, so I know how hard it is for the opponent when they are going against him. He can get in the lane and distribute. He hit me on both of my threes (at Alabama).”

On what makes it hard going against Ashton …

“On defense, he’s always looking for the steals. I think he did tie the record with the most steals against North Carolina, so when I’m going against him, I’ve got to be careful when I’ve got the ball.”

On if the team has gotten past the loss to Alabama …

“I think we definitely did get over that loss. Alabama is a really good team, but we just want to move on and come out play hard each and every game.”

On if Calipari has encouraged him to emulate his game after anyone in particular …

“Not really watching film, but he kind of had related me to Brandon Knight in terms of my work ethic, leadership and all that stuff. But I think I bring my own set of tools. Something that he really hasn’t had in terms of getting to the rim and being able to shoot and help my teammates and stuff like that. Just trying to come in and be my own player is really what I’m trying to do.”