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John Calipari & Wildcats recap victory over Georgetown College

Kentucky’s first exhibition game was a mixed bag, but the backcourt played great in the 27-point win.

Abilene Christian v Kentucky Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sunday, the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats opened the two-game 2019 exhibition slate with an 80-53 victory over the defending NAIA champion Georgetown College Tigers.

Immanuel Quickley led UK in scoring with 16 points. Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans also had solid outings with 14 points apiece.

Unfortunately, Kentucky lost Nick Richards to a lower-leg injury, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be out with the regular season starting just over a week from now.

After the game, UK head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss the victory.

Below is a transcript from UK Athletics of what they had to say:

John Calipari

Q. Can you update us on Nick (Richard)?

JOHN CALIPARI: Swelled up. I didn’t see it on the tape but they told me he rolled it pretty good. I don’t know if he stepped on an ankle or if he just rolled it but it was swelled up.

Q. Defensively with what you saw from Ashton (Hagans) with the four steals today, how much do you feel like he’s picked up from where he left off last season?

When he was out, I always say, defense starts on the ball, and if you can’t keep the ball in front of you, they are running downhill, they are shooting layups and they are getting your bigs in foul trouble, and when he wasn’t in, that’s what happened. We work every day on one thing: Stay in front of people on the drive you and can’t do it by turning. You have to LUNGE in. But these kids, it’s not their habits yet, and that’s our job is to create habits for these young people, and you know, we weren’t able to do it. The second thing I’ve said from day one is the physicalness, toughness, that we are going to have to play with. Georgetown was physical and outrebounded us, and most of it was just scrappiness. You had to go in and they were going to throw a body on you. They are not just letting you go get balls, and they played well. Jake Ohmer played well, shot the ball well, and Ashton kind of, you know, got after him a little bit, but you know, Georgetown did a good thing. You know, like I told them, you guys get a chance where we started the game so good defensively, made some shots, but we held them to 15 points with two minutes to go, and then all of a sudden it’s a 10-3 run by them. Then you have to go back to the tape and say, “Who was in the game?” You can’t be in the game at that time. So now, all of a sudden it’s a closer game and they get it to 17, but we just got a long way to go. We’re shorthanded up front without Nick (Richards), we’re really shorthanded. Don’t know how long he’ll be out. You know, it’s -- it’s, everybody buying into defensively how we’ve got to play, and to do that, you can’t be thinking just offense. You’ve got to focus on our team, but it takes -- for all that you’ve seen, I remember sitting here last year, we played IUP and I’m like, oh, my gosh, we’re up nine at half, luckily and I’m like, wait a minute, how in the world are we going to win any games? So just about every year, I’m in the same, you know, mode. You know, how are we going to do this; where are we going to get buckets. We posted the ball and couldn’t make those two footers. Come on, now. Where are we -- Immanuel (Quickley) has gotten so much better. He’s showing it. But we’ve got guys that just got to develop better habits. That’s the biggest thing.

Q. How much did tonight sort of underscore how thin the margin for error is in the front court for you, and how well built are you to go small, if you need to, for however long you need to?

JOHN CALIPARI: We can because you know, we could play three guards and be fine. I mean, Immanuel (Quickley), obviously Ashton (Hagans) and Tyrese (Maxey), I mean, you’ve got three 6’3”ish kind of guards who have some toughness to them, so you can do it. The issue becomes shot blocking and how we are playing behind those three. You know, with Nick (Richards) in there and even EJ (Montgomery), but we had a couple guys that didn’t get any rebounds, and you’re a front line player. Wait a minute, what -- that means you’re not focused on I’m going to go get balls. You’re focused on other things. And that’s -- just takes time for these guys. This takes time.

Q. What are the challenges, especially early, when you’ve got four returnees have a pretty good idea of what you’re asking, and a bunch of new guys trying to blend that into one?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, when you’re in a big-time game, you may be playing six, seven guys. I mean, and then hopefully as the season goes, you get to where you can play all nine guys. But there may be a game where you’re like, look, we’re just getting through this one here. Can’t have any two-minute letdown that gets them on the 10-0 run and then you can’t win the game. But the four, you know, I think, again, Immanuel (Quickley) and Ashton (Hagans), even EJ (Montgomery) -- EJ is a better player, but just going to have to play rougher. I think Georgetown came in with one thing: Rough him up; be physical; bang him; push him. And you’ve got to know, that’s just about every game you’re going to play. So you’ve got to be able to play through it and still make shots and I think he will. He’s way better than he was. Nick (Richards), we didn’t throw Nick the ball enough in the second half. I just said we’re throwing it in the post. But Nick obviously got hurt or we’d have been throwing it to him.

Q. How much better has Keion (Brooks Jr.) gotten since day one?

JOHN CALIPARI: He’s really improved. He’s really improved. But again, I’ll watch the tape. There will be things I’ll pick up. Most of it’s stopping on defense, not being able to come up with the rebound. Defensively, it’s not my man, so you’re not helping us like you have to. I showed them on the board prior to the game, when we hold teams to 55 points or less, we have a ridiculous record. When we hold teams under 63 points, we have a ridiculous record. When we hold people to 40% from the field, we have a ridiculous record. Like it’s almost like what -- so how about we just focus on that. We’ll get the offense. We’ll figure that out. Just focus on that. If you can help us hold people to low numbers and low field goal percentage, you need to be playing. If you can’t, you’re probably not going to play as much until you catch up with those things.

Q. It’s obvious that you don’t play favorites, but everybody cheers for Nick (Richards). Do you feel extra pressure, that’s not the right word. Do you feel an added responsibility to coach a third-year player like him and get him to the next level?

JOHN CALIPARI: No, we’ve done it with Willy (Cauley-Stein) and we’ve done it with PJ (Washington) -- and I should say, they have done it. They did the right things; they came back. And I think Nick did the right thing, and he’s so much better than he was. He’s better conditioned and better mentally. He’s not even the same guy. That’s why I was so disappointed for him to get hurt, because I want him to keep building on what he was doing. And he was telling guys, “Throw me the ball.” I was so proud of him. Look at a couple of guys, “Hey, throw me the ball. I’m in there.” He made that jump hook, and he’s shooting the ball better. You can put him in a pick-and-roll and let him pop. He can make that way better.

Q. While you guys figure this out in the front court, how much is on the guards on the perimeter to be their best selves defensively? Seems like if you guys are going to be great it will be because they lock in --

JOHN CALIPARI: It always starts with the ball, though. We are going to be a good defensive team. You’ve got to guard the ball. If you can’t guard the ball, you remember Shea (Gilgeous-Alexander), he could guard the ball. Ashton (Hagans) can guard the ball. We’ve got to get other guys that can do it. The second thing that Ashton did today is he touched the lane. Not just to shoot it. Like he drove it in there to get somebody a pass, and we have other guys, if they drive, they have got one thought: I’m shooting it. Well, it’s funny, we had not practiced that way. But when you put stats in this, it kind of screws up the game because guys start thinking, I’ve got to get some baskets. So now, instead of just playing the game as it happens, you know, I’m driving and I’m going to run somebody over. We had two charges. Like there were three guys there. Why didn’t you just come to that stop and make that pass? Well, you have that kind of slippage with young guys.

Q. In the first half, you put Johnny (Juzang) in the game, and he went straight into the game. He didn’t go to the scorer’s table. How valuable are these --

JOHN CALIPARI: I was happy he had his uniform on underneath (laughter). I just laughed. Matter of fact, he did it twice. Went over there.

Q. Your reaction to PJ Washington in the NBA.

JOHN CALIPARI: Second game -- he had a double-double the second game, and bam, had an unbelievable block to win that game. Tyler (Herro) has been playing well. I mean, these kids are all -- we’ve been fortunate, and our job is to help all those kids develop habits to get them in great condition, to get them tough, because that’s a man’s league. And if they choose to want to be there, then you’ve got to be a man. That’s our job. We can’t shy away from it. It’s how do we help them create professional habits, and that doesn’t mean just on the court. That’s off the court. And to prepare them for a life they want to live. But you know, the stuff -- it’s just not easy, and then doing it here, you know, where it’s -- every team is like -- I thought Georgetown played great. I did. They missed shots. But they played great. And they didn’t play afraid. They played physical. They ran the stuff they wanted to run. They ran the clock down and tried to go one-on-one late in the clock, and a couple of our guys just stopped playing and then all of a sudden they are shooting layups and made some tough shots.

Q. Kahlil Whitney really struggled to get going.

JOHN CALIPARI: He’s young. He’ll be fine. He took a couple shots that I wanted him to take, and they just didn’t go. Missed a couple free throws, which is, you know, unusual, but again, it’s a first-time-out, and you’re here. We need him to defend and rebound. If he does that, he’ll be able to stay on the court. Really will.

Q. You said on Media Day that Immanuel Quickley wasn’t the same person that he was this time last year. Is it fair to say that he’s coming along like you said he would?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I think everybody that has watched him, you know, he’s -- most of this becomes the mental part of this where you don’t -- you understand what’s expected and you can do it. And then you work on the things that you need to work on and master things that you do well. Not every kid does everything well. So here is how we want you to play: You buy in and you matter of factor and then the defensively and the toughness -- and he plays so hard. You know, he’s -- I’m proud of him. I mean, he made shots today but it’s more than making shots. I want him to be that defender. I mean, I took him out because he drove on two guys and had a lob for a dunk and he didn’t throw it. I’m like, dude, no, you’re not doing that. I know you scored some baskets. You’re trying to get 30. That was a lob pass to that guy. Matter of fact, he could have lobbed it to either guy because there were two guys over there. Played well. Other than that, he works hard, he’s trying and I’m proud of him.

Q. With Nick (Richards) in limbo a little bit, how viable an option is Ben Jordan to give you minutes?

JOHN CALIPARI: I probably wouldn’t do that to Ben. You know, I may talk to him. You know, he’s been great in practice. I mean, he’s really, the guys -- he gives us a big body and he’s physical, which is exactly what we need. He’ll dunk it. He’ll lay it in. He’s a basketball player. But I’m not sure I’d put him in that position at this point, but in practice, we’re going to need him.

Keion Brooks Jr.

On today’s game and his thoughts on his own performance…

“It was fun to finally get out and play somebody else instead of beating up on each other all the time, but I thought I played decently. Still a lot of stuff I’ve got to work on - staying in front, ball handling and rebounding. I didn’t have enough rebounds as I thought I should have, so there are some things I’ve got to clean up.”

On the team’s performance…

“It was hard to gage. It was our first time playing somebody else. I mean, that’s really for the coaches to grade overall. We just try to go in and listen to them and everything they tell us.”

On how he felt to get a start, the only freshman with a start…

“Yeah, I didn’t know literally until they [the PA announcer] called my name. But it was fun to be able to go out there and start. I wasn’t really buying much into it, you know, just the first exhibition game. Whenever I came in or I started, I just wanted to go in and play hard and make the right play every time.”

Immanuel Quickley

On performance today …

“I think we can get a lot better especially defensively myself. We gave up a lot of easy baskets that we normally do. We started the game pretty good but we have to make sure we finish strong. We’ve been putting in a lot of work though, before school, after practice things like that and continuing to condition is going to push us to the next level.”

On veteran status …

“It’s really good to be a veteran this year because I got to learn from guys like PJ (Washington) and Reid (Travis) last year. I’ve just been trying to pass on what I’ve learned to guys like Keion (Brooks Jr.) and our other new guys. I try to help them in any way I can and I’m still learning everyday, too. I think they played pretty well today too, I’m sure a couple of them were a little nervous with this being their quote un-quote first game, but I think they’ll be even better next game and continue to get better throughout the season.”

On importance of defense …

“Defensively, and also rebounding, that’s one of the things Cal talked about, if Nick (Richards) comes back next game or not, he told all the guards to just start rebounding more. Everybody has to step up when a man goes down and that’s just how it goes.”

Ashton Hagans

On the 21-5 run in the beginning of the game…

“In practice, we’ve been getting after each other, competing very hard, so you know everybody was very excited to come out and let it off against somebody else, and you know that’s what we did in the beginning.”

On guarding Jake Ohmer

“I guarded him a little bit. He had 18. That was out the window. He just started talking and I said, “Say no more.” and I just had to shut it down. I just try to go out there and stop him. He’s a very good player. Just try to stop him so the offense can be disrupted.”

On being comfortable with his jump shot…

“Coach has seen me in the gym, he’s letting me let it go more. I’m just trying to keep getting reps. And like he said, “Just keep shooting.” Shoot it straight and that’s what I’m trying to do. If I got it, I’m going to shoot it. I’m just trying to come in with a different mindset and just see how I can help this team.”