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John Calipari and Wildcats preview Utah Valley

Time to rebound.

Calipari Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are back in action Monday when the Utah Valley Wolverines invade Rupp Arena.

The Cats are looking to bounce back in a big way after last week’s loss to Evansville, by far the biggest regular-season upset of the John Calipari era. That’s put a significant level of importance on a game vs. Utah Valley.

But after the Cats were upset at home last week, expect a much more improved effort and focus from them against the Wolverines.

Ahead of the game, Calipari, Nick Richards and Johnny Juzang met with the media to preview Wildcats vs. Wolverines. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On what he hopes to take from the loss and how he wants them to respond …

“I’ve done this so long that we go from Michigan State thinking we can beat the world to obviously not in the right frame of mind, not the right kind of preparation. What these teams do every year I coach, they’re going to follow my lead. Well, they probably followed my lead. I thought we were going to win the game, too. I didn’t think we would have that much of a struggle with those guys. And so they followed my lead, and it woke me up more than it woke them up. But I think they know now that every game, we have a chance to beat anybody – and lose to anybody if we don’t compete. If we play great defense, we’ll have a chance in every game. We’re still trying to figure out the offense. It’s just going to take time. But if you defend and rebound—one of the things I told them, our teams have historically been in the top 10 in offensive rebounding in probably my whole time here. We’re last in the Power Five schools in rebounding offensively. I’ve never heard of that. Basically it means you’re not even trying because it’s not important that I rebound because I’m trying to score. Well, we talked about it, we showed them, we worked on it, so hopefully that will begin to change. Where we are in learning offense, you have to get offensive rebounds on some possessions – free baskets – or it’s going to be hard to win.”

On what he saw on film with giving up straight line drives …

“On a guy who we said is not a great shooter. He’s a driver. Basically when you watched, it’s almost like we panicked. And I told them today again and I told them yesterday, every team we play has nothing to lose. So you better play that way, like you have nothing to lose. We played like--at the end, how about we took two 3s? And we’re shooting a very high percentage from the 3 [sarcasm]. Like, you’re going to go in a two-in-eight chance? Two we win, eight we lose. That’s the shot you’re going to take? How about you drive it and try to get fouled or mark a basket or maybe an and one? Or you miss it on a drive and they’ve got to help but we rebound it and stick it back in. They don’t know all this stuff. And we panicked. But you’ve gotta give Evansville (credit). They made free throws. They made a 3 in the corner. Those were killer plays that we kind of brought it on. We’re just a ways away. You beat Michigan State, and again, I know it’s not that big of a deal, but EJ (Montgomery) is out and he’s still out. EJ didn’t play in that game (vs. Evansville or Eastern Kentucky). Now, other than you guys, no one will say that. Like, we played without one of our best players. I mean, we’re not there yet. I think that Ashton (Hagans) will be healthier for this game. He was kind of hurt that last game. Now it seems like he’s healthier. We’ve got some other guys that seem to be beat up a little bit. Next man up. Let’s go. We’ve gotta play.”

On how much that game highlighted how much Montgomery is needed with all the minutes Nate Sestina had to play in his absence …

“Nick (Richards) is playing too many minutes, so now all of a sudden guys are playing more minutes than they’re capable of playing, which means you have mental lapses, which means you have game slippage, which means all of a sudden we start not trusting each other because we’re breaking down. Now you have a team that’s tentative because they can’t be aggressive and they can’t attack because they don’t trust. And they don’t because some tired players are breaking down. And now all of a sudden you don’t know is a guy going to be there, is he not going to be there. As your season goes, my hope is we look back at this game and say it woke us up and got us right. If you ask me would you have rather beat Michigan State or Evansville, I probably would have said, ‘We have to lose a game?’ ‘Yes, but you will win one. Which one do you want?’ I would probably say, ‘Let’s go with Michigan State and I’ll swallow the other and deal with it.’ But I’ve still got a great group of guys. We’re just beat up and we’re not—Ashton has to play well for us to do well when you start limiting the number of guys because the rest of guys are freshmen.”

On what the confidence level is right now …

“We’ll see tomorrow. My guess is we’ll start the game tentative just because you’ll have the dregs of the last game, and then hopefully they’ll just get going and play basketball and play free and literally play like you have nothing to lose – because they (the other team) will. And the tape I’ve watched of them (Utah Valley) down at UAB, whew! They’re doing a great job. Defensively, fighting on defense. Doing some scrambling stuff. It’s another game that, you know. Like, I think I had a little different attitude prior to this coming game than I did Evansville. And I don’t want to take anything away from them. They added three really good players to their team. For anybody to say they’re finishing eighth in the (Missouri Valley), you’re out of your mind. You’re absolutely out of your mind. They will be one of the top teams in the (Missouri Valley) with a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. I would be stunned if they weren’t.”

On 3-point shooting …

“Do you remember last year? Like we had the same thing last year. My guess is the beginning of every year – ‘Man, I thought you said this team could 3-point shoot.’ I’ll say it to you again. This should be one of my best 3-point shooting teams. It should be a team that shoots 3s like Derek Willis was on that team and those guys because you’ve got a lot of guys who can make 3s. Right now, what’s happened is we’re not really moving the ball like really getting rid of it. Everybody who catches it is holding it to see if they can make a play, which means we don’t trust each other. So now the 3s are contested. Why aren’t we getting wide open 3s with the way that we play? Well, why? Because I got it and I hold it and then I pass, or I fake it and then I pass versus just get rid of it. If everybody gets rid of it whenever a guy is open, you’re going to get open 3s. The other side of that is when you move the ball you get better lane drives, which means you get more 3s. We’ve got a lot of stuff that’s just going to take time to figure out how we’re going to have to play.”

On managing his conversation with Hagans and if he’s able to tell the coaching staff when he can’t play because he’s injured …

“I said to him, ‘If that’s who you’re going to be, you shouldn’t have played this game because you’re hurting yourself and you hurt us.’ We may not have been able to win it anyway but we would have tried to get by with six guys and just said we’ve got six. Please don’t foul people out. He’s a great kid and he’s trying. He’s a little bit beat up, a few nicks and bruises and stuff.”

On having a long layover and getting back to practicing after the loss …

“We needed it. I needed a day and a half to come outside from under the covers. When you’re under the covers like that for a day and a half – that’s not true, 24 hours I was.”

On EJ Montgomery’s status …

“He’s not on the court with us but he’s doing some stuff. My guess is a week away. I don’t know. Maybe longer. It’d be nice to get him back and have a roster. The other side of this is it’s hard to practice when you’re down to seven, eight guys. Like, how do you really scrimmage to get after each other the way you need to? So we’ve been dealing with that. I think there’s probably 250 coaches in the country who’d like my problem. The thing for me, I always want to be grateful for stuff that happens. I was really grateful for what happened up in New York. But if you’re going to do that, you’ve gotta be grateful for what Evansville should do for us. You’ve gotta be grateful about it. Let’s be grateful. I know everybody out there – ‘Oh my gosh, he’s grateful we lost a game.’ But if you’re going to be grateful for stuff that happens that’s good, you better also be thankful for the bad stuff and grateful for what it does for you and then you look at it. Now it took me 24 hours to do that and to think in those terms, but I’m looking at this and saying: Hey, I’m grateful. Let’s go and use it. Let’s benefit by it. We’ll go from here.”

On the importance of having Ben Jordan on the roster with all the injuries …

“It’s been great. We’ve needed him out on the court. We need him just pushing and shoving and being big. It’s been good. The guys have enjoyed him.”

On Lynn Bowden offering his services to the basketball team via social media …

“Who? Which guy? Wow, if he’s here he’d probably start for us. I don’t want to jinx it, but if they get one more win, they’ll be playing for a long time. I think Mark (Stoops) would kill me if I said, ‘Yeah, send Lynn over.’ But he’s a competitor, boy, whew. I mean he rolled his ankle so bad (a couple games ago). I mean, he rolled it so bad that I thought he was out for the game. He was mad that he rolled his ankle because he had to come out for three plays. Like, rolled it. And went back in and won that football game a couple of weeks ago when they had to win and stayed in the game and won the game. It’s incredible stuff. He’s the ultimate competitor, I’ll tell you that. And he’s also a guy whose spirit brings people around him up. I’m talking about that to this team. Is your body language and your spirit bringing us down? If so, get the heck out of here. This is too long of a season. We want to be picking each other up.”

On managing being shorthanded in practices …

“We’ve got walk-ons. I was in the other day. I made four 3s and I was so embarrassed that I stopped. We had walk-ons in. We’re doing a lot of four-on-four stuff, which we can get by with.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On the team struggling to shoot the 3-point shot …

“We’re only a couple of games in, three games in, so probably just early. I think we’re shooting it pretty well in practice. It will even out. It will balance out.”

On how much of an adjustment it is playing for Kentucky …

“I wouldn’t say it’s been different. It’s actually been everything I expected, but it’s definitely been a huge adjustment from high school basketball to playing for Kentucky is like two different worlds. But it’s been a great one, honestly. How much not just me, but everybody is learning and growing from this, on the court and off the court.”

On how the loss to Evansville figures into the learning part of the experience …

“It was a tough one for sure, a tough loss. Not one that you see coming. But I think with anything, you take what you can from it. You can learn a lot from a loss. Luckily, it’s early in the season and not in March, when it really counts. Definitely learning a lot from it.”

On what his expectations were coming to Kentucky …

“That’s actually the reason I picked the place. This is a great platform here, so that’s part of it. Great coaching staff, great place to learn. But another big reason I picked (UK) was I wanted all of that adversity and challenge because that’s how you learn about yourself and grow. I kind of expected all of that. I feel like I’ve grown a lot.”

On what he has realized he needs to improve …

“On the court, just being a complete player and trying to find ways to impact the game, outside of scoring. You’re fighting for minutes and now, guess what, you’ve got to be one of the best defenders, one of the best rebounders, one of the best teammates. All of the other stuff, outside of scoring and offense, is something that it’s really pushed me to do, rounding out my game.”

On whether rebounding could provide him more of an opportunity to play …

“At the end of the day, it’s about the team and that’s how I see it. I don’t see it as an opportunity for myself, but I see it as a thing we need to improve on as a team. However I can help do that, whatever it is. I just think it’s something as a team we have to do better.”

On how eager the team is to get back on the court after losing to Evansville …

“Yeah, I think we’re pretty eager. It’s been like a week, so we’ve had a long time to just sit on it. Excited to get back out there.”

On what lessons the team learned from the loss …

“You’ve got to come out with the same energy and tenacity every game. I think there’s other things we took, but the biggest thing is you can’t take anybody lightly.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On what the team has been working on …

“Just basic rebounding drills. If the ball goes up, he wants four guys going to the rim. If four guys don’t touch the paint, he basically is going to make us run. Just basic drills like that.”

On the hunger to get back on track …

“Coach, he always preaches to us, ‘Take every loss as a lesson.’ We’re just going to take it as a lesson and then the next day watched a lot of film and then the day after that went on the court and just practiced the stuff we did, trying to make up for our mistakes so hopefully we don’t do it in the next game.”

On any lessons he took from the game personally …

“Me personally, I just gotta bring it every night. I can’t afford to put myself into foul trouble in the first half. We’re not really that deep on the bench in terms of bigs, so those little things like that I gotta watch out for.”

On adjusting to playing more minutes with EJ Montgomery out …

“Coach, he always treats everybody as a starter. When we’re in practice, everybody plays the same. Everybody goes hard. They go hard the same amount as everybody else. We run the same amount of plays. Everyone’s up to the task. It doesn’t matter if you’re the ninth man on the bench or you’re about to start, you’re going to be prepared for it.”

On whether the team is staying confident …

“Of course. We didn’t take that—we were hurt after the game. Everybody was down, but the next day everybody got back in here. We just talked and we took it as a learning experience. We didn’t take it as a loss even though we did lose, but we just took it as a learning experience.”

On their approach to this game …

“We’re just going to go out on the court, play as hard as we can, listen to our coaches, just try to get as much—try to get up and down the court as much as possible, make as many shots and just try to see if we can come out with a W and just hopefully learn from the mistakes that we made in that game.”

On being eager to get back on the court …

“For us, we love to practice, but we love playing games more. I would say we’re probably more eager to play games than practice.”