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Calipari & Wildcats recap Utah Valley, plus postgame notes

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The undermanned Wildcats outlast the Wolverines thanks to big games from two veterans.

huddle Greg Goins - Sea of Blue

It was a horrid shooting night for the Kentucky Wildcats, but they held on to pick up the victory and advance to 3-1 on the young season by defeating Utah Valley 82-74.

In the absence of EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards stepped up to score 21 points and grab 10 rebounds to help Kentucky hold on and avoid upset-minded Utah Valley. Richards hit 8-11 from the floor in another solid performance.

Ashton Hagans struggled with turnovers, losing the ball six times on the night, but Hagans also put up 26 points to go with five rebounds and five assists in a game where he still didn’t look totally healthy. Hagans was an impressive 12-12 from the free throw line also on a night where Kentucky went 31-34 from the free throw line.

Kentucky sorely missed the shooting ability of Immanuel Quickley, as he sat out with a chest injury that came about during practice this week, as the Cats only hit 1-12 from beyond the arc tonight. Tyrese Maxey hit the only three-pointer of the night for the Cats, on his way to scoring 14 points.

It wasn’t a pretty game or one that was very enjoyable to watch, but Kentucky picked up a victory and avoided what would’ve been another disastrous upset in Rupp Arena. It’s clear this team has some holes and things to work on moving forward, but the season is still young and there’s time for these players to learn their roles, improve, and get ready for the season ahead.

Here is what Cal and the players had to say following the game via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he’s probably going to be in pain tomorrow, but there was never a doubt in my mind who I was putting on that line for those technicals. Never. Coaches said, but, but, stop. Ashton, you’re shooting. And part of it is you got to, late in the game, have the courage to not be afraid to lose. I told these guys we had a couple guys that had baskets and they just, you know, and free throws and I remember saying to Sam Cassell when I was coaching him, kid made so many game winners and game-winning free throws and I said, “how do you do it?” He said I’m not afraid to miss. I’m not afraid to miss a game winner. I’ll be good with it. We still have young guys that are playing not to lose. You can’t play that way. I was so proud of Johnny Juzang, so proud of him. He got a rebound late, he made those free throws late, he’s been in the gym on his own, he’s spending the extra time and it paid off tonight.

Our issue right now is you can’t go and make one three-point field goal. So, we got to go and figure out, okay, how are we going to do this? Now, we had some guys that were wide open and almost shot air balls that are kids that make threes. So probably some of this is mental, game in the balance, are not ready to be in that position. I don’t care how good you are. Maybe not ready to be in that position yet. But you can’t have a team make 11 and you make one. How did we win the game? We had nine offensive rebounds at half. I was ecstatic. We have three in the second half. That’s, we can’t win with those two numbers. And so, we got to get back, we made a couple things offensively, we changed, and I like what I saw. They went zone and we’re still learning how to play against it. We had to play through Ashton. If we didn’t play through Ashton, we really did not get a shot.

But, and here again, I know you may not know this, but E.J.’s not been playing and today we didn’t have Immanuel. So, like we have seven scholarship players. So, like I’m happy that we won the game. Now we got to get those guys back and get going because Nick played too many minutes. Nick played well until he played too many minutes. The same with Nate. The minute they play those extra, eight, nine minutes, they back up. But let me -- Utah Valley played well. Those threes that they made, gave them a chance to win. And then we had to come back and make free throws, which we did. But that, Mark’s done a great job with that team, really has.

Q. Did the three-point shooting have anything to do with adjusting to the new line or is it something else?

JOHN CALIPARI: Doesn’t seem like anybody else is having a problem with it. But we go through this every year. I think part of it is I’ve got to figure out maybe there’s an offense that we’re running that I just say we’re trying to get threes off. This offense is trying to get threes. Maybe we get into that. But again, there were rebounds late, guys couldn’t get. But Johnny got. Then Ashton grabbed. And there were things that happened in that game late that I look at, like, I got on Tyrese because I told him, don’t let that guy catch the ball. Because he’s not playing well, he’s not engaged with us. So, he just let the guy catch it and the guy makes a three. What did you understand what I said to you? “I was thinking the apple and my bike.” What? I told you exactly, do not let him catch the ball and you let him just run and catch it and throw it and then make a three. That’s the stuff young kids, if they’re not playing well, they’re not locked into the team, they’re into themselves. It takes time here. Today, without two veterans, Immanuel and E.J., whew. And I was trying to be as positive as I could be until the end, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Q. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to piece together so much this early and are you learning new things about yourself and coaching?

JOHN CALIPARI: I haven’t -- we have been blessed here to not have many injuries. I mean, we just haven’t. Nerlens, but all in all we haven’t had it. And that’s why I’ve had a roster of 10, 11 guys, because we just haven’t had injuries and I feel more comfortable that you get, everybody gets a chance to show what they should do and then it shakes out. Like today Johnny proved that he should play more, just what shakes out. So, but what just happened kind of puts you, the alarm bells go off. We had seven scholarship guys. Do you understand if they fouled out three guys, I was either playing walk-ons or a four-man zone? I was telling guys, don’t be fouling. Don’t foul. But the other side of it is, like I said, Nick and Nate played too many minutes. Those extra seven, eight, nine, ten minutes, it wipes them out. They stop playing, they get, they don’t get back, they get run into a screen, we don’t rebound, we don’t block a shot, we don’t have the energy and spirit you got to play with to be good. And this is all -- I got to figure out a lot of this. And then I got to give it to them. Part of this is they got to get experience, like, quickly. But just, you can’t skip steps, guys, you can’t. It is what it is. We are who we are right now. We are what the score says we are.

Q. Late in that game it looked like Kahlil dislocated a finger, ran down on defense --

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, and almost grabbed the ball.

Q. -- almost got the rebound and snapped his own finger back in and gave the thumbs up and kept playing. How what did you make of that and how he is?

JOHN CALIPARI: It was all taped up, but I mentioned it after. Think about that. I talked about Johnny after, I talked about Ashton’s free throws after, I talked about that play, I mean, think about it. Like, his finger popped out and he went down and tried to rebound that way. But we’re, like I said, they went zone and we tried some different -- and it was like, okay, one thing is giving us a chance. You can’t be that team. I mean we got to, we did some good stuff in the pickup high and got in the middle of the zone. And having Nick behind the zone makes them stay back because you get lobs. Like, you get lob dunks. And they don’t want to give up that. So.

Q. For information, what was Immanuel’s issue that he couldn’t play?

JOHN CALIPARI: He got hurt yesterday in practice, the last play of the practice. So, he got hit and it was too hurt to play. And he’s one that if he could have played, he would have. No question.

Q. In your mind is there an answer to how the same guys can make 31 of 34 free throws but only one of 12 threes?

JOHN CALIPARI: That’s what our staff just said. How do you do that? And then -- again, what Sam Cassell said. You cannot be afraid to miss. Even Nate was pulling back. That means you’re afraid you’re going to miss. You can’t play that way. I’ll say this again, folks, everybody that comes in here has nothing to lose. They have nothing to lose. So, you know what? You have to play like you have nothing to lose. You have to play the same way, which is why in March we have a big advantage. But I don’t know if we can get to March. I’m, like, what, we got to start playing better. And you know, defensively we are doing some good stuff, but it shows, Ashton has to be on the floor and he’s got to be that guy because, again, he was caught -- if you watched, he was leading, he was bringing them together, calming guys down. But again, not everybody was locked into our team. And it’s understood. They’re young kids.

Q. With the way Nick played today, his second double double in three games, only his third in his career, what’s it going to take for him to make sure that he keeps up that consistency and doesn’t let himself down?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we ran some stuff to him and we got guys that, again, we ran a play where we called it the whole way down what we were running and the one guy wasn’t listening because he had not played great and he ran right in front of Nick. And Nick was wide open to get another basket. But for Nick, again, you got to score some around the goal. But what you’re finding out, Nick, may be not a three-point shooter, but he may be, are you ready for this, folks? Our best shooter. When you get him at 12 feet, he makes those shots. He may be our best -- so now we’re saying, okay, let’s get him to 12 feet, let’s do stuff to get him to an elbow. You saw the short corner shots he’s taking. It’s what we want him to do because he’s good. But you got to get some free ones. He’s 7-foot tall.

Q. T.J. Washington was so hot in the second half. Was that just a guy going off or what was going on?

JOHN CALIPARI: Have you ever seen that here before? Again, when you have nothing to lose and you’re taking 30-footers, and they’re going in, like, one of them it was, I told him after, it was my choice to go zone. Can you imagine? Like, I went zone. Now do you understand why I hate zone. I went zone and the wing left him. Like, left him. Backed away. And the kid gets a wide open three. Bang. That got him going. Then he makes the next one, then he makes the next one. All of a sudden, I’m saying, what in the world? But that happens here. But if we don’t go 1-12 from the three, 1-12, I will -- please, all you people that watch this video, you’ll watch the tape six times, more than I will, look at all the threes and slow them down and see how open guys were. But only 12 threes? You know, we’re getting fouled so we’re getting to the rim. It’s what I want us to do, but we need to take around 20. I’m saying 18, 19, 20 threes, maybe 21. I don’t want to shoot 30. That’s not how we play. I want to get to the foul line. But if you’re getting to the foul line or you’re posting the ball, you’re open on that perimeter. And let me say this, this is something that you could tell your child. You don’t have to make every shot. You just can’t miss them all. You can’t miss them all. You don’t have to make them all. Just can’t miss every shot. Thank goodness we were 1-12. We almost missed every shot. And we still won. I’m happy we won, guys. Let me just tell you, you know, this season as long as it goes and being here and knowing how teams play against us, and how they’re charged up and then the next game they don’t play as well. They just don’t. It always -- if I -- I’m not a gambler, but if I was, I would probably say the minute, okay, who played? They beat Kentucky? I’m against them the next game. I mean that, we, the team just gives everything so we’re in these kinds of games. Hopefully we’re better than this but right now what you’re seeing is who we are. We got to get E.J. back, got to get Immanuel back and figure out what we are.

Q. Just to clarify, when do you think you’ll have Immanuel back and do you --

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know that yet. Hopefully, hopefully he and E.J. begin to -- hopefully, maybe this weekend. Maybe not. I’m not forcing them to come back -- I mean it’s, they got to, you know, they got to figure it out. But I will say, when you’re us and you have a veteran team with some young guys, veterans are out and it’s all young guys and just a couple veterans? Whew. Things are hard.

Q. You finished with just six scholarship guys. Do you worry at all that Whitney will miss any time or is that the kind of thing that he can keep playing with?

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know yet. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

#1 Nate Sestina, Forward

On Nick Richard’s performance …

“That’s what Nick does for us. He had a really big night. He rebounded the ball well and shot the ball well. He has been working on that the past few days with KP (Kenny Payne). He had a really good shoot around today and he really carried on from that.”

On missing open three-point shots …

“I have to make shots. Everybody has to make shots, especially when we are open. We practice it all the time. They are rhythm shots. I think guys legs were just tired, and my legs were tired. There isn’t any excuse for missing any open shots, but we will be good.”

On stopping runs and improving defense …

“My man was pulling from half court, back in Utah. We just have to pick them up. We can’t let them bring up the ball from the sideline and let them get open shots. A lot of it was just miscommunication and something we are going to have to work on to move forward.”

On bouncing back from the last game …

“We have a couple guys that are hurt. That has a lot to do with it. A win is a win. I am very happy with a win. I don’t care if it is by 1 point or 500 points. A win is a win. For us coming off a bad loss, to win at home and get our momentum going again is awesome.”

On taking breaks …

“I spent my entire college career earning minutes. This is something that I do not want to give up. I only have one more year of college basketball. As many minutes as I can play, I am going to do that, whether it is 40 minutes or 4 minutes or a minute. However long coach needs me in the game is how long I will be in the game.”

#0 Ashton Hagans, Guard

On recovering from an injury last week …

“Still feeling it a little bit, but it’s all good. Going to go back and get some treatment, just keep getting with (trainer) Geoff (Staton) and get better.”

On his improvements from not scoring last week to scoring more tonight …

“Just staying focused, just staying in the gym, shooting when I get the chance, attacking the basket and if my teammates are focused. Work on getting them open shots and everyone can get more involved and play in a role.”

On if he felt the pressure to take over in the second half …

“A little bit, but if it wasn’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t have gotten that. They opened up a lane for me and I just kept on driving.”

On how tired he is after playing a lot of minutes tonight …

“Not too tired, I’m a little bit hot in all these jackets, but not too tired. We got to move on to the next game.”

On how much it helped him that Nick Richards opened up the lane for him …

“You know, that’s the Nick that we need. He just has to keep on bringing it. You know Cal just kept on telling us to feed him and let him shoot the jumper, he had it and he was knocking it down, he just opened it up for us and he helped us out.”

#4 Nick Richards, Forward

On how he thinks he played ….

“I thought I played pretty good overall. I am still kind of mad about how I didn’t get a block today, so that is something that I am mad about. I am disappointed in myself because I had a couple of opportunities to get a couple of blocks tonight. We just have to appreciate the win tonight and be grateful for that. The other team did play pretty good tonight. It was a really good game overall.”

On looking comfortable with the faceup game …

“It is something we have been working on in practice, and that is something that I have been working on in my workouts with my coaches, so it was a matter of time before it just started going down.”

On the team’s limited availability forcing fresh faces into the game …

I mean this team doesn’t really need to count up all veterans, but at the same time everyone is treated the same way. Freshman are veterans, we all get treated the same way.”

Now, here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky moves to is 3-1 on the season. Utah Valley is 3-2.
  • Kentucky leads the series 2-0.
  • Tonight’s game was the first in the BBN Showcase multi-team event. The upcoming games vs. Mount St. Mary’s, Lamar and UAB also are part of the event.
  • Next up: Kentucky continues its eight-game homestand Friday vs. Mount St. Mary’s. That game will tip at 7 p.m. and be televised on SEC Network.

Player Notes

  • Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 26 points and led the Wildcats with five assists.
  • It is the second 20-point game of his career. He scored 23 at Georgia on Jan. 19.
  • He also made 12 of 12 at the foul line, career bests in both categories. The last Cat to make at least 12 perfectly was Jodie Meeks, who was 14 of 14 at Tennessee on Jan. 13, 2009 (his UK single-game record 54-point night).
  • Hagans is the 15th player in school history to go perfect from the free-throw line with at least 12 attempts.
  • Nick Richards collected 21 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of the season and third of his career. He had an efficient shooting night, making 8 of 11 from the field and all five at the charity stripe.
  • Nate Sestina scored eight points and snared 12 rebounds, most by a Wildcat this season.

Calipari

  • Calipari is now 308-72 at UK.
  • He has a 753-212 all-time on-court record.
  • UK is 248-41 vs. Associated Press unranked competition under Calipari, including 149-5 at home.
  • UK is now 51-12 under Calipari in bounce-back games following a loss.
  • The Wildcats have never lost two games in a row at home under Calipari.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky controlled the rebounding, 46-27, leading to a 16-7 advantage in second-half points.
  • UK made 31 of 34 at the foul line (91.2%). It is UK’s second-best free throw shooting performance of the Calipari era (min. 30 att.). On March 23, 2012 vs. Indiana, Kentucky made 94.6% (35 of 37).
  • It’s the first time UK has made 30 free throws in a game since making 30 vs. Auburn on March 14, 2015 (30 of 35).
  • UK kept its home dominance intact under Calipari. The Wildcats haven’t lost back-to-back home games under Calipari since losing back-to-back games on Feb. 28 and March 4, 2009, vs. LSU and Georgia, respectively.
  • Kentucky hasn’t lost back-to-back nonconference home games since dropping two straight to UL Lafayette and Louisville on Dec. 23 and 25, 1989.

In the First Half

  • The starting lineup consisted of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Nate Sestina and Nick Richards.
  • Johnny Juzang was the first sub.
  • Trailing 13-12, UK went ahead on a Hagans layup and pair of foul shots.
  • The Wildcats stayed ahead the remainder of the half, stretching the lead to as many as eight at 33-25 and the intermission score of 35-27.
  • Richards’ 11 points and seven rebounds paced the Cats, who made 14 of 15 foul shots in the opening frame.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky began the second half with the original starting lineup.
  • UK opened the half with baskets by Richards and Maxey, coaxing a Wolverine timeout at 18:41.
  • Kentucky eventually made it a 9-1 spurt, widening the advantage to 44-28.
  • UK led 52-38 when UVU’s TJ Washington made three straight 3-pointers, suddenly cutting the score to 54-47.
  • Utah Valley continued to chip away, pulling within two at 60-58.
  • Hagans drove for a layup and got a steal; UVU’s Washington was assessed a technical foul and Hagans made both foul shots, making it 64-58.
  • Utah Valley stayed the course, narrowing to 68-67 on another Washington 3 at the 3:26 mark.
  • Once again it was Hagans to the rescue, with a drive-and-dish to Sestina for a basket-and-one.
  • A Richards tip-in and two Hagans foul tosses made it a 7-0 run, plumping the cushion to 75-67 with 41 seconds left.
  • Additional free throws kept the visitors at bay en route to an 82-74 final.