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Calipari & Wildcats recap win vs. Lamar, plus postgame notes

Things are starting to come together for this team and it showed on Sunday

Drew Brown - A Sea of Blue

Kentucky finally came out and played well for the majority of a basketball game as they beat Lamar 81-56. It was the first time since the Cats demolished Eastern Kentucky several weeks ago that a sustained effort was on display throughout the contest.

Calipari’s team soared out to a 10-0 lead and quickly snatched all of the momentum inside Rupp Arena. Lead by Tyrese Maxey’s 12 points, UK took a 20 point lead into halftime in a game that never really felt close.

It was extremely encouraging to see Kentucky nail seven three-pointers in the first 20 minutes of action. Shooting woes had been plaguing this team early on this season so it was a welcomed sight for Cats’ fans to see long-range shots dropping. Four different Kentucky players made a three in the first half of Sunday’s win. UK finished with 10 threes on the night.

The biggest takeaway once again just might be the continued improvement Nick Richards. The junior center was all over the place and even finished one of the best dunks of his career Kentucky on an alleyoop pass from Tyrese Maxey. Richards was swatting and altering shots just about every time UK was on the defensive end of the floor. He finished the night with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and seven blocks.

Freshman guard Tyrese Maxey stole the show in Rupp Arena on Sunday night. He was hot from deep early and kept pouring in the buckets all night. He finished the game with 21 points on 8/11 shooting.

Coach Calipari was clearly agitated on the sidelines tonight, mostly at the officials, but you can only assume that he was more than pleased with how his team performed on the court. Despite some recent struggles it is evident that this group of guys is improving.

Here is what Coach Calipari and his players had to say after the big win via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

Q. With Tyrese Maxey scoring 21 points, his best performance since the season opener, what do you make out of the way he played tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: He’s getting better, but again, we need to practice. We—Kahlil (Whitney) needs to practice so that we can coach him and get him to play the way he’s got to play. He did some good stuff today, but he’s still not the comfortable guy he needs to be. Keion (Brooks Jr.) the same. We’ve got to get Nate (Sestina) back to being comfortable and more of a guy that’s, you know, showing who he is; not trying to live up to something because it changes how you play. We didn’t post the ball a ton today. But again, 19 assists: That’s what I’m looking for. Some of the others when we didn’t have big assists, maybe we missed a whole lot of shots – like wide open. We’re starting to make shots. Twenty-two is about what we want to shoot – 20 to 22 3s. We’re playing faster. My teams, to shoot 30 3s, we’re not going to win. You know, getting to the line, we did not post the ball up a ton. Again, offensive rebounding in the second half, we just—the beginning of the second half for 10 or 12 minutes, we just didn’t bring it like we did in the first half. Some of it was we made 3s to stretch out the game, but we also defended. So again, we’ve got a long ways to go. But we have time now. We play next Friday, the following (Saturday). I’ve got practice days. I can get them in there. We can scrimmage and talk through all the things that we’re trying to do on the run. What have we played, five games? Four games? [SID Eric Lindsey: Six.] Oh, six games. We’ve got a lot of games left.

Q. You’re not one to make excuses. How much did the preseason injuries and injuries to EJ Montgomery and so forth set you back?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, when you’re playing without two veterans in EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley you’re not going to be the same, not with this group, because then you’re playing freshmen who are not ready to be the dominating guys. Even Tyrese Maxey is still learning. You get him in spots on the court where we’re trying to put him, he moves to another spot, and it’s not, you can’t play the way we’re trying to play from that spot. I’m trying to get him to do certain things off pick-and-rolls and he’s not getting it yet. So they go zone, I got to have Ashton Hagans in the game. If I don’t have Ashton in the game against zone, my man, I threw it to him, did you see where we would have thrown it to Ashton? And he took a bounce and just threw it at the rim? He’s learning. Now he made 3s and scored today. He had three assists, I want to see six assists, I don’t want to see three assists. And we put him in position to go do that and he didn’t get it done today. But, you know, guys get injured. We’re not the only team that has injuries and it is what it is. Nick Richards was out for awhile. We were lucky to have Nick against Michigan State. If you remember, I didn’t start him. So we’re healthy now and now it’s time to start taking steps and strides. This may be a little bit early for camp, that we like to call camp. It is a little early, but I’m having that mentality of we’re getting into this, because these kids, they got to be able to fall back on their training or you’re thinking too much. Most of that thinking is stinking thinking. You need to fall back on the training. Well, when you’re playing all these games and you have all these injuries and you’re practicing with six guys, it’s hard to fall back on the training. But I think going forward you’ll see we’ll, we should be better.

Q. I know there was an area early in the second half you weren’t happy with, but you did end up with 10 offensive rebounds after making that a big point two nights ago.

JOHN CALIPARI: We still got guys that aren’t bringing in balls. Like, tipping. You understand, I say two hands. So my man tipped it and tipped it in for them. You tip it from us. You grab the ball with two hands. Offensively, we had a couple down this end and we went to bring them in and they just squirt loose. We have other guys that are so, they’re not reacting to the ball hitting that rim because, again, we haven’t been trained. As the shot is being taken, your mentality is, he’s missing. Not like, I wonder if this will go in so I can go three. No. He’s missing this. And then you’ll react to it. Well, you got to be trained that way. You don’t, they’re not in high school playing that way. They’re playing every minute they can play. If I play bad, so what, I play bad. Now it’s, okay, we got to do this.

I thought Nick did some good stuff. I liked the fact that we blocked shots today. And I told the guys, how are we not blocking shots? We should be one of those teams in our league. But then when you do block a shot, your guards got to get involved because if they block it, you got to come up with the ball, you got to track down on Nick’s man or EJ’s man. So, again, being trained. We’re right now starting to train them on rotations if we get beat on the bounce. Showing them, here’s where you move to. Because they really don’t know. They just all run into the lane and then what happens? 3s. So like I said, look, we played better today. A lot of good stuff today. A lot of good stuff. Of the teams we’ve played, other than Michigan State, this team was as good as any of them, if not better than most of them or all of them. We played better. We had 19 assists, we made shots, we blocked shots. Now, we gave up some baskets that you and I look at and say, oh, man, why? Because, again, it’s one play to my guys. When you’re young, it’s one play. Why is he getting so upset? Okay, now they made another and another. Now it’s an 11-point game instead of 20. Are you good now? Yeah, but it was only one play. That’s the stuff they got to understand. You have to put a premium on every possession. I am playing every possession as though it matters. We’re not there yet. We’re playing, about 60 percent of the possessions we’ll really fight and dig in and play.

Q. When you talk about guys kind of thinking too much right now.

JOHN CALIPARI: Here’s what I liked today. The best thing that happened today. Brad Calipari had 16. But here’s what happened on the 16 he had. He missed two shots, okay? And you know my biggest thing is, I want to see when you miss shots if you can follow it up with a make, because that means you got some mental toughness. He missed two and then he banged the dagger. And believe me, he texted me and says, you know, I missed two before I made that dagger. He knows, that’s the kind of stuff, that’s mental toughness. He had four rebounds too. He played pretty good defense, too, by the way.

Q. On the thinking too much, it seemed like Tyrese Maxey was one of those guys, especially the last few games. Early today, he comes out kind of just letting it fly. You didn’t seem to react frustratedly at all about any of those shots. Did you want him to do that?

JOHN CALIPARI: Here it is. You’re supposed to catch the ball here. That’s why I’m going crazy. Why are you not catching the ball where you’re supposed to? And if you catch it from that spot then dribble back down to that spot. You know, I probably shouldn’t get upset because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. And we’re giving -- we, I felt really good walking into the game because we had defined roles way better and much earlier than I have. And for awhile we were playing that way. But all of a sudden I look up, it’s 19-19. It was 15-2. How is it 19-19? And again, it’s one play, it’s, okay, what’s the big deal, why? You expect me to make a play on rebound that every time? I do. If we’re going to be that kind of team, it is going to be a grind because each week we go we’re playing better and better teams. That’s how we kind of do this. So I’m not coaching this game against that score. I’m coaching this team to be prepared for what they got going forward.

Q. How well did Nick Richards perform as a rim protector and as a presence around the basket?

JOHN CALIPARI: No, he was good. We didn’t post him that much. The coaches got on me. We’re trying to get us to pass the ball to one another, so I ran a couple things to him, but most of it he didn’t get the shots. But he blocked, he rebounded. When he gets tired it shows. He’ll just kind of let a guy shoot a layup and you’ll sit there and say, why did he let that guy shoot it? Why didn’t he block it? Because he’s exhausted. I’m not going to go, I’m not in that frame yet. And that’s why Nate Sestina has to play better, that’s why EJ has to play better, so we can get a rotation going. Shove Keion (Brooks Jr.) in there and let him go get some balls.

Q. You talked about the guys relying on their training. I know it varies year to year, team to team, but at what point does that usually happen and how do you know that that happens?

JOHN CALIPARI: Usually it happens after the camp stuff we do. Where it’s really in depth and it’s, we’re training. That’s what it is. You’re not playing as many games. You’re training. This, we have a day off, we have three days, and then another game. And then, but then we have a day off and we have four, five days. So we got eight days between, really, two games. So but this team, again, we’re still trying to figure each other out. We still, there’s a, we get undisciplined at times, both on defense and offense. Instead of just grinding it out, we’re not breaking down. We’re giving them one tough shot. We’re blocking out and rebounding. Every shot that we take it’s a miss and you three go get it. And then if we don’t get it, watch, you can’t jog back. Again, you understand, if you run in there to rebound and you don’t get it, and they get it, you’re next to the man you got to run with. And if he sprints, you got to sprint. So maybe I won’t go in. I’ll stay near the top and I get a five-step lead on him, so I can jog back as he runs. The whole mentality of here, I’m coming, knowing if I don’t get this I’m sprinting back. So we’re trying to do stuff in practice to simulate that. Like, you’re saying, well, isn’t that like ninth, tenth? Yeah, it is. We’re simulating that, like, you can do both. I can’t do both. You either go in or you don’t. But, again, this team has gotten better, shooting the ball better, much more confident in what they’re doing. It’s great to see Johnny Juzang make that shot to pull up, because we’re going to need him to make shots.

Q. I wanted to go back to Tyrese Maxey for a minute. When you guys were tied at 19 and then y’all go on that 22-2 run, when he was making those 3s and settling into that rhythm, how much do you feel like everyone else kind of fed off of that energy?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, it’s what stretched the game out. Like, those baskets like bang, bang, bang. And he knows, if it’s in transition, he can take it. Like, if we throw it ahead and he’s open in transition, don’t drive it, just shoot that ball. What we were saying in the second half, and he started and he had a drive and threw that lob, now that you made shots, you don’t have to foot fake and do anything. All you got to do is catch it and look at the rim and they’re flying at you, now drive in and get somebody a shot, which he started the half doing. This is all, this is new to what he’s trying to do and how he’s playing. But it’s new to all these guys. I mean, everything is, Well, I used to do this. It doesn’t work anymore, that’s not working, you’re not getting the ball in the basket or you’re turning it over. These are your shots right here. Here’s where you’re making these plays. Everybody on the team is different. This guy can do stuff that you can’t do and you do stuff that he can’t do. So why don’t you do what you do well, we’ll all do this together, make this easy for each other. And that’s a challenge year to year. That’s the challenge throughout the year. How do we become an unbelievable team. Great length, quickness, speed, we can shoot it, we have enough of a post-up game, how do we become an unbelievable team defensively and offensively. It takes reps, it takes experience, which means games. How many have we played? We’re six games in. I’m trying to tell them, Don’t panic, don’t worry about how you play, we’re going to get it right, let’s just keep moving forward, next step.

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On playing like you did against Michigan State…

“I mean I just felt comfortable. I felt like coach has been doing a really good job of just making this team gel together, and I think we are getting better every day.”

On coach seems like he yells at you a lot more during timeouts…

“He’s always hard on me, and I’m grateful for it. You know, at the time it doesn’t feel good, but he does love us all and he’s going to coach us really hard and he wants to win just like we do so I’m thankful for it.”

On making 3s…

“it’s nothing different, I just stayed with my training and stayed with getting shots up in the morning and night. I’m confident in myself. I feel like I’m going to make the next one. Doesn’t matter if I miss or make, I put in too much work to have that type of thought process if I miss. Every time I shoot it I think its going to go in.”

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F

On how you thought the team played tonight..

“I feel like we were starting to find our groove defensively. Also, getting out in transition and putting up points. Coach preaches how we have to try to get 80 points. Playing up and down, playing fast, and a lot of that had to do with our defense. We started stringing stops together.”

On the difference of making a lot of 3s…

“Definitely. We’re a good shooting team. We just had to find our groove and I feel like we’re headed in the right direction with the way we’re shooting the ball.”

On how much the team fed off the performance of Tyrese Maxey…

“That gave us a lot of energy. Consecutively hitting a bunch of 3s in a row, then us being able to get stops in the end was great. So, that gave us some momentum heading into the half and we picked up on it in the second half.”

On if you’re looking for a slower-paced December…

“Personally, I love to play games, but you know, you get better in practice so I’m looking forward to going to practice and watching some film to see what we can be better at.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., C

On if you knew how close you were to a double-double…

“No, people on the bench told me I was close to a double-double. I was trying to press and get two points, and ended up getting it off an offensive rebound, or was it a dunk, I just want to thank my teammates for putting me in the position to be successful like that and to my coaches for calling plays like that, everyone on this team is just trying to get better every game.”

On how you felt on your performance tonight in the shot-blocking category…

“I feel like as a team we did a better job. I think I had seven, KB (Keion Brooks Jr.) had like two or three, EJ (Montgomery) had like two. Even our guards like Tyrese (Maxey) and Ashton (Hagans) had a couple, so I think we just did a better job as a team in that regard.”

On their play during the 22-2 point run and Tyrese Maxey’s spark…

“That just tells you the type of player he is. He just takes over games at any point in time. At one point I thought he had like four 3s in a row, you know, that just tells you the type of player he is and can just take over game at any point in time.”

On if (John) Calipari is satisfied with seven blocks in a game and if he wants more…

“Yeah, him and KP (Kenny Payne), they both got on me, they said I should have had a triple-double, but we are just grateful for the win, you know that just tells you the type of coaches they are, they want me to get better as much as possible, they’re never satisfied they just want me to get better.”

On the difference in his play in terms of less fouling this year…

“I mean the only times we’ve had foul issues against was Evansville, and you can see the results of that, but fouling is one thing that I’m trying to avoid, just trying to protect this team because we don’t have that many bodies on our bench.”

Now, here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky moves to is 5-1 on the season. Lamar is 4-2.
  • UK is on a three-game winning streak.
  • UK leads the series 4-0.
  • Tonight’s game was the third in the BBN Showcase multi-team event. The upcoming game vs. UAB concludes Kentucky’s participation in the event.  
  • Next up: Kentucky continues its eight-game homestand Friday vs. UAB. That game will tip at 7 p.m. and be televised on SEC Network.

Player Notes   

  • Tyrese Maxey scored a game-high 21 points, his second 20-point game as a Wildcat.
  • He made a season-high four 3-pointers, all coming in a 4:12 span during UK’s 20-0 first-half run.
  • The four triples are most by a Wildcat this season.
  • Tied his season high for rebounds with five.
  • Ashton Hagans posted 15 points and a game-high nine assists.
  • UK is 8-0 in Hagans’ career when he scores at least 14 points.
  • Nick Richards recorded 10 points and 13 rebounds, his third double-double of the season and fourth of his career.
  • He is the fourth Kentucky player of the John Calipari era to post at least three double-doubles within the team’s first six games of the season (Patrick Patterson, 2009-2010; Terrence Jones, 2010-2011; Julius Randle, 2013-2014).
  • Richards only had one double-double in his first two seasons as a Wildcat.
  • Richards had a career-high seven blocked shots, leading a season-high 13 team blocks.
  • Immanuel Quickley tallied 11 points and has scored double figures in all five games he’s played this season.
  • He has hit a 3-pointer in every game he’s played this season.

Calipari

  • Calipari is now 310-72 at UK.
  • He has a 755-212 all-time on-court record.
  • UK is 250-41 vs. Associated Press unranked competition under Calipari, including 151-5 at home.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky held Lamar to 56 points.
  • UK is 177-7 under Calipari when the opponent scores 63 points or less, including 3-0 this season.
  • With the help of a season-high 13 blocked shots, UK limited Lamar to 32.8% shooting.
  • The Wildcats are 191-17 under Calipari when the opponent shoots 40% or less, including 4-1 this season.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 27 points in the game.
  • UK is 265-6 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points during the game.
  • UK shot 50.9% from the field tonight, the third game this season shooting 50% or better.
  • Kentucky made a season-high 10 3-pointers and 45.5% from long range is a season best.
  • It’s the first time the Wildcats have hit 10 or more 3-pointers in a game since sinking 10 vs. Auburn on Feb. 23, 2019 (11 for 24).
  • UK dished 19 assists while committing a season-low 11 turnovers, the second straight game with a positive assist/turnover ratio.
  • The Wildcats have totaled 40 assists over the last two games, their best two-game stretch since totaling 57 vs. Arizona State and UT Martin in November 2016.
  • UK had a great depth charge tonight, winning bench scoring 29-8.
  • Kentucky is now 598-70 all-time in Rupp Arena.

In the First Half

  • The starting lineup consisted of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Nate Sestina and Nick Richards for the third straight game.
  • Keion Brooks Jr. was the first sub.
  • Sestina swished a 3-pointer to initiate the scoring, the start of a 10-0 lead to start the game and coax a Lamar timeout with 16:45 on the clock.
  • UK stretched the lead to 15-2 but Lamar went on a 17-4 run to tie the game.
  • The Wildcats replied with their most decisive stretch of the season – a 20-0 run that included four 3-pointers by Maxey and scoreless drought of more than seven minutes for the visitors.
  • Kentucky went to halftime ahead 41-21, with seven 3-pointers already a season high and six blocked shots, tying the season best in just one half of play.
  • All nine Wildcats who played in the first half also scored.

In the Second Half

  • UK opened the second half with Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Montgomery and Richards.
  • Déjà vu for the Cats in the second stanza, opening with a 7-2 flash that induced a Lamar timeout at 17:03.
  • Kentucky’s largest lead was 27 points at 81-54.