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Calipari and Wildcats recap win vs. UAB, plus postgame notes

Kentucky is 6-1 heading into the month of December.

Sea of Blue

With a quick turnaround following Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, the Kentucky Wildcats made their return to Rupp Arena’s hardwood by playing host to UAB on Friday evening.

After yet again another sluggish start, Ashton Hagans, as well as a collective effort from his teammates, led the charge that put the Wildcats ahead 38-25 at the half. In the first 20 minutes, Hagans managed to play 19 of them and score six points while handing out eight assists (with just one turnover) and playing sensational lockdown defense.

As far as scoring the ball in the first half, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards led the way by each netting eight points on an efficient 8-9 shooting from the floor.

Throughout the second half, Kentucky continued to out-talent, out-hustle and simply over-power the UAB Blazers en route to a 69-58 victory. The win comes as their fifth in a row after being historically upset by Evansville a few weeks ago. While some moments certainly haven’t been pretty, this team appears to gel more and more each time they take the floor.

Here’s what head coach John Calipari and a few of his Wildcats had to say following their win via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

Q. With Nate (Sestina) being out, does that change anything about the way you tell Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery) to play defense?

JOHN CALIPARI: No. But now you have two guys with length that can block shots. But we got tired today. We gave up threes that, like, hands down, like what, wait a minute. We were talking about making these guys drive into our lane. Hands down, the guy shoots a three and he looks at you like you’re crazy. So we, the discipline we don’t have yet, and it’s just going to take time. And I’m telling some guys, look, if you breakdown offensively, take a tough shot, miss it, turn it over, you’re fine. But if you break down three times on defense, we’re going to lose the game, you cannot be in. Has nothing to do with what you’re doing on offense. We had guys miss all kind of shots, okay. As long as you defend and rebound you can stay in because it’s zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, you can’t go 0-for-3, we’re down six, zero, you give up and it’s eight. I mean, that’s the stuff they got to accept. But I like what I saw in Keion (Brooks Jr.). Kahlil (Whitney) is going to be fine. He’s going to be better. Tyrese (Maxey) and -- we’re just, we’re trying to figure out what we are, but we’ll get better. I liked Johnny Juzang today. Again, two offensive rebounds. Something we haven’t been doing. Johnny Juzang goes and gets balls. So leave him in. That’s why I left him in.

Q. Are there any areas at this point where you can look at it and say, yeah, we’re definitely getting better and other areas where you’re, like, we’re not there yet?

JOHN CALIPARI: Offensive rebounding. We just got to keep working on it. There were some toughness plays. We’re stopping -- we’re not in the kind of form we need to be in when we hit January, which is we got to be locked in. Like, they’re running a simple diagonal screen and we went in every huddle and said it, and we got screened every single time. And not only did we get screened, as soon as they hit us we stopped. Like, okay, I’m out of the play. Well, your guy’s under the basket, you know. And then not knowing the guy that was diagonal screening, that guy wasn’t telling him, watch the screen, watch the screen. All that kind of stuff, we got to get better.

All the other things, like I said, we’re going to be fine. It’s tough when you got eight guys. But if you’re one of the eight, you’re happy. You’re one of the eight, you’re happy. And we’ll have to keep this going until we get Nate (Sestina) back.

Q. You mentioned Johnny (Juzang). I know you don’t pay attention to social media but there is a very small and specific portion of the fan base who wonders why he’s not getting more time. What does he need to do in order to get more time on the court?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he’s playing 12, 13 minutes, which is a lot of time. He keeps rebounding. And, again, it’s kind of like I said to Brad (Calipari), part of your minutes is going to be based on you making shots. Like he was 1 for 11. Did they know that? They probably -- they had to have known it, right? Well, let him go 1 for 22. No. Listen, he made shots today. I told him. But he stayed in the game because he rebounded. He’s defending too. He’s going to get better. He’s got a nice confidence about him. He’ll get time. It’s, again, I mean, you’re on this team and you got eight guys, you get 25 minutes, you get 20 minutes, 18, 17. That’s a lot of minutes. I don’t pay attention to social media. So it has no bearing on the decisions I make, believe me.

Q. How close was what EJ (Montgomery) did tonight to the way you need him to play?

JOHN CALIPARI: Better. Better. You know the last part of it? Remember the last one, the righty where he faded away? He walked right over and said, I faded away. So he’s now self-evaluating. I said, ‘Great. Now you know what you did. Just don’t do it again.’ You know, and he was good today. He was good. Nick (Richards) was good. Nick rebounded above the rim, snatched balls, makes us different.

Q. I thought Ashton (Hagans) was consistent. How did you feel like he played tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: He was good. 12 and two. I made some statements to him, like, you know, we could say there are better point guards in the country, but you got to tell me who you’re talking about. Because when you defend the way he defends and you’re as tough as he is, he went 12 assists, two turnovers. He’s shooting 47% from the floor and he missed all those threes early.

So it’s not, if you want to say the last two games, what is he from the three? So I think he was 2 for 3 and now he’s 1 for 3. So he’s 3 for 6 the last couple games. Three last game? Why did he shoot that many? What’s this kid thinking about? But he’s also like 90% from the foul line. So when you look at this, the way he guards, the way he disrupts the game, the hands that he gets balls, he just needs to be more disciplined in what he’s doing. I mean, I need to know who is better than him. Like, I don’t see it. I mean, I, oh, this kid and that kid and that kid. Well, let me tell you, you win games with guys like him. You do. And it’s nice that you got Tyrese (Maxey) out there with him. He needs a break, you move Tyrese right in, kind of like we did with Jemarl (Baker). Same kind of deal.

Q. There seemed to be more extra passes tonight. Where is the trust on offense with the guys?

JOHN CALIPARI: It’s getting better. See the issue we had, we wouldn’t pass and create shots, which means we couldn’t make threes, we didn’t have good looks at threes. The next thing is the toughness and the offensive rebounding. We got to get there. Just got to get there. Got to get in better shape where we can sustain effort. Or guys got to play less minutes. Not more minutes. Play less minutes, so you can give us that effort. The guys that go in got to understand, you’re so concerned about offense, it’s breaking you down defensively. Don’t do that. Just keep defending. Your offense is going to catch up.

Q. Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery), it seemed like 80% of their buckets had to do with Ashton (Hagans) contributing to them, assisting. What can you say about his game?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, there was also some post-up stuff that they did a good job of. But a lot of it was him creating a good shot for them that they could make. But that’s who he is. And I keep saying, we need to create opportunities for each other. Like today Tyrese (Maxey), I’d like him to have six assists. He had four today, but he had no turnovers. Those are good numbers. Now you have 16 and two by your two playmaking guards. That’s pretty good. It’s pretty good.

Q. Nick (Richards) had a little bit of a setback versus Evansville, and since then he’s averaging rights at a double-double. That demonstrated performance you talk about, is he at the point where you can say, this is who you are now?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, he can say that. This is who I am. I walked over to the bench at one point and said, ‘Nick, why aren’t you saying to me, ‘Coach, throw me the ball? Tell these guys to get me the ball.’ ‘Why aren’t you saying that?’ Like, confident players will come over and do that and they will know, the problem if you ask me that, I never say no, ever, ever. You are going to get the ball. Now, it just went off of me and on them. That’s why I love it. Tell me you want the ball. Where do you want it? Right over there on that side? Good. All right. Here’s what we’re doing and make sure you throw him the ball. And then it’s on him, it’s not on me, it’s not on a teammate. So that’s why it’s hard to, come on, give me the ball more. Well, where you want it? So, but he’s gotten so much better. He’s so much more confident. He’s rebounding with two above -- he’s still at times we run in, but we’re starting to work on it. There’s drills that I thought they would know, we kind of bypassed. Can’t skip steps, folks. Can’t skip steps. We weren’t rebounding because part of it is we weren’t understanding how to snatch a rebound. We weren’t understanding let it hit the rim first. ‘Oh, come on Coach, they understood.’ Really? Shot goes up, they’re underneath the basket by the time, then the ball hits the rim because they’re flying in there, versus create space, let it hit the rim, and now go get it. So we’re doing drills to get it engrained in them. But we’ll see.

Q. Not about the game, but how much did you enjoy yesterday with your guys down at the Salvation Army? And does that ever get old going and being a part of that?

JOHN CALIPARI: Here’s what I would say, I told them this today. We got some guys spending extra time in the gym and it’s going to break through. It doesn’t always break through on your time. So when I watched them, I went over there last night about 7. We had three or four guys in there working. And I said, you know, today, there’s two ways to make you feel really good about yourself and you have to feel good about yourself to really be a good player. First of all, you put in the time, you prepare, you work, and you look in the mirror and you say, I deserve to play well. I deserve to play well.

The second way to feel good about yourself, you do stuff for other people. Even little things. You do stuff for other people. Yesterday was a huge day, I thought, because it’s not only that your stomach needs fed. Sometimes it’s just your soul needs fed that people care about you. And these guys were hugging and taking pictures and autographs and these people come, they were hugging them. And, again, that’s feeding the soul too. Look, these guys care. You know, at times it will get emotional in what they do. But then having them at the house last night and seeing how they interact, they’re good kids. This is all tough, this is new. Every game we play teams are fighting and playing and we’re still learning to fight. None of it is easy for them. Let me say this, the crowd, unbelievable crowd today. Unbelievable. And again, we all know the tickets are sold. That’s not the point. The point is these guys need that because they’re still trying to figure stuff out. And I thought that was really good. But, yeah, yesterday, it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal.

Q. What are some things you’re emphasizing to guys like Keion (Brooks Jr.) and Kahlil (Whitney) to help them take the next step?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, some of it is going to be -- things don’t always go on your timetable. Like, you start working. Well, I’m going to work hard and in three days my stuff will change. Sometimes it may take a month. I know how talented Kahlil is. I know how talented Keion is. But they got to get away from anything offensive and be defensive, and let the offense come. That’s the easiest thing. How about this, rebound like crazy. What if one of those two became a four-offensive-rebounds-a-game guy? How much would you play them if you’re coaching if you’re looking at my team? That’s effort stuff, it’s not skill stuff. But I’m telling you, they’re both terrific basketball players. Here’s the greatest thing, with Nate (Sestina) being out, they’re both going to have their chances to do it. One played 21 minutes today, and the other played 19 minutes today. You’re getting your minutes to get your opportunity to go. Both of them, one, I think Kahlil will stay around 21, 22, my hope is we get Kahlil -- or Keion at 21, 22, Kahlil up to that 25 minutes, he needs to be out there 25 minutes to figure this out. If he does the job defensively, he stays in. And then figure out how you’re going to play offensively, what you’re comfortable doing. It was great, he got fouled and made two free throws, looked really good, shooting the ball good, just got to get in the game and do it.

#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F

On how well Ashton Hagans played …

”He played great. Twelve (assists), (six points), I think. He was just getting his team involved and just doing everything he can.”

On if he felt pressure to step up after Nate Sestina’s injury …

”I didn’t feel any pressure. Nate has been great for our team, so I just felt like I needed to step it up and contribute so we could get the win.”

On rebounding well …

”Actually my sister plays professional overseas and she just texted me and was like, ‘Try to find the ball first and find the defender and try your best to just get every point.’ “

On how closely she watches and appraises how he is doing …

”Very close. She was actually at the game today and she texts me before every game and things like that to just get me motivated about playing.”

On what the brother-sister workouts are like …

”Both of my sisters actually worked out together and we just stay competitive. My family is always competitive. We all play basketball so it’s just a fun thing.”

#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G

On assisting on baskets to big men …

”Once I got to the lane, they would try to come over and help so I had the open guy. It wasn’t just those two guys only. I was just trying to find my open man and attack the basket early.”

On what is making Nick (Richards) more consistent this year …

”His confidence. He has been the first one out on the court at practice these past few weeks. Getting up some shots. He has been talking to us more and that’s what we need from him to be at our best. He just has a swagger out there about him that no one can knock off.”

On having big guys that can go up and get the ball …

”Not only just trying to just throw it at the rim. A slip, a pick and pop. They can catch a pass and knock down a mid-range. That just gets them going. Especially with EJ (Montgomery).”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On demanding the ball …

”Yeah, he’s always emphasizing that in practice. He’s always telling the guys to get me the ball in the post, especially when it’s a quick dunk. Just because of the way other teams were playing every time I caught the ball, I had to kick it out. So, I didn’t really get those chances to get points in the post.”

On elevating his game in the absence of Nate Sestina ...

”We were playing the same way, we never really got into a rhythm of playing three bigs at the same time. So, playing two bigs, we know how to rotate. It’s been a hard season so far playing two bigs, but we’re trying to figure it out along the way.”

On the biggest key to consistency …

”A lot of hard work done. I’ve been in the gym hours and hours, night after night, being in the gym with the coaches and the managers. It’s finally just paying off.”

On feeling more comfortable this season …

”I’m just doing what the team needs me to do. Whatever coaches tell me I need to do, I do it to the best of my abilities. The vets and I have a good chemistry going on, and the freshmen were building as much chemistry as possible.”

On Ashton Hagans’ performance and what it did for the team …

”That’s just the chemistry we’ve built from last year to this year. It’s been improving our game. Last year we had a little bit of chemistry, and it’s getting better and better each game.”

And here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky improves to is 6-1 on the season. UAB falls to 4-2.
  • UK is on a four-game winning streak.
  • The series is now tied 3-3.
  • Tonight’s game was the fourth in the BBN Showcase multi-team event. The Wildcats won all four. Tonight’s game concluded the multi-team event.
  • Next up: Kentucky continues its eight-game homestand Dec. 7 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. That game will tip at 4 p.m. and be televised on SEC Network.
  • A season-high 20,401 fans were in attendance.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky dished out 19 assists against UAB marking the third straight game the team has totaled 19 or more dimes. The 59 assists over the last three games is the best stretch for the Wildcats since passing out 64 from Nov. 25 to Dec. 3, 2016 (UT Martin, Arizona State, UCLA).
  • The Wildcats scored seven of their 26 field goals (26.9%) by way of dunks. Nick Richards led the way with five of his seven made field goals coming from a slam. It marked a season-high number of flushes for the Cats.
  • Kentucky held UAB to 58 points.
  • UK is 178-7 under Calipari when the opponent scores 63 points or less, including 4-0 this season.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 20 points in the game.
  • UK is 266-6 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points during the game.
  • UK is now 599-70 all-time in Rupp Arena.
  • Kentucky outrebounded UAB by 13 (39-26). The Wildcats have outrebounded each of their last four opponents.
  • UAB entered the game averaging 15 offensive rebounds per game, ranking in the top 10 in the nation in the category. UK limited the Blazers to eight offensive boards and just 10 second-chance points.
  • After hitting just one 3-pointer against Utah Valley, the Wildcats have now made five or more from long range in three straight. UK was 5 of 15 (33.3%) from 3 today.

Player Notes

  • EJ Montgomery scored a career-high 16 points and added a season-high eight rebounds in his second start of the season.
  • Montgomery eclipsed double digits in the scoring column for the first time this season and the third time in his career.
  • He also had a team-high two blocked shots.
  • Ashton Hagans posted nine points, a career-high-tying 12 assists and two steals.
  • He also had 12 assists against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals on March 16.
  • It marked his fourth straight game with at least five assists, matching the longest streak of his career which he also did from Jan. 19-29.
  • It’s his first time with back-to-back games of at least eight assists since doing it in three straight games Jan. 22-29.
  • Nick Richards logged 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds while celebrating his 22nd birthday.
  • Richards threw down a game-high five dunks and leads the Wildcats with 18 slams this season.
  • He made all seven shot attempts and is shooting at a team-best 67.2% clip from the field this season.
  • Prior to this season, Richards had led the team in scoring in just one career game. Today’s team-high-tying 16-point effort marked the third such game of the season for Richards.
  • He’s led the team in rebounding in four games this season and now six for his career.

Calipari

  • Calipari is now 311-72 at UK.
  • He has a 756-212 all-time on-court record.
  • UK is 251-41 vs. Associated Press unranked competition under Calipari, including 152-5 at home.
  • Calipari improved to 15-3 all-time vs. UAB.
  • UK improved to 172-10 in Rupp Arena under Calipari.

In the First Half

  • With Nate Sestina out with a left wrist fracture sustained in practice earlier this week (out four games) the starting lineup consisted of?Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Nate EJ Montgomery?and?Nick Richards for the third straight game.
  • It’s the fourth different starting lineup for UK in seven games.
  • Keion Brooks Jr. was the first sub.
  • Richards started the game with a two-hand dunk and Hagans followed with a long 2, forcing UAB to call a timeout just 58 seconds into the game.
  • The Wildcats missed their next six field goals to aid a 7-0 UAB run.
  • Kentucky answered with a 9-0 run to retake the lead 13-7.
  • The overall run was 14-3, which included four points from Montgomery and a long 3 from Maxey.
  • UK took its first double-digit lead of the game, 27-17 at the 4:30 mark on a Richards jumper.
  • Kentucky’s front-court duo of Richards and Montgomery calmed concerns of Sestina’s absence with a solid first half. The duo combined for 16 points (on 8-of-9 shooting) and 10 rebounds.
  • Montgomery scored eight points and grabbed six boards.
  • Richards tallied eight points and four rebounds.
  • UK shot 50.0% from the floor with five 3-pointers.
  • Hagans posted eight assists in the first half to go along with six points.

In the Second Half

  • UK opened the second half with Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Montgomery and Richards.
  • The Wildcats were in control all second half. A 10-2 run put UK up 56-38 with 10:23 left in the half.
  • Kentucky’s largest lead was 67-47 (20 points) at the 4:31 mark.