clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Calipari and Wildcats preview Louisville

The Cats look to end 2019 on a high note as they host a top-five Louisville team.

Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to clash with the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday inside Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and several players met with the media to preview the game. Here is a recap of everything they had to say about the Bluegrass rivalry game via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On what he tells Nick Richards after he picks up an early foul …

“He’s just got to play. He’s got to create more opportunities for himself to score, and we’ve got to create more opportunities. He’s shooting almost 70%. EJ (Montgomery), the same. But, the biggest thing in all of this comes back to battle. You’ve got to compete. You’ve got to fight. They’re both learning. They’re trying. Practices the last couple of days have been better. Now, you guys don’t really ever listen to me, but what I’ve talked about in the past is if you’re going to build your confidence, it is through demonstrated performance. You’re going to go on the court and do it, and you’ll build your confidence in playing that way. All of these games are challenges for these guys.”

On how important getting more from the post play is …

“We’re a team that you’ve got to steal some baskets near that rim. We’re shooting a fairly good percentage as a team. We really are, but if he’s (Nick) shooting and EJ combined are shooting let’s say 60% what do we need to shoot from the 3 to get the same kind of result? Forty percent. What are we shooting? Thirty. Twenty-nine. So, now do you take more 3s? And all you geniuses – ‘We’ve got to shoot more 3s’ – or do you try to get them more shots? As we’re trying to say we’re a good shooting team, but at this point, let’s try to get them more shots. Again though, they’ve got to want the ball and all that stuff, so it’s not like we’re changing a whole lot of what we’re doing, But I have a lot of faith in both of them. I’ll tell you who’s good in the post is Nate (Sestina). He may not be as big, but Nate is physical, he’ll create space, he’s got a good jump hook, he can make free throws. But again, we’re not going to be a team that posts it 50 times in a half. It’s not going to be who we are. We’ve played a wide-open game, a dribble-drive, a spacing game, a passing game which still posted the ball. We’re just not there. As I look on where we are, not really happy with me. Like, I haven’t figured this out, so if I’m a little bit still like, ‘OK, which way is this?’ they’re going to be that way too. But the thing I’ve said from day one: If we don’t fight, if we don’t compete, we don’t battle, hard to win. Last game, I thought we did really good competing, battling and getting us to pass the ball, and then the last five minutes we wouldn’t pass to each other. Refused to pass to an open man. Throw it at the rim. And that’s the finish of a game. Again, it’s stuff that we need to work on and make sure. The games that we’ve lost have been by a couple buckets. I know it’s devastation, and it’s the worst, and we’re--literally, a couple of buckets. All of the games. I mean, we could be 11-0 and so now you say why? Well, the finish of those games. You just think about it. All of the finishes, they get a great shot, we get bad looks, and we’re more, ‘I’m going to get this myself.’ We’ve got to get out of that. We’ve got to trust each other more. But the fight of this. you know. The shooting, I think we’ll get better. I’m not concerned about that, but this team, Louisville, is good now. Jordan (Nwora) is as good as they get. Dwayne (Sutton)’s playing good. Ryan (McMahon) is shooting. I mean, this is a really good basketball team. Chris (Mack) has done a great job with his team, a veteran team. They run their stuff. I’ll tell you what they really do is defend. They really guard and give you tough looks, and you’ve had teams scoring 40 against them. So, it’ll be a hard game for us. I don’t care where it’s played. The good news for us, and I keep saying it, it’s December. It’s not a make or break. I know people want to say, ‘This is it.’ It isn’t. It’s December, but it’s just the next game for us – and I say this ever year – unless you win then it’s a huge game. But for us, we’re just--like I said, we’re still trying to figure it out, trying to get guys to figure it out. I had them raise their hand. ‘How many of you think you’re playing good?’ I didn’t say great. Just good. One guy raised his hand. I said, ‘How many of you are just playing bad?’ So, I said, ‘Think about if we can get guys to start playing better what we’ll be.’ That’s why I keep saying the upside of this team is tremendous, but they’re not there, which means I must being doing a crap job not getting them to play better. We’re trying to work some of it through practice, but I’ll be honest with you, demonstrated performance is the only way to do that. It’s the only way. They’ve got to get on the court and do it.”

On how big of a deal it is to beat one of these good teams …

“Michigan State was big. It built our confidence. It made us go. Michigan State in New York in the Garden. They were No. 1. EJ was hurt and he hardly played. Nick came off an injury. That was a great win, but it’s kind of gotten forgotten. Well you say, ‘They’re not that good.’ Well, we’ll see where they are at the end of the year. And then, let’s see where we are. Maybe we’re not that good. We’ll find out, but I like this team and eventually, yeah, you’ve got to win games, but where we are right now is as much on me as it is them.”

On Sestina’s success in Las Vegas coming off a hand injury …

“Thank goodness his hand injury was his non-shooting hand or he probably wouldn’t have been able to do what he did. But again, the way we’re--we have a couple of guys shooting the ball. We just made a decision to let him be the 3-point shooter and then we put in a couple things that was fine and now the adjustment was made and now maybe we have an adjustment to that, what teams will do to this. But he’s one of those guys, and he’s also tough. He’ll also fight. That’s what he adds to this group, plus he’s a veteran.”

On getting more shots for Nick Richards …

“There’s things that we’re trying to do, but again, you know, some of it is search balls out that you can make. Search shots out that you can make. But he’s a good shooter. He’s shooting a high percentage. Now we’ve gotta make sure he’s moving and being aggressive. He’s also gotten to the foul line. He’s a guy that goes to the line and makes them, so let’s ride him a little bit more if we can. Like I said, the way we’re playing, there’s no real difference in what we do; there’s no real, you know. It’s OK, let’s get these guys the ball and space out and see what they do. Again, I’m sitting here acting like we’re going to post Nick 40 times. It ain’t happening. But there’s going to be times where we had an opportunity to throw it to him and we didn’t. And then you show them on tape. ‘Why didn’t you not give him the ball?’ The other one is we drive in the middle and they collapse. ‘Why did you try to shoot that ball?’ ‘I was in the tree and my bike and an apple hit me in the head.’ ‘Oh, really? Do you see he’s wide open?’ Those kinds of things. But I’ll be honest, at the end of the day it’s compete now. Compete. And that doesn’t mean foul and grab. That means compete. Battle on possessions. They make a basket, don’t get cool. You shoot an airball, don’t get cool now. No, you dig in. ‘I’ve gotta get this back. I just shot an airball.’ It’s all a process that we’re learning.”

On if this a game where he tells a guy like Kahlil Whitney that he has one job and that’s to defend …

“We have said that – not just this game. It’s hard because it’s easier to [media: shoot]. ‘Just let me dance a little bit.’ You know what I’m saying? It’s easier to do this. What I’m asking is hard. And it’s hard here. I mean, every game is a big game for the other team. It’s a Super Bowl game. We’re not playing a team that’s not going to—you’ve got to come and bring it and compete for 40 minutes. Are we there yet? I don’t believe so. I liked that we played for probably 30-35 minutes, 32 minutes against Ohio State. That ain’t going to be enough in this game. This team is a veteran team and they play.”

On what’s the biggest thing he’s seen that stands out from Louisville …

“They really guard. They really guard. Now obviously Jordan is one of the best players in the country and can get baskets for them, but the biggest thing I’m telling you is they guard. Chris has done a good job with this team. He really has. He’s done a good job with the program.”

On Texas Tech “handling” Louisville …

“Not really handled. It was a three-bucket game at the end and then they make a 3 that didn’t matter. A slip-out. But it was New York, away from their court. Maybe the No. 1 ranking. You don’t know. Texas Tech also lost to three other teams or four teams. This stuff this year is crazy. I come back to this: Coach your team. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not worried about anyone else. I know how good teams are. There’s 50 of us. Are we at the bottom of those 50? At times we are. And there are other teams we’re like, OK, we’re alright. Now can we do it for 40 minutes? I don’t know. But we’re preparing. I like this team. I haven’t lost any faith in these guys. I don’t look at this the way you guys look at it or our fans look at it – everything is life and death. If it’s life and death, you die a lot. So this is, OK, another game in December, a great opponent, a well-coached team, terrific players. Alright, where are we right now? Are we good enough to win the game? I don’t know. And what if we’re not but we really play? OK, then we move on. It’s Dec. 28 tomorrow. I’m happy it’s the 27th because I get another day to be with this team. I walked out and stopped practice (and said), ‘Why do I love this so much?’ Because people start doubting your team and doubting individual players, and my job is to build them up and get them going and getting them in spots where they can have success. Haven’t done that yet. That’s on me. But I cannot battle for them. I can try, but if I get too far out on the court, they’ll call a technical on me. So I cannot battle (for them). I cannot fight (for them). The other things I can help them with. Building their confidence – ‘You’re OK. I know you missed nine in a row. But you’re good.’ Please. They build that through their work in here and then carrying it on the court. Demonstrated performance. We’re getting closer. I’m happy. Look, Ashton is playing good. He’s not playing great yet because he’s still—the discipline defensively and offensively puts us in bad positions when he breaks it off. He’s just gotta be more disciplined for 40 minutes. Shooting the ball better. Making free throws. Being strong. We remembered him missing all layups last year, didn’t we? Now all of a sudden he’s making all layups unless they block or foul. No call but maybe he won’t get it in. Short of that, he’s doing some good stuff.”

On if Hagans breaking plays off believing he’s the one that has to do get the job done …

“I call it trust. He’s gotta trust these players. He’s gotta trust if I throw it to them, he’s going to do something good better than I can just jam it in here on two big guys that are 6-9. Gotta trust. Right now we’re not quite trusting each other. But we’ll get there. You can’t skip steps because it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not easy, but it is what it is. This is Kentucky. Playing here, coaching here, being in big games. I mean, how many big games have we been in? What year is this here? [Sports information director Eric Lindsey: This is your 11th season.] Year 77. I mean, dog years here. I mean, this is what it is. Let’s go play the game and see where we are right now.”

On what he’s focusing on defensively the last two games …

“The last two games—we were just saying, the team that have shot 50% against us hasn’t happened much. And the first game was for 30 minutes they ran faster, cut harder, did all their stuff, made their shots, made shots at the late shot clock as they ran down the clock. The next game, with the two of us having a shootout until the last five minutes and then we got selfish. Whether it was a lack of trust, I don’t know, but we didn’t pass the ball. Hopefully we’ll do better this game.”

#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F

On what he remembers about his first time playing against Louisville …

“I remember it was a good game, the crowd was very into it. It was a good win for us.”

On whether having experience in a rivalry game can be helpful …

“Yes, definitely. We have a couple of guys that are returning and know what we’re getting into when we get this game.”

On how important UK’s frontcourt players will be against U of L’s big men …

“Yes, all of us have to bring it. I didn’t do too well last game, so I have to step it up for this next game coming and the rest, moving forward.”

On the team’s psyche heading into Saturday’s game coming off two losses

“We’re just going at each other in practice. Still trying to get better every day and just prepare for the next games.”

On Louisville …

“They’re a great team this year just like they were last year. We just have to go out there and compete and fight and just continue to get better in practice.”

On whether John Calipari’s “fight and finish” message is even more important after two straight losses …

“We’re just working on it every day. It’s still the beginning of the season. We’re still working to know each other and things like that. But we have to get better coming up fast and just get ready for the next game.”

#1, Nate Sestina, Gr., F

On whether the team feels pressure to get another quality win …

“I don’t know if there’s any pressure. We’re all competitors, so it’s more of a competitive thing than it is a pressure thing. Guys just want to win. That’s why we came here. This school speaks for itself and the guys who come here speak for themselves as well. They’re all winners and that’s really what they want to do.”

On how the adversity at Kentucky compares to the adversity at Bucknell …

“I would say that the number of people here, the fans are so involved and ingrained in that culture, too. When you think of Kentucky, you don’t just think of the basketball team, you think of the fans and Big Blue Nation as a whole. When you face adversity, they feel it, too. They’re not the ones playing or practicing but they live and breathe for this stuff. So, if we’re not playing well, they kind of feel like they’re not playing well, whether they’re playing or not. At Bucknell, it’s kind of the same way, just a smaller scale. When we lost games there, our fans were upset, too.”

On if he’s nervous about his first Kentucky-Louisville game …

“I try not to let my nerves get the best of me, but it’s a different game. It’s a national stage. When we played Lehigh and Colgate at home, that was a big game for us, it was on CBS Sports and we always got to play on national TV when we played those teams. It’s kind of the same thing here. It’s an in-state battle that I had with Lehigh at Bucknell, an in-state battle. I just think it carries a little bit more weight because red and blue. Everybody hates red here, so I think it carries a little bit more weight. But I’m going to try to stay calm and do my thing and play my game.”

On how important the big men are against Louisville …

“Their four-man is incredible. He’s a good player, but so are our bigs. That’s one thing that everybody always talks about the other team and one thing I’m always going to do is talk about my teammates. They have their players; we have ours. And we just have to be tough. We have to rebound, we have to box out. It’s going to be a chippy game, so we have to kind of stay away from all of that. But if we’re tough and we do the things we’ve been doing in practice the last couple of days, I think we’ll be good.”

On his exposure to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry …

“We went to dinner last night at BJ’s and everybody who was in there was like, ‘Win Saturday, win Saturday, win Saturday,’ so it’s obviously a big deal for everybody here and it’s a big deal for us, too. But I’m trying my best to just let all that stuff go and just focus on us and not listen to anything outside of the team. And that’s not a dig at any of the fans or anything; it’s just that you kind of have to focus in on us because if you let outside stuff get in, it’s going to kind of disassemble the team and I don’t want that to happen.”