It wasn’t pretty, but Kentucky was able to pull out a comeback win over the unranked Arkansas Razorbacks at home Tuesday night.
The game saw Kentucky trail by as many as 15 to a Razorback team who came into Rupp Arena in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
The first half was one of the worst the Wildcats played all season. Kentucky scored just 28 points, as both PJ Washington, and EJ Montgomery fell into early foul trouble. Tyler Herro scored 12, but it wasn’t enough to keep Kentucky very close as the Razorbacks took an 11-point lead into the half.
For the early parts of the second half, it was more of the same. Arkansas continued to control the game on both ends of the floor and extended their lead 15 at one point.
Kentucky did not back down. Herro, playing on a injured ankle, carried the Cats with a carer high 29 points and lockdown defense as the Cats completed the comeback and won by a final score of 70-66
Nick Richards also came up big for the Cats as he grabbed 13 rebounds.
Ater the game, John Calipari and select players met with the media to recap the comeback win.
Here’s a summary of what they had to say via UK Athletics:
Q. How about Nick Richards?
JOHN CALIPARI: I was happy for him. First half he wasn’t very good. As a matter of fact he wanted out. I said you’re not coming out. Figure it out. Stay in the game. Second half he was good. He had three one-handed rebounds. He’s drifted that way, which cost him three rebounds, but he had 15. He could have had 18. I mean he just reached with one hand and it got away. One of them they got the ball on the baseline out. But he just, it’s going to take him time to work through this. He has to work through it. Not anybody else. He’s got to figure it out. No mud wrestling. You’re not good at it. You get thrown to the floor, you look bad, you look awkward. When he moves his feet and uses his length and reaches and goes and releases from being in a mud wrestling match and just goes and gets balls he’s pretty good.
EJ (Montgomery) struggled today so it was good that Nick played. Let me say this before we get started. Arkansas deserved to win the game. We fought in the second half and did enough to win the game. But you got to give them credit, because those kids, I mean they shot 50 percent from the three. Now you have to understand the last five games they have shot about 25 percent from the three. So they came in here and played. They also defended, they also fought, they drove the ball, they went to the rim. We just happened to make a run in the second half and beat them. But they deserved to win this game. But I’m happy for my team.
Q. All the way back to the Bahamas you talked about Tyler Herro’s swagger. I wonder, how does that impact the type of player he is, and does every team need someone like that?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you do know he gave up like 25 points today. In threes. He gave up like the first 11. So he had a great swagger going on defense. I walked out, I said I can’t, we can’t win if you’re getting scored on every time. He said, well, let somebody else guard the guy. That’s okay. Then you’ll come out. You’re not going to play another position. You come out. But he made baskets when things broke down. We looked like we had never played against zone. I mean it was like we’re passing it and shooting the ball with four seconds to go in the zone. And again let me say this, we have all those freshmen out there and we haven’t played against zone that much. Second half I thought we were much better. I couldn’t get them to drive the ball. They think you’re shooting three, they’re in zone so we’ll shoot threes. Drive the ball. And when they did that we got better. But he played well. He was 9-10 from the floor. He only shot 10 balls. I didn’t know. I didn’t know he had 29. I’m looking at this for the first time. Wow. 9-10. Probably should have shot more balls, huh?
Q. (Tyler has) made 52 out of his last 53 free throws. I think he’s almost 94 percent now at the line, which would be a school record. How much of a luxury is it to have a guy like that at the end of games?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he and Immanuel (Quickley), and it’s funny, Keldon (Johnson) at the end of the game will make it and for some reason during the game he misses shots, but in the end of a game he makes them. So we have a bunch of those. And I tell you another guy that doesn’t miss at the end of a game, Ashton (Hagans). If you look at us the last two minutes in any close game, we’re shooting a big-time percentage.
Q. You guys had 12 turnovers in the first half and really tightened up in the second half. What was going on there?
JOHN CALIPARI: We were late on everything. We weren’t seeing gaps. We weren’t prepared for the next play. Loose with the ball. EJ went after two balls with one hand to start the game. One hand. And it got away from him, which they all do. And so you start that way and you start with turnovers and it kind of, we kind of did it. For us to be able to play the way we did in the second half, and we still got down 15, I believe, 14 or 15. And then come back and play like we did the rest of the game with emotion. The crowd got into the game and really helped us. Thank goodness we were at home. If we were on the road they probably would have beat us by 25.
Q. When you got down 15 what changed for you defensively?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well let me say this. Do you know how many turnovers they had at half? I have never seen this before. One. Do you know what that means? They’re just out there playing against the Washington Generals. They’re moving it and doing whatever they want, passing it and doing whoever they want to give it to and, they have one turnover. I never heard of that. At least against one of my teams, I never heard of it. And so in the second half they only really had six, but we only had three. So we got more aggressive, we got our intensity, our fight jumped up and good rebounding and some other stuff. But you look at their stats, 14 assists, seven turns. 10 out of 20 from the three-point line. That’s terrific stuff for them.
Q. Coach (Mike) Anderson said they made it a big priority to shut PJ (Washington) down. Can you comment on his play and what he was doing out there tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the thing that bothered me and that he missed five free throws. That was last year. That wasn’t this year. That was last year. That’s what he did. Most of it was, again, the intensity of play. When we needed baskets from him, I went to him. Late in that game, versus the zone we were throwing it in, he made a great pass to Nick, he made the jump hook to the middle. The drive where they called a walk, I thought he got bumped or pushed. I wanted to get him to the line, I wanted him to make those shots. But he’s fine. He fought. He got two blocks, so -- but I’m happy for Nick, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Wow. How about that.
Q. Mike Anderson’s post game press conference, he repeatedly talked about the officiating. You guys shot twice as many free throws as they did. How do you account for that?
JOHN CALIPARI: I would tell you right now on the season, all season because we drive the ball and because we post the ball, I want you to hear this, folks, we make way more than the other team shoots. We make more free throws than the other teams even shoot. So if it was officiating they have been doing it all year. Because that’s what we do. Why do we do it? Because we’re not shooting threes. We are driving the ball, we’re posting the ball, we get a lot of stuff at the rim. That’s what we do. It’s how we play.
Q. How important is a game like this when it comes towards March, getting the best, a team’s best shot and still being able to handle them?
JOHN CALIPARI: The only thing I told them, if they play like that first half they will be down 20 in an NCAA tournament game and you won’t be able to come back because as you make a run the other team is a good enough team, that’s why they’re in the tournament, they will make another run at you and you’ll still be down 18. You’ll make a run and get it to 11, think you’re in it, they will make two threes, you’re down 17, it’s the ball game, and your season ends. So how we started the game, again, it’s just, we can’t be that team, especially when the other teams are going to play like Arkansas played. They’re going to come in and play well.
Q. Keldon had 14 shots. Were those the kind of 14 shots you want, would want him to have?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well there was a couple where he is should have made passes and we told him. They collapsed on defense. But what we were trying to get him to do in the zone is catch the ball near the middle or catch it anywhere from 15 feet and just drive it to the middle of the zone. Because either someone’s going to get open or that floater that he can make, he shoots, and then we have two guys near the rim that can rebound a miss. So that’s what we started doing in the second half. So we were putting him in positions to do it. There were probably, I’m going to guess two of those he should have passed. But the rest of them were pretty good shots.
Q. Every time your team has started playing well this year you talked a lot about saying hungry, stay humble. Was that any of the issue at all tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. It’s obvious that we didn’t think that -- you know, and I’ll be honest with you, maybe I was that way. Look, they will go where I’ll take them. They’re going to go, they’re going to feed off of me and maybe it was me too. Maybe I looked at this and said, we got a breather here before -- yeah, we had a breather, down 11 at half, down 15, it was, yeah, it was a real breather. So again, I really, like coaching these young kids, they’re looking for me, tell us what to do, tell us where we’re going, tell us how to do this. And they responded. Now we didn’t play well in the first half, but we’re good enough that we could do it in the second half. And again, do we, we have a guy not playing. Do we have a guy not playing? Oh, Reid’s not playing. Is he not playing?
Q. He sat out the last two games.
JOHN CALIPARI: Wow. Did you guys know we have a guy not playing?
Q. I think you have a few of your own superstitions, but do you have a superstitious group? Some of your guys when they don’t play well change their shoes in the middle of the game. Tyler did it early, I think Keldon changed at halftime. Do you think that’s weird or --
JOHN CALIPARI: I think they got bunions. I don’t know. There’s two things I don’t look at, I don’t look at shoes, don’t really care what they wear, and I don’t look at tattoos. So if you ask me who on my team has tattoos, I would not know. Does anybody have tattoos?
Q. A few, not many.
JOHN CALIPARI: I would never have a tattoo, I don’t like needles. So I would not do tattoos.
Q. I think Tyler was on (Isaiah) Joe to start the game and then Hagans seemed to keep him a little more contained. What wasn’t Tyler doing and what was Ashton doing?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well the biggest thing Tyler was doing is he couldn’t guard him. So the kid had 11 of their first 13. And if he would have had -- if he would have stayed on him, Tyler, he probably would have had -- what’s the record in here? 41? What’s the record? He probably would have had a nice 46 if Tyler had stayed on him. So we had to switch and then Ashton didn’t want to come out, like, I’m good. And then we said, why don’t you let Immanuel guard him for a minute, give you a breather. He said, no, I got him, let me guard him. So I don’t know what he scored the rest of the game, but he had 11 in the first three, four minutes.
On what changed in the second half…
“Just attacking, staying in attack mode as soon as I catch the ball and when they collapse just looking for my teammates with the kick out.”
On preparing for post season…
“We know what’s coming up. We have a big game coming up, but every game is a big game. We’re going to prepare and get locked in. We know that we have to get after each other on Thursday, have a really good practice on Thursday and Friday and leave for the game on Saturday.”
On the play in the first half…
“It was frustrating, I mean we couldn’t really hit anything in the first half and they were hitting everything, but we knew we just had to stay together and we’d be fine.”
His feelings towards his 15 rebounds in tonight’s game…
“It felt pretty good just to be on the court, going out there and playing with my teammates and coming out with a W. It was a lot of fun out there tonight.”
On whether he prefers making a comeback like tonight or being well ahead like the last game…
“We just like being ahead, but we just like to play basketball in general. We like to compete with other teams. Other than that, it’s really awful that we were down in that first half. We just fought back and came out with a W.
On what Coach Calipari said in the locker room at halftime…
“Be better with the basketball. He got on us. He got on all of us to be better with the basketball. I had two turnovers in the first half; it was just silly mistakes. You know, stepping out of bounds, I didn’t even see the line. So, just silly mistakes like that.
On what he said at the free throw line …
“I’m a bucket.”
On what sort of confidence he brings to a free throw line …
“I feel like it’s going to go in every time I shoot a free throw.”
On how superstitious he and the team are and if he changed shoes at half …
“Well, Keldon always changes his shoes whenever he doesn’t make a shot and I thought the floor was slippery a little bit with my other shoes so that’s why I changed shoes.”
On what Calipari was saying about his defense …
“He was on me for my defense but I thought I played pretty well.”
On if this game was looked at as a breather…
“No not really. I think we just got off to a slow start. They were just playing harder than we were and I feel like they wanted it more in the first half but we picked back up in the second.”