Any game against Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks promises to be physical.
Tonight was no different, but the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats were able to fight off a pesky Gamecock squad and win their ninth straight game by a final score of 76-48.
PJ Washington led the way with 20 points and five rebound, while Reid Travis finished with 11 points and nine rebounds and EJ Montgomery posted his career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
As for the Gamecocks, they were led by Tre Campbell and A.J. Lawson, who both scored 12 points in the losing effort.
It was an all-around team effort for the Wildcats who needed everyone on deck to defeat an extremely physical South Carolina team.
The most impressive stat of the Wildcats win was the rebound battle. The Cats out-rebounded a South Carolina team that prides themselves on crashing the boards by a 50-27 margin.
Another big key to the Kentucky victory was shutting down Gamecocks star big man Chris Silva. The Cats were able to get the senior into foul trouble early as he committed two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and then two more within the first eight minutes of the second half. The veteran was held to just four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes played.
It takes a great team to shut down an opponent's biggest weapon. The Wildcats proved they could do that tonight.
After the game head coach John Calipari, Washington, Montgomery and Jemarl Baker with the media to discuss the blowout win.
Here’s a summary of what they had to say via UK Athletics:
Q. How big was EJ tonight, specifically on the rebounding?
JOHN CALIPARI: EJ was really good. Double-double, active, playing hard, blocking shots. He’s starting to come around. This was a great game for him to prove it against a really physical team, that they’re going to get body-to-body on you. He was able to still get it done.
Look, just understand (Reid) Travis had 9 and 11, but without Travis, (Chris) Silva probably goes for 25 and 11. The kid’s in there exhausted. We’ve got him on an IV. Him and Silva just went at each other. He was able to withstand it, which tells you it’s good for us to have a guy. If they have a guy like that, we got one, too.
But I thought PJ (Washington) was good. Did some good stuff. Ashton (Hagans) had a good second half. He had six turnovers at half. That’s a hard team to play. South Carolina is disruptive. They collapse. They run people at you. They’ll gap screens. They’re really good.
We played good today, though. I loved our toughness, especially from our young guys.
Q. You talk so much about demonstrative performance. The types of plays that EJ made Saturday at Florida with the offensive rebound, is that what kind of sparks this performance?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. He deserves the minutes he’s getting. The issue becomes -- so does P.J. When Reid plays that way, they have a guy like that, you have to leave Reid in.
This is the greatest thing. I told them after the game, this is hard because it’s ego, high school. The only way I get my name in the paper is I score the most points. That’s high school.
Right now the way we are as a team, numbers don’t matter. Immanuel played really well. Missed three shots, 0-3. But had four assists. Numbers don’t matter.
Reid goes for 9 and 11. He didn’t get 20? Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. You saw how he played. The same with PJ.
We’re at this stage now. I said finally, told Keldon (Johnson), You knew exactly how many points you had, that’s why you missed that little floater.
I said, How many did you have?
Said, I had 7.
He knew. He knew. I knew he knew because that’s the only way he would have missed that. I have to get these two to get to 11. We got to get to where we’re not playing that way.
It’s not just him. You got a bunch of high school kids six months ago that are trying to do something unique and trying to do it together.
Q. Is there anything about playing a Frank Martin team that gets you ready for March?
JOHN CALIPARI: You better be ready to play, be physical. They ran good stuff. They missed a lot of shots today they’ve been making. I would imagine Frank would have said there were some open looks they just made, like the tapes I watched. They shot the ball. The last five games they shot threes at almost 40%. I expected them to make some shots today, and they didn’t.
They play similar to us. They take 18, 19 threes a game. We take 17, 18 threes a game. Today we had 16, they had 17. Rebounding was probably the difference in the game.
I like to press a pressing team. If a team is a disruptive defensive team, let’s disrupt them. If a team likes to run, let’s run them. You take their strength and make it it’s not your strength. You know what I’m saying? That’s kind of how I try to do this.
Q. I’m a little bit confused. Coach Martin spent his whole time up there at the podium talking about how his team lacked physicality. You’re saying their team wasn’t physical. Who do we believe?
JOHN CALIPARI: Maybe it’s their normal physicality, that this was a little down. I’ll tell you what, when there are people hitting the floor or you’re moving into ball screens, you’re getting whacked, the only difference was Reid was out there whacking, too, so was PJ It’s two teams whacking each other.
You know what? Maybe we were a little more aggressive than them. I don’t know. Or the ball bounced our way. I don’t know. Silva only playing 15 minutes affects them. 25 and 12 last five games, 25 and 12.
Q. Your best teams here played defense like they’re having fun, like they enjoyed it. This team looks like it’s starting.
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s getting there.
Q. How do you do that with kids who were in high school six months ago?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the biggest thing is they have to be engaged with each other. Early in the year, again I’ve done this 30 some years, your team is going to press for their individual performance. People around them talking to them, how they got to play. They press. They’re uptight about their individual performance.
Well, when you are, you cannot be engaged with your team because you’re thinking about your own performance. As it goes on and you realize, If I worry more about my team, the game becomes easier and I play better and score more. How does this work? I don’t know, but that’s how it works.
It just takes some time to trust. I tell them, you’ve got to shut down the clutter. You got people telling you how you need to play or how you’re being evaluated and they’re wrong. So why would you listen? Here is what they’re looking at.
I’ll say it again. PJ went 0-4 against Kansas from the three-point line and everybody was going crazy about his performance. Are you ready? Tyler Herro went 2-9 and everybody went crazy. He missed every jumper. It shows you what you think they’re looking at or how you’re being evaluated, you’re wrong. This isn’t high school. This is big boy basketball.
This team is getting it. I’ll say it again. Thank goodness we have Travis on this team. Reid, he’s a beast. He is a beast.
Q. Was there any kind of common theme in Ashton’s turnovers tonight? Six total.
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, again, this team plays different than any team we will play. What we were telling him is, you got to get to the lane and then make decisions. Well, it’s the first time. It’s like we weren’t running many plays. Just get into the lane and make decisions.
His decisions weren’t good. But in the second half, he got a better feel for it and had a better flow of it and he made better decisions. He had no assists and six turnovers at half. He had four assists and no turnovers in the second half, which is why the score was what it was.
Q. You said recently about being halfway up the mountain. What are you still looking for improvement-wise? Any further up the mountain?
JOHN CALIPARI: We need Nick (Richards). Nick has to give us 15 to 20 minutes a game. He’s got to be playing. It has nothing to do with jump hooks or shots. I like that because it makes him smile, but get in there and fight like crazy and rebound and block shots and fly up and down this court. Let us throw you lobs. There’s no one in the game of college basketball like him, but he’s got to go perform.
The second thing, that jump hook, to be honest, you got to fight before you catch it. Fight, fight, fight. It’s unstoppable. But if you catch it at 12 feet because you let the guy push you away or you weren’t moving your feet, you can’t make that shot.
Your job is, forget about anything else, I’ve got to catch it close. Coaches tell me if I catch it close, shoot it. Don’t bounce it, just shoot. EJ, I’m happy for him. Every day in practice going against Nick, and EJ and PJ 25-12, don’t worry about it, we’ll play a zone, you don’t have to guard anybody. Here you got to get better.
What I’m hoping is by the end of the year when you look at Keldon, you say, wow, how much better is he? Tyler. How about Ashton? How about Jemarl Baker playing today, making shots, how he defends? How about Immanuel (Quickley), EJ, Nick? PJ is not the same player as he was at the beginning of the year or last year. More assists than turnovers. Last year he had one assist every two turnovers. He’s a different player.
That’s what we’re looking to do. Let’s get better. Let’s get more consistent. Let’s play 40 minutes. Let’s use each of those games to learn about our team. Let the results speak for themselves. You all got mad. Seton Hall, act like you won. I needed them in a good frame of mind. I didn’t need them panicked because you guys are saying the season is over. We’re getting better. Cal, we don’t have moral victories. We’re Kentucky. What? It wasn’t about that. It was about getting them in the right frame of mind.
Let me say this. We win a game like Florida, you know what I said to them? You know that ball that Tyler ekes in and rolled around the rim, that layup, then the corner jumper that Keldon made that went bang, bang, bang, bang, went in? We don’t make those, we probably lose the game. Should we feel any different about our performance, that we’re getting better? No.
I’ve got to keep these guys in the right frame of mind, which I told them today: My job now is hungry yet humble. We don’t need anybody arrogant right now. We need to be humble and we need to be hungry in what we’re trying to do.
Q. It seemed like Nick got in foul trouble tonight. One of them looked like it was on a drive. You were talking to him, moving your feet. Did you want him to move his feet more?
JOHN CALIPARI: We work every day on staying in front of dribblers. When they drive, because I know you guys don’t know basketball, but when they drive, if you push up, they’re coming at you. You push that way, you’re going to foul. If they drive, you’re Nick Richards, you retreat, give them space and retreat, at the rim you’re probably going to - I’ll help you - block the shot, unless you push up and foul.
Every single day we work on moving our feet and retreating and blocking at the rim. He chose to push up. Now, the reason you push up is because you’re exhausted, tired, mentally not into it. You do what your old habits were, which were the eighth grade you used to stick your knee out when the guy tried to dribble around you. You can’t, not here, can’t do it.
Let me just say this. He’s close. Just like EJ I’m telling you, Nick is close. But we can’t do it for him. He’s got to do it for himself. He’s got to prove to himself. Demonstrative performance will build his own confidence.
Jemarl Baker Jr.
On the win tonight...
”We just went out. We played hard. We tried to execute the game as well as we could and I think we did it.”
On Calipari saying you’re developing well …
”I think I am just getting comfortable. Every game I am getting more comfortable and just more engaged with the team. I feel like they know how to play with me as well.”
On the second half defense…
”Just working on it in practice and knowing that in order to win we are going to have to defend. In order to win the championship we are going to have to defend and be great defensively as well. We have been working really hard in practice and execute the game plans as best we can.”
On how his double-double feels…
”It’s a good feeling when you put in all the hard work every day to come out and improve, and you do it.”
On how much playing against Reid (Travis) and PJ (Washington) and Nick (Richards) in practice every day makes you better…
”It definitely gets me ready for physical games like this one. Going against them every day is a challenge and gets me prepared.”
On South Carolina being a physical team and if you planned for that…
”That’s what the game plan was. To go out there and play physical and just hit first before they hit us. That’s what we did.”
On a great defensive performance…
”Defense is a big part of why we’re winning. Without our defense, I don’t think we would be on a nine-game winning streak. We’re stopping teams and forcing them to get out of their game plans and it’s just great to stop teams like that.”
On the physicality of the game…
”It was really tough, we felt like they were fouling every time, but we knew they were going to do that coming in so we were prepared for it, so we just tried to play physical as well down low. We did a great job at that. Forcing them to get into foul trouble and then getting to the free throw line and making our free throws”
On holding teams to under 40 percent shooting…
”Our key is just taking them out of their game plan, making their strengths their weaknesses. When we play any team that’s the biggest thing we try to do. Tonight, they were a denying team on the defensive end so we tried to do the same thing to them.”
On seeing EJ Montgomery break out tonight…
”It was great. I’m happy for him. I’m one of his biggest fans and just to see him go out there and put a smile on everyone’s faces, that’s big for us.”