The Kentucky Wildcats began their quest for a fifth-straight SEC Tournament championship with a 73-55 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
With the win, Kentucky avenged their loss to the Tide in the SEC opener back in January.
It was the second straight year the Cats knocked the Tide out of the SEC Tournament, as Kentucky defeated Alabama by a score of 86-63 in last year’s semifinals.
It was Tyler Herro who led the way for the Cats, as the freshman dropped 20 points in his SEC tournament debut.
The Cats also got strong performances from Nick Richards, PJ Washington, and Immanuel Quickley
Richards finished with nine points, three rebounds, and a block. Washington recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Quickley dropped 12 points including three three-pointers.
Most importantly, the Cats saw Reid Travis comeback and not miss a beat as he finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
With the win, the Cats advance to tomorrow’s semifinals to take on the winner of Tennessee and Mississippi State.
For the postgame John Calipari, Herro and Travis met with the media to discuss the victory.
Here’s a summary of what they had to say Via UK Athletics.
THE MODERATOR: We will begin with Kentucky. We will have some opening comments about the game from Coach Calipari.
JOHN CALIPARI: It was a good win. I thought we really guarded. We rebounded. The last time we played them, they out-rebounded us by 10 rebounds. This game we out-rebounded them by 10 rebounds. I still think we missed a bunch of shots. Ashton is 1-6, Keldon is 1-7. Two good offensive players. Good to have Reid back. Just the strength in having a guy when it comes time, you have to go get the ball, he can physically get down there and go get it. It was good having him back.
Immanuel was playing well. Again, P.J. was 12-10. I told him, I know you, you’re better than you’re playing right now, let’s go.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Tyler or Reid.
Q. Tyler, talk about the offensive rhythm you were in tonight. You were struggling shooting the ball when you played them the last time.
TYLER HERRO: I think coach and my teammates just put me in the right situations. They trust me to take shots. My teammates trust me to take shots. I was taking shots that I can make.
JOHN CALIPARI: Tell them the tape that you had to watch, like every missed shot in that game. He had to watch that in front of his team.
Q. Reid, how did you feel tonight? Played 23 minutes. Did you feel like you got a good blow?
REID TRAVIS: Yeah, I feel good right now. I felt good out there. I felt like I did the necessary things the three weeks I was out to keep my body in shape, to stay engaged with the team so I could be successful when I came out here.
All in all, I thought it was pretty good for my first time out.
Q. Reid, you said you felt good out there. Were you 100% when you decided to play or is there still lingering anything?
REID TRAVIS: No, I’m 100%. I wouldn’t go out there if I didn’t feel confident and strong in my knee. Ultimately it’s just going to take some time to get my rhythm back and things like that. But my body feels great right now.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll excuse Tyler and Reid and continue with questions for Coach Calipari.
Q. You were talking about you felt like you could make more shots. From the first Alabama game, probably more breakdowns defensively. When you watch that film, you see yourself now, what do you think about how the team has come along?
JOHN CALIPARI: Here is what I would tell you: When I watched the tape, they had probably five or six breakout baskets, 10 or 12 points. Their big men outran our big men.
Mack got going because we went under screens, all the things we talked about playing him, we didn’t do. He got going went 6-6. They out-rebounded us, out-toughed us.
We missed 18 two-foot shots. Reid missed a bunch, P.J., Ashton missed a bunch. I told them when I watched the tape, I thought we did some good stuff. I didn’t think we were that bad when I watched it.
As the season goes on, the one thing that happens is our team will get better defensively because in the summer, when they come back in the fall, we do not do defense. The season is too long, playing till April. I mean, who wants to in July do step slides or deny the ball? We just don’t do it. So it takes us time.
What I like about the team I’m coaching is they’re skilled. They’re skilled with the ball, skilled shooting. They’re basketball players. They can feel the game. Now we just had to get them to catch up defensively, which they have. Then we had to play four games without Reid, which gave EJ and Nick a chance to build confidence.
It’s been a pretty good run right now.
Q. You talked about Tyler Herro struggling a little bit. What has been the key to him improving over the course of the season?
JOHN CALIPARI: Again, I’m talking as a basketball coach. It’s hard to be confident offensively if you’re getting killed on defense. In other words, everybody is driving by you, they’re dunking on you, making shots. You’re now going to go down on the other end and be confident or does it make you press even more on offense?
If you let them shoot more... No. If you start guarding, and you’re confident in yourself defensively, you have any kind of skill, you’ll be confident on offense.
If you think I’m going to give up 25 points but be so confident on offense, you’re crazy. It does not work. I’ve done this 30-some years, embarrassed to say that, but it is more than 30 years. Just how it is.
For us, the culture is if you don’t guard, you’re not going to play because you’re not going to be confident offensively, you’re not going to be able to help your team. You have to guard.
We play zone. I think 1992 maybe we played a couple kinds of zone. You have to guard. Then we have to do it together.
For him, how about rebounding the ball? I mean, all the stuff that makes you feel stronger and more confident, he and Keldon are doing. Keldon didn’t shoot the ball well, but he’s the least of our issues. He’s a terrific player, too.
Q. The production you got out of Richards, offensive efficiency.
JOHN CALIPARI: He left the rim a couple times. The Alabama players, they’re not leaving the rim. You have to score through them.
Now, P.J. and Reid, Reid got three blocks. Reid has more blocks this year than he has his whole career because he’s playing more athletic, he’s moving better, all that stuff.
Nick left the rim, and they threw behind him for layups and dunks. Just trying to get him to stay at the rim, don’t be antsy, let them come to you. If they can make a tough 2 over a 7-footer, fine. If you leave that lane, leave that paint, leave that arc, they throw behind you, they can make layups, dunks.
He did well. The jump hook, he’s worked on it.
My message to this team, so young, four freshmen and a sophomore: You don’t play up to an opponent. You don’t play up to a tournament because you can’t play 40 minutes that way. You play to your training, because you can play 40 minutes to the training and the process and how we’re getting you here. You know how we want you to play. We’ve trained you, now go play 40 minutes.
To win in any kind of tournament, this tournament, the next tournament, you have to put strings of games together where you play 40 minutes. Forget about the score, worry about playing. This team has done it, but we’ve also played halves of games. We’re just trying to focus on that right now: play to the training.
Q. You said you wanted P.J. to dominate more. His jump hook doesn’t seem to be falling as much as it usually did.
JOHN CALIPARI: They were big. They were long. It’s a harder game for him.
The thing that he didn’t do, they beat him to spots, which means we couldn’t throw him the ball at times. Look, I just want him to be special. He was a double-double, and I’m not happy. We won the game. I’m not happy.
I believe he’s as good as any player in the country when he’s in a frame of mind that I’m coming after you and you’re not as good as me. I’m going. So I’m just challenging him to be that guy.
Q. You were able to hold Kira Lewis to three points. What did you do this time differently than last time?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, he didn’t have the ball as much in his hands as he did that game. I mean, that game, if I remember right, he had the ball in his hands 70%, 80% of the time. Only taking five shots, it’s hard for a young kid.
The other thing was, we were running him off the three-point line. We didn’t want Mack to shoot a three. We didn’t want Petty to shoot a three. I got upset when Keldon gave Petty a three in that corner away from our bench. We didn’t want Lewis to shoot threes. He made one because we went -- they did a double drag, we went under it, which we weren’t going under it.
It shows if you didn’t play him right, he would have made 25 points.
Q. What about tomorrow against either one of these teams?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s hard. It’s hard. I’m going back. I told the team, I don’t like watching the game because I don’t know who’s going to win, and I don’t want to watch both teams. I’m not going to waste my time. If I’m not playing a team, I’m not going to watch.
Second thing is I’ll wait till the game is over, they’ll tell me. I’ll watch our game with them. Then I’ll watch their game tonight and go to bed. Between now and then, I may watch a movie. I don’t know. My wife and daughter are here. So my daughter, neuroscience, we’ll talk. We like to talk about that. I can’t even pronounce it, how about that (laughter)?
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
JOHN CALIPARI: Thanks, guys.