The Kentucky Wildcats are one day away from their Round of 32 matchup with the Wofford Terriers.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky put together a dominant performance against the Southland Conference Champion Abilene Christian Wildcats. The Cats won the tournament opener by 35 led by Keldon Johnson’s 25 points.
As for Wofford, they put together a dominant first-round performance of their own against a Seton Hall team who defeated Kentucky at Madison Square Garden in December.
The Terriers took down the Pirates by double-digits after shooting 13-28 from three and a 24 point performance by star senior Fletcher Magee, who set the the NCAA’s division one all-time record for three pointers made in a carer.
If Kentucky is going to advance, they’re going to have to play their best three-point defense of the season. Three-point defense at-times has been the Wildcats’ biggest weakness. However, against some of the best three-point offenses in the country, the Cats have stepped up including holding the Auburn Tigers to a 29.6 three point percentage on February 23rd.
In addition to shutting down Wofford from downtown, Kentucky will need more big-time performances from Reid Travis, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards as PJ Washington likely be unable to play.
Friday, John Calipari, Jemarl Baker, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards came to the podium to discuss the upcoming match-up with Wofford.
Here’s a summary of what they had to say courtesy of the NCAA:
THE MODERATOR: First impressions of this Wofford team? Did you guys watch the game yesterday, and what do you think of the Terriers?
JEMARL BAKER JR.: I mean, I didn’t watch the game but I know they can shoot the ball really well, and I just know we have to guard the three in order to win the game.
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY: Yeah, I watched a little bit of the end of the game yesterday. From what we know, they’re a really good three-point shooting team, so that’s probably going to be the main focus of what we do.
Q. Nick, I’ve got a nice easy question for you: Coach Cal has obviously recruited New Jersey really well in recent years, you, Karl Towns, Isaiah, he’s got Kahlil Whitney coming next year. What does that say about the talent level in New Jersey? And have you given Kahlil any kind of words of wisdom about coming to Kentucky?
NICK RICHARDS: I mean, I played with Kahlil in high school. I played against him a couple times. He’s pretty athletic, pretty aggressive dude. New Jersey overall in basketball is kind of taken over from the tristate area. You can probably say the high school league from the tri-state area is New Jersey basketball. That’s where all the best teams are. That’s where all the best athletes are.
Q. Talk about Cal getting the best players out of New Jersey.
NICK RICHARDS: Honestly, I think just overall recruiting that Coach Cal has done throughout the whole entire country, not just New Jersey, has been really great. He knows what he wants. He recruits good players, and he gets the players that he wants.
Q. Immanuel, you were a five-star recruit. How different is this stage playing in the tournament? Is it more pressure for you? How are you taking it?
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY: I don’t really see it as pressure. I played in some pretty big games throughout any whole life. McDonald’s game was pretty big, state championships. NCAA Tournament doesn’t compare like a state championship, but I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, and it’s been a great time being a part of this.
Q. When the bracket was released on Sunday and you saw that Wofford was a potential round-of-32 match-up, what was your reaction when you saw it?
JEMARL BAKER JR.: I didn’t really have a reaction. It’s our job to get out on the floor and play as hard as we can and win, no matter who we come up against, and that’s what you have to do to win a National Championship. The teams that we saw, that didn’t really matter to me.
Q. What limited film you may have watched so far on Wofford, just wanted to get your impressions of Fletcher Magee and whether you’ve seen a three point shooter who seems to be so willing to contort his body to get tough shots in the smallest of openings and make them with really an uncommon regularity, what your thoughts are when you see him?
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY: I think what makes him such a good shooter is he has a lot of confidence. He also has a really green light, so when you’ve got that green light, you know you’re going to make some and you’re going to miss some. He lives with it, he’s a really good player, and we’ve just got to be ready for all that.
Q. Early on in the year, the three-point defense was not one of your best things that you guys had. Was there a moment this year where the defense really started to click because Cal was really tough on you guys the first month or so?
JEMARL BAKER JR.: I think throughout the year we just have to focus on the little details of like getting through screens and things like that and they emphasized can shoot the three.
Q. Immanuel and Nick, you guys, ever since Jemarl showed up on campus, we’ve been told he’s one of the greatest shooters in the history of mankind. Can you describe to us how great he is?
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY: Great question. Jemarl is a great player, not only as a shooter, he locks up on defense. He’s a really good teammate. He’s my roommate, so he’s even a better person. But what he does for our team is great, and he’s going to continue to do great things for our team.
Q. Nick, Wofford doesn’t start anyone that’s taller than 6’9”. How big of an advantage is that for you, EJ and Reid?
NICK RICHARDS: It’s a really good advantage for us. They’re not really as athletic as all three of us. Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we’re just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion.
Q. The SEC went 4-0 yesterday. Tennessee looks like it’s going to win right now. The only loss right now is Ole Miss and Mississippi State is playing tonight
JOHN CALIPARI: Did Ole Miss lose? What was the score?
Q. Not real good, but the SEC has won five out of six games so far. Could you comment on the state of the conference in this tournament so far?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we had so many close games in our league, games that were down to the last two minutes. And you know, it just toughened every team up. So like you’re looking at a bunch of teams that have walked in, and they’re good. Our league is really good. We got seven teams, probably should have had eight. When you see it -- and I’m disappointed for Mississippi because they had a heck of a year. I mean, they literally had a heck of a year, and I don’t know why that would have happened. I mean, terrific guards and athletes, and then Mississippi State is going to play tonight. Who do they play?
JOHN CALIPARI: Hmm, they’re good, too.
Q. As you watch film on Wofford last night, not just about their three-point shooting overall as a team but Fletcher Magee in particular, could you talk a little bit about how he seems to not even be fazed about contorting his body to take shots that other players wouldn’t be comfortable taking? And is there anybody he reminds you of in any way?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first of all, you’ve got to give it to Coach Young who says, you have the green light, now respect it, and I’m going to take some of these because I know you’re going to make some. Then I heard that he is absolutely in the gym hours on end shooting those shots that you’re talking about, that he’s in that gym, which is why the coach says, all the time you’re in there, and that’s the shots you’re taking, you deserve to be able to do it in a game. You try to tell a young team like mine, this isn’t football. It’s not a touchdown, so don’t foul. Make it hard. He’s still going to make some of them. Make it difficult for 40 minutes. He’s still going to make some of them. When I watched the tape last night, the tapes, and this morning, just a well-coached -- offensively they do what they need to do to win and they play in a way that they have to play, their dribble hand-offs. I mean, Jackson from -- I watched the game early in the year, and then I watch them now, so much better. They said Nick was in there saying that our bigs are quicker -- what are you doing, Nick? But that’s okay, because like if you speak, now what? You back it up. So I love his confidence. Now I want to watch you do it. Now get out there and do it, if you think that. And I want Nick to be more confident. Not like that, but on the court, more confident.
Q. The follow-up, does Fletcher Magee remind you of any other three-point type of shooter?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know who I saw in him and how he played? I thought -- and the closest I could get to him is how I used to play (laughter), which is I just used to shoot every ball like that. And I thought, you know, I saw myself doing those kind of things, and I know I was rated 41st -- there were 40 college coaches better than me as -- I’ll go one-on-one right now; let’s go. You’ve got guys older than me that said they were better -- come on. I’m just kidding. Come on.
Q. Reid Travis had 18 points, nine rebounds yesterday. We talked about Nick came off the bench, eight points, four rebounds. How big are those two guys going to be?
JOHN CALIPARI: How about EJ had 11 rebounds? I mean, he played well. And it’s another game that we’re going to have to do that. But look, they’ve got athletes at the 4 position, and that’s if I’m calling Jackson a 5, which I don’t know if he is, that really are long and active and go after it. They’ve got their four or five guards who are 1s, 2s and 3s and they’ve got five of them that score, a couple of them drive a little bit better, a couple of them shoot. But they’re going to take 25, 26 threes in this game. I don’t care what we do, they’re going to take them, and if they’re spinning in the air and they’re going in, it’s a Rev #2 by #557 at 2019-03-22 19:54:00 GMT page 2 of 4 tough night. I just don’t want us to foul them. And so contest. Now, the one thing that we do have is we’re long, so we can contest without fouling because of our length. But again, the year -- I called this, I knew we’d be playing this team, and my team knew, because I told them before, we would be playing Wofford because you and I know how hard this game will be, especially with PJ out, how hard a game it’ll be for us. I don’t think there’s any, like we’re a favorite. Come on now, this team is legitimate in every form and fashion, including defense, including toughness, including veteran play. Yesterday we started four freshmen.
So... Q. You said PJ out there; is that a official, and do you have any other update on him?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, I just can’t -- what they’re going to do at some point is cut the cast off and say how -- they just thought it would heal faster. I know there’s all this, it’s a conspiracy. I’m telling you, it was negative in every X-ray, MRI. We even did an RIM. It’s sprained. But we just -- and you guys that know me know that I’m overly cautious because it’s these kids’ careers, and I get it. I know this, he really wants to play, but I also want to feel comfortable that if he gets on the court that there’s nothing he can do to himself, and the doctors have pretty much said that. So it’s just, okay, when is it healed enough that he can go.
Q. Obviously your biggest priority here is Wofford, but you also put a lot of guys in the NBA and you’ve made that a priority. How much can guys like Keldon and Tyler help themselves going forward by playing well in this tournament? And have you ever had a guy really kind of help his stock with a big NCAA Tournament?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, I’ve had a bunch of guys do that. But it’s not just our guys, it’s everybody. These kids are all being evaluated this three-week period. Believe me when I tell you, it overrides anything that’s happened all summer. I can remember the kid -- I think it was -- he played for Gary Williams at Maryland, and he wasn’t thought of as a player that was going pro, and he went on an unbelievable run in -- I’m forgetting his name right now, in the NCAA Tournament, and he ends up being a top-10 pick, and he wasn’t a guy that was even on the board that they were thinking about. And I just say this for all these kids, and that’s why I respect these kids, because not only is the tournament there, the National Championship there, their own being and their own family and all this stuff that these 19 -- my guys are 19-year-olds, have to deal with. I tell my guys, I tell them all the time, I respect you guys so much, and then you have like social media and you have the clutter and you have the lists and you have all the other stuff, and they’ve got to block all that out and play. It’s not for funsies. It’s for real. So that’s why this tournament is what it is. You just don’t know. We want to say, well, we know that team is -- you don’t know. This is hard for these kids.
Q. You didn’t complain quite as much this year when the brackets first came out, and now CBS has given you two relatively decent start times. Do you think that the paranoia of the world against John Calipari may have been ratcheted down a little bit this year?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’d just say is it paranoia if you turn around and a guy is chasing you and you can see the knife? I’m not sure that’s paranoia. You just run like hell. I’m not -- I’ve never -- that’s not true. (Laughter). Yeah, I’m not worried about it. I think as I get older, I could care less. My give-a meter is I just don’t care. We go on and do what we do. The crazy thing it’s never really had an effect on me, on my programs. It just hasn’t. And maybe they’ve figured out, “Eh, forget about him, we’re not hurting him, let’s go hurt somebody else.” I don’t know, but -- pretty dumb question, though, John. (Laughter).
Q. Yesterday you were talking about dealing with injuries and especially a short bench, and with the game in such quick turnaround like it is now, you mentioned conditioning and how important that is, how much of an advantage do you think that is for your team, especially in a game with such a short turnaround?
JOHN CALIPARI: Any time you’re trying to play eight guys it’s really dangerous. Anything that happens, you’re down to seven. Another thing happens, you’re down to six. What if the six are not the right six? So it’s really dangerous what we’re doing and it could come back to bite us, but guess what, we have no choice. I tried to trade for some guys but we just couldn’t get anybody, so this is who we have. Like today, we went pretty hard and really got them to focus, and I was on some guys because I thought they weren’t -- the energy they needed, they didn’t have, and the reason is because you’ve got to fall back on your training. You play to your training, and if you’ve trained right, you can do that for 40 minutes, and this thing is about playing for 40 minutes, staying focused, staying engaged for 40 minutes of basketball when the other team is trying to do the same thing. Rev #2 by #557 at 2019-03-22 19:54:00 GMT page 3 of 4 And then you may play a team that shoots 25 threes and shoots some of the worst threes and they go in. That could demoralize you. And then all of a sudden you’re looking and they’re back-cutting and they’re coming off dribble hand-offs, and they’re making -- it is what it is. I mean, at this time how can you stay focused on us. I know how good Wofford is. I know. I’ve watched them, and I know their league -- their top 4 teams in that league, I hate to tell you, all four should have been in the NCAA Tournament when you think about who was in their league. But Coach Young, the job he’s done with this team, he’s been there 17 years, and to put this together and he’s a 7 seed. And to come from outside the Power Five and be a 7 seed, that’s a big deal. It’s a big, big deal.
Q. Just in terms of recruiting, had you ever heard or seen of Ja Morant on the summer circuit or anything? And when is the first time you kind of became aware of him because he kind of snuck through the cracks there. JOHN CALIPARI: I hadn’t, but I’m not like I was as an assistant where I knew every player. I don’t. I know who we’re recruiting. So no, I didn’t, but what a run he’s having, and how good is that for Murray. And I don’t know if you know the story, that he committed to Murray, and when everybody figured out how good he was, some other Power Fives tried to jump in there and say, we’re offering you a scholarship, and he says, nope, I’m going right to these people. They were there, they’ve been there from the beginning, and what a great story, and what a great thing for Murray. He’s a terrific player now. Oof! Q. You mentioned a team could take a lot of the worst threes you’ve ever seen and they go in and it demoralizes --
JOHN CALIPARI: If they take 25 there will be about four of those, maybe five, that you say, wow. And then I hear he practices them. He does. So how bad is it if it’s a practiced shot? I had Jamal Murray who used to shoot left-handed, falling down. Why would you do that? “Because I can make it.” And I think this kid is exactly the same way. Why did you take that? “Because I thought it was going in.” I mean, I don’t think he shoots one shot that he doesn’t think he’s making. Is it a bad shot? Maybe you think so, but in his mind, he doesn’t, and you know who else doesn’t think it’s a bad shot? His coach. Where was he when I was playing? (Laughter).
Q. One of the reasons we love you so much is because of all the
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, you just love me.
Q. All the buzzwords
-- JOHN CALIPARI: Everybody here love me?
Q. All the buzzwords and the catchphrases that you throw out to us during the course of the year. One I’ve really been intrigued by is the idea of the players conquering themselves. That almost sounds spiritual. Where does that come from, and how do you think the players have done in terms of conquering themselves this year?
JOHN CALIPARI: Before you can conquer someone else, you’ve got to conquer yourself, and I say it all the time, a lot of it means conditioning, a lot of it means pushing through comfort. A lot of it means don’t drink that poison when you’re flattered. “You’re so good, you should be taking more shots. You’re better than so and so, why aren’t you shooting -- when he shoots, he’s fine, when you shoot, you come out if you miss.” Do you drink that poison? Because if you drink that poison, you can never conquer yourself because you already have built-in excuses. And so for these kids to conquer themselves, to be in the best physical and mental condition in their lives, to master their craft -- are you in the gym? Are you mastering your craft? “Well, I should be able to miss five straight shots.” No, you shouldn’t. Especially if they’re open. They just talked about Villanova making 7 of 8 uncontested shots. That’s why they won. They were uncontested. Well, when we’re uncontested we think we should be