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John Calipari & Wildcats recap win over Wofford

The Cats are Sweet 16 bound for the third straight season.

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Aaron Gershon - A Sea of Blue

It wasn’t easy, but the Kentucky Wildcats fought off the Wofford Terriers by a final score of 62-56 to advance to the Sweet 16.

The first half saw Wofford lead by as many as six, but a 10-2 run at the end of the opening half sparked by key buckets from Reid Travis and Ashton Hagans along with lockdown defense from Jemarl Baker gave Kentucky a 28-26 lead, and more importantly, momentum heading into the halftime locker room.

The Terriers would not go down easy however. They matched Kentucky nearly point for point for much of the second half. However, it was Baker and Keldon Johnson who made life too difficult, as the Cats roared passes Wofford and into the Sweet 16.

Postgame, John Calipari, Baker, Hagans and Travis stepped to the podium while the rest of the team spoke about the win in the locker room.

Here’s a summary of what the team had to say Via the NCAA:

THE MODERATOR: Coach, some opening thoughts about this fantastic basketball game today.

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you know, I’ve got to give Wofford -- they’ve just played, and they knew they were going to run down that shot clock and they knew we had a bunch of freshmen and one of them would break down, which is what happened at the beginning of the game. Every last five seconds, one guy broke down. Hard for young kids to do that and play this way. We got it going at half, and then they never went away. I thought there were chances, we got up eight, we just couldn’t get the lead any more. The way they shoot threes, they’re just dangerous, and they change how you have to play defensively. And I thought our bigs did a great job. I thought Nick was unbelievable in what he did today. And even EJ did well, where we really helped those guards and played the way we had to.

Q. Ashton, the job you and Tyler did on Fletcher Magee, can you talk about the challenge he presented and how well you played on him?

ASHTON HAGANS: We knew coming into this game he was a great shooter, so the game plan was just make him make a basketball play, put it on the floor. That’s what we was trying to do. Tyler did a great job of talking to me when he wanted to switch, but you know, for us to be at our best, we’ve just got to talk and be for one another.

Q. Ashton, down the stretch you put the ball on the floor and penetrated and made some big finishes. Talk about that and your poise down the stretch.

ASHTON HAGANS: You know, when I was driving in the lane, they wasn’t collapsing on me, so I just had a wide-open lane, so I took that. But even if they was, I would just kick it out and give my teammates the ball, and if I was getting to the line I was knocking down some big time free throws. EJ did the same, as well, and Jemarl make some big-time baskets and we just came out with the win.

Q. Just the defense on Fletcher --

JOHN CALIPARI: First of all, let me talk, you guys haven’t asked Jemarl Baker a question, but let me just tell you, I said it after the game, we coach every kid like they’re a starter. That’s how they’re trained, every one of these kids. And I keep saying, we don’t know who’s going to be a star. What he did today defensively, he made a basket or two and we needed them. What he did defensively meant he was prepared for this moment. Immanuel didn’t play as well and he had been playing really well, but you know what, this happens. Today Keldon didn’t play as well so we had to go and say, are you ready, and he’s like, I’m ready. And so I’m proud of that, and it’s hard. I mean, these kids, I told you before, what they go through, what they hear, what’s thrown at them, and staying the course, I just appreciate the kind of kids we have and the kind of families they come from. I don’t know what you asked me, but go ahead.

Q. Defense on Fletcher Magee.

JOHN CALIPARI: What we did was we were never going to go under any screen. The bigs were going to help as long as they had to. We hoped our length would bother them. But we also knew we were just as afraid of Hoover, and he goes 6 for 9, 4 for 5 from the three. We talked about one, but we said the other one is an assassin, too. He just throws darts out there. Again, but it was the effort and energy, and my hope is they got a little worn down because these guys did not stop. They just chased, and they knew they couldn’t let up in this game or they were going to score baskets because it’s how they play.

Q. Cal, any relief in getting to the Sweet 16? That’s what you’re supposed to do.

JOHN CALIPARI: Who told you that? (Laughter). No, here’s what I would say to you: In this profession I’m in, if winning is a relief, it’s time to retire. Now, I Rev #2 by #557 at 2019-03-23 21:41:00 GMT page 1 of 3 may not be showing it right now, but I danced in that locker room. I am ecstatic when my team wins, and when we didn’t finish the game off like we normally have, maybe it’s because PJ is not playing, but no, there’s no -- I don’t think that way, and I don’t -- I just want my team in the hunt. I want them playing at their best. What I told them prior to the game, roll to your training, then you don’t have to think about the moment, the other team, the NCAA -- just you know how we’re training you, just play to the training, 40 minutes of unbelievable energy. If you’re not there, sub yourself. I said, I know if you get subbed you think you’re not going back in. We’ve only got eight guys. We can’t even practice. So if you take yourself out, you’re going to go back in. We don’t have enough guys. But it’s hard because they don’t -- if I’m on the floor, I may get another shot. We’re just a bunch of young guys coming together. I do believe they’re still getting better. I do believe that. Tyler didn’t make shots today, and we still win. What happened to us in the first half, there were no willing passers on my team. No one was a willing passer. An extra bounce, they would collapse defensively, they’d tried to shoot it anyway. They’d collapse and I’d go an extra bounce so now it made it hard. The pass is thrown to me, the guy is in the corner, I shoot it anyway. He’s open. That was our whole first half. So hopefully we’ll be able to break down the tape and say, going forward, this can’t be you. I mean, they made us play the way they played. Give them credit. And if they hit a normal amount of threes, they’d probably beat us. Thank goodness they didn’t.

Q. Coach, I know we mentioned PJ was out; how impressed were you with the young guys stepping up? Got off to a slow start offensively but they rallied back and fought hard.

JOHN CALIPARI: I was really impressed but I was happy for Nick. Every player you have, you know how hard they’re working. You know what a good person they are, so you want them to do well, but you can’t do it for them, and you can wish all you want, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to go in and perform. I can’t build their confidence. They have to build their own confidence. Well, you take them out. Well, if they’re not playing hard and they’re not playing with great energy, then yeah, I will take them out. It’s not about missed shots. You’re going to have some turnovers, but if you’re not competing, if you don’t come up -- I had to take EJ out. There was a rebound late. That could have cost us the game. He let the guy run -- you’re out. Well, you take me out. I’m trying to win the game. Get that ball, and we win this game. So there’s things like that that I’m not going to budge on. But happy for them. I thought Ashton just has a will to win, and I come back, you see him make every free throw, and then you say to yourself, he should probably shoot perimeter shots better. Again, it’s mental. Get in the gym more, build your own confidence, make a couple in the game, which he has this year. Last couple he’s not made shots. He’s got to get in this week and get ready for this weekend.

Q. I missed what you said at the beginning about Baker, but Hero and Baker, two guys you recruited, known coming in as shooters. Both played excellent defense today. Can you talk about their defense?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, and I worried about putting Tyler on Magee, and I worried about it because I didn’t want to wear him out because we need his offense because PJ is not playing. So we need to go to him and get him to make some baskets. But if he’s running around with Magee, running in circles, running out, dribble hand-off, get being bumped, screen down, we’ll do that, like every possession, do it 12 straight possessions. It’s like being an offensive lineman in football. And so I worried about it, but he said, Coach, I’ll be fine. Well, obviously probably took away from his shots and he missed some shots that we’ve all seen him make. But I’ve never been afraid to put Jemarl in because of his defense. Even his rebounding, he’ll go after balls, just got make some shots. He or Immanuel, if they are making shots, like Immanuel is kind of taking a step back this weekend, we’ll take a step up next weekend. You’re going to get your chance. Get ready, get yourself mentally ready and go play. But our guard play was good defensively, shaky offensively.

Q. How did you have to adjust for the way Wofford was attacking you on the offensive and defensive glass?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you know, what happened on a couple is that our bigs helped and we didn’t crack down and they got some offensive rebounds. I believe we out-rebounded them 30 to -- yeah, we out-rebounded them by six, and we’re a pretty good rebounding team. But offensively we were trying to get to the glass to get some tip-ins because we thought we could, and defensively you’ve got to fight like crazy because all of them from Jackson and all their other big guys, they attacked that glass.

Q. How important was it to have a guy like Reid Travis with his experience, with a stable presence at both ends of the floor? He’s had a long career to this moment.

JOHN CALIPARI: He trained his whole life for this. Before the last game, I just told him, you’ve been Rev #2 by #557 at 2019-03-23 21:41:00 GMT page 2 of 3 waiting for this your whole life, and yesterday he was unbelievable, had eight of nine or whatever he did, 18 points, and today he did well again, and every time we needed a basket to separate, we were throwing it to him. And just once he didn’t get something. Every other one was either a basket or a pass-out. But let me say this, what a pleasure it’s been to coach him. He is truly professional in how he deals with everything, from training to weight training to keeping his body right to being where he’s supposed to on time. People that have come in my gym and watched us coach said that kid never takes his eyes off you. He is totally engaged with what you’re saying. And I get on him, now. Like I’m on him like I am these young kids. I just don’t have to as much because his is never effort. Theirs is always effort. His is never effort. It’s like some other things he may do, and basically it’s revert back some. But it’s been -- I’ve loved it, and I would say that what’s -- he’s helped us, but he’s helped himself in this. He’s really put himself in a great position.

TYLER HERRO, Freshman, G, 6-5, 195, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

On Wofford …

“They’re a great team, and credit to them. They gave us their all. They played us to very last second so it was a good game. We’re happy to get away with the win.”

On defending Wofford NCAA all-time leading 3-point scorer Fletcher Magee’s struggles shooting today (4-17 FG, 0-12 from 3-point range)…

“He’s a great player and can hit any shot on the court. We just caught him on an off day and it was good to go against a great player like him. My goal was to not worry about scoring. I tried my all to shut him down. He just missed some shots. All great shooters have bad nights. He’s a great player.”

On difficulty in putting Wofford away …

“We had that Tennessee game in the back of our minds and learned from that one. We have learned how to finish games and finished this one. We had to especially pay attention to our assignments. They have great shooters all around. We had to stay on Magee at all times. We couldn’t lose him.”

On Kentucky fans that travelled to Jacksonville…

“The ‘Big Blue Nation’ are the best fans in the country. They travel everywhere with us.”

NICK RICHARDS, Sophomore, F, 6-11, 244, Kingston, Jamaica

On Wofford’s effort …

“They did everything possible to give us hard shots. They take a lot of threes and our job was to make them as hard as possible too. We know they were going to make some and they did. We just had to get back on offense and keep moving forward.”

On absence of Kentucky forward PJ Washington due to injury …

“PJ is an important part of this team. We always do whatever it takes to help him. We want to see him back on the floor. Hopefully, we will see him back on the court next week. We’re getting ready for the next game with or without him, but we always want PJ on the team.”

On Wofford’s big men …

“Their big men were good. The one guy, #33 (Cameron Jackson) is really skilled down low. He played his butt off. He’s a really good player. Our emphasis today was just really on team defense and that every-body had each other’s back. Anything to get a ‘W’.

When asked about Kentucky having more NCAA tournament experience …

“I wouldn’t say it was an experience factor for the players. The only person that actually played in the NCAA tournament game was me and I didn’t play that much last year. Our coaches are the ones that re-ally did a good job tonight. They gave us the scouting reports and all credit to my team. We did a really good job of following the scouting report all 40 minutes.