clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John Calipari & Wildcats preview Alabama

New, 1 comment

The surging Wildcats are set to host the hot-shooting Tide.

Calipari Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats will look to make it 3-0 in SEC play when the Alabama Crimson Tide invade Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky is coming off a solid win at Georgia, and Alabama just dominated Mississippi State at home to score their first SEC win. While the Tide come into Saturday just 8-6, they’ve been very competitive with good teams this season, including a two-point loss at top-25 Penn State and a double-overtime loss at Florida.

They also rank second nationally in both points per game (84.4) and three-pointers made per game (11.1) in addition to being third in KenPom adjusted tempo. Needless to say, this will be a unique challenge for a young Kentucky team that appears to be hitting its stride.

On Friday, John Calipari, Ashton Hagans and Nate Sestina met with the media to preview Saturday’s matchup. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics:

Head Coach John Calipari

On sticking with starters through the course of the game …

“Doesn’t matter who you start. It’s who finishes the game, so probably as we go through game plans and people are nicked up, we’ll see. I’m not as worried about who starts as maybe the clutter out there. I’m more worried about, OK, who am I finishing with? And, I like that team, but you know, EJ (Montgomery) may step up and be the monster we want him to be and all of a sudden, he plays more or Keion (Brooks Jr.) at four because this is a small, small team. Or Kahlil (Whitney) at four for that matter, so we’ll have to see.”

On people underrating Immanuel Quickley’s defense …

“Oh yeah. He’s really bothering people and making it difficult. That’s what a good defender does. Another guy who looks like all this and stands in front of the guy and the guy feels nothing by him being guarded. Immanuel occupies the guy’s eyes. You gotta worry about where Immanuel is. Obviously, we know where Ashton (Hagans) is and Tyrese (Maxey) is a pretty good defender. People, what they loved, the people that evaluate, they loved that he (Maxey) had eight assists, seven rebounds and four blocks. They said, ‘That’s a winner. That’s how you win basketball games.’ And, that’s who everybody wants on their team. That’s a Jamal Murray number, and, you know, he did well. Ashton came out, went home, got a little excited, took a few too many jump shots, but at the end of the day, the kid has a will to win and drags the rest of us. Kind of like (Lynn) Bowden did. He is that. He’s Lynn Bowden for us. … May be able to throw the ball better. I don’t know. [Media laughs.]”

On if Kentucky can run with Alabama …

“Well, we are who we are. You guys know that if we play a team that wants to play a game in the 50s, we’ll do that and if we play a fast team, we’ll try to score 100. So, we’ll see how the game goes. The difference is they run to shoot 3s. They’re not running for layups. They’re not running for post-ups. Even if they throw ahead and drive, they’re driving to find somebody for a 3. So, it’s a little different in how the game goes. They’ve done a great job. I mean, I watched (the) Florida (game), they should have won. They should never have lost that game. They know it. They had Penn State. Penn State led them for two minutes on the road. So, when you start looking at records, you can’t look at records when you start talking. The games they lost early, they weren’t ready to play this style yet. They hadn’t bought in. Now they have and they’re--this will be a really hard game for us to win. I don’t care if it’s at home, on the road, on I-95, this is a hard one to play and it’ll be a hard game for us to win.”

On the matchup between Hagans and Kira Lewis Jr.

“Good for both of them. Kira’s playing well. He’s playing fast. He’s shooting balls. He plays 38 minutes a game. He’s good. They’re good. (John) Petty’s good. I mean, they’re good. They’ve got guys who were twos and threes who are now fours and fives. They were twos and threes and now they’re fours and fives, which means your four and five better be able to play. You’ve got hands down, they’re shooting. They’re taking 3s. They’re – like when you watch them, because I’m not watching a whole lot of college games because I’ve got those Alaskan shows I’ve gotta catch so – but when I watch this tape, I was stunned at how they’re really spacing this court and how and what they’re doing.”

On Nate Oats and if there’s any similarities to the Buffalo team the Wildcats faced in the NCAA Tournament in 2018 …

“They’re different. I’ll tell you what he’s doing: He’s doing a lot of the dribble-drive stuff. He’s doing some of it from five out. They’re trying to get you in rotations and on those rotations they’re either shooting it or running it downhill. They’re spacing like the dribble-drive. With the team that he has, he’s coaching them the way that teams needs to play. The Buffalo team did some post-up stuff. This team will, but it’s not – their game is they’re going to shoot 35 3s. If they make 16, 16, 15, 18 – move on to the next game. It’s hard. That’s a lot for us to (make up). And again, we’ve got to make six or seven. You’ve got to make six or seven because they’re going to hook seven in.”

#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G

On his status for Saturday …

“Oh yeah, I’m good.”

On the confidence Coach Cal has in him …

“I feel like he’s just been watching me and watching me grow. I feel like I’m a better leader but not fully all the way there yet. I’m working on it. We got Nate (Sestina) over there. He’s helping me out a lot. Not only me, but EJ (Montgomery), Nick (Richards) and everyone else. We’re just getting better as the season goes along.”

On shooting a bunch in the first half at Georgia …

“You could say that (I was amped up to play). The coaches were talking to me about it before the game, Just like keeping my cool, don’t try to go out here and do too much, but I couldn’t (help myself). They said I had put up at least 10 shots when we went into halftime. I’m like, ‘Dang, I don’t normally do this. Let me go out here and try to chill this second half. ‘I had the family in. I had over 50 people at the game so I was just trying to put on a show for them. At least we came out with a dub.”

On the next step for this team …

“Just keep learning, keep building, listen to the old guys like Nate and Nick and things like that and just keep working together and know that we need each other’s back in these tough road games and things like that.”

On Richards having success …

“It’s amazing because last year, Nick, it was just him in his own world. Now you just see him interacting with everybody, talking. On the court, yelling, screaming. That’s what we need. I tried to tell him since day one when I stepped on campus, ‘Bro, we go as you go.’ I tried to tell, ‘If you bring that energy on the floor, we’re all going to be relying on it the rest of the time we’re together.’ Seeing him doing what he’s doing, it’s amazing.”

On the second-half lineup at Georgia …

“I think it was a real good lineup that we had in. We had—Nate was fresh, so he was knocking down shots. That was one of the reasons we did that lineup. Nate, he helps that lineup a lot because the guards can get in the lane and if we don’t have anything we can just kick it out and create. If he’s out there, we’ve got faith in him to knock down the 3. That just gives us room to drive in the lane and create.”

On whether that lineup will carry forward …

“It’s no telling what that lineup could carry forward to. We got EJ, so if Cal would like to sit EJ then that would be that decision. But if either Nate or EJ is in the game starting, we’re going to do what we can do to get the win.”

On Kira Lewis Jr. …

“I’ve always been playing Kira. He’s going to go out there and fight and compete. He’s a real fast guard, real smart guard, can shoot the ball very well and can finish in the lane very well.”

On how long he and Lewis have played against each other …

“Eighth grade summer? I really can’t remember. It’s been a minute. He’s always been like that though. Always been real good, always been real fast and he’s just a great point guard.”

#1, Nate Sestina, Gr., F

On the second-half lineup that the team used late against Georgia …

“I think, when you have three veterans on the court, four veterans on the court, it helps. I’m used to that. At Bucknell, I always had guys who had played a lot. We always had one freshman and four or five veterans most of the time. So, I think when you have five guys out there who have played in big games, it helps. Then a kid like Tyrese (Maxey), who is playing really, really well and kind of thrives in the spotlight and playing in a big game like that and he was playing really well, I think a group like that really does mesh well together and play well together.”

On how Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. will adjust to coming off the bench …

“I think, for them, they are consistently getting better and their fight in practice the past couple of weeks has been incredible. Things are starting to click for them and I think they’re going to be good moving forward. Nobody in our locker room is worried about them moving forward. I know Coach (Calipari) isn’t. Coach trusts them and believes in them; all of our coaches do and all of the guys on our team do as well. They’re two of the hardest workers on our team in terms of in practice and outside of practice, they’re in the gym working out all the time. Coach always says it, too, it takes a little bit longer for some guys and if that’s how it is for them, then that’s just how it is.”

On how much progress the team has made this season …

“It’s pretty much night and day. We play defense much better for 40 minutes. We’re kind of a hard-nosed team. We’re starting to click offensively and mesh well offensively. Get stops. Guys are communicating. When we come together in the huddle, it’s not just one guy talking, everybody is talking. Talking about what they see, what we can do to get better. I think we’ve made big strides in that and, moving forward, will be even better.”

On the challenge that Alabama presents …

“They’re shooters. We have to get back in transition, stop them from getting transition threes, force them into tough twos, force them to put the ball on the floor. I thought we did a really good job in the second half, especially, against Georgia stopping their transition offense, getting back, walling up and kind of playing team defense and not just relying on Ashton (Hagans) to get a steal or Tyrese or Immanuel (Quickley) to get a steal or Nick (Richards) to block a shot. It was kind of a team effort. I think it’s kind of the same thing – get back in transition defense, stop them, force them into putting the ball on the floor and force them to shoot twos.”

On his first SEC road trip and the environment at Georgia …

“It was awesome. That’s the kind of environment I came here for. People are booing you as soon as you come out for warmups. Guys are kind of talking (trash) to you from the stands. But, tune it out and focus on what you’re trying to do. I loved it. You show up, there’s just red everywhere, place is packed for warmups. Coach always says it’s everybody else’s sellout game and that was something I was really looking forward to and it kind of lived up to its hype.”

On if the up-tempo game favors UK’s younger players …

“Absolutely. I think for our younger guys, they really like to get out and fly and that’s what they’re used to. They played fast in high school and AAU, so it’s kind of a game like that where they can get out and run and put the ball on the floor and try to get fast break points, whether it’s a layup or a transition three. Then, we just have to do a good job of getting back, not celebrating the point because if they get out and start hitting transition threes it could be a difficult game for us.”