Three was the magic number on Saturday at Rupp Arena as the Kentucky Wildcats turned in its best three-point shooting game of the season to move to 3-0 in the SEC with a 76-67 win over Alabama at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky, now 11-3 overall (3-0 in the SEC), finished 9-of-15 (60%) from behind the arc and hit some big-time shots to hold off the Crimson Tide, who fall to 8-7 overall (1-3). The win also marks Kentucky’s 1000th SEC regular season victory.
After leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, Alabama’s Kira Lewis made a free throw to cut the UK lead to 63-60 with just 5:02 left in the game. UK’s Immanuel Quickley then nailed a three from the corner to extend the lead to six at 66-60 and Ashton Hagans followed up an Alabama basket with a three pointer of his own to give the Cats a 69-62 advantage with 3:00 remaining.
Alabama would bounce back to cut the lead to 70-67 on a goal tending call by Nick Richards with 2:07 remaining. Richards would then hit one of two free throws before Quickly buried a deep three from the corner with 1:00 left to seal the win.
Quickley led the Cats in scoring with 19 points, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc. The sophomore guard has now raised his three-point shooting percentage from 30.8% to 42.6% over the last four games and had made eight in a row before finally missing one in the second half.
Hagans finished with 15 points, just missing a triple-double with nine rebounds and assists, respectively. Richards had another solid performance with a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Maxey chipped in with 13 points.
Alabama, ranked third in the nation in made three-point baskets, was just 4-of-21 (19%) and never could find any rhythm offensively. However, the Crimson Tide did win the battle of the boards early on, collecting 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, and gave themselves numerous opportunities to stay within striking distance.
The Wildcats will be back in action on Wednesday night as they travel to South Carolina for a 6:30 p.m. ET tip on the SEC Network.
After the game, Calipari and Alabama head coach Nate Oats met with the media to discuss the game. Here is the recap of their postgame comments, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q. On Immanuel Quickley’s confidence?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He hit that two in the corner, it was big. He’s a confident kid, and what he does, he spends so much time in the gym, he expects to make them. If you know you’re not 100 percent, you’re not spending the time you can, you still look in the mirror. And if you’re giving 80 percent and then you get in the game and it doesn’t play out for you, you know, he’s -- the kid lives in the gym. He’s kind of like Tyler (Herro), he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, those guys. He’s just like them.
The guy, the energy, he finishes first on every run. He’s built his own, I mean, and you know, the last one, it’s kind of tough, we knew we were going to run something like that. And then when I called timeout, and you’re the guy shooting the ball, and then I -- I ice you. I ice you, and you’re my guy. And he still makes it.
But I didn’t feel comfortable. You know, I had the timeouts and I didn’t feel comfortable not using one right there to make sure, because I’ve got to have guys that sometimes say I didn’t hear that, so I did it seven times, “Did everybody hear it?”
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: They were all better.
Q. How much does peer pressure come into play when everybody else is doing well; so it’s time for me to step up and do my thing?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It kind of works the other way sometimes. What I keep saying; “Please let me coach you. You’ve got to shut the clutter down.”
I was so happy for Kahlil today. Now, you may have looked and said, well, he missed shots. They were all the shots we want him to take. Instead of passing that up and trying to throw a ball, just shoot it.
And the second thing, that was a block. He went in and blocked it. That’s what I want him to do. That’s who you are. Go for balls.
Now, again, I was trying to win the game, so I can’t experiment. The game was too close and those three guards deserve to play.
You know, Tyrese (Maxey) is still learning. He still makes high school plays. Drives baseline; throws a bounce pass to Nick (Richards). To Nick? Seven-foot, head-on-the-square? You throw a bounce pass, so the other guards can go in there and grab it?
”Well, he was open.”
”Oh, my gosh. Stop. Sit. You’re all right.”
I wasn’t happy with Ashton (Hagans). See, I think Ashton’s the best point guard in the country. I think we have three point guards, by the way, but I think he -- and the reason is, he is a tough defender, pick-and-roll defense. He’ll rebound. He can get in the lane. He has a good twitch, which means if someone’s open late, he’ll find you. He’s shooting the ball better. But I didn’t think he brought it to the level.
Now, I made him this morning, normally we don’t shoot around. I made him shoot around this morning because I wasn’t -- there was a gut feeling like if he ain’t ready, I see Evansville all over. He didn’t play that game.
I’m on him, he’s 15-9-9, almost a triple-double. I said, “That’s how much I think of you. You’re a triple-double, and I’m saying you’re better. You’re still undisciplined both offensively and defensively, you make four or five plays a half that hurt our team, and only because of discipline.”
But you know, he’s getting better. Believe me, Nick, a double-double, we didn’t go to him. They scored 44 in the post and we scored 20, but many of them were offensive rebounds. They just crashed and got it.
And the second thing was when they drove, for some reason, I had three guys go at the ball. The guy guarding him and two others were leaving. I’m like, why are you all going that way and they were dropping it off to a guy under the basket? So, it wasn’t really they posted it up and scored. It was on that, or it was on an offensive rebound.
Q. Alabama forcing Kentucky to shoot 3s and Kentucky making them?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, that’s about – everybody’s game plan is going to be to try to make us take 3s. But you have Immanuel, you have Nate (Sestina), you have Tyrese, and even Ashton, so I mean, we can make them, but we’re one of those teams, we get to the foul line, we get you in foul trouble, we’ll take 3s. But it’s not how we play.
My problem with that, historically, the NCAA Tournament is a one-and-done tournament. And if you’re taking 30 3s a game, there’s going to be a game where you don’t make them in those six, and your chances to win it are done. That’s just me. I may be wrong.
There may be teams that have taken that many and won. I’m not comfortable that way, and it’s the same thing stretching out the defense too much.
At the end of the day, can you give them one tough shot and rebound, and then you create good shots for yourself; and if they are threes -- we took 15. We didn’t take 25. We took 15. Our job was to keep them in transition from getting threes. And when they got them, they made them. That was the whole thing for us.
But I told Nate after the game, no one -- I said, do we play you again?
He says, “No.”
I said, “Thank goodness.” I said, “There is no one that wants to play Alabama right now. They are taking 30-some 3s.” They are making shots from four different positions. They are driving the ball.
And when you have Herbert Jones doing what he does, I told him after the game, “The way you play and your energy and your effort, that is a skill.” That’s a skill. And the way he did it, look, we’re done. If we have to play them again, it will be in the tournament, and I will dread that if we have to.
Q. Go back to talking about the easy shots that Alabama was having. Is it because the team’s out of position, or is it because of something else completely different, and how do you change that defensively for rest of the season?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we -- they had three back cuts. John Petty got one. One was on Ashton. One was on Immanuel. One was on Kahlil, but he blocked it.
Then they had offensive rebounds, and then they had where we sent three guys to the ball. That’s just an error on our part.
Again, now you’re saying all these open shots, they shot 36 percent for the game. But they did shoot 19 percent from the 3. So, if we had done that, they would have shot 20 percent and zero percent.
We broke down some. But you know, we can block shots. We’re long. I like our guards. They can stay in front of people. But yeah, you can’t send three guys -- a normal college player will say, I have three guys on me, I’m just throwing it to anybody, which is what they did.
Q. You did seem to do a good defensive job on Kira Lewis who can really get to the rim quickly. How much pressure is it when they have the shooters in transition, plus the point guard like that, and how did you feel?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: It’s hard. You know, what they do is they are unique. Like he laughed because Nate (Oats) said before the game, “This looked like a Memphis team when I was there.”
And I said, “You’re running the dribble drive better than I ever ran it.”
And what they are doing in transition, even there, we weren’t relying on 3s. I had Chris Douglas and Antonio Anderson. I had those kind of guys. Derrick Rose wasn’t a 3-point shooter. We were more of an attack.
But what he’s doing in transition is they are trying to get a 3 in transition. All of us teach run to the rim, go back, protect the basket, run. None of us run out. So, they are running, and you go in and here comes Kira and he gets in the lane and all of a sudden he’s open, he’s open. They are scoring 40 percent of their 3s in transition. I’ve never seen it before.
Like even if you get a layup, you throw it to the guy in the corner and he makes a 3. So he’s doing -- it’s hard when you have two days or a day to prepare for that. I’m telling you, we had two days and I’m, believe me, I told guys, you have a choice. You can make people dribble or you can guard them with your hand-down. That is your choice.
If they shoot it, you’re coming out. That’s your choice. Not my choice. You make them bounce it. They have to dribble. That’s all we said. We did for two days.
Q. I’ve heard you say EJ can be a monster.
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He was good today.
Q. I’m hoping you can define monster for me and how he’s progressing.
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Today he got -- rebounded the ball. So, he gets six rebounds and he gets eight points, and he could have had a couple more.
But you know what, I just need them to start climbing the way they need to climb. I hugged Kahlil after. I’m like, “Kid, just stay the course. Please stay the course. I want you to be a stopper on defense, and don’t worry about anybody else. You guard your man. Go grab some rebounds, because you can put your head above the rim.”
And then on offense, be a finisher. Shoot it when you’re in there. Don’t go in there to try to pass. Shoot it. And if you can’t get a shot off, you know it when you catch it; I don’t have a shot. Pass it, cut, and we’ll get you another shot.
Keion (Brooks Jr.), I thought did he some good stuff. He made that shot in the corner to start the game, and look, this -- what we do here, I look at this, the only way my team can get better is if each individual is improving. It’s not like I’m trying to coach a better scheme or we run better stuff than everybody. No. Our individual players are improving. If they are, my team will improve.
I’m looking at the three guys I feel are better than they are playing, and I’m saying, if they get it right, and now we have a full complement -- I thought Nate was okay today. You know, he was okay. He wasn’t great. But it was a good win for us, guys.
Q. When you guys get up 15, it seemed like you build that lead by making easy plays and finding the open guy, but after that, it seemed like they tried to maybe raise the level of difficulty. Did you see that at all?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. I watched the tape. I thought we did -- we came out at the half and had three opportunities. We were 0-for-3 right out of the gate and we started with the ball.
We end the half on a simple exchange, and we give up a 3 after a missed free throw. Could have been up 14 at the half. Could have been up more. Again, when you’re playing this kind of team and you’re holding those 3s down, do you think, okay, we got an advantage. If they are making 3s, that’s when they score 90. They score 90.
So some of the stuff we gave up, we did it on purpose. If we give up something, give up a tough two. Give up a layup. Don’t -- let’s not leave somebody that’s wide open that we are not doing that.
Q. About a minute and a half to go, I think you’re up three and Nick Richards comes up with the offensive board on the other end of the floor. He gets the contest and the defensive board. Can you talk about that sequence a little bit, and is that part of his continued growth?
HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. Yeah. And how about we went pick-and-roll with him and threw him the ball and let him shoot jumpers. I don’t know if you saw, I don’t know how much time was on the clock. I ran an out-of-bounds play for him to shoot a jumper in that far corner away from us. He was wide open. He missed it but I’m feeling comfortable he can do that.
But his rebounding, his ability to make a difference in the game, again, he’s another one that has built his own confidence. He’s finally getting in good shape. He’s not in great shape because he tires out.
But he’s in good shape compared to where he could go two minutes and he was done, couldn’t catch a ball, couldn’t get a rebound. Couldn’t get a fight. He’s now in the type of shape that he can sustain it.
And that’s where, again, I would say EJ, and even Kahlil and Keion, get in the greatest shape of your life. I mean, do all the running. Don’t worry about anything else. Get in shape and then let the stuff happen for you. Not worry because, again, if you remember, the year we had Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, first 10 games, I didn’t even start him. He didn’t start. I came in and said to him, you know, you probably need to be starting.
He said, “I’m good, Coach. You do what you want. I trust you. I trust you.”
And then after that, you said, this kid’s got to start. He’s the best player on the court. But he worked his way into that. He was that guy in practice. He worked. That’s all you’re trying to tell these guys. It’s not high school where just get me more shots. It isn’t. Stuff that worked then -- you ready, probably not working now.
So now, you want to build your confidence. Brad Stevens said there and I sent all the kids and I told Brad, I sent what you said. He said, look, if you want to build your confidence, you do what’s really hard for you. Focus on what’s really hard for you and do it over and over and over and over. That’s how you build your confidence.
The other way is, well, this worked in high school, so instead of doing what’s really hard, I’m going to do this, and then it doesn’t work for our team and it doesn’t -- it’s all a process. Some kids get it pretty fast. Some kids don’t.
I’m telling you, I believe in every one of these kids. I wouldn’t have recruited them here. But I’ll tell you, it’s really hard here, and like that shot Immanuel made, how about the free throws we’ve got to make. How about everybody game we play is someone’s Super Bowl. How about we walk in this building and if we don’t win by 20, they are calling Doc and saying, hey, we need another basketball coach; the game’s gotten by this guy, he’s not winning by 20 anymore.
There’s four million coaches in the state -- is there more than four million people in the state? Okay. So there’s a little over four million coaches in the state (laughter). But this is what this is. I told each of them: You know what, you decided to come here and you knew this would be this way. So deal with it. I can’t do it for you. I can’t play for you. I can’t build your confidence.
I can give you opportunities, but here is my big thing: You have choices to make. If you choose to play like you did in high school, you’re not going to play much. If you choose to play the way the team needs you, you stay on the court.
But it’s your choice. You break it off and I’m going to do this and I just decided, that’s a choice you make. And so like I said, we had two good days of practice. They get two days off now. They got today off and they got tomorrow off. So they get two days. Then we come back and go after this.
Opening statement …
”Tough game. I mean, they’re one of the better teams in the country. They’re hard to score on, did a better job defensively on us than anyone all year. They made it tough for us to score in the paint. Nick Richards, he had five blocks. You try to tell your guys what it’s going to be like trying to score at the rim on these guys. We should have taken a few more spaced-out threes to get in the game. I don’t know how you emulate it. Add (EJ) Montgomery and (Keion Brooks Jr.) and that’s NBA-level protection. Defensively, they did a great job. We played hard. We went 4 of 21 from three. A lot of that is because of their play. They have length, they contest the threes and they make you miss. We’ve been shooting at a pretty high clip. We needed to shoot it a lot better than 4 of 21 from three if we want to have a chance in this game. I’ve played against them as a coach. They always play hard, defense is always elite, they have length all over the floor and athleticism. They try to take you out from what you do. Kira (Lewis Jr.) and (John Petty Jr.) have been good for us, they limited Kira to 10 (points). I thought he played very well, just they were making it hard for him to score. We need to guide other guys to make shots. We need to spread out and not go 4 of 21. On our defensive end, I thought the second half was a whole lot better than the first half. They shoot 56% in the first half, plus (Nick) Richards and the other bigs hitting jumpers started to hurt us. I didn’t think we played hard enough in contesting them. Attribute it to our guys, they didn’t play hard enough in the second half. That Kentucky team, they’re as good as anybody I’d seen, and I’ve seen everyone in the country. If you take away those threes, it’s a different game. That is on them for getting their shooters shots when they needed to. They had big-time players who stepped up and made shots when they needed to make them.”
On three-point shooting at the end of the game …
”Coming in the game, there are 353 Division I teams. Kentucky is 351st in shots coming from three, so you don’t think they’re going to kill you from three. We hit four, they hit nine, and three of the nine came in the last few minutes. Hagans, though it seems like he doesn’t make a ton of threes, he hits timely threes. The one where he came off the screen and hit the pull-up was huge. Then, with nine seconds left, they call a timeout, come out a timeout and drill a three. Great play, knowing how we guard inbounds plays. We were supposed to switch that out, it didn’t get switched. We should have gone smaller so maybe it was likely that we had a guy that could switch out on him. That play is on the coaching staff, they did a better job coming out the timeout than we did.”
On the impact Immanuel Quickley has when consistently making threes …
”With him shooting like that, it’s a completely different team. If he shoots 5 of 6 from three, I am not sure who is better than that in the country. You know, he goes 5 of 6, there is probably a reason he played 34 minutes tonight.”
On Herbert Jones attempting 20 field goals …
”Look, the way they were going to guard him and guard us, they are maybe as good as any team in the country at taking your best scorer or top two scorers out of the game. Kira (Lewis Jr.) and (John Petty Jr.), you look at those two, 4 for 11 and 6 for 15, not terrible games but usually a lot better. We needed someone else to step up.”
On scoring points in the paint …
”We didn’t. A bunch of them were in transition, I’m going to guess, and some second-chance points off of offensive rebounds. Well, the only thing, too is we did have shooting all over the floor when (Alex) Reese is playing the five. I mean, Galin (Smith) drove right down Reese on the high-ball screen, they weren’t going to help off that. Their game plan was not to give us threes. They executed their game out to perfection. We hit four threes. So, they did exactly what their coach told them to do. Look, we’ve got some pretty good players. You’re not going to be able to take everything away. So, yeah, we did get by, we got to the rim. We need to do a little better job getting to the rim a little more on open action, getting (Nick) Richards out of there. We just can’t play Reese 40 minutes and pull Richards away from him more when you got Jaylen (Forbes) and Javian (Davis) in there, Richards is going to be at the rim more often. They’re used to playing down inside, so we got the five at the blocks. We outscored them in the paint, and again, that speaks to what we wanted to do. We wanted to take away the rim for them and make them shoot threes. Well, they made them. We didn’t do a good enough job making them miss. So, they did a little better job executing their game plan than we did today.”
On Alabama’s performance from three-point range …
”You know what, I’d have to go back to the video and watch it to tell you exactly. Right now, in my mind there were definitely three threes that we should not have taken that I thought were contested. If you’re contested, you’ve got to drive it. When you drive it, they do a really good job of collapsing for the most part, then you can get your buddy an open three, hopefully. So, some of them were not good threes, but I’d say this, man, with the way they protect the rim, we shot 76 shots. You look, we got 13 more shots up than them. We were even on the glass and we won the turnover margin. If you get 13 more shots up than them, I’d like to get a lot more up than six threes. You know, hopefully if we shot 30 threes, our percentage would go up a little more with the more you get. We tried to tell some of these guys, when you get in there and there’s a shot blocker at the end, you don’t want to shoot that, you want to spread that thing out and get the right three. We didn’t do a great job of that. To be honest with you, I’m going to guess 17 or 18 of those threes weren’t bad ones. They were pretty good. And we missed some looks, and they didn’t give us enough threes, which is credit to them and they made us miss some of the ones that we maybe typically would’ve made with other teams the way they would’ve guarded us in the past.”