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John Calipari and Wildcats preview Arkansas

On the road at Arkansas will be one of Kentucky’s biggest challenges in SEC play.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats will face a major road test Saturday when they travel to Fayetteville for a clash with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Kentucky is in desperate need of a bounceback following Wednesday’s gut-wrenching loss to South Carolina, while Arkansas is looking for a signature win that would likely propel them into the top 25 polls next week.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and select players 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 if he changed his mind about Ashton Hagans’ play in the South Carolina game after watching the tape …

“He has a three-minute stretch where he gave up nine points and allowed three turnovers and it became a four five-point game when it was 14. So, no, but it wasn’t just that. Again, from the beginning of the year one of the things that I talked about this team that had to shore up is toughness. They had 20 offensive rebounds, and when I watched the tape—I didn’t say much to them after the game. I walked in and said, ‘Hey, that’s a tough loss right there. Put your clothes on. Let’s get out of here.’ That’s all I said. After I watched the tape on the plane, then I called them up to the front of the plane and then I had a few things to say. Because it was one team clearing space and the other team buckling under. One team clears space on both ends. Shot goes up, three guys run, and on the other end get hit and kind of crumble. It’s good for them to see it. Our pick-and-roll defense again—because you cannot become confident defensively if you’re getting thrown around. You can’t get a rebound and you’re absolutely getting man-handled, you’re not going to be confident defensively. How do you hold them to 28 or whatever it was and they get 61 in the second half? They made some shots and they made some free throws. OK, so let’s add 10 – not 30. Like, what in the world? And it came back to that. We’ll see. The team that we’re playing, Arkansas, you know, they play really hard. They play rough. They’re not big but it doesn’t seem to hurt them on either end of the court, and they have specific roles of what guys are going to do, what kinds of shots they’re going to take, and they do it.”

On if he saw the guys not executing like they do in practice in terms of one guy trying to block and shot and the other boxing out to rebound …

“Shot went up and I saw you and I went like that [demonstrates just watching the ball instead of boxing out] and they jammed you and they rebounded the ball and stuck it back in. That’s what it was. Every player. And you just watched it. I’m saying, why isn’t what we’re doing in practice carrying over? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. But I know they saw it and I know they want to do right. I had individual meetings yesterday. I asked each guy, ‘Am I asking you to do something you can’t do? Can you do this or can’t you do it? Meaning you’re not capable of putting your body on somebody else. Just tell me.’ We went through some of that with each guy individually.”

On if that is a personal challenge …

“No, I’m just asking. You’re making a choice. Your choice is I choose not do it or I choose to do it. It’s a choice you make. And that choice leads to us winning or losing but it also leads to you not playing as much, but it’s your choice. I mean, I had to take Keion (Brooks Jr.) out because he had a wide-open shot and he choose to walk or try to–well, why didn’t you shoot it when you know you’re a finisher and I’m telling you to shoot and I don’t care if you make it? You made a choice. ‘I’m not shooting this open shot. Why would you pass up this open shot?’ ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it because I missed four.’ ‘That’s not on your team. Get in that gym and practice more. Your job is to shoot that shot.’ Well, if I go 0 for 6, I’m really embarrassed.’ ‘Your job is to shoot that shot. That’s what you do for us. These other guys drive it and create shots for you and you and you, and then if you can’t make them, I’m not—OK, just get in the gym. You got to master your craft and you can’t run around.’ I come back to, what’s the hardest thing for you to do? Then work on that and focus on that and do it over and over and over. That’s how you build your confidence. My son (Brad Calipari) knows if he misses two in row, I want to see the third one; see if you have any courage. Let me see. He played a game earlier and he missed two and I said, ‘I loved that other shot.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know you loved it because I missed two and I had to focus on the third shot and still make it.’ Yeah that’s confidence. That’s toughness. That’s relying on your training. These guys haven’t been around that much. Again, if I’m missing shots, OK, I’ll do something else to make it look good. No, no, your job on this team, here’s what it is. That’s why I asked the question, can you do what I’m asking? Can you not do it? If you can’t do it, we got to figure something out.”

On Johnny Juzang coming off the bench cold and hitting a shot …

“Well, he didn’t. He missed the shot and stuck it back in. But he had the courage to go get it and go again. Second thing Johnny did is in eight minutes he got five rebounds. So now you say, did he earn more minutes? I mean, it isn’t who I like, dislike. I love all these guys. It’s not like I’m playing favorites. What I said to a couple guys, ‘You are what your stats say you are. You are what your stats say you are. And so I don’t want to hear I can do this, I can do that. You are what your stats say you are.’ ”

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F

On the mentality of the team …

“The mentality is just staying together, sticking with each other. It was a tough loss. We didn’t finish the game like the way we should have. Being up 14 points with about 15 minutes left, we kind of let the game slip away. It happens like that sometimes, so we gotta come back and be ready to play tomorrow.”

On the team’s morale …

“It’s been great. Losing like that at the buzzer off a heave from 30 feet that banks in, it can be demoralizing at the time. But we still have a lot of season left. We got a lot of stuff we need to work on and we know we’re not where we’re supposed to be. So we have something to look forward to. Our team morale and our chemistry is still great. We’re still upbeat and we’re just looking forward to going up there tomorrow and kind of getting some get-back.”

On Arkansas …

“They’re well coached. Obviously you see that. They really like to get out in transition. They play a lot of positionless players, a lot of players on the court for them that do multiple things. You just gotta take away their strength and try to beat them inside and run with them on offense and defense.”

On the frontcourt’s development …

“We’re seeing that we’re—first off, we’re not as physical as we need to be. We’re still taking strides in that area, but I feel like we’re getting better. We just have a team that’s young, but we still need to figure it out. Us being young and us having a lot of freshmen can’t be an excuse anymore. We’re starting to get into conference play. We gotta really start to figure things out and Coach has been doing a great job of making sure he’s demanding a lot from us so that we’ll go out and be better.”

On Kenny Payne’s coaching …

“He’s in my ear a lot, just about trying to be better at all times, playing hard at all times and just being a better teammate. Us being younger, we don’t always know what it takes to win a college basketball game. So he’s making sure he’s in my ear letting me know that whatever I think it takes to win, I gotta amplify that even more because is different now.”

On defensive rebounding …

“It’s been a big focus. We pride ourselves on defense and being physical and these last two games we’ve kind of slipped in that area. We just gotta take a better approach of hitting a man first, not shying away from contact and at the point of attack being aggressive and going and getting the rebound.”

On the drop-off in defense in the second half against South Carolina …

“Just a lack of discipline, really. A lack of discipline to go box your man out, a lack of discipline to stay on your assignment, a lack of discipline to react to the scouting report. It’s just our lack of discipline overall that hurt us in the second half.”

On saying the team morale is still high …

“We know there’s a lot of season left and we know we’re not anywhere near where we’re capable of being, so we got something to look forward to.”

On what he thinks when he hears about Arkansas playing a small lineup …

“That means we can pound them inside. Nick (Richards) should have a very good game like he’s been having. EJ (Montgomery), Nate (Sestina), even myself at times being able to post up smaller players. So that’s my main takeaway from it, is just being able to guard off the bounce and then taking them inside and punishing them around the rim.”

On what he has been working on …

“More so than anything my mental, of just staying in the game for all 40 minutes. College is a lot different than high school. The mental focus and the mental preparation to go out there and stay laser locked into focus the whole time can be a little difficult at times. And also just continuing to try to get stronger, play lower to the ground and, like I said before, just staying mentally tough throughout the game.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On how good it was to be on the floor again after being ill …

“It was nice being out there. I was sick, so I missed those games and stuff like that, and I was coming back from that. So it’s nice to be out there playing again.”

On why he thinks he hasn’t shot as well as he had hoped …

“Now, they’re feeling good. I’m shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. I’ve been in the gym nonstop. I’m feeling super confident, building my own confidence. The shots are feeling great right now, I’m shooting with a ton of confidence, but they’re not falling, so that’s a little frustrating. But, I’m not worried about it.”

On if he’s treating the illness, and his return, as a restart to the season …

“Yeah, I missed a good amount of time. So I’m just trying to work myself back in the rotation so I can contribute.”

On if he sees an opportunity for playing time …

“I mean, yeah, there’s opportunity. I wouldn’t say I’m adding any pressure on myself, but I think there’s definitely opportunity for sure. Just keep doing what you’re doing, play hard.”

On what he can learn, and has learned, from sitting on the bench …

“Yeah, you definitely see a lot of stuff and pick up on things. So when you get out there, you’ve kind of got a feel for what’s going on a little bit. So, just learning as much as you can.”

On the mentality of the team as they try to bounce back from a loss at South Carolina …

“You’ve just got to move on to the next one. Can’t let that energy, that loss, sit too long. You’ve got to get ready for the next one. So, it’s a fresh game and you’ve just got to go out there and compete and learn from our mistakes.”

On what he has seen on tape from Arkansas …

“It’s definitely a tough environment and they’re a real solid team. So, we’ve got to go in and compete from start to finish and can’t let off at all.”

On what he has had to work on since coming to Kentucky …

“In high school, I wasn’t playing defense at a college level. So it’s been a great experience to expand my game. Working on different things like that. Working on my all-around game.”