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John Calipari & Wildcats preview Texas Tech

A top-25 showdown in Lubbock.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats face a big test Saturday when they travel to Lubbock for a top-25 matchup with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Ahead of the big game, Kentucky got some unfortunate news that freshman forward Kahlil Whitney is leaving the team. While the former top-15 recruit has struggled to make his mark on this team, there was still hope he’d become a solid role player by the time March Madness rolled around.

Before the news of Whitney’s transfer came out, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview Saturday’s matchup with the Red Raiders. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On what he thinks about Texas Tech giving free beer to students …

“They’re giving free beer to students? At the game? On campus? Wow. I mean, it’s been hat day, cap day, shirt day, blackout, whiteout, red-out. Now it’s beer day. I have not heard of that before. You know, forget about all that. We’re playing a heck of a team and I’ve watched a bunch of the tapes. Defensively they’re different, which makes it hard for teams that are playing them. Just different in what they do. They go press to passive aggressive. They go zone to man. They go trap from the baseline. They collapse like a lot of teams. A lot of hands on drives, so if you’re not used to hands on drives it will affect you. Offensively, they’re in the top five or so in assisted baskets, which means they’re a good team. They find each other. They’ve got good players and they don’t lose in that building, so we know what we’re walking in to. It’s another hard environment for us to walk into. It’s what we’re about though.”

On if he knows Chris Beard …

“Some, but he and I have talked on and off. He and I talked two days ago. He’s good. I told him he’s got my respect. What he does, you know, when guys are sold on how they play and their teams play really hard and physical and they play, I respect that because I know how hard it is to get teams to do that, and he’s got a team that won’t quit. The games that they lost, they fought to try to get back in it. It wasn’t like they just let the game go. It didn’t matter if it was eight or 10, they fought.”

On Abilene Christian’s coach, Joe Golding, being Chris Beard’s best man in his wedding and if that means they will play a similar style to the one UK saw in the NCAA Tournament last season …

“You know, I don’t know but that’s kind of neat to hear that. They must have been coaching together and doing things together and going through the ranks together, which is—you know, when you have friends in this and you get along with other coaches, why go through this and hate on everybody or hate on anybody? You know, I try to have relationships with all the coaches that I can. If someone makes it personal, it’s personal then but it isn’t coming from me. I think he’s one of those guys. He respects the profession, respects coaches and he coaches his brains out. He’s good.”

On saying on his radio show that they need to get Nate Sestina going again …

“Well, the only thing I said is most of the time when you’re like that, you’re thinking different. So, what’s the difference? In my mind it went from I’m going to prove I’m good enough to be here and I’m going to fight like heck to prove it to where now I have to live up to how I played, and I think that’s a mindset I have to get him out of and back to being hungry. Prove who you are because you belong here. The other side of it is, Keion (Brooks Jr.) is playing better. If Keion’s playing better than he’s playing, then Keion will get more minutes. If he’s playing better, Nate’s playing better than EJ (Montgomery,) then he’ll play more that game.”

On Texas Tech’s defense and if it’s similar to any other opponent this season …

“Not really because they’ll do stuff that not many teams do. Whether it be in the post, they’ll switch one through four. they turn down all pick-and-rolls, and if you go that way they’ll collapse. They force you baseline. So, if you catch it on the wing, they’re making you drive baseline and then they collapse and take away – it’s what they do. They play on-ball defense fairly good so you can try to get by them but they’re handsy. They’re going after balls and they’re doing good stuff.”

On the team having success at Arkansas instilling confidence in future hostile environments …

“I think they’ll fight, but the issue in all of this is when you’re player driven now, which they are, they have to handle more of this and not count on me to step in and save the day. I’m here to guide and help. This is their team. They know how we’re going to play. We’re going to prepare them for the game and then it’s their game. It doesn’t mean you get selfish. It doesn’t mean you go do your own thing. It means we’re doing this together and now we have a great game plan let’s go do it. This is a game—we’re still in January, we’re still learning about ourselves. I love this game because it’s, again, a different kind of team. you get to the NCAA Tournament and you’re facing crazy teams and this is another one. You can say, ‘remember that game? Bang. Here we go. Remember Arkansas and how they played? Here you go.’ ”

On if this is a year where seeding will matter in the NCAA Tournament …

“I think seeding does not matter. this is one of those years where I’m not going to say a whole lot about seeding, where in past years I would say seeding matters. When you have 40 teams and they’re all within six points of each other—OK, maybe your first game if you’re one, two, three seed. But after that they’re all, everybody is four, six points from each other. I mean, the 3-point line, it’s taken away some 3-point shooters. So, guys that could shoot it, can’t shoot it anymore. They’re shooting 25%. Not worth it. Not a good exchange. There’s no big, huge, big dominant kind of guys that way. There are terrific players, don’t get me wrong; there’s just more of them that are within the realm of each other throughout the country.”

On whether he’s reached out to Quade Green

“I have not talked to him. I have not. Normally I would let the player call me and however I can help, which with just about every guy that’s left here that’s the case. I haven’t and I feel bad for him. But they’re (Washington) saying they’re on a trimester, whatever that is, and they can maybe get him for the NCAA Tournament. I hope they do. They’ve got a good team. They were counting on him.”

On practice this week …

“Yesterday was one of our hardest practices. But I made it that way because after that one we’ve got six Thursday practices and everything else is either the day before a game or the day after the game or a day off. So, we’ve got six of those. We went two-and-a-half hours and we went hard from start to finish. Today will be, we travel so it’s not going to be as rough. It’ll be more cerebral. Yesterday was a good day for them.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On his comfort level on the court …

“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling good. Just been in the gym a lot just building my confidence. I’ve been feeling really good and I’m excited to get on the road, play another big road game.”

On not hesitating to shoot …

“I think just kind of finding my game a little bit more. I’ve never been—if you ask about me, I’ve never been the one to hesitate. Just kind of playing my game.”

On how conscious he is of doing things other than scoring …

“I would say by the time I’m on the court I’m not actively thinking about it. I think it’s something that’s been kind of built practice after practice. So, it’s been something that you kind of just build and it becomes a habit and once you’re on the court you’re kind of just playing unconscious.”

On John Calipari saying he’s telling players to do what’s hardest for them and what that has been for him …

“Honestly, I wouldn’t say it’s one thing on the court, but it’s just keep pushing, keep pushing, keep the faith. You know what I mean? And just waking up every morning, working out, going hard, keeping the same drive and stuff like that, no matter the ups and downs. I would say honestly that’s the hardest thing. I wouldn’t say it’s any one thing on the court. It’s keeping faith and keep pushing through.”

On the potential of this team …

“I think we’re really starting to come together and all take ownership and leadership in the team. I’m really excited to see where we’re going with it because I think we have a ton of potential.”

On Texas Tech …

“I know they’re a solid defensive team and they’re very disciplined. I know it’s a really big game, a really big home game for them, so you just gotta go out and take every game the same.”

On playing in a tough road environment …

“I’ve always loved those big away games. Me, I’m just weird like that. I like being the villain coming in, you know what I mean? It always excites me a little bit.”

On past road games preparing them for this …

“Once you’re kind of on the court, I wouldn’t say it does anything but bring your adrenaline up a little bit. I don’t think it’s like a huge factor, but it’s definitely something—the energy. You feel the energy, but I wouldn’t say it throws you off or anything.”

On Calipari emphasizing conditioning …

“We had a real good practice yesterday. Yes, sir. Real good. So yeah, conditioning is a big thing, but it’s so necessary. So yeah, we’ve been focusing on it.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On if he enjoys playing away from home …

“It’s always good to get out of Lexington. It’s always fun to play at home in front of the best fans, but to play on the road, where everybody is against you, is going to be really cool as well.”

On what he knows about Texas Tech …

“Besides last year’s (NCAA Tournament) run, that’s probably the most thing I know. I know they’re in the Big 12, I know they’re in one of the tougher conferences. If you play in the Big 12, you’ve got to be a really good team. And I know they’re ranked as well. Really good team, well-coached, play hard.”

On the toughest defensive team UK has faced this season …

“Michigan State was really good, Louisville’s defense was really good, really physical. But I’m sure Texas Tech will be right up there with them. Just how hard they play, physical, tough and how they’re coached. We’ve been preparing for it all week.”

On how well-prepared the team is for another hostile environment …

“I think we’re really well-prepared. That’s why you prepare for these games, is to get ready for the tough environment. Going on the road, there’s just 12 guys that are on your bench, and a couple of coaches. I think we’ll be ready, it’s a tough challenge, but I think we’ll be ready.”

On how close the team is to being player driven …

“Pretty much, this whole week, (Calipari) has been talking about giving the keys to us. He wants us to be a player-driven team, kind of like last year. It kind of started when PJ (Washington) got on Ashton (Hagans) at the Auburn game and ever since then, we went on and it worked pretty well for us. I think the best teams are player driven because you can hold each other accountable and guys won’t get upset or anything like that. When your team becomes player driven, I think that the team can reach a really high potential.”

On if this team has had a player-driven moment this season …

“I think it was when Cal got ejected. We kind of had to, not really on our own because we had assistant coaches, but we kind of had to look each other in the eye and see if everybody was going to give everything they had, and they did.”

On his job defending Georgia’s Anthony Edwards

“For me, honestly, it was just trying to make it tough. He’s a really good player. I knew I wasn’t going to hold him to zero the whole game. He even banked one in. So, a really good player is not going to be held to zero the whole game. So, I was just trying to make everything tough, contest every shot that I could, just make it really hard for him.”

On being the defensive stopper …

“It’s good, but I think our defense is based on team defense, being in the gaps and helping each other. And that’s what’s got us this far, helping each other.”

On what he thinks about going to the free throw line late in games …

“I actually kind of look forward to it. Just a way to put the game away. Before every game, I visualize being on the line before the game ends and knocking down free throws. That’s really helped me out a lot. But really, just looking forward to icing the game and things like that is really a big key for me.”