clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Joel Justus & Wildcats preview Vanderbilt

The Dores gave the Cats all they could handle in the first meeting.

Joel Justus Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats complete their two-game Tennessee trip Tuesday when they face the Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Cats are coming off a big win over the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, and they’ll now look to complete the season sweep of Vanderbilt after previously beating the Dores 71-62 in Rupp Arena two weeks ago. It was a game that saw the Dores lead 35-28 at halftime and 52-51 with nine minutes left before the Cats ultimately pulled away for a hard-fought win.

Ahead of the game, assistant coach Joel Justus and select players met with the media to preview Tuesday’s action. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics:

Assistant Coach Joel Justus

On the upcoming game against Vanderbilt …

“I think that when you play the way that they play – and they space the floor – they do a great job of moving the ball, moving people and getting to their spots. I think you’ve seen how they played in Rupp Arena. I think how you saw them play against LSU. They’ve got the ability to space the floor. They’ve got great guard play in Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. that can get by your initial line of defense, which they did against us here a little bit. When they get paint touches, you have to collapse, and that leaves shooters open. I think a big thing when you play a team like that is you just can’t give them early open looks. It’s something that we talk about to where they are in rhythm with their feet, where they’re in rhythm with their hands, where they’re in rhythm with their eyes, to where they are going to feel good about shooting the basketball.”

On the key to defending the 3 …

“I think that its starts on the ball when you have good on-the-ball defenders that can keep the ball in front of you. Problems happen defensively whenever teams penetrate that initial line of defense, and now you’re in tags, you’re in rotations, and now you’re helping to where then teams drive and kick, and now you’re playing in a scramble mode. I think the amount of possessions, the amount of ball reversals really lead to that for good shooting teams and good passing teams. I think we did a good job of that on Saturday in Knoxville. Tennessee, I think, was sixth in assisted field goals in the country and we did a pretty good job of containing the initial penetration to where that limits ball reversal for 3s.”

On if Immanuel Quickley just doesn’t show up ever …

“Any of our guys can have an off night. That’s one thing that we all have to remember. I think fans have to remember that these are people; these aren’t machines. They’re allowed to play really well. They’re allowed to not play to their best. I think the thing about Immanuel, taking your words – “not show up” – I think Immanuel shows up every single night. I think he’s a guy that competes and he’s a guy who’s focused. He’s a guy that’s driven. Now, if shots don’t fall, sometimes that’s the way the game is, but he’s going to be a guy that’s engaged in huddles. He going to be a guy that’s talking, that’s touching, that is ready to play. Now whether he plays to the best of his ability like we’ve seen really since Christmas, obviously we’ll have to wait and see game to game. I think that we’re a different team, which we can all go back and look and see how he played against Utah and Ohio State and that wasn’t as well as he’s played since then, but even in those games, he was engaged, he was ready to play, he fought, and now obviously he’s being more aggressive offensively and making shots.”

On the luxury of having a fourth guard like Johnny Juzang step …

“I think Johnny is a guy that has put time in, that has kind of listened to Cal and always said that you have to be ready when your name is called or when your opportunity is given. He is a guy that has put in that time, that’s put in the work, but has also stayed confident, stayed hungry, and obviously we need that. You can’t go into a season and only expect four or five, six guys to drive you. And especially if you’re going to win the SEC Tournament, where you have to play three games in three days, you’re going to have to have some depth, especially on the perimeter. You look back to our game vs. Wofford last year in the NCAA Tournament and we had a guy come off the bench that was in a reserve role and played extremely well and gave us some minutes. So, you’ve always got to have to have a team full of guys that are ready to go, and I think Johnny is much more confident in that role, and that’s a good thing.”

On the key to extending 10-point leads during the game instead of allowing the opposing team to creep back in …

“I think it’s experience again of learning to play on the road with a lead, learning to play at home with a lead. You’ve got still combinations of guys playing longer stretches. You know, and it’s young guys being in certain situations like we were the other day where you miss the 12-minute timeout, play for an extended period of time, and we got caught with a lineup that was on the floor that had to play a ton of minutes and you had guys that were gassed. you give up a couple different offensive rebounds, you give up a late-clock 3 and the lead goes from, I guess, what was it, maybe 10 to four in a span of three possessions. Luckily then you get three straight full timeouts and you get a chance to catch your breath and the we run away at the end. But anytime you have young people, you have guys that are learning to play with each other in certain situations. You’re going to have those periods of the game that go up down. What we all can’t get lost on is that there is 13 guys on the other side of the floor that are preparing to play well, that are working hard in practice and are being coached by tremendous basketball coaches that are going to put them in situations to succeed as well.”

On Ashton Hagan’s turnovers going up over the last few games …

“Ashton is a driven, competitive young man that wants to do well first and foremost. And sometimes Ashton comes in and just is trying to make the right play be perfect instead of just taking what’s there and getting our team into some offense or taking a shot. You know, he’s trying to get guys involved, and I really think he’s trying to do what Coach is asking him to do. He’s trying to do what our team is asking him to do. And he wants to win more than anything. Sometimes it’s unlucky, sometimes it’s him forcing it, sometimes it’s the fact that e haven’t had guys play well when they’ve had their opportunities and now he is playing extended minutes when he should be coming out and grabbing a quick blow. I don’t think it concerns us; I think it’s just another opportunity for him to learn and grow. I mean, he’s still a young basketball player in the grand scheme of things, and for us it gives other guys and opportunity to step up and play well, and thankfully for us they have.”

On if Hagans is trying too hard …

”I think everybody at times tries too hard. I think that goes back to the character of the people that we recruit. I think it talks about they are coached here. Coach Cal is unapologetic that we teach winning basketball here. We find that in the recruiting process. Guys want to win. You don’t come to Kentucky unless you want to win. Ashton is one of them. Immanuel Quickley is one of them. Really, everybody in that locker room wants to win or they wouldn’t be here. As a staff, we all want to win. And that’s what’s No. 1 for us is teaching our guys how to play winning basketball because if you play winning basketball you are going to play basketball for a long time.”

On Keion Brooks Jr. grabbing a career-high nine rebounds against Tennessee ...

”He was active. Keion is an active, live body that doesn’t quit the first time he’s hit. He had a little period of time where he was playing well and then got a little bit sick. I think we talked about that. Now he’s back feeling 100%. He is practicing really well. He is an active, live body, like I said, that brings tremendous energy. Once again, every time he plays, every minute, just gains experience. That is really just what we need for everybody, but for guys like Johnny and guys like Keion, it’s big for us moving forward.”

On how often the team forgets the other team Kentucky plays ...

”I think that it is pretty well documented by us, by Coach Cal that we’re that team that we are the most worried about every single day. We are not as worried about the other team, but the SEC is a tremendous conference with great coaches, great home courts, and it’s a big deal when Kentucky comes to town. I think you see teams sometimes play uncharacteristic for how they have played in the past because they really want to beat Kentucky more than they want to play well individually. I think that teams are going to do things, they’re going to play well, they’re going to play harder, they’re going to play more together than they have maybe in previous games. I think that’s why Coach is so dead set on teaching our guys how to play winning basketball for 40 minutes, and this group is starting to really feel that and come together, and I think that’why you see us playing better.”

On this team’s great free-throw shooting …

“I think we have guys that are confident. I think that they have had demonstrated performance of success making free throws in games. And that’s really the biggest thing is when you make them in games, you’re really going to feel confident stepping up. I think that when you look at Nick Richards, you talk about Ashton Hagans, you talk about Immanuel Quickley – guys that have the ball and have been in big-time situations – they’re going to be comfortable. But I also think you look at guys that have come into this program or this team this year, they have been in situations where they’ve had to take big shots whether it be in a grassroots game or a high school game. I think you see guys that are playing with more and more confidence daily.”

On Vanderbilt being a team that’s maybe figuring it out and becoming more confident …

“I think they’re a team that has another very good coach, a good staff that has a tremendous wealth of experience at the highest level. I think they’re getting a group of folks that haven’t had a tremendous amount of success to believe that if they play hard and they play together that good things will happen. And when you’re focused on that, similar to the way we are, I think the results take care of themselves. When you’re coaching a group of young people, you don’t talk about wins and losses; you talk about your preparation, you talk about building your confidence, you talk about going into every single possession to try and get a good result. And regardless of that result, you head onto the next possession. Like I said, that’s something we do with our guys and guys come here to be coached that way, and I think you see that with, not only with Vanderbilt, but you see that across the country with teams that are getting better.”

On what the team is doing for John Calipari’s birthday …

“I don’t know if I have a god answer for that [media laughs]. I wish I did. I think we’re going to practice, and then we’re going to head to Nashville. I think he gets to have dinner with his daughter (Erin) maybe tonight, I’m not sure, but I would imagine that. But other than that I’m sure we’ll watch some film of us not playing well against Vanderbilt and some film of us playing well against Vanderbilt [media laughs].”

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

On the atmosphere at Tennessee …

“It was fun. They had a great crowd, a great atmosphere. I love playing on the road, going into different and tough environments just to see what we’re made of and I always enjoy playing on the road. They had a great crowd.”

On his performance Saturday …

“I just wanted to go in and do what was asked of me and defend, rebound and then just make plays I know I can make. It was kind of a tough situation with so much foul trouble, so I knew I was going to have be relied on a little more. I just went out there and did anything I could to help us win. Rebounding was part of it and also defending. I really feel like I’m starting to come into my own and I’m enjoying it.”

On the postgame locker room …

“It felt great. Johnny (Juzang) also had a great game. Me and Johnny just talk amongst ourselves, us being roommates and stuff – rooming on the road. We just talk about when we come in, try to bring the energy level up and keep it at the same energy level as the first group. I feel like we did a great job of that in Tennessee.”

On how much of a setback his illness was …

“I’m not going to blame it on me being sick or anything, but I wasn’t feeling well for a decent period of time. I gotta fight through that and continue to do what I can do on the floor. I feel like I’m starting to feel a lot better and I feel like I’m starting to get back into my groove like I was before.”

On Vandy …

“We play in a very tough league and any night you can be beaten. We can’t try to look past Vandy. They’re playing really well right now, just beat LSU. We gotta come in with a focus and a mindset to attack and be aggressive and we should do fine.”

On what he plans to do for Coach Cal on his birthday …

“I haven’t given him a present yet. I’ll probably give him a big ol’ hug when we see him right before practice. It’s his birthday; hopefully he’s in a great mood, which he should be, and I’m just thankful and appreciative for everything he’s done for me.”

On playing at Vandy …

“They’re playing well right now. They just beat LSU and our league is tough. You can get beat by anybody in our league any night. So we just gotta come in with an attack mindset, continue to be the aggressor and not let them get confidence early throughout the game so now they think they can beat us. We gotta just come out and stay aggressive throughout the whole game and we should be fine.”

#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G

On his recent turnovers …

“Just playing my game, it happens. Just leave that in the past whenever that happens and try to fix it the next game. But, others are playing good right now, so that’s all we’re focusing on and trying to keep getting better.”

On if he’s trying too hard instead of making the easy play …

“No, I wouldn’t say trying too hard. I would say just being too fast sometimes, rushing a lot of things. Just small things like that that I can fix.”

On if he feels pressure to be perfect every night …

“I would say I should have to be good every night because of this team. There’s others out there that do the same, like Johnny (Juzang), he stepped up when I was playing bad. And that’s what we’re going to need out of a couple of other guys to get a higher seed. But we’re getting there, I’m getting there, trying to get better each and every day.”

On how the turnovers look on film …

“It looks bad. But at the same time, it doesn’t look as bad because you can see what you’re actually doing and what you can actually fix and then you see how fast you’re really going when you can actually slow down and get us into something. Once I watch film, I just try to look at the mistakes and try to fix that and talk to my coaches and see what they think about it.”

On how good the team can be if all four guards were to click at once …

“It’s scary because one of us can have a bad game and somebody else can play real good if we all weren’t on the same page that night. For the guards to be on the same page, it could be scary.”

On seeing Vanderbilt for the second time …

“Actually, since that game they played us here, they’ve been on a little roll. They’re going to come out and give us their best shot. We’ve just got to be prepared, stay locked in with each other, go out there and play them like it’s any other game and just stay locked in.”

On another road game …

“Every road game is a tough environment. They’re going to have a sold-out crowd. We’ve just got to go out there with each other, talk with each other and we’ll be good.”

On how the team reacts when the opponents hit a number of 3-point shots …

“You can’t hang your head down when they hit. Just try to keep it moving, get the ball out, get it up the court, just try to keep going. We play against a lot of good teams, they have a lot of good shooters and against us, they can hit anything.”