clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

John Calipari and Wildcats preview Ole Miss

Ole Miss looks for its first win in Rupp Arena in the 2000s, while Kentucky looks to continue building toward a deep postseason run.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are back in action today as the surging Ole Miss Rebels invade Rupp Arena.

The Cats are starting to click at the right time of the season, as they’ve won six of their last seven games and are now in good shape to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish.

The Rebels, on the other hand, were a bit of a disaster early on, as they began the season 10-11 with six double-digit losses, including a 78-37 shellacking by a 12-12 Oklahoma State squad.

But never count out a Kermit Davis-coached team, as he’s finally got his guys trending in the right direction on the heels of a three-game winning streak with wins over Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State by an average of 18.7 points.

Can the hot-shooting Rebels continue their surge with a win in Rupp Arena for the first time since 1998, or will the Cats hold serve and remain unbeaten at home in SEC play?

On Friday, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview today’s action. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

Opening statement …

“Dance Blue, one of the great events they hold on this campus. I’m hoping I’m in a good spirit to go by there. We have a game that day. But what a great thing for students, another thing to learn on a college campus. Coming together for something bigger than you that you can move the needle, but you’ve got to do it with a group of people. So that event is the 29th and I’m excited for the kids.”

On seeing the guard’s play more downhill in the next game …

“Maybe, maybe. I’m just seeing everybody else do it to us. That’s how they are trying to play. We’ve got some things that we are doing that can lead us into that, but the other side of it is, we’ve got this kid on the team that, jeez, when you throw him the ball good stuff happens for us. What’s the kid’s name? Nick Richards. So, in a way, you want to say let’s play to our strengths. Our strengths may be different than their strengths, but when you are in games seeing people do certain things, you say, ‘Well I wonder if we can do a little bit of that.’ ”

On telling the team to play through Nick Richards …

“Well, what I said was, ‘Alright, they made eight 8s. We had some bad rotations. We missed five one-footers. This is what the score should look like. Now, let’s go and put this ball in his hands a little bit and play through him.’ Because I didn’t think he got the ball enough in the first half. There’s one thing they don’t forget: Their own opportunities to shoot the ball. They don’t forget those, but sometimes you’ll forget the other guys’ opportunities and that’s usually why you have a coach that says, ‘OK, let’s get back in line here.’ ”

On if Nick Richard’s asks for the ball …

“He does. EJ (Montgomery) does too, which I love. So, he’ll say it. And they respect him and they know. He’s a great free-throw shooter. He can make 15-footers. You can throw to him in the post. Last game, they tried to trap; he’s the one who passed it out and we made plays on the weak side. He’s getting better and better.”

On his impression of Breein Tyree

“Whew. The last three games he’s averaging like 38 points a game. He was out a few games, which they lost, understandably. He makes everybody on the court better. He defends. He tries to steal. He’s good. In our league, how many of our guys are like him? Not many. He’s playing well and somebody that we better keep an eye on.”

On how Nick Richards is handling being a focal point …

“He’s good. He’s building his own confidence through demonstrated performance. He’s not delusional on the court. Anytime he starts to slip he’s got a whole staff all over him. Like, I may walk in the gym and he’s on the treadmill and I’m thinking, wow, isn’t that great, he’s out there conditioning. No. He came in half speed and Kenny (Payne) put him on the treadmill. ‘Alright, you don’t want to do this? Get on this treadmill.’ We’re not letting up on him. We’re not letting up on Tyrese (Maxey). We’re trying to hold Ashton (Hagans) accountable. They’re all responding. We’ve got a great group of kids. My message yesterday: I showed them a place late in the game where Ashton went over and he and EJ were laughing and Ashton kind of grabbed EJ by the head and they were laughing with each other. I said look, ‘This is a team that you care about one another. Play for your brother more than your playing for you. Play for each other. You should feel a sense of responsibility in how you play, not for you, (but) for them. Because, when you leave us and you think every team is this way, good luck. They’re not all this way. You have a team full of guys.’ I said, ‘Last game we were at Tennessee, every one of you in this room were happy for Keion (Brooks Jr.) and for Johnny (Juzang). Do you understand that it’s not always like that? And so, play for each other. Don’t worry about you. Just know I need to be respectful of all this stuff, and I have to make sure I understand I’m playing for my teammates as more than I’m even playing for me.’ ”

On getting the bigs to play like Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery

“Part of it is, they’ve gotta get in the greatest shape of your life. You have to. If you don’t, you surrender, and the minute you start surrendering, you have no confidence. It’s like a boxer going in. ‘I’m ready!’ And after you start your arms come down and you get punched in the head, well, you now have no confidence and you may be on your back too. You have no confidence. That’s the first step to fighting. If you want to battle, the first battle you’ve gotta win: the battle against yourself. Like, when you want to let go of the rope, when you think I’ve to stop. The first battle is battle you, and when you defeat you, and you beat you it’s a little easier going and trying to beat another guy. So that’s the part of it, and it takes guys time. How about this? To do that is really hard and really painful, so will you test other ways of doing it before you go to that? You do everything you can to stay away from that pain and that work and that sweat. ‘Let me just shoot more balls. Let me shoot jump shots. How about you play me more minutes and I’ll try to pass? I know I can’t do this so let me just be a passer.’ ‘Well, you got twice as many turnovers as assists. I don’t think that’s a good one either.’ [Big sigh to express frustration.] ‘You mean, I got to do get in shape and the pain and the sweat and the hurt?’ ‘Looks like it.’ [Big sigh to express frustration.]. ‘OK, let’s go.’ I mean, they’re going to do everything they can to see, and sometimes they get enabled. People around them. ‘If he just let you shoot more. ‘If he just played you more. If he let you do what he lets him do.’ There’s no, ‘Get in the greatest shape of your life, then get on the court and build your own self-image, your own self-esteem, your own self-confidence through – what Nick has done – demonstrated performance.’ Now, he goes in the game and he doesn’t work, he doesn’t play low, the other guy plays lower than him and beats him to every ball, and now you say, ‘What happened to Nick?’ He tested the water. The other stuff is really hard to do. He was trying to do it the easy way. There no easy way.”

On having guys who can shoot free throws in a critical-game situation …

“Well, I think we have a lot of guys that can make them and down the stretch I would feel pretty good. The issue for us is that we’re playing with three point guards. Our decision-making late in the game should be better than anybody else’s team in the country. It should be. Now, it hasn’t been until the last few games, but why wouldn’t it be? If you’re a point guard, are you trying to make the hardest play? Are you not seeing what the game is? If we get something easy, fine, if not we’re going to work the clock? Are you not thinking with us? Are you just exchanging baskets? Are you not thinking basketball? Part of that is us and me as a coach training them to finish these games off, and it takes time. This is all – talking to a coach today – this is all process. They all have to go through it. Let me tell you the other thing they have to do: They have to fail – and sometimes miserably. Because they have to learn. Am I going to blame everybody and be delusional or are the people around me going to blame everybody? Or am I going to take account of what just happened and own it and then change it? And then as you go through this sport, when it happens again, you know you can do this. I can work through this vs. it happens for the first time and then all of a sudden you just crumble and then you can’t play. They’ve got to fail some. I mean, it’s an important part of the process.”

On Hagans’ decision-making last game …

“Made easy plays. He wasn’t trying to do crazy things. He was more disciplined. He also subbed himself, he played 31 minutes instead of trying to play 37 minutes, which means in that extra five or six minutes, that’s when the play comes way back both defensively and offensively. So, you know, I love the fact that he subbed himself.”

On the NCAA hearing in Congress …

“I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know they had a hearing, I didn’t know who’s done what so it’s hard for me to comment other than I keep coming back to: If you do right by the kids, you’re doing right. There’s no level playing field. That’s done. I just read today that Ohio State’s athletic budget was $210 million – $210 million. I believe Sacred Heart in Connecticut, who’s in the same Division I, I think their total budget for athletics was $9 million. Let me explain: There is no level playing field so throw that away. Let’s—how do we take care of the kids? And when you say that and if you’re talking name and likeness, you’re talking 50 kids around the country, 100 kids. So, you don’t want to throw everything out for 100 kids, but it is going to be different. When they leave campus, do they take stuff with them? Do you let them use stuff for their parents to travel? I mean, what? Listen, here’s what I would say: I have one degree. Barely got it. One. I was the first Prop 48 coach. They made me sit my first year, Said, ‘Not smart enough.’ Let’s get in a room, you got 15 people, 20 people, with three college degrees – sometimes four. You can’t get in a room and figure this thing out? There’s no level playing field. Don’t throw out the baby for the … [Media: Bath water]. How about that one? I swear to you I could get people like me – very dumb people – in a room and we could come up with something. Right now, I got one issue: I got to coach against Mississippi Saturday so I have no time to think about all this stuff, but if that was my job and that’s what I would do, come up with some ideas. I don’t want to comment. I want the NCAA to say, ‘Here’s what we’re planning on doing.’ Then I’ll comment. Let them go through the process of doing it. At the end of the day, I told you all the tea leaves, that I think it’s going to end up in Congress. It’s the only way that it will work because you can’t have 50 states having 50 different laws that oversee college. It won’t work. So, now let’s get back to how we got to do this.”

On why he went back to the suit-and-tie look …

“I can’t remember. I think my wife told me she liked the open-collar look, so I said, ‘Really?’ So then I started wearing a tie. Happy Thanksgiving. No! [Media laughs]. What is it? What is this? Merry Christmas? What are we in? [Media: Valentine’s Day.] Oh, happy Valentine’s Day, Ellen!”

#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F

On Ole Miss’ Breein Tyree

“He’s a great scorer. We just have go out there and try to stop them.”

On the key to UK playing solid defense of late …

“We just work on it every day in practice. We have great guards to go out there, stop the other team and the bigs are just trying to step it up. We’re all just trying to out there and fight.”

On playing a home game Saturday …

“It’s good. I miss playing at Rupp in front of the fans and things like that.”

On which of his teammates have big Valentine’s plans …

“Nick (Richards), Ashton (Hagans), a couple guys, they got something big planned tonight.”

On having good free-throw shooters at guard …

“It’s a big help. Those guys, they rarely miss. They practice every day, and just when it comes to crunch time like that you know they’re going to go to the line and hit it.”

On his free-throw shooting …

“I’m working on it. Last game, I hit four in a row. I’m trying to step it up to be like them.”

On his Valentine’s plans …

“Not really. We got the team dinner tonight, so the guys are my Valentines tonight.”

On Nick Richards …

“Nick’s my guy. He’s been doing great. He’s been putting in a lot of work and it’s showing out there on the court.”

On whether Richards has made him better …

“Yes, definitely. We don’t really go against each other much at practice, but we’re building that chemistry and just passing to each other, just making each other better out on the court.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On how he feels the season is going for him and the team …

“I think my season is going pretty good. I think for us, as a team, I think we’re moving in the right direction to become that team that we want to be in March. We’re getting better every day, especially in practice. Off the court, we’re building a bond, building chemistry, together as players. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

On if he demands the ball when the team needs him …

“Whatever the play call is that Coach wants us to do, I just do it. He wants me to be more demanding of the basketball, I understand that, but some of my teammates are really good scorers. I have three point guards on the court. They know when to get me the ball in the right situations and I trust them.”

On if it’s hard to demand the ball…

“It’s not difficult. I know when to pick my spots. I know when to be aggressive in the post. There are also times on the court where I’ll tell them, ‘Next three plays, let’s go to me,’ or EJ will come up to them and say, ‘Next three plays, let’s go to me,’ or Ashton will come up to us and tell us, ‘Next three plays, we’re going to go all pick-and-roll.’ We just do stuff like that.”

On how hard it is to not get carried away with his accomplishments so far this season …

“Just being humble. Just being the person I know I can be. I grew up in a family that taught me how to be humble both on and off the court. My coaches, they do a really good job on that. They talk to me about it all the time. My teammates, they treat me the same way no matter if I had a bad season or if I’m having a good season. I think it’s just the people you hang around with that’s going to keep you like that.”

On his relationship with the UK guards …

“It’s all about trust, to be honest. I trust Ashton to make the right decision coming off pick and rolls. I trust Immanuel (Quickley) or Tyrese (Maxey) to do that. We all trust EJ to, when he gets the ball in the post, to make the right decisions. Just as much as they trust me to go get rebounds and block shots for them, having their back when they get beat on the dribble. I think it’s just a level of trust that we have for each other.”

On what it means to him to be on a national player of the year watch list …

“It’s a blessing, just to be acknowledged to be one of the best players in college basketball. To say that I could win a national award is a complete blessing. It’s just me working my hardest just to try to win that award right now.”