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Calipari and Wildcats recap road win at Texas A&M

Momentum builds for Kentucky’s 49th SEC regular-season title.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Immanuel Quickley can now add the 30-Point Club to his resume for SEC Player of the Year, as the sophomore hit another career high in Kentucky’s 69-60 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday night in College Station.

Quickley was 8-for-12 from behind the three-point arc, also a personal high, as the sharp-shooting guard finished with 30 points and five rebounds to help the Wildcats improve to 23-5 overall (13-2) in the SEC with just three games remaining in the regular season against Auburn, Tennessee and Florida.

Kevin Knox is the last Kentucky player to score 30 points in the regular season, finishing with 34 in a win at West Virginia during the 2017-18 season. Quickley is also the first UK player to make eight three-pointers in a game since Malik Monk.

In addition to Quickley’s offensive fireworks, Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans also played solid, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectfully, and EJ Montgomery turned in one of his best game’s of the season with eight points and 10 rebounds against a physical Aggies team that held Nick Richards to just four points.

Kentucky led 36-27 at halftime and scored on its first two possessions of the second half on a quick basket by Maxey and a three pointer from Quickley to take its biggest lead of the game at 41-27. The Wildcats held on to that 14-point lead on three different occasions, including a Hagans free throw at the 16:53 mark (44-30) and again with 9:27 remaining on a Maxey dunk (52-38) to give Kentucky some cushion over the final eight minutes.

The Aggies fought back to cut the lead to 57-50 with 3:52 remaining, but Quickley and company simply would not be denied UK’s seventh straight victory.

The Wildcats return to action on Saturday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. ET with a chance to clinch their 49th SEC Regular Season Title against No. 15-ranked Auburn at Rupp Arena and Central Bank Center.

After the game, UK Coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss UK’s momentum heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Tigers, courtesy of UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On coaching against Buzz Williams…

”This kind of game, which you almost have to play random because of how they play.

Buzz has done a great job. He looks at the game and says, ‘We’re going to make it hard for the other team and if we’re making shots, we’re going to beat people.’ That’s how they won three in a row. I thought we did a pretty good job of guarding them, but in the second half they were making layups. We kept scoring to keep it at bay, but the big guys hurt us inside. But our guard play was fairly good. We’ll go from there.”

On how this A&M team compares to others he’s faced…

”He’s creating a culture is what he’s doing. I’ve seen games and tapes where he pulled guys out of the game like, ‘No, you’re not doing that here. That’s not happening here.’ And so now he’s trying to create a culture about what this is when he goes out and recruits and does what he does. That’s what Buzz does – he builds it. He creates some excitement. He gets kids that will compete and battle. They played. They did not give up.”

On if that was the kind of game he expected …

”Oh yeah. I was scared to death of this game. This was a trap game. I knew it. We had a couple trap games the week before that I knew would be hard, but they’re all—listen, every game we play in this league has been five or six or seven points. Every game. I mean, from top to bottom, I don’t care what your record is, we’re all within five or six points of each other. I mean, Vandy had us down at half twice and they’re down low. Georgia had us twice. Missouri had us. The one thing we have is when you have three point guards on the floor at one time, you’ve got a chance if your big guys will go. And EJ (Montgomery) was outstanding today. That’s as good as I’ve seen EJ play in a while. Really played good.”

On if he thought this could be a big game for Immanuel Quickley with the open corner because of the way Texas A&M plays defense …

”Yeah, we worked on it. I saw the Florida tape and I saw another game where that shot was there. They fully rotate. They’ve bought in to how they play. Now, late they rushed us and we had shot-clock (violations) or turnovers where you think it’s there but that guy is flying, so you better get it off. If you slowly try to shoot it, you’re not getting it off.”

On Quickley’s being on a roll and how helpful that is to have a guy like him …

”I said this – I haven’t said it down here in Texas: Every year I coach, one, you’re trying to go on a run of games so you can win X amount in a row. And the reason is, to win a national title, you’ve gotta know you can win six in a row. If you don’t win six in a row during your season, how in the world are you ever going to win six in a row in that tournament? The second thing is I try to get five or six guys who can score 25 in a game. So, we’ve had, EJ had 25, Ashton’s (Hagans) had 25, Tyrese (Maxey) has had 25, Nick (Richards) has had 25 and now Immanuel has had 25 back-to-back games. The reason is you’re going to get in the tournament and if someone gets hot for your team and they know they can do it because they’ve done it one time – or twice or three times – that guy may help you win and advance a game that you weren’t going to win. So, we’re just trying to bring a team together. We’re trying to be better defensively. We still turned it over too much, but that’s what this team does to you.”

On if there was talk in the huddle about getting Quickley the ball more because he was on fire …

”No. As a matter of fact, at halftime I wanted to choke him because we set up a play for – who was it in the corner? – Nate (Sestina) to shoot a 3 and he was wide open and he shot a ball. I went crazy. ‘Are you kidding me? Nate, did you say something?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, you must note have said it very loud because he just drove in and threw it at the rim.’ I said, ‘He was wide open.’ I want guys to play and I want them to feel the ability to go. We’re not a good team that, if there’s, like, their five gets caught on our two. ‘Well, let’s go at their five.’ We can’t play that way. Or their two gets caught on our four in the post. ‘Throw it in there!’ What’s our four do? Offensive foul. We can’t play that way. You know what you tell the four? ‘I’m shooting it, go rebound it. You’ve got a 6-2 guy on you.’ It’s much easier. Or, you’ve got that big guy, stay way wide because now we’re going to drive it and he can’t block it because he’s 30 feet out. How about that thought? That’s who we are as a team. When we get a chance to really bust this open, there were two plays back-to-back that that’s what we did and we turned it over both times. So, it’s a good lesson for these guys”

On how he thinks Tyrese Maxey played …

”He’s just playing OK. This was a hard game because he had to think on the run. You’re not just running plays; now you’ve got to make decisions. See, if the ball comes from that side of the court [looking to his left] – for all you Basketball Bennies – and it comes this way [to the right]. So it goes from that side of the court [left side] to this side [right side], you don’t drive back this way [right side] because the guy that passed it to you, his man is standing there. So where’s your man? Your main ain’t out here [to the right]. Your man is in there [to the left]. So when you catch it, you drive that way [to the right]. He drove middle eight times today on that play and I only said it after all seven, ‘You have to go the other way.’ Again, he’s all learning. He’s learning. He made a couple bit shots when we needed them. So, great win and great win for these kids.”

On downplaying Quickley’s big night …

”No, I’m not. He had 30 (points). It’s big. I love it. I mean, I don’t know what you want me to say. He made shots. He passed up Nate at halftime, but other than that.”

On not having a lot of players score 30 points in a game …

”Yeah, because I’ve had a lot of really good players, and one guy, it’s hard to have one guy shoot all the balls. How many did he (Quickley) shoot today? Nineteen ain’t too bad. You shoot 19 and get 30. Woo-hoo. Not bad. How about you take 42 shots and get 30? So here’s what happens for us: We have a lot of guys on the team that are making shots, but you know what? Here’s what’s great about this team: When he walked in that locker room, they went nuts because he was doing TV after. They went (nuts). That’s the thing about this group. When Nick has come up big, they go crazy. When EJ has come up big, they go crazy. There’s no on here—they’re cheering each other’s successes, and that’s a good sign. And I told them that. I said, ‘Look, you’re not going to get on many teams where everybody is happy with those other guys.’ It just doesn’t happen, man. Guys are all worried about themselves and their own futures and all that. It’s not happening with this group. They’re there for each other. And they’re even coaching each other. When I get on them, they get out there and say, ‘Just calm down.’ Like, they’re talking to each other, which is meaning they’re being empowered. They’re changing plays. Like I’m in a huddle, they say, ‘Why don’t you do this, Coach?’ And I go, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ So, they’re becoming empowered. But, like I said, long way to go. We’ve got three hard games.”

Sophomore Forward EJ Montgomery

On his near double-double and what got him going tonight…

”I just saw that they were trapping it, I know I had to step it up. Josh [Nebo] is a big defender on their team, trying to stop him, I thought I just had to step up.”

On the team’s chemistry…

”We have built the chemistry since the summer started. We mess with each other off the court and in the locker room if someone plays good, we will pour water on them, little stuff like that. Our chemistry is evolving each and every other day. I am glad that those are my brothers who I get to play with.”

Sophomore Guard Immanuel Quickley

On his performance tonight…

”I was a little hot, I guess. Teammates were finding me in good spots. Credit to god, just staying to my word. Teammates were finding me in a lot of open spots, credit to them. Coaches put me in a good situation to have me be successful.”

On his ability to connect the threes on open corners…

”We worked on it pretty much after the last game, that was the first thing we worked on. We knew [A&M] left open corners, we watched a lot of film on it. Just being ready for that, credit to the scouting report.”

On tonight’s physical game…

”They were fouling but EJ [Montgomery] just kept working hard. It was a real physical game, Nick [Richards] and Nate [Sestina] took charges. I am really proud of my guys. We had to come and match their energy because they bring a lot of energy.”