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Calipari & Wildcats talk Auburn, Ashton Hagans & more

The play of Hagans has been a major talking point lately. Should UK rest him?

Hagans Greg Goins - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are set for a Saturday showdown with the Auburn Tigers inside historic Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview the game that could decide who wins the SEC regular-season championship. Calipari also talked about the play of starting point guard Ashton Hagans, who has developed a major turnover problem in recent weeks.

Calipari actually discussed possibly resting Hagans, who’s been banged up throughout the season, physically and mentally.

“How do we get this to where you’re back to one or two turnovers a game and still getting your seven assists, six assists? How do we do it? Is it step you off the court for a game and let you have a couple days of practice off and a game off and then come back fresh? I don’t know. That’s an option, which I’ve talked to him about.”

Hagans himself admitted he’s had injuries to his thigh, ankle, both shoulders, and his back. However, he’s not about to take a rest day with so much on the line for his team.

“I could use one (a break), but I wouldn’t want to. I would always want to be out there on the court to try to keep winning, try to keep doing something good, try to keep this thing on a roll.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari and his Cats had to say via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On what Kentucky needs to do different to make sure Auburn doesn’t “manhandle” them again …

“Well, when you watch it, you better play lower than them and they get down. You better know that they’ll wedge you under the goal or they’ll, on block outs, they’re not afraid to bump and do stuff. Their guard play, they run downhill, we run downhill. We’re playing kind of similar in that. (Austin) Wiley’s been playing great. He’s rebounding offensively. Had seven against us last time. I think he has as many offensive rebounds as he has defensive. So, he’s playing great. (Samir) Doughty’s hurt us every time we’ve played him and (Isaac) Okoro’s back, so they’re full strength and they’re a good team.”

On the difference Isaac Okoro makes for Auburn …

“He gives them one more guy. He’s a downhill runner and he’s an active rebounder. He can go left or right. It’s not like he’s just driving right. He’s a talented length guy and he’s a good defender, too.”

On the team’s good chemistry and if it’s different than teams before …

“I don’t know if its chemistry. What you have is a bunch of guys that, all the clutter that’s around each of them – the anxiety, whatever you want to call it that’s there – they’re able to push it aside and really be happy for each other. That’s a little bit unusual. Whether it’s EJ (Montgomery) or whoever, Johnny (Juzang) or Keion (Brooks Jr.) or whoever plays well, the other guys are ecstatic for them. Even in practice when a guy’s playing well they’ll tell him, ‘That’s who you are, man. Go do that.’ So, the one thing for a while when we were still figuring this out, they weren’t holding each other accountable. They wanted it all to be what I do, and I said, ‘It can’t be that way. You guys have to do some of this.’ When you have that kind of relationship, now you can talk to each other on the other side. They know they care about one another and they know they want each other to play well, so if they say something it has a different impact.”

On Ashton Hagans potentially being rested or not …

“I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I told him, like he’s turning it over. His decision making, there’s a risk. I need him to be aggressive, I need him to attack, but if there’s an 80-20, 70-30% chance of success, do it; 50-50, 60-40, don’t do it. That tells me maybe he’s a little mentally tired, and so my thing is that. How do we get this to where you’re back to one or two turnovers a game and still getting your seven assists, six assists? How do we do it? Is it step you off the court for a game and let you have a couple days of practice off and a game off and then come back fresh? I don’t know. That’s an option, which I’ve talked to him about.”

On what winning the league would mean in the big picture …

“It means you won the league, I guess. Our whole thing is, how do we get the best seed we can get? If that means win games, just keep winning so you have a good seed. That’s the whole thing here. It’s not— conference tournament, I know people get mad and our fans go there. It’s almost an obligation because so many of them go to the tournament, but the whole point for me is, that tournament you’re playing three games back-to-back-to-back. I mean, what does it really do? Well, if you’ve got to win the games to get a good seed, win the games. But, the reality of it is, our season is about building toward March, being prepared for every kind of team that we can play. Building every player on your team because you don’t know who’s going to step up in a game. We now have the five guys that have scored 25. Can we get a sixth? It would be nice to have one more just so you know because you don’t know what’s going to happen in this thing. And that’s the whole idea is how do we advance? How do we give ourselves a chance?”

On his reaction to Malik Monk’s suspension in the NBA …

“I haven’t talked to him, so I don’t know all the details. A little bit surprised and feel bad for him, but a lot of times things happen for a reason and it makes you square yourself away and makes yourself evaluate. And again, as I say this, I don’t know any of the particulars, and I have not talked to him. I let his family know we’re here for him if he needs us or if they need us in any way. They know that we’re here for him.”

#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G

On his increased turnovers lately …

“It happened, but that’s all I’m going to say today. I’m not going to really get into all that. I got great energy coming my way and that’s just going to be that way.”

On the extent of his thigh bruise …

“It was actually hurting. I woke up, just had a knot. Just coming with (trainer) Geoff (Staton), he was getting me right. But you know, it was bruised. Treatment got it better and I kept working on it, but it was hurting.”

On how many injuries he has had this season …

“A lot. Thigh, ankle, shoulder, other shoulder, back. But, you know, it happens with the game of basketball.”

On their emotions after their last two games vs. Auburn …

“Just stay locked in, take it as any other game. Just go out there, compete. It’s going to be a tough game. We just gotta go out there and fight, play with each other and just try to win.”

On whether they have anything to prove vs. Auburn …

“No, we don’t have too much to prove to (anybody). Just gotta go out there, play as a team and just try to get the win and do something good.”

On how much Coach Cal brings up toughness …

“You hear him talk about it all the time, but it’s true. We just gotta go out there, play aggressive, fight and just stick together. They’re going to come out there, it’s going to be a dogfight and we just gotta bring that energy back.”

On the possibility of clinching the SEC tomorrow …

“It’s been brought up, but we just gotta take it a game at a time. We got the SEC Tournament coming up. Got the NCAA Tournament coming up. Those are big things ahead. We got a big game that we gotta focus on Saturday and we just gotta try to lock in.”

On what it would mean to win the SEC …

“It would just another step, but it would also be a great goal that we come across. We gotta try to win a tournament and try to win another tournament. That’s just the goals we got and what we’re trying to work for.”

On what he would do if Coach Cal asked him to sit out a game to rest and whether he would listen …

“Of course. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to do something special. So, if that’s what it takes, then I will do it. I’m a big part of this team. Immanuel (Quickley), Nick (Richards), EJ (Montgomery), either one of us, I believe if they were told that they would do the same. We’re trying to something real good.”

On whether he needs a break before the NCAA Tournament …

“I could use one, but I wouldn’t want to. I would always want to be out there on the court to try to keep winning, try to keep doing something good, try to keep this thing on a roll.”

On the pride he takes in defense and being recognized for it …

“It’s a blessing knowing that’s one of your gifts and you try to keep doing that and keep doing it just to know it brings energy on that side of the floor and it gets your teammates going and it brings energy for them and they just be active on the defensive side. I just try to keep doing that and try to get out and get some points.”

On Richards and Quickley getting buzz for postseason awards …

“Like everybody said, Pick Nick, Pick Quick. Whichever one you pick, it’s them. No one else. We want the best for them. We joke about it every time. All the coaches are joking about it, like Pick Nick for president, Pick Quick for president. We just want the best for them and wish they get the award.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On how the team will try to be different against Auburn this time …

“I think we’re going to come out and try to be the aggressor. Definitely start the game with a lot of energy and try to keep that up. I think rebounding was a big thing for us the last game, so that’s a big area of improvement. I think it was just a tough night the last time we played them. I don’t think it will happen twice.”

On if Coach Calipari has been working with him one-on-one …

“Yeah, he’s been grabbing a few of us after practice. Just spending some individual time with us.”

On whether or not revenge is a motivating factor in Saturday’s game …

“No, I wouldn’t say so. They’re one of the top teams in our league and they’re a real solid team. So, it’s a good game, one that we’re focused for, but I don’t think it’s revenge or anything like that.”

On what potentially winning the SEC regular season title means to the team …

“That’s definitely a big accomplishment. Something we want to do. It’s not the angle. We still have a long journey past this Saturday. So, a lot of games to play after that, but it’s definitely a big accomplishment.”

On if there have been any changes in practices as the season has transpired …

“Yeah, as you get down the stretch of the season, practices might get a little bit shorter. Can’t do as much, playing as many games, but nothing has really changed throughout SEC play. Every day we still go in, trying to get better, working hard and pushing it. So, I wouldn’t say anything has changed recently.”

On the first game against Auburn and what went well …

“I think that just points to the capability of this team and the talent that all of these guys have. To be able to play not so great of a game and still be in the game or win the game. I think this team, we’ve got a really good will to win, so that will keep us in games like that. You’ve just got to finish. It was a tough night, it’s in the past. That’s just a tribute to what this team can do.”

On what he remembers about the first game against Auburn …

“It was a great environment down there. You could feel the energy in the place. It’s a big game, two top teams, so you could feel that energy.”

On what it would mean to win the SEC …

“It’s a great accomplishment. It’s not the end goal and there’s a lot of games to play after. But it’s something we’d definitely something we’d all be happy about and something you’ve got to celebrate.”

On what makes Auburn’s defense challenging …

“They rebound really well. They play hard, they play physical. So that’s things you have to go into the game aware of and try to be the aggressor and make the first punch.”

On how motivated the team is right now …

“We take every game the same. We prepare thoroughly for everybody. But definitely, there is that extra level of focus and guys locked in for this game. It’s an important game, a big game, I think everyone is pretty locked in.”