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John Calipari & Wildcats preview Tennessee

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The Cats and Vols are set to face off in Knoxville.

Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers renew their border rivalry Saturday when the two teams face off in Knoxville.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview Round 1 of Cats vs. Vols. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On why its so difficult to win on the road at Tennessee …

“Jeez, we’ve won some down there. I took a Memphis team in there and won. I think a couple of our teams here won. How many? [Media: Three. You’re 3-6.] Wow. It’s not great, but it’s not 0-9. Anytime I’ve been in that building, it’s packed and it’s like a game and it’s a significant game. This one will be. They’re a physical team. They play well. They’re well coached. They run their stuff. Defensively, they’ll grind you. They’ll press you. They’ll deny you. He (Rick Barnes) does a little bit of everything. It’ll be a hard challenge for us.”

On the parity in the league after Vanderbilt beat LSU …

“That one, I didn’t watch the game. But we got the score and it was 74-70 with 11 minutes to go. I’m like, what are they going to score? A hundred and 50? Whatever it ended up. Tony (Barbee) had watched it and just said that you can’t fall asleep on Vandy because if they make shots, (you’re in trouble). And I told you guys. The games they lost they were 0 for 25, 3 for 26. Now all of the sudden they make 12, 13 3s, they can beat anybody in our league. We got out of the gym alive when they came here. They made eight 3s in the first half. They hadn’t made eight 3s in three, four games prior to that. But that’s how things kind of swing.”

On Dontaie Allen and if there are any developments after saying Tuesday he may consider playing him …

“I’m not sure he’s ready yet. He’s going hard and he’s never gone this hard. Now, we just have to see what kind of shape he’s in. I asked Kenny (Payne) and he said, ‘I don’t think he’s ready yet.’ But we’ll see.”

On if there’s a timetable to make a decision on Allen …

“We don’t know how this all is going to play out. So, I don’t want to say. But I don’t want to do is use a year of his eligibility for no reason. I mean, there’s got to be some reason we’re doing it.”

On if he’d be in favor of the football rule of being able to play redshirt players a few games during their redshirt season …

“I kind of like that. I kind of like what they do. I’m not sure, does football like it? [Reporters: They love it.] Then I would say we probably should do it. Football loves it, let’s (do it).“

On if matters to save a year of eligibility for Allen given all his players who have left early for the professional ranks …

“Well, it’s not about me and it’s not about the program. It’s about him. If you want to do what’s right for us, you stick him in a game and you hope he helps you win, and if he doesn’t he never plays again. I’ve said to him, ‘You get yourself in great shape and then we make a decision. We’ll make one based on what you think.’ ”

On what kind of shape Allen needs to be in to play …

“Game condition. He’s behind in what we run and knowing all of the stuff that we go through. He’s behind. But he’s trying. The great thing about this team is we have a bunch of great guys that are talking to him. ‘Go down. Stay down. You’ll come off me. Yeah, this time.’ So, it’s funny to watch. But you kind of let it go because I do want them to be coaching each other.”

On Immanuel Quickley studying Lou Williams and Kevin Durant on how to get fouled to get to the line more …

“Good. I want him to shoot some 2s though, too. I told him and Ashton (Hagans), the way you guys make free throws, ball fake and get fouled. Not ball fake and throw your body into them. Drive to the basket, boop, he goes up right through and gets free throws. I mean, if you can shoot free throws like that, get fouled. Figure out, how do I get fouled? How do I get to the line more? So, it’s good that he’s doing that. There’s a couple of times he’s stepping back for 3s and I’m like, ‘Take the 2. Just shoot the ball. We need baskets, not just getting 3s.’ ”

On Quickley’s confidence …

“It’s kind of like Johnny Juzang. He’s shooting it. When he shoots it, because I know what he’s thinking, I’m thinking it’s going in, too. Now, it hasn’t much, but his mindset is ‘Next. Amnesia. I’m not remembering any of that stuff.’ And it’s how you want him to play.”

On the New York Knicks ties now that Leon Rose and William Wesley are reportedly being hired …

“Let me say this: First of all, I haven’t talked to Leon, so I don’t know if it’s done, if he’s doing it. I have no idea. But let me tell you about him: I’ve known him for 25 years. Dear friend. In a rough-and-tumble business – really that business he was in was a sport too; like it was body-to-body contact, it is – I’ve not in 25 years heard anybody say a bad word about Leon Rose. Not one. In a rough-and-tumble sport that he’s in, he’s a gatherer. He’s a culture builder. I understand why they would do it if they do that. Because I’m so close, I’d help him in any way I could, being a resource, if you want to call me and ask me about college players, my own players, I’m here. It just wouldn’t be to coach.”

On how he strikes a balance between being animated and getting his point across and biting his lip …

“Well, my job is to protect my kids, and whatever I have to do to protect them I will. Normally it’s measured in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Very rarely do I get a technical I’m not trying to get. If something happens, like at Arkansas where two guys call it at the same time and I think I’m gone, well, now I’m going to get my money’s worth and I’m going to—’You threw me out again. What, you’re throwing me out twice? I’ve never gotten thrown out twice in one game.’ That’s a little bit different. But if a game is really close – you’re on the road and the fouls are just, and you know it – you can’t do something to hurt your team, but if you have to do something earlier to make a point that you’re going to protect your guys, you do it. I’m not the only coach that way. I think that’s all coaches. Here’s what I say to my players: Players play, coaches coach and officials officiate. Let them do their thing; you do yours and I’ll do mine. That’s the best way to go about it. I wish I didn’t have to say anything. And I’ll tell you again – you know what my thing is – when you call that tip foul on a jump shot that barely hit the guy, oh, I’m watching down at this end. You better call that same foul down at that end. If you want to do that, if you want to call a carry, ohhhhh, I’m on every carry now. I mean, I really don’t care what you call. I don’t. Call 100 fouls – 50-50. Wait a minute, 52-48, 53-47. Not 60-20. Can’t do that. Now don’t tell me.”

On what if a team fouls 60 times though …

“You’re right. But why would the team that doesn’t shoot 3s foul the 3-point shooting team 60 times? Explain that. They take 30 3s; we take 12. You explain that. I’m fine. Whatever you do, call your game how you want it, we’ll adjust to it. Call it tight; we’ll adjust. Tight there, too. Call it loose. I’m fine. We’ll adjust. We’ll say, ‘Hey man, they’re letting it go, you better get tougher.’ The others—but again, it’s not just me. If you ask coaches, we’re all saying the same thing.”

On him saying the other night that he had “had it up to his neck” …

“No, it’s just, the situation was they were trying to foul. And they fouled. I’m going to say it again: They were trying to foul and they fouled. And my team is a really good free-throw shooting team. So, I want that call because I don’t want them going and making a basketball play if we can shoot free throws. We’re a better free-throw shooting team. That was my issue. Was a technical the right call? Yeah. It was the right call, what I said and did. I’d have called a technical on myself.”

On if it feels odd preparing for Tennessee without Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield

“I watched the game today. I watched one of the games we played a year ago against them. Man, were they good. They were good. And well coached. I mean, Rick (Barnes), you guys know how much respect I have for him, not only as a coach – obviously as a coach, he and I have been doing this a long time – but as a man and as a person. He and I talk throughout the year. I know Tennessee fans will be so mad at this – that something happens and I’m calling him, he’ll call me. I mean, we’ve been friends for longer than him coaching there and me coaching here. We both know when these two teams get together it’s significant. It is.”

On how unusual it is for two coaches in a rivalry to be friends on a personal level …

“There are guys—look, what I try to do, I respect all coaches because I know how hard the jobs are. I was at UMass. I know how hard that is. I was at Memphis. I know how hard that job is. I respect all coaches. I’m here, you know. You don’t expect us to win every game. Oh, yeah you do – by 20. So, I know guys in these kinds of positions and I respect it. If someone makes it personal, then it’s personal, but it ain’t going to be because of me. I mean, if you make it personal, now it’s personal. I think all of us coaches together know how hard this is. Right below our feet the ground is changing and we’re all trying to make do. How do we do this? None of us know. We’re all figuring this out on the run, which makes the job even harder to deal with. How about now the transfer stuff? Even harder to deal with. How about are they going out of high school or not? Is this G-League doing this or are they going to have academies for all the high school players? I mean, we don’t know what’s out ahead of us. I have an idea and I’ll give you the tea leaves later. I’ve been saying what’s going on. But it becomes these jobs are hard.”

On his thoughts on the NCAA announcing the top seeds for the bracket reveal show on Saturday …

“I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s not just the top four seeds, is it? [Reporter: Top 16 seeds.] So, 16. It just kind of holds you accountable. That’s why I liked it being done. If you’re 13 and you win eight out of nine and you go to 22, why did that happen? You can’t do that now. Or, if you’re 12 and you lose – ‘Well, they lost but that’s different because of where they are in their league and all that.’ You can’t do that now. I like it. Put it out. Let us finish the season. Let’s see who does what and go from there.”

On if he trusts the process more now that UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart is on the selection committee …

“I don’t expect us to have an easy path one way or another [reporters laugh]. We’re not going to. And I expect some other teams to have an easier path. I just expect so then you’re not upset. They may surprise me. Nah.”

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On the upcoming game against Tennessee …

“It’s going to be a tough one, tough environment like always. We’re going to go out there and try to get the W like always. It’s going to be fun.”

On if the team is now accustomed to tough road environments …

“Yeah, I feel like we’re used to it now. Maybe the first time, we were like, whoa, but now it’s just another game, next game up.”

On which road environment has been the toughest …

“Auburn was really crazy because they were winning, but Texas Tech, their environment was different. I honestly feel like the floor was shaking when they were doing a little swag surf. It was insane. But Coach Cal tells us to just embrace this. We only have three or four road games left, and he tells us go to on the road and embrace it.”

On if the team is thinking about making a better NCAA Tournament résumé for itself …

“Not really. I think we just try to take it game by game, day by day, really practice by practice. Try to get 1% better every single day. Coach Cal always tells us not worry about any other teams – he only worries about us – and that’s what we go out there and do. Like I said, practice by practice, game by game.”

On what he has seen of Tennessee …

“Just being a basketball fan, you watch them sometimes on TV. I think I watched them play LSU because one of my friends (Trendon Watford) plays for LSU. Then we watched a little film on them. They’re going to be physical, they’re going to play hard. We’ve got to go out there and match their energy and exceed it.”

On whether EJ Montgomery seems more confident after Tuesday …

“I feel like he had it coming. He had been doing all the things right, doing all the little things, showing up early, staying in the gym, working hard in practice, trying to finish first in sprints. And he deserved it. Coach Cal always says if you do all that, you deserve to play well and he deserved to play well in that game.”

On Coach Calipari saying he isn’t ready to run the team yet …

“I’ve got to be more sound. I had a couple of turnovers in the Auburn game. One late in the first half that could have given them some momentum. I just take that on the chin. I told him it was my fault and I tried to fix it. I’ve just got to get better. Got to get in the gym. Stay, watch some film, see what I could have done better on certain plays. That’s what I do.”

On what Dontaie Allen could bring to the team …

“From what I’ve seen from him in practice, he scores the ball pretty well. He’s going to compete hard on defense. Just another asset to the team overall. He’s long. I think he has a 7-foot wingspan. He’s able to grab rebounds. And like I said, knock down shots.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On what he remembers about matchups with Tennessee last year …

“Really just remembering how bad we played at Tennessee and then how good we played here at home and then the SEC Tournament was a really good game. That’s really what comes to my mind most. They’re a really (well-)coached team, have been. Rick Barnes has done a wonderful job there, so it’ll be a good game for us.”

On whether the rivalry changes with how different Tennessee’s team is …

“I think it’ll definitely still be pumped. Teams are really close, not too far, like three hours down the road. Tennessee, I’m sure their fans will be there screaming and yelling. One of my favorite places to play, honestly, since I’ve been here. I thought that was one of the loudest crowds, so I think it’s going to be really fun to play at Tennessee.”

On Dontaie Allen …

“From what I know, he shot like 500 times a game in high school. I get to shoot around with him, work out with him. Every now and then, play a little fun one-on-one and stuff like that. He’s really good. He’s really talented. He’s going to be really good. I don’t know too much about his timetable or anything like that, but I do know he’s going to be really good here.”

On road games …

“I think road games are probably the (most fun) for me. Being at Rupp and being with these fans is really cool – best fans in the world – but just to be on the road when everybody’s cheering against you, it’s just your 12 guys in the court and on the coaching staff and everybody else is cheering against you. I think that’s kind of a different dynamic than everybody cheering for you, which is also cool. Either way, you just gotta come out ready to play and play together and try to get a dub.”

On why he enjoys playing on the road …

“I don’t know. Everybody’s wired different, I guess. Some people don’t like it, but I think something about me just is driven where if somebody doesn’t like I just try to prove them wrong and I think we’re trying to do that as a team as well. People doubt us, people are going to doubt us this year and we just want to try to prove them wrong.”

On these atmospheres preparing them for March …

“Absolutely. I think we’ve played in a lot more, I guess, big games this year. Road games, neutral-site games. Going into the tournament, I think that’ll help us a lot.”

On how much better this team can be if EJ Montgomery sustains his play from Tuesday …

“We all know what EJ can do, and it’s a lot more than just his scoring. He’s a really good passer, really good switching on defense, switching out on guards. So he does a lot more than just scoring, but if he can do that on a night-in-and-night-out basis I just think it takes this team to a whole new level.”

On what he remembers about last year’s game at Tennessee …

“On the last play of the game, Admiral Schofield had dunked and the crowd had just went crazy. It was almost like Arkansas where you had to put your hands in your ears because it was so loud. Hopefully this year we can rewrite that story going down there a little bit. Like I said, it’ll be fun just to get in a good atmosphere and compete.”