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Wildcats talk SEC Tournament, Ashton Hagans and more

Postseason time.

Hagans, Quickley Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are getting set for the SEC Tournament, and it sounds like Ashton Hagans will be part of it.

On Tuesday, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey and Nick Richards met with the media to preview this week’s tournament in Nashville. They also discussed the status of Hagans, who missed last week’s win over Florida due to personal reasons.

Even so, Hagans’ teammates have continuously expressed love and support for him over the last week, and it sounds like it’s all helped him get into the right mindset as the postseason begins.

Here is a recap of everything the Wildcats had to say via UK Athletics:

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On how the season has gone …

“It’s been pretty good. It’s not done yet. We’re about to go to Nashville and have a lot of fun, try to get a championship and bring it back to (Lexington).”

On being named All-SEC …

“I just go out there and try to compete as hard as a I can for my teammates, to try to win the game. Coach Cal always told us that if we go out there and worry about team success, individual success will follow. So, we just go out there every single game and play hard and try to get the W.”

On a particular game that could have been a turning point in the season …

“I feel like the Vanderbilt game, at Vandy, when we were down early, I think we were down 12 in the first half. We could have let go of the rope and just said we’re going to lose this one. But we fought together as a team and we ended up persevering and I think we ended up winning that game by double digits. So that was a turning point for the team’s success, to know that we can be down early in the first half and come back and persevere.”

On what that Vanderbilt game taught the team …

“Facing that adversity, being able to respond when your back is against the wall is the true testimony of a warrior. Coach Kenny Payne says it all the time, Coach Cal says it all the time you have to have a fight about you and be desperate playing here and I felt like we showed that we have that.”

On running the team from the point against Florida …

“It was cool. I just tried to do what I needed to do to get the W. Tried to get guys shots, Nate Sestina, Keion Brooks, Nick Richards. Try to run the offense as best as possible, as best as I could.”

On if playing point guard is a big transition for him …

“I kind of did it in high school for the most part, but that was the first time having to do it, exclusively, in college. I do it when Ashton (Hagans) goes out of the game or when we don’t have another point guard in. But it was pretty good, pretty fun. I had a lot of fun out there and we were able to get a win. That was really important.”

On if he was happy with how he played at the point …

“I was. I didn’t turn the ball over, tried to get my teammates the ball, get them shots, get them easy shots, wide open shots and try to stay solid. Try to help us get the W.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On winning SEC Player of the Year …

“God is good. Credit to my teammates, coaches pushing me throughout the whole season. Just really happy. I know this is a pretty cool accomplishment, so you try not to take it lightly, but you just try to stay humble and just try to get back to work.”

On how he learned the news …

“Nick (Richards) told me. I was trying to take a test and he was whispering to me. He was like, ‘Bro, bro, bro.’ I was like, ‘What, bro? I’m trying to take my test.’ He was like, ‘Bro, you won.’ I was like, ‘What? Won what?’ He was like, ‘SEC.’ So it was pretty cool.”

On Richards’ reaction to the news …

“Nick was super happy for me. He was basically screaming during the test while I was trying to take the test.”

On whether he thought about winning an award like this …

“One of my goals was to make First Team. But to win SEC Player of the Year, I don’t think a lot of people thought that, that I would be able to do something like this. That’s what makes it really cool, just to kind of be like a quote-unquote underdog and just come out here and do something special. That’s really cool.”

On the honor coming from league coaches …

“It’s really cool. A lot of respect to them. They feel that I had a pretty good year, so just a lot of respect to them.”

On Coach Calipari saying the biggest play Saturday was when he fouled out …

“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to foul out. I think it was really good for our team. Guys like Nate (Sestina) and Keion (Brooks Jr.) and Johnny (Juzang) had to play really big minutes, make really big plays. So that was big for us and I think that’ll help us going into the tournament as well, giving them a lot of confidence.”

On the team’s momentum entering postseason play …

“I think it’s huge. The 17-point comeback that Tennessee had on us was kind of heartbreaking, but to get an 18-point comeback the following game just shows how much this team can fight and how much we’re willing to sacrifice to win. It was really good for us.”

On how much he feels like he can still improve after how much better he got this year …

“Really just a credit to my offseason. I think a lot of people didn’t expect me to have this type of year. But if you ask the people around me and myself, I expected to have this type of year. Really just going into the offseason – whatever I do; I don’t know what I’m doing – just wanting to work on all my weaknesses and continue to get better at my strengths.”

On whether he expects to have a bigger target on his back now …

“Maybe a little bit. But I feel I’ve been guarded by pretty much the best players on each team if I was looking at it game-to-game. The target will be pretty cool, but it’s a team game. At the end of the day, we’re still trying to accomplish something special as a team. That’s pretty much what we’re trying to do.”

On what he learned from last season …

“Probably mentally was the biggest thing. Just knowing how mentally strong you have to be to play here. Playing through mistakes was a big part of my sophomore year coming back. That was probably it, was probably the mental part. I knew I was good enough. Just seeing the in-game success was a big part.”

On their message to Ashton Hagans this week …

“He’s in good spirits. We weren’t too worried about Ashton. He just needed that little break and I think he’ll be rejuvenated, revived for this tournament coming up.”

On winning without Hagans …

“We won without me too. I think it’s really good for this team, to know that we can without him and without me down the stretch. I think we were down like 18 in the second half, so for us to win that game, that’s just really huge.”

On whether they want to face Tennessee again …

“It would be cool. Whoever we play, we gotta be ready. We got up and let our guard down against Tennessee. Whoever we play, if we get up, we just don’t want to do that again.”

On Richards’ improvement …

“Nick’s been great. Honestly, he could have probably been SEC Player of the Year too. That’s the type of season he’s had. He’s a player that not a lot of people in the country have. Seven feet, can block shots, can shoot it. Really versatile on both ends.”

On Calipari getting him some rest …

“I feel really good. He did say he was doing that. I was a little sore, but not (anything) crazy. Just coming back refreshed, mentally fresh and really ready to get after it.”

On the reason for his success …

“Definitely would be all God. Without him, none of this is possible. And also credit it to the work I put in over the summer. A lot of people don’t understand how hard I worked. Stayed up really late, got up really early, worked every single day that whole summer. I didn’t take (any) days off last summer.”

On what motivated him to work so hard …

“Just really a lot of people, I think, counted me out. Just coming back this sophomore season, just wanted to prove everybody wrong and prove myself right as well. That’s pretty much that.”

On the reaction of his family …

“A whole bunch of exclamation points in every text message sent with confetti, all that good stuff, emphasis and all that. It was really cool.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On telling Immanuel Quickley that he had been named SEC Player of the Year …

“We were in class and I just looked on my phone and I just saw that he got SEC Player of the Year and I was so happy for him I think I shouted his name out in class while everybody was still working. He really deserves it. He worked his butt off the whole entire year. I’m just proud of him.”

On being close to winning SEC Player of the Year himself …

“I’m just happy for my teammate. Obviously, I got First Team (All-SEC), Tyrese (Maxey) got Freshman Team, Ashton (Hagans) got Defensive Team, and our coach got Coach of the Year, so that shows that we have a lot of great pieces on this team.”

On how he and Immanuel Quickley went from sitting on the bench last season to All-SEC this year …

“It’s a great feeling, just showing that all of the hard work is paying off for both of us. I think that we both don’t consider awards like that, we’re just focused on winning a national championship. The awards are great – we’re happy for each other, we’re happy for our teammates that also won awards – but our main goal, which is going to help all of us in the long run, is just winning a national championship.”

On how the SEC Tournament can lead into that road to a national title …

“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time. We’ve played all of these teams before. We know what we’re facing. But at the same time, it’s tournament time. Lose a game, you go home. So, our mission right now is focus on one game at a time, just get each W out of the way and hope we just take off from there.”

On what the team learned from the Evansville loss …

“It definitely humbled us. It definitely showed that we’ve got to grow up a little bit. After we became the No. 1 team in the country, I think we got a little bit too cocky. So, I think we needed that game to humble us.”

On what can stop this team …

“I think ourselves. Each guy has just got to come to play, myself included. Everybody’s just got to bring it.”

On if he looks forward to a potential rematch with Tennessee …

“Who knows. It’s going to be a great game either way, they are two really good teams. Tennessee, they beat us, so it would be a good one, to get back at them. Alabama, they shoot the ball really well. It’s going to be kind of difficult for us to guard the 3-point line, so it’s going to be a really good game.”