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Calipari and Wildcats talk Florida, Ashton Hagans and more

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The Cats are preparing for their second clash with the Gators.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats look to end the regular season on a high note Saturday when they face the Florida Gators in Gainesville.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview the big game while also discussing the state of the team.

It’s been a rocky week following Tuesday’s shocking loss to Tennessee, a game that saw Calipari and Ashton Hagans arguing on the bench, and Hagans reportedly refused to enter the game at one point, leading some to wonder if there was some turmoil brewing within the team.

On Friday, Calipari did his best to shoot down that notion.

“Look, I’ve done this before: There are sometimes I’ll go to a guy and ask him, ‘Do you want to go in?’ If he says, ‘No,’ I say, ‘OK,’ we move on,” exclaimed Calipari. “Some of it’s late-game stuff because I had to sit there when I played and there’s 25 seconds left in the game and you go, ‘OK, go in and get that guy.’ And then there’s the clock running down and no one does anything, and then five seconds to go you walk into the game and you walk in and he subs, so I’ll do that. We’ve got a young team that’s growing and learning and learn from every situation.”

Alrighty then.

Here is a recap of everything Calipari and the Wildcats had to say via UK Athletics.

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F

On the mood after giving up a 17-point lead …

“Well, me personally, I was back in the locker room getting a stitch in my lip when we went up 17. So, I didn’t really see how that transpired, and by the time I got back out there we were only up five. I don’t really know what happened. I haven’t watched the film yet, but we can’t let that happen being up that much in the second half. We can’t let go of a lead like that and let a team in Rupp come in here and beat us.”

On what the locker room has been like this week …

“It’s been great like usual. We’re competitors. We’re not always going to agree with each other. I wish we could all sit here and sing kumbaya and everything would be all right, but that’s not how the game works. There are going to be some fiery times. There’s going to be some tension here and there, but as long as we all still believe in each other, that’s all that matters.”

On whether he has been in similar situations before …

“It’s just part of the game. That just shows that we all, that we care. If we’re not getting into it from time to time, that means we just don’t care. Sometimes you need your teammates to get on you or you need to get on your teammates. That’s just the way the game is.”

On the tone Coach Cal set at practice …

“Cal was in a great mood. He said we played really good the first half. He was proud of what we did. He just said the second half we kind of—we didn’t play with the same fire, the same energy. We kind of let up a little bit, but he was in a great mood. Practice was great yesterday and we really enjoyed being able to get on the court and kind of get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

On how the team is supporting Ashton Hagans …

“Just been continuing to let him know that we love him and care about him. We’re doing everything we can to help him. Everybody goes through their lulls, their bad stretches. We’re not going to give up on him. We’re going to continue to let him know that he’s a great player. He’s going to break through and, like I said, just continue to love him and support him.”

On Kerry Blackshear Jr.

“I know he really likes to pick and pop to shoot the 3. That’s something that he’s pretty good at. He also can finish inside, so we’ve just gotta try to limit his open 3-point looks and, when he catches it inside on the block, wall up and make him finish over top of our length.”

On being comfortable with Tyrese Maxey handling the ball …

“We practice every day with Tyrese at the point and then also when Ashton’s in Tyrese at the two. When Tyrese is at the point, it’s like nothing new to us. We’ve done it over and over again. We’ve just gotta execute what the coaches call for us and Tyrese did a great job of getting us shots and getting us into the offense and just controlling the game.”

On handling Florida’s guards well in the first matchup …

“The coaches gave us a great game plan. We threw some different coverages at them in the pick-and-roll and we just went out there and executed it. Like I said, the staff put out a good game plan, we understood their personnel and took away their strength and made them play to their weaknesses.”

On the incident with the fan using a racial slur in a postgame incident after Tuesday’s game …

“That’s completely unacceptable. That’s something that you shouldn’t say. That doesn’t reflect my values that I was raised on. That’s something that I completely disagree with. I feel like the situation was handled correctly and we just move on from there.”

#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F

On the attitude of the team since Tuesday’s loss to Tennessee …

“Just been the same attitude we’ve been having. Just going to practice and get better and focus on the next game.”

On what happened against Tennessee …

“Definitely has been a re-focus. Losing that game just made us come together even closer, more than we already were. Just getting ready for the next games coming up.”

On whether teams need a wakeup call before the postseason …

“It happened, so we just had to do what we have to do and just come into practice and just try to get better and focus on the next game.”

On whether the team can look ahead to the SEC Tournament or if Gainesville is the focus …

“We’re really focused on going to Gainesville right now and try to do our best there and see what happens after that.”

On what the team can take from its previous game against Florida …

“Just go out there and fight and compete. They have all great players from the one through five. So, just go out there and try to defend.”

On if the team can learn from the Tennessee loss …

“Yes, definitely. We have to continue to fight the whole game and just try to get the W.”

On what he expects at Florida …

“Great atmosphere. They’re going to come ready. I heard it’s their Senior Night so they’re going to be ready for that game. We just have to go out there and compete.”

On what practice has been like since Tuesday …

“Just been the same. We just had to re-focus a little bit and just come together as one and just try to get better every day.”

On Florida’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. …

“He’s a good player. He can shoot the ball, post up, face up, just do all the things. He rebounds real hard. We just have to go out there and defend, compete and do all we can.”

On what concerns he has about the Coronavirus and travelling …

“Just trying to wash my hands every time and stay away from someone that’s sick.”

John Calipari

On containing Florida’s guards in the first game and what was working well that game …

“Well, it was anybody’s ballgame until Immanuel (Quickley) hit three 3s so let’s not say that we just dominated their guards because we didn’t. First half, we were playing pick-and-roll a certain way and we changed it up in the second half. That may have slowed them down, but they had every opportunity to win the game, including it was a five-point game late. So they’re good. They’re playing good basketball right now, they’ve got some vets and it’s a significant game.”

On if he was concerned with the body language in the second half vs. Tennessee …

“Nah, heat of the moment, some of that stuff. When you coach young kids, this is what pops out sometimes. And you won’t believe this, I get emotional so I don’t mind when other people get emotional. I get it.”

On the interaction with Ashton Hagans on the bench …

“Look, I’ve done this before: There are sometimes I’ll go to a guy and ask him, ‘Do you want to go in?’ If he says, ‘No,’ I say, ‘OK,’ we move on. Some of it’s late-game stuff because I had to sit there when I played and there’s 25 seconds left in the game and you go, ‘OK, go in and get that guy.’ And then there’s the clock running down and no one does anything, and then five seconds to go you walk into the game and you walk in and he subs, so I’ll do that. We’ve got a young team that’s growing and learning and learn from every situation.”

On the racial comment by a UK fan at the Tennessee game and what he thought when he saw the video …

“I didn’t see the video. I would just tell you that using a racial slur is unacceptable in any setting in anytime. So I did not watch the video.”

On if he talked to his guys about the video …

“I haven’t. I have not.”

On if an incident like this is concerning for marketing the program …

“I mean, if it came from the program, yes it would be. But no, it’s not. Like I said, it’s unacceptable in any kid of setting. I mean, I could say some stuff, me personally, I don’t think anybody is going to think Cal has an issue.”

On Florida’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. …

“He’s physical. He’s smart. He ball fakes. He gets you in bad positions. He creates fouls, throws himself into you if you don’t–if you’re not ready to play, he physically will throw his body at you to catch balls. He’s good. He’s a terrific player. He’s one of the best big men in our league.”

On predicting that Tyrese Maxey will have a De’Aaron Fox-type season where it becomes his team …

“And we have. We have. This is a game-to-game team more than any other team that I’ve coached. Like you could say, ‘Nick (Richards).’ And then you watched him and you said, ‘He couldn’t throw it to Nick today.’ So, what do you do now? Throw it to Nick anyway and lose that game. This is one of those kinds of teams. With Tyrese, he’s growing up right before our eyes. He’s making winning plays. There are times the ball is in his hands to go make plays and then there are other times it’s in Immanuel’s hands. Like when we were at Texas A&M, I could have put it in Tyrese’s hands. Some of you may have done that. But when I saw the kid making all of those shots, you won’t believe this, I said, ‘Maybe not his hands. Maybe Immanuel’s hands.’ So, this is one of those teams. EJ (Montgomery) the same way and Nate (Sestina) the same way. Someone has it going, we’ve got to ride that guy.”

On how much experience he has coaching a team like this one that plays game-to-game …

“Every team is different. Normally we don’t–you’ll have an idea of who we’re going at. But this team is different.”

On any concerns about travel and dealing with coronavirus …

“I’ve tried to call off all press meetings because I’m thinking you guys, I have no idea where your hands have been, what you–and I’m like, ‘Why would I do anything with media?’ You’ll notice how far away I am from you. [Jokingly coughs.] There is concern. There is. I’m watching the news and trying to figure out everything. Telling my team, ‘Hydrate. Wash your hands. Do everything you can.’ But, there’s a lot of stuff that will be out of our control and other people have to make decisions.”

On the NBA encouraging players to fist bump instead of high-fives and handshakes …

“Yeah. And at mass in the morning, I’ll just say (hand gestures a peace sign), peace brother. So, I’m not shaking hands at mass in the morning either.”