clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John Calipari, Wildcats talk win over Florida, Ashton Hagans and more

New, 3 comments

“That’s our brother. We love him and we can’t wait for him to come back.”

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats wrapped up the regular-season in thrilling fashion, as they overcame an 18-point deficit Saturday to upend the Florida Gators, 71-70.

With Ashton Hagans sidelined, Tyrese Maxey took over the starting point guard role, and it didn’t go quite as good as expected. While he did dish out seven assists vs. just one turnover, he also hit just 1/11 shots from the field. It was evident that UK still needs Hagans to operate efficiently for 40 minutes, so hopefully he’s back for the SEC Tournament next week.

After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss the win, as well as Hagans’ absence.

“That’s our brother,” Nick Richards said . “We love him and we can’t wait for him to come back. We love him. We’re going to pray for him. We’re going to be there for him. We had to do this today without him and we’ve just got to be patient with him.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari and the Wildcats had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On when he found out he wasn’t ejected …

”When I walked out, I was going to get changed and they said, ‘You’re not out.’ I said, ‘What?’ They said the first one was a bench (technical). I said, ‘Oh, OK, great.’ Then I went back in. No, I don’t ever want to get (ejected). You’re not just – you’re making a statement about … but anyway. But I thought I was gone. Wasn’t happy about it either with that much time. It would’ve helped if I didn’t come back. We might’ve won by more. Me coming back made it a close game. But look, this was a tough environment. The way they played, you have to give them credit. I know you’re looking like, ‘Oh, we had an (18) point lead and lost.’ We just had one against Tennessee and lost – at home. So this stuff has happened 20, 25 times this season. It’s crazy. I can’t explain it. Don’t ask me what happened. I know at halftime, I said, ‘Nick, you are so bad right now, if you play they’re only going to remember the second half – and I’m coming at you. We’re not going away from you. So you can either be the player you’ve been all year or look like this.’ Said the same thing to EJ. Our defense, Keion and Johnny in the first half, I said, ‘You two gave up 25 points. I cannot play you unless you’re guarding.’ Second half, they guarded and rebounded and did a good job, and played a big part in us winning. Both of those two. Nate, huge today, making shots, second shots. He defended. We need those three for us to do something. I was really disappointed – biggest play of the game that helped us win was Immanuel fouling out. Why would he grab an arm with four fouls? Why would you do that? If you wanted to come out of the game, tell me. He said, ‘I didn’t want to come out. You know I didn’t want to come out.’ But he comes out and all of a sudden we’re playing a bunch of young guys and we played pretty good.”

What the win says about his team …

”I told them at halftime, ‘This is like being in the NCAA Tournament, you don’t play well, the other team plays well, Nick is 1 for 8 and looks so bad he doesn’t look like he’s on the floor. Should we go to the bus and surrender? Or do you guys want to fight? That’s the only two options.’ They looked at each other and …

”I thought Tyrese at times was not ready to have the ball in his hands – and then, at other times, he looked like, ‘Wow.’ And that’s why when you asked me … when he’s going, he’s got the ball in his hand. When he’s not, running people over, missing shots, just throwing shots at the rim, you can’t do it. The last play of the game, biggest play of the game, I went at Keion. Then you look and say he’s only averaging five points, why would you have him make the game-winning play? Because he’s playing good! He was the one who had something going. That’s what this team is: Whoever has it going, we go to them.”

On how this can change how the team feels about itself …

”It didn’t happen, so I don’t know. They were pouring water on each other. And this game gave us a higher seed in our conference tournament (rolls eyes, because obviously it didn’t). It didn’t, and they’re pouring water on each other in there, so they love to win. We’ve been in so many close games, it’s incredible. I can’t tell you. Every game with two minutes to go is anybody’s ball game. When we lose, it’s total silence.”

On if these types of games are good experiences or have a wearing effect …

”Some of it is the ball bounces right or you get a call or they don’t get a call. So you’re like dodging bullets. So I would say try to win by 20 is probably a better solution. And we’ve been how many times up 15 and the game ends up a four-point game? This year? Fifteen? More? … And this team, look, they’re an NCAA Tournament team. And my guess is it’s a team that will advance. … Hopefully we’re in a great frame of mind going into this tournament. Tournament is going to be crazy. Who could be 8/9, both beat us.”

On whether Ashton Hagans will be back for the SEC Tournament …

”I would fully expect him to be, but I haven’t talked to him. I’ll probably talk to him Monday sometime.”

On Nick Richards …

”He faded on every shot. He closed his eyes on two. He was 1 for 7 at halftime from one foot. Have you ever tried shooting closing your eyes. And then in the second half, hair on his neck and played well.”

On why Hagans sat today …

”Just personal. He came up and said, ‘I’m in a bad way.’ Here’s what I’d tell you about these kids: In the last three years, this has totally changed, what is on these players – and I tell my team all the time how much I respect what they go through, the clutter they gotta deal with, the lists (ranking players), what’s out there, not being able to stay in the moment, the anxiety of a year from now, everybody around them. And then you’re at Kentucky, where every game is someone’s Super Bowl, every game is sold out, and now all of a sudden you start struggling four or five games and now you don’t really know how to deal with stuff. My first responsibility is the health and well-being of my players. And when a guy tells me, ‘Coach, I gotta step away,’ I’m with it. Tell me why, tell me what you’re thinking, what is it? Bang, I’m good, I’ll see you when we get back. And hopefully what you’ll see is an inspired young man. And if he doesn’t think he’s ready for that, then he’s not ready. We’re going to go with whoever we have.”

#12 Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F

On what the conversation was down 18 …

”Well, really we just came together and said, ‘We’ve got 12 minutes. Let’s go out and fight and compete.’ We knew we had enough time to come back. We believed in each other and the coaching staff kept believing in us, so we just went out there and left it all on the floor.”

On Florida not having Kerry Blackshear in the second half …

”It didn’t matter if he was in the game or not. If Nick was open, we were going to throw him the ball. Our game plan didn’t change because Blackshear came out of the game. I’m going to ride with Nick 10 times out of 10. If I see his numbers and see his chest, I’m going to throw him the ball.”

On if he could have imagined he’d take the team’s final shot …

”Growing up hooping, I’m pretty sure that’s what everybody is dreaming of. Close game down the stretch, you want the ball in your hands. Coach was in the huddle, he said I’ve been playing my butt off the past few minutes, I was getting good shots and good looks, so he said he was going to come to me. Johnny threw me a great pass to open up the baseline. I shot it. I think I got fouled, but that’s beside the point. EJ came in and saved the day, tipped it in.”

On his 3-point shots going in …

”I just believed in my shot. I’ve spent countless hours in the gym shooting the ball. That’s all it really came down to, just being confident and playing with nothing to lose and letting it go.”

On when the team believed it could come back …

”For me, it was when we started to string some stops back-to-back together. Throughout the first half, we couldn’t get a stop to save our lives, giving up too much dribble penetration, leaving open shooters. In the second half, we started to lock down more, started to get some stops consecutively, and after that we felt good on the offensive end as well. We got the ball to Nick, Johnny hit some shots, I was able to knock down a couple shots, ‘Rese hit a big three and after that I felt like we really caught our groove.”

On John Calipari’s technicals …

”Looking back, it was kind of funny, walking all the way to the locker room thinking he got thrown out and him coming back. When he came back, he told us he couldn’t really do much or he would get thrown out, so he was still on us but letting us know we got time to win this game, and he kept believing in us.”

#10 Johnny Juzang, Fr., G.

On playing without Ashton Hagans …

”We missed him out there. We know he was cheering us on and supporting us. Yeah, we missed him out there, but we had to come out and still try to compete and get the W. I’m super proud of us, just fighting. It was a great challenge for us, especially coming out of halftime. Pulling that one out, I’m really proud.”

On his shot …

”I’d say probably a few games into conference play, kind of right after South Carolina. I just saw the ball go in a few times and I was kind of feeling it. Sometimes you get into those droughts and you just need to see the ball go in, in the game. Once I kind of hit a couple, I’ve been feeling really confident.”

#4 Nick Richards, Jr., F.

On defending without Hagans in the lineup …

”Late in the game we started twirling everything. Honestly, the bigs in practice, we go at the guards every day, one-on-one, just trying to move our feet. It paid off today. It just showed that our bigs are positionless (I think he said).”

On his play between the first and second halves …

”The coaches gave me a challenge to see if I could turn it around. I took on that challenge. Obviously we came out a really big win (and) it wasn’t just me. Johnny came out and made a lot of 3s, Keion shot the ball well and EJ, we wouldn’t have won the game unless he got that tip-in. Tyrese, he gave everybody the ball, got us good looks. It was actually a team effort today. It wasn’t just one guy.”

On Keion Brooks Jr., and Johnny Juzang …

”It just shows you how deep our bench is. We knew that they could do it. We’ve seen them do it in practice all the time. We’ve seen them work out before practice, after practice, come back in the gym late at night shooting again. We knew they could do it, just a matter of time.”

On the team’s defense in the second half …

”Different defensive schemes that we tried running. We came up with a whole different game plan in the second half. Instead of icing the ball screen, we were just going to twirl – just going to switch everything. And it worked in our favor. I was just screaming at the guys, ‘Don’t foul, don’t foul,’ and I was just coming over for the block. They did a good job listening to me on that. We just played hard as a team. We fought. And we got the W.”

On Calipari’s technical fouls …

”We were just happy to get him back. We don’t really know what happened before that.”

On the narrative if the team had lost again …

”Honestly, what I’ve been saying since the beginning of the season: This team has a will to win. Doesn’t really matter how much we’re down by. We’re going to fight, we’re going to find a way to win. We’re going to get stops. We’re going to make hard buckets, easy buckets, do whatever it takes to win. That’s just us.”

On not having Hagans …

”That’s our brother. We love him. We can’t wait for him to come back. We love him, we’re going to pray for him, we’re going to be there for him. But we had to do it today without him. We just have to be patient with him.”