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Bruiser Flint and Olivier Sarr preview Round 2 of Kentucky vs. Alabama

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Kentucky will need Olivier Sarr to step up to have any chance of beating the Tide.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Kentucky Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are getting set for their second clash with the Alabama Crimson Tide, which takes place Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama, who is ranked eighth in the latest Coaches Top 25 Poll, easily won the first matchup in Lexington, an 85-65 blowout that firmly established the Tide as ‘the’ team to beat in the SEC this season.

The early spread for Tuesday has the Tide favored by eight points, which means the Cats will be one of the biggest underdogs they’ve ever been in a game under head coach John Calipari.

Will things go differently in Round 2, or will the Tide further establish themselves as a force in the SEC moving forward?

Ahead of the game, assistant coach Bruiser Flint and senior center Olivier Sarr met with the media to preview the game. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

Bruiser Flint

On playing the role of hunter at Alabama tomorrow night …

“Well, everybody is hunting them right now. They’re in first place. They’re undefeated in the conference. We’ve just got to play better than we did the last time. We’ve got to do some things differently. But they’re the hot team in the league right now, so we’ve got to give them our best.”

On what the staff learned from the film from the first game against Alabama …

“One, they play with a lot more toughness then we play with. The other thing about the game, and it’s been our Achilles heel all year, points off turnovers. I want to say they had 28 points off turnovers. If we have that high of a number, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. They’re even more dangerous because they’re probably the best offensive team in the league. So, if you give it to them off turnovers, they’re going convert them. So, points off turnovers, physical play, that’s going to be a big part of this game.”

On Olivier Sarr taking time to adjust to playing at Kentucky …

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know myself. But I think Olivier has his struggles. I think he has to be a little more confident in himself. But I think the things that he’s been becoming a little more consistent than he was before, he had real highs and then real lows. So, I think he’s been a little more consistent over the past couple of weeks. But with Olivier, ‘Hey, believe what you’re doing.’ The kid has a great skill level. He’s a great kid. He works at it. You’ve just got to believe in what you’re doing. This was a big leap for him too, coming in from Wake Forest to Kentucky. The pressure is totally different and how people perceive how you play. And if you don’t think that plays a part in it, then you’re crazy. But, I think the last couple of weeks, I think he’s feeling a lot more comfortable than he was and you can see it in his play a little bit. A lot more consistent. Cal has been getting on him about his rebounding and he’s been rebounding the ball like heck the last few games. So, that’s one of the things I will say you can see he’s getting a little more comfortable out there.”

On why the team has struggled to score and if Coach will try to get thrown out again to turn it over to him like he did at Mississippi State

“You guys loved that one, huh? [Laughs.] Did we score in the 60s in the game that we won at Mississippi State? Well, one of the biggest things for us is turnovers. When we get in trouble, we turn the ball over. If you don’t turn the ball over, you get more opportunities to score yourself. So, if you have a low-turnover rate and have a low-points-off-turnovers rate, we’ll score more points. LSU, I want to say they scored less than 10 points off turnovers and we scored in the 80s. It’s all about how we handle the ball. When we handle the ball better and we take care of the ball, we’ll score more points. But if you continually throw it away and you’ve got 19 to 20 turnovers in those games, you’re not going to score that many points.”

On how well Alabama shoots the 3 and how important it is to keep their makes fairly reasonable tomorrow night …

“I mean, that’s what they do. I was just in there laughing with Eric (Lindsey) about it. You guys can see their warm-ups, they rarely shoot layups in their warm-up line. The 3-ball is what they do. That’s what they do. They want to shoot a lot of them. They’ve shot it extremely well. That’s one reason why they’ve gotten away from a lot of teams because they can come down consecutively and just start knocking them down. If you can’t keep them pace, then it’s a tough struggle. We’ve got to do a better jo of probably chasing them off the 3-point line, but I bet you that’s every team they play that talks about that. So, we’ve got to do a better job of that. And again, it goes back to the whole turnover thing. If you’re not giving them the ball, if you make them play in front of you, then you’ve got a better chance of playing defense.”

On the pressure of playing at Kentucky and how that impacts players …

“[Laughs.] You guys probably know better than me. You’ve been here a lot longer. I think it’s pretty intense, what the people say and do. I’m not a person that goes and follows it. But I know it’s there. The expectations are extremely high. I think sometimes they get a little crazy, but that’s what you sign up for. I’m not crazy to not say that. That’s what you signed up and you’ve got to be ready for it. But, you love to have fans like that, but it can get a little out of hand with social media. Today, these kids read that stuff and it affects them, so you’ve got to be a little bit more sensitive to it and we talk to them all the time about, ‘Stay off reading about that stuff.’ But it’s hard with these kids. That’s what they grew up doing.”

On if it is hard to defend Alabama because they have so many guys who can shoot the 3 …

“I just think the biggest thing is contesting them. They’re going to make tough 3s because that’s what they do. So, we’re not going to stop them from shooting 3s. They’re going to try to get 30 to 40 3-point shots off a game. So, our biggest thing is, like I said before, is we’ve got to do a better job of contesting and we can’t turn the ball over to them so they get unguarded 3s in transition because we turned the ball over. Like I said, that’s when they’re at their best when they get up and down and shoot the 3-ball. A big deal is going to be how we handle the ball. Make them play a little bit of defense and try to do as best we can contesting the 3-point shot because they’re going to shoot them.”

On how they balance contesting a 3 vs. now letting a guy drive to the hoop …

“Sometimes you’ve got to make them put it on the floor and shoot a layup. That’s one of the things, one of the strategies you have with a team that shoots a lot of 3s is, at times you’re going to give up layups. You guys will be complaining about giving up layups when we’re trying to not let them shoot any 3s. But they’re a good offensive team. That’s why they’re undefeated in the league. They’re a good offensive team. They’re tough to guard. They have tough matchups no matter who you’re playing against. But like I said, that’s why they’re undefeated in the conference and they’re playing well because they shoot the ball extremely well.”

On if Oscar Tshiebwe is on campus yet …

“I’ll be honest with you, you all know more about the Oscar thing than I do.”

On how they balance Isaiah Jackson’s natural ability to affect the game while he still learns in other areas …

”I wouldn’t say you limit his minutes, but one of the things you do is you put him out there when he’s doing well and you keep him out there. That’s about it. But, he’s been getting better and better. His potential is unbelievable and he’s gotten a lot better this year. So, I think if we keep him out there, we’ve got a good rotation going with our big guys now. He makes a huge difference because he’s just naturally a great shot blocker and doing things defensively. But he’s a freshman and he struggles sometimes with some of the things you ask him to do like all freshmen do, but he’s getting with it so that’s all we can ask him to do.”

On why more teams don’t do what Alabama does with spreading the floor and shooting a lot of 3s and if that’s just a matter of a team’s personnel …

“I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that’s how he (Nate Oats) wants to play as a coach and he has the players to do it. If he didn’t have the players to do it, I doubt he would shoot a lot of 3s or he probably wouldn’t have his job really long. But they’ve got the personnel to do it that way and I think that’s his philosophy. He’s a coach that likes to shoot a lot of 3-point shots, so what you try to do is you try to recruit to that personnel. If you don’t have that type of personnel and you play that way, you’re defeating the purpose of what you’re trying to do. But it’s a good combination of that’s the way he wants to play and he has the players to do it.”

On how players respond to John Calipari’s coaching style now that everyone can hear what he’s saying with limited or no attendance …

“I think if you went to any school right now with COVID you could hear the coach screaming to be honest with you. You’re going to hear the coach talk. You just pay attention to Coach Cal because that’s who you cover. But I think if you were to go to any other schools you would hear the same thing. I think you could ask that question to any person at any university at this point in time because of the situation that we’re in with no fans or anything like that. I’m sure you’ve covered him for a long time, so you know how he is; you’re just hearing him now because there are no fans. But I bet if you went anywhere you would hear the coach because of the situation we’re in with the COVID and with no fans in the stands.”

On what the real Kentucky is: the one that made 5 of 8 3-pointers to start the LSU game or the one that only made two the rest of the game …

“[Laughs.] I’m hoping we’re somewhere in between to be honest with you. We don’t have to have a high and we don’t have to have a low, low. So, I’m hoping that we’re somewhere in between. But, we’re not Alabama. We’re not going to shoot a million 3-point shots. That’s not what we do. But I’m hoping that we’re in between. Shoot a decent percentage from the 3-point line. That’s all I ask. Sometimes you’re really hot, sometimes you’re really cold. That’s the thing about 3s – it’s a little bit of fool’s gold a little bit. You can feel good about it one day and the next day you can’t make one. But I hope that we’re in the middle, that we shoot a decent percentage, but I also know that Cal really believes in. having some post presence. He thinks that’s a big deal, so this team probably won’t shoot a whole bunch of 3-point shots.”

On what signs he sees of more consistency from the team shooting …

“Only thing we ask is that guys shoot them when they’re open. We don’t want guys to shoot forced 3s. And, you know, we’ll have our stretches where we’ll be pretty good at that and sometimes we don’t, but as long as you’re open, as long as they’re good 3-point shots.”

Olivier Sarr

On his physicality against LSU …

“It was really important for me you know. Making sure I’m low on the ground, staying aggressive, grabbing tough boards, it’s just something that I’ve got to focus on more and just bring every night. Be more consistent.”

On if he feels more pressure playing at Kentucky …

“It’s obviously really different, you know. It’s still the same game, but you get more pressure at Kentucky, I think. There’s more outside pressure. There’s more expectations and you can feel that as a player. I mean, it’s good preparation for the next level, but it takes some time to adapt and get used to it.”

On how closely he looks at what people are saying on social media …

“I can only speak for myself, but I do not have social media anymore since the start of the season. I’m not on it. I don’t pay attention to it. I’m just trying to stay focused on the goal that we have with the team. So, I’m not aware of what’s going on over there.”

On Coach Calipari setting an expectation that he must score between 12 and 15 points a game for the team to have success …

“I mean, I think he’s trying to show me that I need to be more involved defensively, take more responsibility for the team, being more aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, and just finding a way to be productive so they can rely on me. Every other game, every game, you know, be more consistent because we need that, we need that core. We’re really good on defense and I think our offense can really improve, and that’s part of it.”

On the differences between the SEC and ACC …

“I think it’s a different style of play. I think it’s more athletic in this league. You don’t play against big centers that much. There’s a couple of teams that have big centers, but not as much as in the ACC, I think, I mean, since last season for me in comparison. But other than that, I mean, the style of play is a little bit different.”

On rebounding …

“I think for me, is just being consistent with it. As you say, just grabbing one board every other possession. I mean, it’s really important. We’ve got length. We’ve got athleticism, and grabbing rebounds shows that and that’s key. We’ve got some games that we lost like one possession away and we got beat on the boards whether it was offensive or defensive boards. They crushed us, and I think it’s something that we need to go back to and be more consistent with it.”

On what he remembers about the last matchup with Alabama …

“They made a lot of 3s. I think we didn’t follow the scouting report as much as we should have been and that cost us the game by a lot.”

On if the team plays with revenge on the mind …

“It’s good for them stopping us and bringing the best out of us. It’s a good challenge. We’re going to war over there and I know that the guys are ready. So, it’s a great challenge for us. They talked a lot during the game, so we’ve got good motivation.”

On when Alabama talked a lot in the last game, what were they saying …

“I mean, you know what’s happening on a basketball court. A lot of guys talk whether it’s trash or whether it’s just to get you out of your game. I’m not going to pinpoint exactly everything they said. We don’t need to do that. But all we know is that they talked a lot. It’s not part of our game. We’re just trying to focus on what we do and we’ll try to do that at the best of our abilities, and that’s what we’re going to try and do on Tuesday.”