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John Calipari and Cats talk flu bug, Dontaie Allen emergence, and more

Here comes Dontaie!

Dontaie Allen Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats faced the North Florida ospreys on Black Friday in Lexington.

Kentucky managed to get Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware back from injury, but Keion Brooks and Davion Mintz both sat out due to an illness.

After an ugly start, the Cats jumped out to an 8-0 run right after the eight-minute TV timeout, which helped them build a 37-23 lead going into halftime thanks to a big half from Damion Collins, who had eight points and four boards, while Oscar Tshiebwe brought down 11 rebounds!

The second half started with the Cats still hot as they put this one away early and eventually secured an 86-52 win. Tshiebwe finished with 12 points and 16 boards. Sahvir Wheeler racked up 14 assists to go with 12 points.

After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to recap the game. One of the big talking points was the flu bug that’s apparently been going around the team. Even Brad Calipari caught it and missed this game, while the elder Calipari himself was also under the weather.

“My son was sick. Three managers were sick. So I am,” Calipari said. “I wish I could make them take flu shots, but I can’t. I had mine the other day. Normally, I won’t, and it’s not because I don’t trust, I just don’t like getting shots. I know I need to get it, but I hate to scream in front of girls who are watching me get a shot.”

Another talking point was Dontaie Allen, who’s been been glued to the bench much of the season thus far, but the absence of Allen has led to extended minutes for the Pendleton County native. Allen responded in a big way with 14 points off the bench against the Ospreys.

“Dontaie, I told him, ‘You can miss shots. If you fight, I’ll leave you in.’ He didn’t fight early in the game,” said Calipari. “He didn’t come up with the ball, he ran the wrong way, he pushed. You’re not missing shots and playing. Then all of a sudden, he missed shots, but he fought. When we came in at halftime, the guys said, ‘That’s the way to fight, Dontaie.’”

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

John Calipari

Q. The flow and team chemistry – how hard is it given the fact you’ve had someone missing every single game?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, one guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity. I loved how Daimion [Collins] started the game, but then he starts shooting step-back threes. What are you doing? Block shots, rebound, go dunk some, and every once in a while, make a jumper or two. But you’re not playing for that.

Like the time he had TyTy [Washington] in the corner yelling one more, and he was going to show his stuff. They ran the guy over. What are you doing? What are you doing? Well, he hadn’t played that much. But what’s the impact he has on the game? You see the impact.

We tried to play Jacob [Toppin]. He just hadn’t played. So, he ran up and down four times. He was gassed. And the way we’re playing now, like I told him after, what we’re trying to do is continue to run for 40 minutes. If you can’t do that when you’re in, you’re not going to be playing much. If you’re not understanding why we’re doing this, we can eventually wear them down a little bit.

And we may have some teams that we don’t wear down. That’s fine. But you’ve got to shoot the ball better then. Again, Dontaie [Allen], I told him, ‘You can miss shots. If you fight, I’ll leave you in.’ He didn’t fight early in the game. He didn’t come up with the ball, he ran the wrong way, he pushed. You’re not missing shots and playing. Then all of a sudden, he missed shots, but he fought. When we came in at halftime, the guys said, ‘That’s the way to fight, Dontaie.’

I’m giving them the answers to the tests. You can miss shots if you fight, if you defend, and if you go after balls. So, it was great to see him make shots. Kellan [Grady] missed a bunch, but he made twos, which were good for us.

Oscar [Tshiebwe] did okay. He tried to grab balls with one hand. You know how many of those he brought in? Zero. He would have had five more rebounds. Why are you doing that? When did you start doing that?

We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m trying to figure out how we are going to play late in the game. What are we trying to get done? When it’s winning time, what do we do? What’s the best way to play if you have Oscar and Daimion in? How do you play now offensively?

I tried to have Daimion run to the rim and let’s see if Oscar’s making shots, but Oscar missed them all today. Now, he is a good shooter, but he missed shots. So we’re still a work in progress.

Here’s what I like. We fought, and we defended. That’s what we did. We scrambled. We played. We came up with balls, and we flew. A lot of breakdowns.

We only had six turnovers in the second half. We had seven turnovers from our bigs in the first half. Seven. Come on guys, that’s too many.

Q. Now that he’s back, what does Jacob [Toppin] bring to this team that he can add to the rotation?

JOHN CALIPARI: Energy. Energy. He has got to shoot balls. He may not make them, but to drive baseline and step out of bounds, you’re not doing that. Shoot the ball. What if I go 0-for-9? Where are you tonight? You’re in the gym shooting. I don’t know what to tell you. You’ve got to take the shots that are there, because when you don’t, they all lead to turnovers.

He’s a good shooter – not a great shooter – but he’s a good shooter. Shoot the ball, and then get in the gym more. Live in there like some of the other guys have.

By the way, love what Bryce [Hopkins] did. We give it to the guards on our team because they’re great distributors. You’re not coming down the full court and doing this. All you’ve got to do is give it to him and run, give it right back to you.

So, I took him right out. You’re not doing that here. Why would you do that? You know how we’re playing. Thirty seconds later, I stuck him back in, or a minute and a half later, and then he played. I mean, we need him. No question – we need him. I’m just glad to see him make some baskets and defend the way he did, and come up with balls.

Q. You made a big deal in preseason about the guys talking to each other. We’re a long way out, but it looks like they’re communicating better out there. How is that going?

JOHN CALIPARI: Oscar didn’t do it. Daimion’s still learning. Bryce is still learning. Dontaie, he communicates with sign language. The problem is, when two guys come together and neither one talk, something bad is going to happen for us and something good for them.

I’m just over it all. I don’t want one guy to talk. I want both guys to talk. You hear a guy say one more, throw it immediately because, when you say one more, you want it. We held it a little bit today in the first half. There’s a lot of clutter. There’s a lot of noise they’re hearing, but it was good.

Q. I saw Oscar doing it some tonight, but big guys have done it for as long as the game has been around. Why do they catch the ball up high and bring it down low to reset? Is that one of those old habits you have to break?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, he did two today and got them right in. Then you would say, ‘Why wouldn’t you do that?’ Because he has a habit of bringing it down, and we talked about it. We’re trying to figure out ways where we can get him the ball and he can just score it, but that’s hard against good teams.

Second thing for he and Daimion and a couple other guys, you can’t accept a block out. In other words, we shoot it, and they put their back on your chest. You never have a back on a chest. Never. So, the shot goes up, I move that way or that way. Maybe I spin. I do something. You tell me why would a guy do this versus that? It’s way easier. I’m not going to do it. It’s too hard. Again, you’ll get three or four more offensive rebounds as a team if you move instead of not blocking me out. I’m going to move, and you’re going to have to move with me. You move with me, it’s hard for you to rebound. If you’re standing here like this and don’t move, yeah. But now try to do this and then go get the ball.

Look, I haven’t done a good job with Oscar offensively. I know I haven’t. We’ve got work we’ve got to do, and we have to have post presence. Like I told him, I said, ‘You understand five balls, instead of having 16 rebounds, you would have had 21.’ And then the whole team laughed. He had 16 rebounds, and you’re getting all over him. What are you talking about? He’s leading the nation in rebounding. But why not five more?

Q. With Davion and Keion [Brooks] both having illness issues, are you concerned about some greater thing in the team right now? Are those connected?

JOHN CALIPARI: I am. My son was sick. Three managers were sick. So I am. I wish I could make them take flu shots, but I can’t. I had mine the other day. Normally, I won’t, and it’s not because I don’t trust, I just don’t like getting shots. I know I need to get it, but I hate to scream in front of girls who are watching me get a shot.

Let me say this too with Matt [Driscoll]. The reason I laughed is that he threw a couple yinzes. He is a Pittsburgh guy. He played at Slippery Rock. If you’re at Pittsburgh, you know Matt. You know him as a terrific coach.

But he has put his team through a gauntlet, and they played well. I’m telling you, I watch games with five minutes to go, it’s a two bucket game, three bucket game, against Arizona State, against Grand Canyon. I watched, even with UCLA, it was a tie game with ten minutes in the half, kind of like they did to us.

They’re going to be ready for their league. My guess is they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with, and he’s running good stuff. They missed shots. I think they wore out a little bit. They missed some shots that they normally would make.

#4, Daimion Collins, Freshman, Forward

On his first career start …

“I feel like I played good but I could’ve done better. But overall, I played good and helped the team bring out the win.”

On putting in solid minutes and having a good performance …

“It felt real good just being out there and playing with my team helping them get the win. Just being out there felt real good.”

On only shooting 24 percent from three but still winning by 30 …

“It says a lot. We do all the extra work like rebounds and getting to the rim, stuff like that.”

On being comfortable with taking shots on the perimeter and playing on the inside …

“I’m pretty comfortable with both because in high school I played outside and inside so you know being able to play with that versatility feels real good.”

#34, Oscar Tshiebwe, Forward

On if he’s ever been jumped over like he was in the first half by Damion Collins …

“Nope, I did not even see him coming to be honest. Like come on man, you can’t do that to me!”

On how the team refrains from becoming discouraged …

“The way we run, no one can run with us. Most teams quit in the middle but we scored, and scored, and scored, so that they couldn’t run with us.”

On how the team did not shoot threes well yet still won …

“For us, if we don’t shoot the three well, we can always go rebound and run. That’s one thing we do best and not many people can keep up with that.”

On how he believes the freshmen are improving and impacting the team…

“They’re learning how to play college basketball. I’m so proud of them and they’re doing so good. They’re going to help us in the long run and by the time we get to January, February, and March, we’ll be very good.”

#2 Sahvir Wheeler, Jr., Guard

On Coach Calipari wanting the team to talk to each other more during play …

“I am a talker. I like to talk. But it’s not just one person. I think Coach Cal is trying to get a collective effort. Everyone has to talk. Everyone has to pitch in because everyone sees something different in the game. We’re not all standing at the same place or guarding the same person. Everyone has a different perspective, so if you can share knowledge, share what you see that can help us, then we encourage that. Especially guys like Oscar (Tshiebwe), Daimion (Collins), Lance (Ware), Jacob (Toppin). Those guys are typically guarding bigs, and bigs are always at the back. They’re not on the front court guarding the ball, they’re in the paint. So, they can see all the action, so they could talk us through it. And those guys talk off the court, so if we can get them to talk on the court, that can help us tremendously.”

On how he applies pressure without fouling …

“That goes back to what I wanted to get back to doing when I decided to come to Kentucky- being effective or being a disruptor on the defensive end, but also putting a lot of pressure when I’m on offense. Part of that is conditioning. You can’t really do that if you’re tired. If you do that every three possessions in a row and then you need a break, now the defense is like ‘okay he’s only going to do it two or three times so you’re good’. So, I think a lot of it is conditioning and a lot of it is trust. If I’m pressuring you, I know that I have help. So, if I get beat, on a rare occasion, I have someone behind me that can block the shot, or help, and I can rotate over to their man as well.”

On knowing other players can step up when another is out

“It’s super valuable. That’s one of Coach Cal’s biggest things- next man up. You don’t know when your opportunity is going to come, so that comes with maybe one night you won’t get as much playing time, but the next night something like this, where Keion didn’t play tonight, so Daimion’s number was called , like right before the game, and he came out here and performed. So, having that confidence like just because you know last night last game wasn’t my chance doesn’t mean it isn’t my turn this time. So just constantly having the ‘next man up’- being prepared. Being prepared in the film, being prepared with your game, being in the gym, also being prepared as far as paying attention in shootarounds, knowing the details of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team and what we’re trying to take the other team out of. All that together comes with responsibility, that comes with being prepared, to allow you to have performance just like he did tonight.”

On if it’s hard to get continuity when playing with different lineups …

“I don’t think it’s hard to get a lot of continuity. I think the biggest thing is that we play with so many different lineups in practice. Coach is always switching us around trying new things. And we know each other. That goes back to the summer off the court, building that trust, building that camaraderie so when someone gets on the court, it’s comfortable. And it’s going to only continue to get better. So, I’m excited when someone else comes in.”

And here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky extended its winning streak to five games and is now 5-1 on the 2021-22 season. North Florida dropped to 1-6 this season.
  • UK notched its first victory vs. UNF in the schools’ first meeting.
  • Next up: Kentucky will continue its season-long seven-game home stand on Monday when it hosts Central Michigan at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The game will be live streamed by SEC Network+/ESPN+.
  • It will mark the return of former UK assistant Tony Barbee, who served on staff at Kentucky from the 2014-15 season through the 2020-21 year. He was named CMU’s head coach following the 2020-21 season.
  • Attendance at Rupp Arena was a season-high 19,350.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky held North Florida to 52 points. UK is a perfect 81-0 under head coach John Calipari when holding the opponent to 55 or points or less. The Wildcats are 193-9 (95.5%) under Calipari when limiting the opponent to 63 points or less.
  • UK limited North Florida to 33.3% from the field. UK is 214-24 (89.9%) under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 40% or less.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 37 points. The Wildcats are 291-12 (96.0%) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time during the contest.
  • The Wildcats, who entered the contest No. 1 in the nation in rebounding margin, continued its rebounding dominance Friday with a plus-17 margin. UK has outrebounded all six opponents this season and has a plus-19.8 average margin for the season.
  • Five Kentucky players scored in double figures, the third time in six games at least five Wildcats have reached digits in a game.
  • The Wildcats outscored the Ospreys 28-0 on fastbreak points.
  • UK also dominated North Florida in the points-off-turnovers category, winning that battle 20-3.
  • Kentucky came up with 13 steals, tied for the second most of the Calipari era.
  • The Calipari era benchmark is 15, set Nov. 16, 2012, vs. Lafayette.

Player Notes

  • TyTy Washington Jr led the Wildcats in scoring for the second time this season with a game-high-tying 14 points.
  • He was 6 for 13 from the floor, ending a four-game streak of shooting 50% or better.
  • It was the first time this season he failed to match or increase his scoring total from the previous game.
  • He had a career-high four steals.
  • Sahvir Wheeler, who entered the game first in the country with 8.2 assists per game, dished out a game-high and career-high 14 assists to go along with 12 points.
  • It is the most assists by a Wildcat since Tyler Ulis had 14 vs. LSU on March 5, 2016.
  • It was tied for the third-most assists in school history and was the most ever by a junior.
  • It was his second double-double of the season and 10th of his career.
  • Oscar Tshiebwe, the country’s leading rebounder, posted his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
  • It was his sixth straight game in double-figure rebounding to start the season.
  • He is the first player to grab 10 or more rebounds in six straight games since Julius Randle posted a 10-game streak in February and March of 2014.
  • He is tied for the national lead in double-doubles with five.
  • Dontaie Allen scored a season high and game-high-tying 14 points, tallying 12 of them in the second half.
  • He also snared a career-high seven rebounds and tied a career high with two assists.
  • Daimion Collins made the most of his first career start with 12 points and six boards.
  • Jacob Toppin (shoulder) and Lance Ware (ankle) returned to action. Toppin had missed four straight games and Ware had missed the last three.
  • Toppin had three points and two rebounds in his return.
  • Ware scored four points.
  • Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks Jr. did not play due to illness.
  • Mintz missed his second straight game. It was Brooks’ first absence of the season.

Coach Calipari

  • Calipari improved to 344-94 at UK.
  • Calipari has a 789-234 all-time on-court record.
  • UK is 280-55 in games vs. unranked Associated Press competition and 171-11 vs. unranked foes in Rupp Arena.
  • Calipari is 1-0 all-time vs. North Florida.
  • Kentucky is 193-17 in Rupp Arena under Calipari, winning the last six in a row.
  • UK is 100-6 vs. nonconference foes under Calipari in Rupp Arena.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Daimion Collins and Oscar Tshiebwe for the first time this season with Keion Brooks Jr. unavailable due to illness.
  • Making his first career start, Collins got the game’s opening points with a two-hand putback slam.
  • Jacob Toppin, appearing in his first game since the season opener vs. Duke because of a shoulder injury, was Kentucky’s first sub at the 16:32 mark.
  • The Wildcats got off to a slow start as North Florida took a 12-7 lead.
  • At the under-8 timeout, Kentucky had made just five of its first 20 shots and trailed 16-14, but the Wildcats came out of the timeout with some much-needed energy. Collins started an 8-0 run with an alley-oop slam on a beautiful feed from Dontaie Allen. A minute and a half later, the Wildcats forced UNF to burn a 30-second timeout after a steal from Washington led to a transition layup and a 20-16 lead for UK.
  • UK stretched the run to 8-0 out of the timeout with a Collins offensive putback.
  • The overall run was 12-2 over 4:13 of game time, turning a 16-14 deficit to a 26-18 Kentucky advantage.
  • Kentucky closed the half on a 6-0 run to take a 37-23 lead to the halftime locker room.
  • After starting the game 5 of 20 from the field, UK made 11 of 19 to close the half.
  • Collins capitalized on his first start with eight points and four rebounds in the first half.
  • Wheeler also scored eight and dished out four assists.
  • Tshiebwe extended his double-figure rebounding streak to start the season in the first half alone with 11 boards to go along with seven points.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky started the second half with the same starting five: Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Collins and Tshiebwe.
  • Grady started the second half with the hot hand, scoring Kentucky’s first six points – all on jumpers.
  • UK opened the second half with 12 points in the first 4:04 of play.
  • Kentucky increased its lead to 54-30 on an 8-0 run highlighted by a steal and layup by Wheeler.
  • A 9-0 run – fueled by the helping hand of Wheeler with three assists in the burst – ballooned the lead to 75-40 with 4:42 left in the game.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 37 with 2:34 left to play.
  • Allen led UK in the second half with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.