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John Calipari and Cats recap Central Michigan, plus postgame notes

UK is now 6-1 heading into December.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

Monday was a tale of two halves for the Kentucky Wildcats as they welcomed Central Michigan and former UK assistant Tony Barbee.

The Cats jumped out to a huge lead in the first half despite missing Davion Mintz again due to illness.

The fun started with a 25-5 run before UK went into half with a 51-25 lead.

Then the second half came, and the Cats were sluggish coming out of the locker room. They shot just 32% from the field and won the half by just two points.

Still, the Cats ended up winning 85-57 to score win No. 6 on the young season. They were once again led by the play of Oscar Tshiebwe, who scored 20 points and brought in 16 rebounds.

After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to recap the game. Here is a look at what they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

JOHN CALIPARI: How good can we play? There were stretches today where we were really good. There were other stretches that we held the ball, and you get up and guys are trying to get a point or two themselves, and doesn’t look the same. But we got tough games coming up. We do.

It has been a grind. We played, obviously, now the number one team in the country first game out of the gate, and it’s a four-point game with four or five minutes to go. It was. Isn’t that right?

So, alright, now how do we continue to build? Ohio, I don’t know, they’re ranked 30th because they lost to us, but they will end up being one of those teams – an NCAA tournament team – and we beat them pretty good.

Now we’ve got another game next week and we’re getting a little break. And it comes at a great time because we’re sick. Today, Daimion [Collins] didn’t do the shoot-around because he had a high fever. With Keion [Brooks], we didn’t know if he would play until right before the game, and you saw that he was tired. He looked tired. Lance [Ware], I think that ankle is still bothering him. Davion hopefully will be ready for the game next week. Bryce [Hopkins], his back has been bothering him. We have been beat up. We need now a couple days. They’re going to have off tomorrow and they’ll have off Wednesday. It will be an individual workday unless you need treatments or something else for you. It’s an individual day.

Then we’ll figure out what we’re doing on Thursday, and that may be individual work. I may do conditioning and not do practice. I may let them just get their wind back and then go Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Q. John, you’re 18-and-1 against former coaches. What’s it like playing against them?

JOHN CALIPARI: Still mad about that one. Tony and I spoke prior to the game. He and I spent some time together. I know it’s a process when you’re rebuilding like he is, and we talked about it. But I’m worried about my team playing the right way. I’m worried about my team fighting, and about my team being consistent for 40 minutes and how we’re going to play. Then we’ve got to figure each other out.

I’m still trying to figure out Oscar [Tshiebwe]. He was better today. That team was long now. It wasn’t like he was going against 6’7 guys. Those guys were 6’11, 6’10.

Then offensively, again, we had two guys go 2-for-12. Two guys go 2-for-12. You can’t be 2-for-12. You can’t, or I got to figure out who else plays.

Does that put pressure on them? Well, you won’t believe this, when they go in the game, there’s pressure on them. We went against a zone today for the first time we really played it. We got the ball and did some good things and then missed shots that were wide open, even one right next to the basket. We fumbled. We’ve got to get work in.

Q. TyTy [Washington] seems like he’s really letting the game come to him. He’s pretty efficient out there. Would you agree?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. He does. That’s his mentality. That’s his personality. He’s really comfortable in his own skin. He’s comfortable with who he is as a player. He’s not there to say, ‘I’m going to prove that I can do this.’ He’s not playing like, ‘I need to get some baskets now. I got to get to double figures.’ He doesn’t play that way.

I keep talking to the guys about that confidence. You struggle and all of a sudden you shoot an air ball or you miss one, and it leads to missing four. A lot of times I keep coming back to all the clutter. You got to block it out. You got to be a man.

I’m not taking guys out for missed shots. Well, he did this, and you left him in. Stop. It is not true. They know I’m not doing that. Now, you can’t miss every shot and expect to play. I’m taking you out if you don’t fight, if you’re not defending, if you don’t dive on the floor for a ball, or if you’re not sprinting. If you’re soft, you’re coming out.

Now, to encourage them, that’s what I’d be saying to them. We had some guys miss a lot of shots today. They stayed in the game. It’s not what it is for us because, again, I want them to know you can go in and miss shots. You can’t miss them all, but you can go in and miss shots if you’re defending and you’re rebounding, if you’re diving on the floor, and if you’re making a difference in the game.

If you play that way, you’ll be confident. Oh, yeah. You’ll be confident. Now, they think I just got to make shots to be confident. Okay. What if you’re 1-for-9? How confident are you now?

It’s all based on all the other stuff. What Tony [Barbee] had his guys setting screens, and they were plastering guys. My point is, if that’s how we’re going to play, then I’ve got to teach that. We’re able to go down and chuck a guy, then we will get some of the helmets from the football team. They’re not going to play for a couple weeks, and we’ll have practice. And I’m telling Tony, he did a great job of saying, ‘We’re not backing down.’

Then they went zone and they kept playing. His team never stopped. They played physical. They’ll win their share. They get in the league, and I think they got Xavier now. It’s kind of like North Florida and these teams that we’re playing have played one Power Five after another. He’ll have them right.

Q. How close do you think you are to finding the rotation you want to play with?

JOHN CALIPARI: I think it’s going to be game to game, and guys are going to have to accept that. If someone is playing well, I’m going to play them a lot of minutes. If you’re not quite ready and you’re not into it that game, that’s fine. I still love you. I’ll have you at the house. I’ll make you breakfast, but you’re just not playing a whole lot tonight. I mean, it’s just what it may be.

Now, guys keep separating. Here is the good thing about all the injuries and sickness. Who got a good chance to play a bunch? Dontaie got his chance to play a whole lot. Bryce got a chance to play a whole lot. Daimion got a chance to play a whole lot. Okay. Now you start looking and you have your chance, now get in there and do it.

Even the one he made, I said, ‘Hey, it’s about time you made one. And, hey, you rattled it in. It hit the rim seven times.’ And he started laughing. Because, again, Dontaie can be a game-changer for us to go in the game and have great confidence because he did something defensively. He blocked it. And all of a sudden, he gets a shot and, bang, he gets another shot, bang. And all of a sudden, the game changes. There is a spot for him.

And, again, it’s a hard deal having to make shots. It’s a whole lot easier trying to get an assist because who’s got to make the shot? The other guy. Now, I will say it’s a little bit harder getting a rebound.

Q. Cal, Tony was your zone guy that you lean on at times when you took a look at it. You probably knew you’d see some of that tonight.


Q. Did it help you to see some of that?

JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, yeah. Look, every team we played – I think back to Miles College. That helped us. How many threes did they make? 15. That helped us. It helped me say, ‘What are you doing?’

Then there was some post up stuff. Who was that? Wesleyan? I can’t remember. But someone did everything in the post, and we looked so bad that it’s like, okay, how do we shorten it up?

What we need to shorten up right now is how we play offensively and how we finish off a game. Oscar was better today, but still not there. We just have to keep working. Do we have another guy that can give us post presence on this team? Is it Bryce? Is he the guy? He’s pretty physical now. Throw it to him and let him back a guy under it.

Today, it was, I thought, a pick and roll game for this team, and they did pretty well.

Q. You feel like Daimion is gaining confidence, just banging around in the paint? It seemed like he was going in there with a little more fuel tonight.

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. He’s getting better. He just needs to get on the court, and when he gets on there, he has got to fight like heck.

You’re not physically this beast, and you’re slender. Okay. You can still be tough. Leverage. You got to be lower than the man you’re guarding. If you’re not, he’s blowing you into the cheerleaders, and then you get the sprinkles on your face. If the ball goes up, if he hits you first, where are you next to? The cheerleaders, and you have the sprinkles on your uniform now. You’ve got to hit him first or you’ve got to be lower than him. You’ve got to outrun him and beat him to spots before he catches it. And now all of a sudden, you’re tough.

He has just got to learn it because I don’t think the kid’s ever going to be 260 pounds. So learn it here.

Q. John, in the past, we’ve heard you say that a team can have too few turnovers. You had six tonight. Was that a matter of taking care of the ball or not being aggressive enough? What would you like to see the team average this year?

JOHN CALIPARI: About 12, 11. But I don’t want to see three from my point guard if we only have six. One of them was a long pass to Oscar. There was no way he was catching that ball. Why did you throw that?

I want him to create shots. He took a couple shots he really didn’t have to, but he had the pullup. Perfect. The three, perfect. Get a lay-up or two. Well, they’re converging. Throw it there. He had a floater. I want him to shoot floaters.

And, again, I think he’s playing as well as anybody in the country, and the reason is he’s disruptive defensively. He’s playing with speed. He’s making us play fast. He makes good decisions, but he still has a ways to go.

#23, Bryce Hopkins, Freshman, Forward

On the team developing …

“I feel like we’re just trying to figure out which groups play best together, we’re still trying to figure that out. So coach ( Calipari) is putting different guys with each other and trying to figure out which makes the best match.”

On what his role is …

“(Coach John Calipari) just wants me to play hard all the time, he wants me to rebound, defend, and take shots that are there and just let the game come to me.”

On his development over the season …

“As the games are going on, I’m starting to learn what my role is, and I’m just trying to let the game come to me. Whereas me coming in and trying to force shots and just trying to be too aggressive at times. So, I’m just trying to let the game come to me.”

On earning playing time …

“I’m always going to go hard in practice, and I’m just going to stay ready that’s one thing he tells me to do. So I’m just going to stay ready and when he calls my number just go in and do what I can do to help us win.”

#3, TyTy Washington Jr., Freshman, Guard

On what the team is getting out of early games …

“I feel like we’re getting more connected with each other, figuring out how we’re going to play off of each other. I feel like we’re building up our chemistry.”

On letting the game come to him …

“If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. If somebody else is open, I’m going to pass it to them, really just trying to go out there and be a team player and just help my team win, at the end of the day.”

On where letting the game come to him came from …

“I always played basketball the right way growing up as a kid. I never got caught up in how many points I scored or stuff like that. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. More games you win, winning solves everything. You win, it’s going to attract even more people. If you’re not out there playing your best, as long as you’re helping your team come out with a win in some type of form, you’re going to be good.”

On when guys are keeping track of their stats rather than winning …

“When guys think like that, I feel like you just put more pressure onto yourself. Then you’re not buying into the whole team concept of what the team needs. If you’re just caught up in just chasing your stats, then you’re just really worried about yourself. You’re not worried about the other four guys that are on the court with you. And I just feel like you can’t go to war playing by yourself. You need a team with you, buying into the team product.”

On how much he practices deep threes and what advantage they bring …

“I practice that shot a lot. Especially like when I’m going into the gym by myself, after I warm up, to end the workout, I always go back there from the top, the wings and from behind the four-point line, just get up a lot of reps. Just focusing on a lot of makes. In a game, if you’re comfortable shooting back there, and Coach Cal knows you’re capable of making it, he’s not going to say too much about you shooting that shot, as long as the ball goes in. Being able to shoot that far out, the defenders have to respect you. If they’re sagging off like that, you can’t be hesitant to let it fly, and if they do step up, you can always go around them and create for yourself or somebody else.”

#0, Jacob Toppin, Jr., Forward

On how he is feeling and updates on his shoulder injury …

“It’s still frustrating. I’m not 100% right now but I am working back to being 100%. I don’t have a long way to go. I’m still getting treatment and still doing all these things to strengthen my shoulder, so I’ll be back to 100% soon.”

On how hard it can be playing themselves when beating teams by double-digit points …

“It’s hard because we get up big and then we try to slow down, and Coach Calipari always preaches to keep the foot on the gas pedal, and that is what we need to do. I think we’re getting better at that once we get a lead. We’re still pushing the ball, we’re still moving the ball, and we’re still sharing and getting the shots that we want.”

On what he and the team has learned so far this season …

“We’re learning to trust one another, and it shows that we’re getting better at trusting each other more. We’re sharing the ball more and we’re getting the shots that we want. Some are falling, some aren’t, so we just have to become more consistent shooting the ball and we will be good going down the stretch.”

On what he thinks the team needs to be their biggest improvement …

“Consistency and shooting the ball is what we need to work on. Defensively, we can get better. We have practice every day. We work on defense because that’s what we want to be. We want to be a defensive team, and that’s what we’re going to work on.”

Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky extended its winning streak to six games and is now 6-1 on the 2021-22 season. Central Michigan fell to 1-5 this season.
  • UK improved to 3-0 all-time vs. CMU with two of the three games having taken place in Rupp Arena.
  • It was a reunion of sorts for Central Michigan head coach 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.
  • Barbee fell to 0-6 vs. UK in his head coaching career with five of the previous losses coming in his stop at Auburn.
  • Next up: Kentucky will finish its season-long seven-game home stand next week, on Dec. 7, when it hosts Southern at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The game will be televised by SEC Network.
  • It will mark the return of former UK player Sean Woods, the current head coach of the Jaguars. A UK Athletics Hall of Famer, Woods (1989-92) is the program’s all-time leader in career assists per game (5.3) and was the program leader in career steals per game (1.582) at the conclusion of his career.
  • The game will mark the start of the five-year Unity Series. The Unity Series will feature annual games between UK and schools from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically black colleges and universities. The games will seek to raise awareness of the missions of the HBCUs and to raise funds to provide opportunities for students at their institutions.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky held Central Michigan to 57 points. The Wildcats are 194-9 (95.6%) under Calipari when limiting the opponent to 63 points or less.
  • UK led by as many as 34 points. The Wildcats are 292-12 (96.1%) 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 their rebounding dominance Monday with a plus-17 margin. UK has outrebounded all seven opponents this season and has a plus-19.4 average margin for the season.
  • The rebounding led to an 18-6 advantage on second-chance points.
  • The Wildcats outscored the Chippewas 20-4 on fastbreak points.
  • UK has outscored its last three opponents by a combined 61-7 on fastbreak points.
  • UK led the turnover count 15-6 and also dominated Central Michigan in the points-off-turnovers category, winning that battle 23-7.

Player Notes

  • Oscar Tshiebwe, the country’s leading rebounder, posted his sixth double-double of the season with 20 points and 16 rebounds.
  • It was his seventh straight game in double-figure rebounding to start the season.
  • It was his second game this season with at least 20 points and at least 15 rebounds
  • He is the first player to grab 10 or more rebounds in seven 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 six.
  • TyTy Washington Jr reached double-figure scoring for the sixth straight game with 15 points.
  • He was 6 of 11 from the floor and is shooting better than 50% over the last six games.
  • He also made 3 of 5 from long distance and has made multiple 3-pointers in four of the last five games.
  • Sahvir Wheeler, who entered the game first in the country with 9.2 assists per game, led all players Monday night with six.
  • Davion Mintz did not play due to illness for the third straight game.

Coach Calipari

  • Calipari improved to 345-94 at UK.
  • Calipari has a 790-234 all-time on-court record.
  • UK is 281-55 in games vs. unranked Associated Press competition and 172-11 vs. unranked foes in Rupp Arena.
  • Calipari notched his first win vs. Central Michigan in his first meeting against the program.
  • Calipari improved to 18-1 all-time vs. his former assistant coaches, including 9-0 vs. Tony Barbee.
  • Kentucky is 194-17 in Rupp Arena under Calipari, winning the last six in a row.
  • UK is 101-6 vs. nonconference foes under Calipari in Rupp Arena.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the sixth time this season. UK is now 5-1 with that starting lineup.
  • UK raced to a 16-5 lead by the first media timeout (14:56) by hitting seven of their first eight shots, including two 3-pointers.
  • The Wildcats extended their lead to 25-5 out of the gate with a 16-0 run overall over 3:24 of game time.
  • Wheeler dazzled over the 25-5 start with seven points and four assists while Tshiebwe added six points and five rebounds.
  • The Wildcats scored on 11 of their first 13 possessions, missing just one of their first 11 shots with one turnover.
  • Daimion Collins was the first sub for Kentucky at 14:55.
  • Tshiebwe scored seven straight points in a 16-0 run midway through the half to increase its lead to a commanding 43-12 with 7:03 left in the first half.
  • UK led 51-25 at halftime.
  • Kentucky’s 51 points were its most in a first half since scoring 51 vs. Winthrop on Nov. 21, 2018, a game UK won 87-74.
  • The 26-point halftime margin was Kentucky’s largest since Jan. 29, 2019, when UK led Vanderbilt 45-15 en route to a 87-52 win.
  • UK scored 1.457 points per possession in the first half.
  • The Wildcats shot 52.6% in the first half.
  • Tshiebwe nearly had a double-double at halftime with 13 points and eight rebounds.
  • Washington reached double-figure scoring with 10 points to go along with four boards.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky started the second half with the same starting five: Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Bryce Hopkins and Tshiebwe.
  • The Wildcats stretched their lead to 65-31 with a 10-3 run early in the second half, the Wildcats’ largest lead of the game.
  • Central Michigan would never get any closer than 26 points.