The Kentucky Wildcats have concluded exhibition play following an 80-71 win Friday over Miles College.
After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to recap the game and discuss the new season. Here is what they had to say via UK Athletics.
Q. John, you sat up here last week and said I need dogs. Show me who you are. See any dogs tonight?
“Couple. Got a couple others that have got to become those guys.
Again, approach, defense and digging were way better, weren’t they? Now what fell? Three-point defense. And then you say, well, how much have you worked on it? Like some, but this was a great game.
I said it before. Great game for us to play because I watched the tape. The things that they did perimeter wise, I didn’t expect them to make this many 3s, especially in a row.
But, you know, second half they get 61 with a couple minutes to go, and then all of a sudden you do the same thing. Give up 3s, don’t bring in a ball, they make a layup, all of a sudden it’s like the last game; they get eight points in the last minute.
But the one thing that this team is, we’ll ride who’s playing well. If you’re the next man up, you got to be ready. I thought Dontaie (Allen) did great in the second half. You’ll say, well, he made shots. No. Did you see how he stayed in front, defended, and he blocks a shot? He fought. Then it’s in the just shooting.
He threw one away. That’s fine because he was doing enough to fight. Our guards, they’re probably going to play 30 minutes a game if they can stay out of foul trouble. Those two guards. They’re better.
When CJ (Frederick) comes back, we’ll have to see. I thought Jacob (Toppin) played with more energy, more spirit than some of the other guys, which means I may not start him, but he’s going to go in, and if he plays that way this means you’re playing less. Just how it is.
Oscar (Tshiebwe) hadn’t practiced. He was off about four days. He was injured and I think it kind of showed. Second half he played a little bit better. First half he was just out of sync, wasn’t with us.
Q. Looks like your guards are pretty good. (Sahvir) Wheeler and (TyTy) Washington (Jr.) both had six assists apiece. They were good passers. How much more flexibility does that give you had terms of game plan and designing offenses?
“It’s like, OK, what do we do with this team? If those two are going to play 30 minutes a game, all right, what happens behind them? I think what you’re seeing is they’re taking the leadership without me saying it.
I thought Sahvir defensively was ridiculous. It’s hard to play that way for 30 minutes or more, but he did it. And I thought TyTy did some good stuff. Missed a couple floaters that I would expect him to make, but look, you got to give Miles credit again. I mean, I kept saying it: Are you watching the game? I’m in the huddle. They haven’t made a two. Are you watching?
So, we don’t drive them off the line. So, we’re closing with our hands down, and then when he goes to shoot the 3 we go like this, and as it goes over our hands we go like that and they make another 3.
It was disappointing. Like you had to be sitting there watching. How many teams are going to come in here knowing they got to make 15 3s to beat us? There’s going to be teams that are going to know, if we don’t make enough 3s we can’t beat them.
The good news is we’re shooting the ball better. Around a basket, I mean, we had the ball one foot and missed 10. Got them blocked, missed shots.
[Miles starts yelling from the locker room.] They (Miles) must be in there watching ESPN talking about this game. They’re in there. I told the coach, I said, ‘This was good game for us. I mean, you went right at us.’ ”
Q. In terms of Sahvir, his pressure, what did he kind of tell those guys that you all could push him out to the perimeter and keep him there for several minutes?
“He was coaching in every huddle. He was coaching in every huddle. He was talking to guys, getting on guys. He was encouraging guys. TyTy was doing the same.
Like, they never—I walked in at halftime and everybody said, well, what did you say? We’re going to play games where someone is going to make this many 3s. Now, we got to come out and push out a little bit, and then you got to play well and continue, and we got to get stops back to back to back to back.
Again, we’ve hit two games where teams are shooting 49, 46. Hopefully we’re better defensively than we’re showing right now.”
Q. You’re talking about TyTy’s taking over the huddle. It sounds like the empowerment. You always talk about that. Have you seen that this early in a season?
“Yeah, Tyler Ulis was that way. But, again, can’t be just two guys talking. Let me tell you what’s hard for players. Next man up, that’s hard. Next man up is hard because if someone got it going in front of you, you’re not going to get as many minutes.
You’re just not. Well, then you go in and now you can’t play because you don’t understand the concept. We don’t even have CJ back yet. He’s supposed to practice tomorrow for the first time in months.
It’s the same when he gets his opportunity. It’ll be, does he deserve more or less? He may not be ready. That’s been a struggle for this team because you talk about depth, yeah, but what that means is when you go in, you’re going to either earn more minutes or less. That’s just what it is.
So, I think we got a little bit of a struggle there, but we have to grow up and mature about it.”
Q. With this being one of your most experienced returning teams, are your expectations maybe a little bit too high? How important is it for you to do well on Tuesday?
“My expectations? No, it’s everybody else’s expectation. I know where we are right now, and how hard it will be going forward, not just Tuesday, after Tuesday. Coming back here and having teams that are veteran teams that are good too.
So, we’re going to have to play better. We have to have some post presence. You guys know what I say when you have no post presence. You’ve got to be able to throw it there and get a couple easy baskets. So, it’s both defensively and offensively.
You got to have gang rebounding to have a chance. I like the fact that we’re flying, that we’re getting out, and eventually you can wear people down.
But my expectations are let’s get better tomorrow than we were tonight. Let’s get better Sunday and Monday so we go in with a good feeling. Now will that be enough? I don’t know.”
Q. Will Tuesday night be a good barometer for how you think an experienced team—
“No, because I can remember. We got beat bad in that game and came back and were an Elite Eight team. We made free throws. Would have been in the Final Four and could have won a national title.
What it’ll be is two teams and who is going to fight? Who is going to come up with the balls? Who is going to pass it quicker? Because you’re going to have to do this together.
But they have one the great coaches ever. It’s his last season, and they got terrific players. The guys that came back are really good. The guys they’ve added are really good. It’ll be a hard game.
You know what? It’s an exciting time. I’m just happy we’re back and fans are in the stands and it’s back to normal. Players are at my house. We’re able to be around each other. It’s just like back to normal.
This team has made unbelievable strides. I’ll say this: You are not going to be great at everything, and you don’t know what you’re weak at until you really start playing games.
Last week it was if you guarded a guy, you were an island. You were by yourself. In the last five minutes they showed it.
In this game it shows, boy, you a better have a concept on how we’re guarding 3s. How about a simple fade screen, which we work on. Simple fade screen and you hit into it and the other guy doesn’t go out and they get three or four shots; made three of the four.
So, there is stuff that we showed, but like I said, I’m not discouraged, probably not encouraged, but we are probably where we need to be right now. My issue is next man up. Can you play that way?”
Q. Couple of the guys mentioned this week they feel like they’re not going to overlook Miles, but it’s an opportunity for a big tune up to get ready for Duke. What did you see out of your–
“They tuned us up. Miles tuned us up.”
Q. Right. What do you feel like you’re seeing out of your team?
“Look, we’ll practice tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday and get ready. What do we have to zero in on? I’ll go back to the office tonight. I haven’t started watching Duke tape. I need to get something together, so we’ll do film tomorrow morning about this game, walk through some stuff about this game, come back later in the day and have our practice, have a practice on Sunday, travel, practice on Monday, and we’ll play when the lights go on.
It’s like the biggest game in a decade. The tickets are ridiculous. It’s crazy. We go to the Knicks game on Sunday night, so I get to see Leon (Rose), (William) Wes and Kenny (Payne) and the guys, and our players, our team is going to go and eat there and watch the game. You know, then we play this game.”
Q. What is the one thing that you want your guys to take away from this pair of exhibition games?
“That you got to be watching the game and knowing what’s happening. Let’s just say it’s a screen-to-screen play. If you walked in and you’re watching and it’s hurting us, you know, you are all knowing this is hurting us, let’s talk as we’re out there. Or a fade screen. You had to see that it happened four, five, six times.
We are telling them in every huddle, if it’s thrown over your head, just go run and guard him even if it’s not your man.
But like I said, it was a good game. We should have rebounded better. I thought Jacob (Toppin) and even Bryce (Hopkins) went after one. He got an offensive rebound. You got to get some easy baskets. That means you better be tough, a dog, better fight. Hard to go in there.
I would rather just run back. You know, I go in and get hit, get bumped. We just got to know how we got to play. But I thought it was pretty good. Twenty 3s, I thought we could have shot a few more, especially the percentage we’re shooting, but it was what it was.”
On the difference between the first and second half of the game …
“I think the biggest thing was just adjusting to it. You know, we focused on defense the whole week, making sure that that was strong. We kind of got lazy a little bit as far as closing out, high hands, stuff like that. Last week, our defense spread out all outside, giving up on easy penetration buckets. This week, one focus of the game was ‘nothing inside, nothing inside’ Credit to them though, they made shots. They forced us to play pretty good in the second half in order to come out with the W.”
On what he says during huddles …
“I try to be encouraging, but also holding us accountable because a team like us, we’re really talented. We’ve got to hold each other accountable. That’s the only way we’re going to get better, the only way. We’re going continue to fight, get better, and learn from our mistakes. So, it starts with accountability. There are some guys on the team, they have the potential to impact the game on every single possession. You’ve got to hold them to that standard because when they’re at their best, our team gets better. It’s going to lead to victories and W’s down the line.”
On what Kentucky-Duke means to him…
“You know, two blue blood programs. The great traditions, both respectively. I think I’m a little biased, but I think we’re the greatest. But, definitely, Duke has a history of excellence at Madison Square Garden. I’m from New York. I know a lot of my family is going to be there. I remember going to games with my uncle and my dad to Madison Square Garden, watching basketball. So all this, for them to be there, that’s going to be a big game personally. Just, you know, seeing my family. But just the tradition and the name of it. That’s huge. And where else would you want to play that game? In the biggest, the basketball Mecca of the world.”
On the difference between the first half and second half …
“Defensively in the first half we were horrible, 100% horrible. We talked about it at halftime that it’s about pride and we had to take our pride away and just play defense and that’s what we did in the second half. We were gritty, we played for one another in the second half and we didn’t let them get a lot of threes off in the second half so that was the main difference.”
On living up to his expectations for the first game of the season and getting back out on the court …
“I was just going in worrying about the team, what I can do to help the team win and I think I did some of that. I was definitely excited before the game, I didn’t wanna get too excited because that’s when things get to my head. I stayed melo, I stayed ready for the moment, and when my name was called I was ready to perform.”
On how the guys are looking forward to playing in Madison Square Garden …
“Well we have a lot to work on, We’re going to worry about the practices tomorrow that we have and we’re going to use today as a learning lesson and learn from it and just get better from it and then we’ll worry about the game Tuesday.
“We worked on our interior defense now we’ll have to work on guarding the three ball. We played well offensively and we could’ve done some things better but defensively, that’s what we really want to work on, because we want to be a defensive-driven team so that’s what were going to work on coming into the game Tuesday.”
On the close score against Miles …
“You learn from every game, exposing your weaknesses make you better. You don’t learn that much when you win by 50 nor 60 points “
On what the team needs to do before Tuesday’s game …
“Most importantly we’ve got to stick together and recognize this is still a collective group. There’s going to be adversity throughout the season, and we definitely hit some tonight, but ultimately, it will prepare us well for our next challenge. “
On Jacob Toppin’s performance tonight …
“He was unbelievable. I wish I was that athletic. He was battling, you know injury and he could’ve pouted, but he got his opportunity today and he was excellent. He rebounded, he was a finisher for us, catching lobs, and some energy spark off the bench. That was a perfect example of being ready for the opportunity and taking advantage of it. “
On Miles 3-point shooting in the first half …
“It definitely surprised us to some degree, just period, no matter who you’re playing. Eleven threes in one half of college basketball is a lot of threes. Its impressive.”
And here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics.
Team Records and Series Notes
- UK improved to 140-12 all-time in exhibition games.
- It was the first time the two schools have ever met – in the regular season or exhibitions.
- Kentucky has won its last 19 exhibition games dating back to Nov. 2, 2014, vs. Pikeville. The last loss was Aug. 17, 2014, vs. the Dominican Republic in the final game of the 2014 Big Blue Bahamas exhibition tour.
- The exhibition season has now concluded for the Wildcats. UK will open the 2021-22 regular season in grand fashion next week. The Wildcats will face No. 9/9 Duke on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York as a part of the Champions Classic.
- Kentucky shot 49.2% (31 of 63) from the floor. Miles made 49.1% (27 of 55) of its attempts.
- UK shot 51.5% in its two exhibition games.
- Both teams filled it up from behind the arc. Kentucky was 11 of 19 (57.9%) from long range, including 5 of 8 in the second half. Miles College was on a tear in the first half, going 11 of 15 from behind the arc, but the Wildcats clamped down in the second half and limited the Golden Bears to just 4 of 15 after halftime. Miles finished at 50.0% (15 of 30).
- Kentucky made 45.8% of its attempts from 3-point range in the exhibition season.
- The Wildcats doubled up the Golden Bears in the paint, outscoring Miles College 36-18.
- UK forced 18 turnovers and turned them into 26 points.
- Eleven Wildcats saw action in the game with four scoring in double figures.
- Sahvir Wheeler tied for the game high in points with 15 on 6-of-9 shooting to go along with a team-high-tying six assists
- Wheeler was key in the second-half turnaround with eight points early out of the halftime locker room and four assists in the second stanza.
- The transfer from Georgia averaged 12.5 points and 6.0 assists in the two exhibition games.
- TyTy Washington Jr. also had 15 points and six assists to match Wheeler in points and assists production.
- He made all three of his 3-point attempts in tonight’s game.
- He made all six of his attempts over the first two exhibition games.
- Kellen Grady scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half to keep Kentucky close when Miles torched the Cats from long range in the first half.
- He was 3 for 3 from behind the arc.
- Jacob Toppin, making his first appearance of the preseason due to a shoulder injury, scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds.
- Oscar Tshiebwe grabbed 12 rebounds in 23 minutes.
- The Wildcats were plus-18 with Tshiebwe on the floor, a team best.
- UK is 37-1 in exhibition play under John Calipari.
- Calipari enters the season with a 784-233 all-time regular-season record and a 339-23 mark at Kentucky.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the second straight exhibition game.
- Tshiebwe won the opening tip and tapped it right to Washington for a transition layup in the opening seconds.
- Miles College, an NCAA Division II school from Alabama, was not intimidated. The Golden Bears made their first five jumpers, three of which were 3-pointers, for an early 13-4 lead, forcing the Wildcats to call timeout at the 17:31 mark.
- Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins and Lance Ware were Kentucky’s first subs at the 16:02 mark.
- Washington steadied Kentucky despite an early 16-7 deficit. The freshman scored eight of the Wildcats’ first 10 points, including two 3-pointers.
- Jacob Toppin made his exhibition season debut at the 13:08 mark and immediately got in the scoring column with a two-hand slam off a feed from Hopkins.
- Just when it looked like Kentucky had slowed down Miles with a 9-1 run to get within 17-16 with 11:48 left in the half, the Golden Bears answered with a quick eight straight points with two deep 3-pointers from Roger Davis.
- The Golden Bears made their first six 3-pointers.
- Kentucky answered Miles’ 8-0 run with a 7-0 spurt, including five straight points from Grady.
- Miles continued to punch back. An 8-0 run with two more 3-pointers gave the Golden Bears their first double-digit lead of the game, 36-26, with 5:28 until halftime.
- Just as Kentucky got within a point at 38-37 with 2:07 left in the half, Miles College closed on an 8-2 run to take a 46-39 lead into the locker room.
- Grady showed why he was a 2,000-point scorer in his four seasons at Davidson College with 11 first-half points. He went 4 of 5 from the floor with three 3-pointers.
- Washington pitched in with eight points – all coming early in the half – and Wheeler added seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
- Although UK made 6 of 11 from the 3-point line in the first half, Miles was even better with 11 treys on 15 attempts.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky started the second half with the same starting five.
- UK asserted itself after halftime. The Wildcats opened the half on an 8-0 run and took the lead 47-46, the Wildcats’ first since 2-0 just two seconds into the game.
- By the first media timeout, Kentucky’s run was 14-2 and its lead was 53-48. Wheeler was spectacular out of halftime with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting by the first break.
- The run would grow all the way to 22-2 for a 61-48 lead with 10:59 left.
- The Wildcats held Miles without a point for 6:11 of play until Anthony Fairley broke the cold snap with a second-chance bucket at the 10:31 mark. At that point UK had turned a halftime deficit into a double-digit lead.
- Miles College would not go away. The Golden Bears cut the Wildcats’ lead back to 66-59 with 5:08 left.
- The Wildcats finally slammed the door shut with a 3 from Washington and a spectacular alley-oop dunk to Toppin off a feed from Wheeler to go up 71-59 heading into the final timeout.
- Kentucky took its largest lead of the game at 78-62 with 1:47 left after a Hopkins jumper before Miles College cut the deficit late in the game.
- UK outscored Miles College 41-25 after halftime.
- Dontaie Allen led the Wildcats with nine points in the second half, all coming off 3-pointers.
- Kentucky limited the Golden Bears to 4 of 15 from behind the arc in the second half.