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John Calipari and Wildcats recap Missouri, plus postgame notes

Cal’s Cats score a third straight blowout win to open SEC play.

John Calipari Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats scored win No. 10 Wednesday night as they blasted the Missouri Tigers 83-56.

After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to recap Kentucky’s first SEC win. Here is what they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

Q. When you’re looking early in this game to see whether Keion (Brooks Jr.) or Jacob (Toppin) is the hot hand that night, what exactly are you looking...

JOHN CALIPARI: It isn’t even hot hand, (Herald-Leader sports columnist John Clay). It’s what energy are they playing with? Will they go get rebounds? Will they play physical? I’m not worried about what they do offensively. All ego stuff. If they do the other stuff, guess what? They’ll score the ball. Keion was terrific. Start the second half our energy was down, he jogged a couple times, I took him out. He rebounded one and bounced it before he threw it ahead. Nope, not doing that. And so — but he played great. How about Lance (Ware) today? I mean, here is a guy, and I want you understand I stuck in Daimion (Collins) before I did Lance. Lance didn’t say, “That’s disrespectful to me.” What? I coach, you play. I put you in, go do your thing. He played. He did the same thing with North Carolina. He went in and made a big difference in the game. I asked Sahvir (Wheeler), “What did you do over Christmas, eat? Did you get in the gym at all?” He laughed and said, “I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t, and I did eat.” But he got nine assists and one turnover, so I said, “Keep eating, kid.”

Q. Considering you’re coming off the Christmas break, you’re playing there and you start out really well, and Missouri hit with your a 14-2 punch right there. How pleased were you with the way your team responded to that instead of kind of hanging their heads or feeling sorry maybe?

JOHN CALIPARI: No, I loved it. Here is what I loved: How we started the game. The energy we started with, who we are, how we run. If you play the way we’re playing, picking them up and you’re running, at some point if a team is not used to playing that way, there is going to be a gap. You’re going to get a layup, a layup, a three. They turn it over, and now all of a sudden it’s 12-14 instead of four. And that’s why we want to keep playing fast. You know, I don’t know what we shot from the three-point line, 5-for-17. I mean, doesn’t matter if you play the way we’re playing. You got to play a certain way. What? How about you score like we are, 83 points. And I told you, we got to 80, 75, 72 to 80 points or more, we’re good, because defensively and rebounding the ball we’re pretty good.

Q. I remember maybe you and other coaches saying that Sahvir (Wheeler) would have to be careful about trying to drive all the way to the basket. He seems to have a real knack for that. How does he do it?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, you got to bring the big guy out if you’re going to give him opportunities to drive. So if you’re watching what we’re doing, either in transition, the big guy is not in the lane yet, or in half-court offense we’ve done things to bring the big away from the basket, and he takes advantage.

Q. Couple questions about Oscar (Tshiebwe): One, on a night where he cannot buy a bucket, rebounds, a lot of guys say, I don’t care about scoring, which Oscar has said before. How much does that validate that he really doesn’t? He just wants to go do the thing he knows he can help you do. And then the other part of that, we’ve seen some mid-air battles. I think he almost took Keion (Brooks Jr.)’s head off after Keion stole a couple of his rebounds. Is that good that other guys are trying to challenge him?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, they’re doing it because I’m saying, If you don’t go and attempt to rebound, I’m taking you out and playing somebody else. Get in there, mix it up. Now, I asked (Tshiebwe) after the game, I said, “We could have shot 50% if you — you were 2-for-10, my man, and they were one-footers.” “I know, it wasn’t my game.” That’s what he said. Wasn’t my game. Well, the next one better be your game. But we ran a couple plays for him that other guys shot the ball. I said after the game, if I were him, I would say, “You know what, boys, you go get 20 rebounds and I’m going go out and be cute and dribble the ball around. You go in there and mix it up like I am.” When he’s this there and it’s his play, throw him the ball. Again, we did some and he missed a bunch today. I thought (Missouri) would trap more. They only trapped once. I would think every team is going to trap him and then they don’t, I don’t understand. But you’re right. (Tshiebwe) had 20 rebounds. What in the world?

Q. You didn’t have quite as many assists tonight. What did you think of your passing overall?

JOHN CALIPARI: We held the ball again. We had guys that walked, which means you’re supposed to catch it, pass it, drive it if you have it, but you’re not messing with the ball. You’re not ripping it to your hip and looked like “I’m going to make the play.” If you heard me, if you were anywhere near the floor, I kept saying, “Swing the ball.” Everybody that caught it was trying to make a play. You’re not going to get assists when you play that way. Not going to get in the lane where they collapse, and you throw it out and a guy makes a shot. Again, when you shoot 43% and 29% from the three, those are about five or six assists that you would get, and then we would be at 18, 19 which is pretty good for us. Just didn’t make shots.

JOHN CALIPARI: Guys, let me talk a little bit about Tubby Smith coming in, Coach Smith. You know, we wanted this moment for him. The job that he did, part of it is you want guys like him and Coach (Joe B.) Hall to really understand how appreciated they are by our fanbase. What they did while they were here, winning national titles, doing it with class, Tubby deserves to be in the rafters. He’s going to have a get-together with his players. I may stop in for a little bit, but I want him to be with his guys. And then next day we play a basketball game. Tonight, I think they were up one at halftime against Michigan State and ended up losing by 13. So don’t think, oh, this is just another pushover game. No, it isn’t. And you all know how good a coach he is. You know what kind of defensive coach he is. Elbows and blocks and physicalness. He’s got two really good guards. One scores 21 a game and the other shoots threes at 45% and he lets them go. So, you know, the biggest thing is I want he and his wife and the kids to understand that this place, these fans, this school, this state, absolutely appreciates what he did while he coached here.

Q. Cal, just a little more on Keion (Brooks Jr.). I wonder when a guy is a junior, like you’ve seen the ups and downs, do you have a sense what buttons to push with him and how to push them? He’s an older, mature guy you’ve had a relationship with. Can you guys have some frank conversations?

JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, we’ve had them. We’ve had them. You guys know I keep it real. What I’ve done is I’m holding him to a high standard that I think he’s capable of reaching. But you got to fight, you got to play with spirit. When the ball doesn’t go in, it can’t affect the rest of your game. If it does, you’re out and Jacob (Toppin) is in. But if (Brooks) plays, we’re pretty good. And it’s not — you guys, he had nine rebounds. That team out rebounded everybody they played, and they played a tough schedule, by five, six rebounds a game, and he went in, and they weren’t rebounds away from the goal. They were traffic rebounds, and he got them. Second thing he did is he ran the floor like the guys that are playing really well ran. Those guys run and they’re ahead of the action. They’re ready to play. He’s now running. So my hope is it’s really hard to play the way he played and it’s physical and it’s bruising. Do you say, “Let me try it that other way one more time because there has to be an easier way.” There is none. Guys got to touch the fire couple times before they say I’m not touching the fire. The good news for him is Jacob is there. I was just so happy for Lance (Ware). Such a great kid. The kid is working extra. How about making free throws, he’s in the gym extra. That’s how this works. You want to build your confidence. You want to be confident? Let me hear if you guys hear anything I’ve ever said. Is it about coaching? You want to be confident? You ready? I’ll do it one more time for you. Be competent. Be competent. Fight like heck, be competent, you’re going to be confident. If you’re not competent, it don’t matter what the coach says. “Oh, you’ll be alright. Next one will be good.” Doesn’t matter. You got to get in the gym and get better and get more consistent. And if something goes wrong you know what you say to yourself? “I’ve worked too hard. I expect to play well. I’ve spent too much time with the coaches.” So I’m happy for him because, again, I want him to do well. I can’t do it for him. I can’t fight for him. I can’t sprint for him, but I can hold him accountable to those things.

#3, TyTy Washington Jr., Freshman, Guard

On how he could tell if Keion [Brooks] would have a good night …

“He was aggressive for us going in and getting offensive rebounds. After he got that first put-back, I knew he was going to have a big game because he’s really physical.”

On how playing physical teams will help them in the future …

“It’s definitely going to help us a lot. We knew coming in that they were going to be physical, that they would crash offensive and defensive rebounds, and push and shove us. So, this week in practice, we’ve just been doing that to each other. When it came time for the game, they were doing what we thought they would, but we were used to it. We just knew that if we were aggressive first, they’d have to step back, and we just kept the pressure on them the whole time.”

On players who determine their skill level solely based on the number of successful shots they make …

“I feel like people who think like that only think they have good games when they’re making shots. That only hinders their game, and basketball is about more than just making shots. We all know we’re not going to make every shot. Even Michael Jordan didn’t make every shot. So, we find other ways to bring stuff to the table. It’s all about playing with energy and just playing hard at the end of the day.”

On their free throw shooting and how often they practice it …

“We work on free throws quite a bit. We do it every shootaround and it’s how we end our shootarounds. Whenever we practice free throws, Coach Cal makes sure we stay engaged so that we can really focus on it and get better. So, when the time comes, we’re going to need all the free throws we can get.”

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Junior, Forward

On how playing hard during his minutes turns into on-court success …

“That definitely helps, running the floor, when you have a great guards like Davion (Mintz), TyTy (Washington Jr.), Sahvir (Wheeler) they’re going to get you open shots, and if you run the floor, good things will happen for you. Also, with me, it’s just a matter of just continuing to play hard, not worrying about what could happen, what might happen, just play hard and just bring energy. When you have energy, you know, the ball, finds energy, so that’s really what happened.”

On if this was a confidence-building game for him…

“My confidence can wane from time to time, and that’s not a good thing. What really helped me was going home, spending time with my family a little bit, especially when my little brothers, you go home and you see these 17 and 16 year old and see how much they look up to you. It really helped me kind of like back in on what I really need to do to play well. I think that’s what really helped me a lot.”

On having someone like Jacob Toppin behind him, pushing him …

“I don’t really think we’re really battling for minutes. There’s the game going on. We’ve talked about it, one of these games both of us are going to play very well at the same time. With Jacob, we literally do everything together. We lift together, work out together, we’re hanging out a lot. Just the natural competitive fire that we have in each other, it pushes us every day. He’s helped me get a lot better and hopefully I’m doing the same for him.”

On if he said anything to the team to lock in during the game when Missouri made runs…

“Missouri, they’re a good team, and it’s a game of runs. They went on a run, we start off the game on a run, then they went on a run, and I just explained to the guys, you’ve just got to keep playing and playing hard. They made their run, now it’s time for us to make another one. Now if we did that, you know kind of start to open the game up a little bit. But we got to give credit to them, they weren’t going to go away. They’re good, well-coached team, really physical, so we just knew we had to keep playing.”

On where his personal swagger comes from…

“My swagger has to come through my energy, using my my size, my length, my athleticism to make plays, running the floor. When I do things like that, good things happen, not just for me but for the team. I think that’s what builds my swagger and what allows me to have fun playing the game, when I’m flying around and just making effort plays.”

Here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.

Team Records, Series Notes, Etc.

  • Kentucky surpassed its win total from 2020-21 to get to 10-2 this season and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Missouri dropped to 6-7 and 0-1 in SEC play.
  • UK improved to 69-19 all-time in SEC openers.
  • The Wildcats are now 14-2 all-time vs. the Tigers and 8-0 in Lexington, Kentucky.
  • Kentucky improved to 9-0 at Rupp Arena this season and extended its home winning streak to 10 games, which dates back to last season.
  • The announced attendance of 19,361 was the second biggest of the season, behind last game’s crowd of 20,221 vs. Western Kentucky.
  • Next up: It will be a quick turnaround for the Wildcats. UK will host High Point on Friday at noon in Rupp Arena. The game will be televised by SEC Network.
  • Prior to the game, current HPU head coach and former UK head coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith will have a jersey retired in his honor. Smith was the head coach of the Wildcats for 10 years, from the 1997-98 season through the 2006-07 campaign. Under Smith, UK won the 1998 national championship, five regular-season SEC championships and five SEC Tournament crowns.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky limited Missouri to 56 points. UK is 196-9 under Calipari when holding the opponent to 63 points or fewer, including 8-0 this season.
  • UK held Missouri 22 of 67 from the floor, 32.8%. The Wildcats improved to 216-24 under Calipari when they hold the opposition to 40% or less.
  • UK is 7-0 this season when holding the opponent below 40% from the field.
  • Kentucky recorded 11 steals, its second time this season with double-figure swipes, and scored 21 points off 14 Missouri turnovers.
  • The Wildcats led by as many as 27 points in the second half. UK is 296-12 in the John Calipari era when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest.
  • Led by Oscar Tshiebwe’s 20 rebounds, UK outrebounded Missouri 49-35. The nation’s No. 1 team in rebounding margin has outrebounded its opponents by at least 14 in all 10 wins this season.

Player Notes

  • Keion Brooks Jr. led the Wildcats in the scoring column for the second time this season with 17 points.
  • He has scored in double figures three times in the last four games.
  • Brooks was 7 of 11 from the floor.
  • He added nine rebounds, just missing out on his first double-double of the season.
  • Oscar Tshiebwe, who collected multiple national player of the week honors in addition to Co-SEC Player of the Week distinction this week, notched his 10th double-double of the season with 13 points and a game-high 20 boards.
  • After his Rupp Arena record 28 rebounds vs. Western Kentucky, he has grabbed 48 boards over the last two games.
  • He moved back into a tie for first place nationally in double-doubles.
  • It was his fourth 20-rebound game of the season and his second straight. He also recorded back-to-back 20-board games to start the season.
  • The nation’s leading rebounder has grabbed double-figure boards in all but one game this season.
  • He was 9 of 10 at the free-throw line.
  • TyTy Washington Jr., the reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week posted 14 points and six rebounds.
  • He is averaging 15.2 points in Kentucky’s 10 wins this season.
  • Excluding the season opener he is shooting 52.0% from the field.
  • Sahvir Wheeler, who entered Wednesday’s game ranked second nationally in assists per game (7.7), recorded nine dimes vs. Missouri
  • It was his 10th game this season with at least six assists and his seventh with at least eight.
  • He added 11 points for his seventh double-figure scoring effort of the season.

Coach Calipari

  • John Calipari is now 349-95 at UK.
  • Calipari now has a 794-235 all-time on-court record.
  • UK improved to 285-56 under Calipari in games vs. unranked Associated Press competition.
  • Calipari moved to 11-4 in all-time meetings vs. Missouri.
  • The Wildcats are 197-17 in Rupp Arena under Calipari’s watch, including 175-11 vs. unranked AP foes.
  • Kentucky improved to 11-2 in SEC openers under Calipari and 12-1 in the first SEC home game of the season.
  • Calipari has tallied a 368-116 all-time record within conference play as a head coach and owns a 160-60 record since joining the SEC.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the 11th time this season and the fifth game in a row. UK is now 9-2 with that starting lineup.
  • The Wildcats raced out to an 11-2 lead just 2:25 into the game, forcing Missouri to call timeout.
  • UK scored the game’s first seven points.
  • The Wildcats made five of their first seven shots.
  • Brooks scored the game’s opening bucket, a jumper at the 19:22 mark.
  • Jacob Toppin was the first sub for Kentucky. He came in for Brooks at 14:26 after Brooks scored seven early points.
  • Missouri came roaring back from an early 17-6 deficit with a lightning-quick 12-0 run over 2:16 of game time to take an 18-17 lead.
  • UK went scoreless for 4:41 of action until Tshiebwe ended the run with a layup.
  • Kentucky retook control with a 21-2 run, the first 12 points of which were free throws.
  • Included in the stretch was a 9-0 spurt to turn a 21-20 lead into a 10-point advantage.
  • After the Tigers broke that run with a layup by Javon Pickett, Kentucky came back with an even bigger stretch, a 12-0 run that featured seven points from Washington.
  • The Wildcats led 44-27 at halftime and improved to 10-1 this season when leading at the half.
  • Kentucky had seven steals in the first half and forced 12 turnovers overall, leading to 19 points.
  • Brooks led UK in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in addition to four rebounds.
  • Washington added 10 points, Wheeler recorded seven points and six assists, and Tshiebwe totaled six points and eight rebounds.

In the Second Half

  • UK opened the second half with the same starting five as the first half: Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Brooks and Tshiebwe.
  • An early 7-0 Missouri run got the game back to single digits at 45-36 with 17:07 left in the game.
  • Grady ended the spurt with a 3-pointer.
  • Kentucky grinded its way back to a 60-45 lead with 8:37 to go.
  • The Wildcats put the game away with a 10-0 run (over 2:39 of game time) late in the second half. Tshiebwe put the exclamation point on the game with an offensive rebound and a thunderous two-hand slam to put the Wildcats up 73-52 at the 4:03 mark to force a Missouri timeout.
  • Tshiebwe recorded seven points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the second half.