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John Calipari and Jacob Toppin recap close win vs. Commodores

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Just keep winning.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time all season, the Kentucky Wildcats have won back to back games.

On Wednesday evening, Kentucky edged out the Vanderbilt Commodores by a score of 82-78. Kentucky held on to their 42-30 halftime lead and executed late to secure their seventh win of the 2020-2021 season.

Davion Mintz led the way with 18 points, netting four of his nine three-pointers, with Jacob Toppin scoring 16 off the bench and Isaiah Jackson remaining consistent with 15 points. BJ Boston scored 12, and Olivier Sarr added 10 to round out double-figure scoring for the Wildcats.

In addition to the Wildcats stringing together consecutive wins, Kentucky did manage to shoot 96% from the stripe and 41% from the field en route to their win over Vanderbilt. Kentucky moves to 7-13 on the season with their final stretch of the regular season at Tennessee, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Florida and at Ole Miss.

After the game, here’s what John Calipari and Jacob Toppin had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On Lance Ware …

“I make up the rules so I can break them, too. We needed him in the game, so I let him in there. He played good against these guys last time, too. But Isaiah (Jackson) is playing so good right now, rebounding every ball and doing the stuff that he’s doing, you’ve got to leave him in the game. So, when you leave him in the game, what does that mean? If he plays a lot of minutes, what does it mean? It means someone else can’t get the minutes because there’s only 200 minutes (in a game). That’s all there is.

“Again, some balls we needed to play, make and we let them back in on some turnovers again. But, like I told them, that’s a happy locker room. This team has been through the gauntlet. Winning and playing like we did in the first half, where we should have been up 15, 16 and then they make a run and we don’t fold, we don’t fold. We just keep fighting and we push it back to seven. That is big for this team. Big.”

On why it’s big that this team showed the resolve to win …

“Yeah, look, everybody’s going to make a run. What I told them, they’re going to make a run, then you’ve got to make a run back at them. That’s the game of basketball. And then, you’re trying to make the last run of the game, or at least hold on, which is what we did. But how about, we foul, and again, you guys watched that, I didn’t watch the tape. On that 3-point, did Davion (Mintz) foul on that? I mean, we get those calls, though, too.”

On if this team is starting to turn the corner …

“They’re building their own confidence together. They’re finally becoming a team. But, there are points in the game where guys have got to do what they do. ‘I’ve got to do this.’ And then, all of the sudden, it’s a turnover. Like, our defensive schemes that we used in this game, when we broke down, they scored. And, we’re just talking again about engaging the team. You can’t, if you’re not playing well, you’ve got to say what am I going to do to help this team win. I can’t worry about me. I can’t shake my head on a missed shot. Forget it, it’s next. And we’re learning to be a better team. All I’m trying to tell you is, let’s have individual players be at their best, let’s have this team coming together. Vandy took us out of stuff today where they trapped. Some of the stuff we were doing down the middle, they trapped us. We’ll be better next time we see it but it’s hard to talk guys through. But again, we had turnovers, again, Davion threw the ball long, like, why’d you do that? We didn’t need the play, we have the ball. Another one, where there’s a loose ball and instead of picking it up, he tries to advance it and they get the ball and then all of the sudden, it’s anybody’s ball game. There was a rebound late our guard didn’t pick up. Go get the ball. And again, I think that’s part of, we don’t want to lose. You can’t play not to lose. You play to win. And those plays, that rebound, that easy play, running that clock, making them foul, making free throws. Now, I’ll tell you, Devin (Askew) made those free throws and Jacob (Toppin) made those free throws at the end, but so did Vandy. They made them too.”

On Jacob Toppin …

“Yeah, I was so happy. What I said to the team after – a real team, a team – really doesn’t know who is going to have that big game. And whoever it is, everybody is ecstatic for. And they were ecstatic for him in that locker room. And that’s what I’m saying, we’re becoming a team. Instead of doing what I want to do, what does the team need me to do. And Jacob went in, looked good, we were able to put him on the point guard, which meant we could switch him to the big guy. And for Jacob, this is found money, this is money he found in the couch. Nice bit of change he picked up.”

On Davion Mintz and his increasing confidence …

“Well, here’s the thing. I’m trying to make it so these kids play loose and free. If you don’t shoot an open shot, you’re coming out. I’d rather have a missed shot than a turnover. If you’re guarded, don’t shoot it, pass it to somebody else. We had, again, today, 17 assists. Think about it. Do you understand it was only a month ago we were having five assists and no one would pass it to anybody and they all looked bad. We couldn’t score 55 points. Also, what I said, we have some other guys who aren’t throwing daggers. They’re going o-fer. And they’re all big plays and I’m saying, a guy that throws daggers is not afraid to miss the game winner. He’s not afraid to miss the shot that could change the game because he’s not thinking in those terms. He’s thinking ‘if I miss it, I can’t believe it, give it to me again and I’m taking it again.’ But I’ll tell you, it takes a confident person, a tough, mentally tough person, to be able to do that. And again, those free throws that those guys made, those were daggers, now. Those were daggers, too.”

On how effective the defense was on Scotty Pippen Jr. …

“Well, we did some things different and that’s what’s been fun. We ran a play today, that got us four baskets, that I just put in. That’s what makes it fun for me. I have to figure out ways that we can get some freebies because of this team. We cannot get our own shot. We can’t. We can’t give it to a guard, he’s not going to get by anybody. It’s not how this team has to play. Defensively, the same thing. I love it. I told them, this is what makes it fun for me. Coming up with things defensively and offensively that can help them that they go in the game and the stuff works.”

On Keion Brooks Jr. against Vandy …

“It is, but I expect more from him. Like, he had four turnovers. You know what I’m saying? I see him as a star. And, there are times, we all see it. And there are other times we don’t see it. So what is that? That is all mental. And that is all a toughness, a mental toughness, that he is growing into. But I’ll tell you, whether it’s him or BJ (Boston) or Devin (Askew) or Davion, I’m rolling with who’s playing at that point. Like Jacob, I wouldn’t have subbed him at all if he could have lasted in the game because he was playing too well. He came up with the last rebound and won the game, correct?”

On free throw shooting …

“I’m not coaching anything. I just roll out balls, you know that. I don’t do anything. You had them, they shot 28 free throws, or 29 free throws and made a buch, too. So we both shot well from the line. They made 23, we made 24.”

On if this team is becoming empowered …

“I don’t know, I hope so, I hope it becomes empowered. There are times I see it but again, what happens to individual players who aren’t playing well, you can’t have an empowered team when you have two or three guys that, when things aren’t going well, they can’t be in there. You’re not empowered then. An empowered team is, they know, we’re not robots and we’re not machines, we’re not going to play great every night out. But we can fight, we can go for loose balls, we can take charges, we can do everything else, and rebound and play tough and scramble, I can do all of that. That doesn’t take skill. But, you cannot do it when your mind is only focused on yourself and how you’re doing. We’re trying to crack through that with this team. And we’ve gotten way better. Way better.”

Jacob Toppin

On playing this season despite the initial plan to redshirt …

“Yeah, I think this season is helping me a lot. I’m learning from everything that’s going on. And with the experience that I’m getting, I’m just getting better every day.”

On containing Scotty Pippen Jr. …

“We just stuck to the game plan. The game plan was no 3s, get downhill and play in-and-out. So, we had great help off the ball, and we ended up executing defensively.”

On making plays to close out a win …

“We’re still learning as a team. I think we’re getting better playing down the stretch. We still make a few mistakes that we need to fix. But with experience, we’re going to fix them. And I believe in this team. I believe this team is going in the right direction. And we’ve just got to keep pushing.”

On hitting a 3 late in the game …

“Coach (Calipari) has all the confidence in his players. He tells us to shoot if we’re open. And in that situation, I was open, so I shot the ball. And it went in.”