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John Calipari and Wildcats recap win over Ole Miss, plus postgame notes and milestones

John Calipari has now led Kentucky to six unbeaten home seasons.

John Calipari Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats wrapped up another unbeaten home season Tuesday with an 83-72 win over the Ole Miss Rebels.

The highlight of the night was senior guards Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady having their Senior Night ceremony alongside friends and family.

After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss win No. 24 for the 7th-ranked Wildcats. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

Kentucky 83, Ole Miss 72

Q. How important was it to see Tyty [Washington] go on that run in the first half where he scored seven straight and just have some shots fall?

JOHN CALIPARI: You guys know before he got hurt, he was shooting 40 percent from the three and 54 from the field. That injury got him a little off kilter, and the same with Sahvir [Wheeler].

But I told the team after that it’s nice that we’re all back. You guys probably didn’t see the tweak that I’ve been thinking about and went with a little bit, and I thought it helped us, and then just, like I said, holding guys accountable.

Today I thought Oscar [Tshiebwe] got bullied. I did, and I was on him about it and holding him accountable.

Now, he gets 18 and 15, but he still got bullied. Just like I’m keeping Keion [Brooks] and telling him, I’m holding you to a high standard, I’m doing the same with all these kids.

Somebody else may say, well, it’s only…No, I’m doing it with every kid. Jacob [Toppin], let’s go. Played Daimion [Collins] at 4 today. That’s what I want to do.

Now it becomes, okay, get it done. You’ve got a guy there waiting to get his time, and I told Bryce [Hopkins] today, I wanted to go Bryce, Daimion and Lance [Ware], because Lance deserves to play because he plays so smart. Today that kid was a little big for him, but he still did pretty good.

Q. Kind of on that note, when you have someone like Lance [Ware] and some of these guys like Davion [Mintz] and Kellan [Grady] that you can rely on to come through when you have someone like Oscar [Tshiebwe] that’s getting bullied, was that a conscious thing this year that you decided this team needed a little bit more of a veteran presence to go with the freshmen stars that you have?

JOHN CALIPARI: No, we knew we had to change the roster. We needed to change, and Tyty [Washington] was a big part of that. It’s somebody that we wanted, and then Kellan [Grady] and Oscar [Tshiebwe] who wanted to be here, and I had to convince Kellan [Grady] a little bit and had to convince Sahvir [Wheeler] a little bit. But I think, again, if you asked him, he wanted to be here.

So, no. Jacob [Toppin] has transferred in, Davion [Mintz] transferred in. We’ve got an older team. I’ve coached older teams before. You won’t believe this, but I have. It just hasn’t been in the last 13 years because of the rule changes and the way everything was going.

They’re not delusional. They know what they are. See, when you’re 17 coming in, you think I’m this and this and that and that because I did it in AAU. Or here’s a good one: I did it at the Nike camp, why can’t I do it here?

These kids already went through everything. They’re not delusional about anything. They know. They look at what’s around them, kind of like Davion. Davion is Sixth Man of the Year right now. Again, how well has he played? I put him in again for defensive rebounding the last game or the last minutes of the game because I felt he needed to be in there.

But we’ve got a good group. I’ll say this again: Good teams have really good players; great teams have great teammates. This is a bunch of good guys that cheer for each other, and they’re there for each other.

Q. I guess the assumption would be it’s maybe easier to coach an older team than a younger team, but are there any aspects about an older team that are actually harder to do than when you have a bunch of young guys?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, I always tell you I’m taking talent. I’ve said that from day one. But here’s the good news. This is a veteran talented team. If you can get both, that’s what you want, and we have that.

Everybody says the same thing when they watch us play: Man, they’re fun to watch. Man, they create for each other. We had 18 assists, eight turnovers. They create shots for each other. Every one of them is playing for each other. They cheer each other on. Bryce [Hopkins] went crazy and the whole team went nuts for him. Daimion [Collins] played well at Alabama and they gave him the Gatorade bath and you had the shower by Keion [Brooks] walking in after Kansas. These kids are about each other.

Q. It’s March, and you always say you’re coaching for March, you want your teams to be peaking. We haven’t heard the landing the plane analogy yet this year. How is the runway looking for this team?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, let me tell you what I did yesterday. We did loose ball drills. People were in the gym now. Who was in there, the reserve group? Who was in our gym yesterday? You had the JMI team, the donors were in there, we had 16 donors, and we did a loose ball drill because against Arkansas, we refused to dive on the floor. So, we did a loose ball drill.

Problem was Sahvir [Wheeler] hurt his wrist. But to start the game, did you see Keion [Brooks] dive on that and tip it forward and us get an and-one or two free throws and I go crazy? Because we’re emphasizing stuff and I want them to be locked in. I don’t like doing loose ball drills. I don’t like doing body-to-body this time of the year.

But this team needed it, and we did it, and thank goodness. I even said, ‘Why did you do the drill, Sahvir?’ You know you have a wrist. He put his wrist underneath him to stop his fall.

Q. Does it concern you at all that you have a game where Oscar [Tshiebwe] gets bullied? Is that just a credit to the other player or lack of focus or something on Oscar?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the guy was really leveraging him. That kid is really good, by the way. [Nysier] Brooks is a good player.

But when Oscar [Tshiebwe] caught it tight, he scored. When Oscar caught it out, I said, don’t throw it to him. If that guy pushes him out, then he’s not getting the ball, and we still threw it to him a couple times. But when he gets it tight with a good angle, it’s a basket.

Again, you’ve got 18 and 15, and we’re looking like what, come on, you’re better than that. What are we, 30 and 20? We’re all losing our minds. The main one is me.

Q. Chin [Coleman] said yesterday that the pattern this year is guys step up; when the opportunity arises, they do it. How important are Oscar [Tshiebwe] and Sahvir [Wheeler] to have it revolve around them?

JOHN CALIPARI: That’s like having a middle linebacker on defense and an unbelievable quarterback on offense. That’s what that’s like.

Like I say, Sahvir [Wheeler], of all the point guards who are going for the Cousy Award, I need to see one that has a bigger impact on the game than him, both defensively and offensively. Creating shots, playing with speed, the pace of the game is what he dictates, smart. But then disruptive defensively.

You say, well, he’s small. Yeah, but how disruptive? They were pushing off to get it up the court. So, I’m proud of him.

It’s just good that we got through the injuries. It hurt us last game. We were a little bit out of sync last game. I felt this game we looked a little more in sync.

Q. Obviously the injuries might have kind of played a role in it, but defensively you guys have allowed about 10 more points on average than the first 25 games. Is there anything you’re seeing outside of the injuries that Ole Miss shot 50 percent tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: They beat us on the dribble, and we were spread out all over the place. I mean, they shot 50 percent against us. Now, we shot 60 against them, but they shot 50 percent against us, and that’s not who we are. The whole time I was saying that you’ve just got to guard. Then they made a couple threes to fight.

Now, I’ve watched their tapes, and I don’t usually speak to the other coach, but I said that I was in the position last year that you were in, Kermit [Davis]. You’ve done a way better job than I did, and you kept your team fighting, and you got them to accept roles. They have two major injuries, or else they’re in the middle of our league or higher.

I think he’s done a great job. They don’t quit. The only team that beat them pretty good was Texas A&M. Other than that, it’s a six-point game with a few minutes to go every game they play.

Q. At this time of year, especially with a team that’s played as well as yours has, is there any kind of danger or concern with kind of just looking ahead and saying, let’s just get to the tournament?

JOHN CALIPARI: No, I won’t let them do that. We could go to Florida and get beat, but it won’t be because we’re overlooking them. We know how good they are, and it’s on the road, and you know what it’s going to be: A nuthouse, because that’s what happens every time we come in town.

Mike [White] has done a great job with his team. They beat Auburn. You know, they had Arkansas beat. They did. We know how good they are.

I again am laughing. This is the best league in the country. Why aren’t we talking eight teams of ours in? What?

What I hope is they separate the top four of us and we’re all in the Final Four. My guess is they’ll put us and another team from our league in the same region. They’ll put two of us and two of them so only two of you can advance. But if we’re all spread out, we could have four teams in.

Why don’t we get eight teams in? Why are we not talking about other teams that are in the middle of the pack in our league? I think we should be getting eight teams in. I’ve said it, what the goal should be is eight.

Q. You’ve prepared your team to be ready in March. Did you see any kind of glimpses about the way that you would like to play at this stage of the season?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, we played faster. That’s what I wanted us to do, and that’s what we talked about, and we ground it out when we needed to. We had two plays that I went to the grind-out offense, and Kellan [Grady] got a three-foot, four-foot floater, and missed it. Keion [Brooks] got a 15-footer on the baseline, his shot, and missed it. But we did everything right. We grinded. We used clock. We just missed those shots.

Q. Something I haven’t heard you talk about for a while is the fact you say if you don’t have a post presence your team is a fraud. Is Oscar [Tshiebwe] the ultimate testimony to that this year?

JOHN CALIPARI: Did you ask me if we have a post presence?

Q. You said if you don’t have one, your team is a fraud, and a lot of people say, well, things have changed, maybe you don’t need a post presence, but I think Oscar [Tshiebwe] kind of makes your point for you.

JOHN CALIPARI: No, I’m going to say the same thing. If you don’t have a post presence, you’re a fraud, and if you think you’re going to march through the NCAA Tournament shooting 40 threes a game, good luck, because one of those games you’re going to go 5 for 40 and you’re going to lose by 20. In one of those games, you may go 20 out of 40, 22, and be all ecstatic first round, but you’ve got to have someone that can get easy baskets. That’s how you shoot a high percentage.

Q. You went undefeated at home this year. Fans took a little while to get started, but at the end of the year they were as strong as ever. Just your general comments on the Rupp Arena crowd and what it’s like to have them back again.

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, last year that was a knockoff year. I’ve said it before. You had no fans, you had nothing here. I think what we’ve done over our time here kind of tells you what we are and what we’re about. Our fans, I’ve said it all along, are the biggest part of what happens here. It’s what sets us apart. We go on the road, they’re there. We go to North Dakota, they’re there. They’re everywhere.

You go to the conference tournament and a team loses and the fans want to sell their tickets, they say, ‘I’m selling tickets to anybody but Kentucky fans.’ Won’t sell them to our fans, so our fans got to go in orange and red and they’ve got their Kentucky stuff on underneath.

Our fans are the biggest piece of this, and they pick these kids up. They understand, the ones that have really been following, it’s been consistent over 13 years how we play. It’s been consistent. It doesn’t mean we win every game, but it’s been consistent about this is who we are and how we try to play toward March. This team is no different.

I’m proud of our fans, proud to be working here, and excited for these players. I don’t even want to hear about from one year to the next. That was a COVID year. There were many of us that it was a knockoff year. It was nothing. Get rid of it.

So, for someone to say, wow, they went from this year to this, it was the biggest turnaround, stop. I don’t want to hear that. That was a nothing burger, what we had to go through last year. These kids, they were cheated. They didn’t get the Kentucky experience. They didn’t.

It’s great Davion [Mintz] could come back and Keion [Brooks] could feel it again and Lance [Ware] and Jacob [Toppin] could feel it. This is what it is to be playing here at Kentucky.

#3, TyTy Washington Jr., Fr., G

On how long it took him to get back into the flow of the game…

“I just needed a little bit of time. When you’re just coming back from injury, especially like a little nagging injury, it always takes time but I feel good. Foot, ankle, everything feels good. So, now it is really about keep staying constant in the gym, keep getting reps and I just felt like more reps I do in practice and on my own, it is going to translate to the game way easier for me.”

On where he is confidence-wise in game situations with himself, Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler…

“My confidence is very high. Every shot and stuff I shoot in the game, everything I do in the game, I do that in practice, I do that on my workout. So, I just feel like me having self-confidence is very high, and having a guy like Oscar, my confidence is very high. I know if I miss it, he’s going, 95% of the time, he’s going to grab the rebound and put it back up, so we’re still getting the basket either way. With Sahvir, same with him. We’ll be in the gym together a lot, we both motivate each other. We’re both be in there trash talking each other because we know at the end of the day, we want the best for each other. So, the more reps we get into together and just staying constant will always help.”

On how his start to the game impacted his confidence…

“Yeah, for sure. It was just happy. I was just happy to see the ball go through the hole. That actually just like boosted my confidence. I know I’m coming back from injury, but just seeing the ball go in that many times in that time span was just very happy for me and I just felt finally feeling back to myself a little bit.”

On how quickly the year has gone by and what his goals are the rest of the season…

“It was like early, actually, right before I walked into the arena, I was looking on my phone, because it was my mom’s birthday, so I was looking for a picture. And I just saw when I first moved into my dorm, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ Like this is on May 30th, and now we’ve only got one regular season game left. So, it’s just like the year been going by pretty fast. We’ve got one more regular season game to get all the kinks out the way before stuff gets real. So, for the rest of the season, I’m going to continue to get better and do whatever the team needs me to do for us to be successful and make this long run that we’re trying to make.”

#2, Sahvir Wheeler, Jr., Guard

On how he felt this game …

“I got some of that rust off, getting in rhythm, scrimmaging and practicing. Getting some extra time, shooting and handling the ball, doing different passes. Making sure I feel comfortable with my wrist. Obviously with the rushes being off during that time, playing in a week in a half or so. Running is vital for what we do as a team, so I feel like when all that clicked back in space, I felt really good.”

On the team’s main goals till the tournament …

“Just continuing to get better. Continuing to clean up things, on the offensive end and defensive end. Still taking it one day at the time, one game at a time and looking forward to our next opponent and how we can win that game. Our team believes in the daily pursuit of excellence and how we can get better, how can we clean up some things. How can we continue to tweak things? Because teams are going to continue to try to adjust and try to make it hard for us. But Coach is putting us in positions where guys get to their spots and we make plays from there. It’s all on the players.”

On his leadership and Oscar Tshiebwe …

“It’s important to lead because as the point guard, you are kind of an extension of the coaching staff. You want to get the message clear out to the guys of whatever the coaches are saying. You want to provide that sense of calmness, even when you face adversity. When a team goes on a run, you want to be there that level head, even keel kind of person. Also being there as an encourager, just being like, Hey man, keep going.’ Even if your shots aren’t going, there are other ways you can impact the game. If someone is hot, let them know that I’m going to find you, to keep running. Then going back to Oscar, just his exterior presence. If things aren’t going well for us or shooting the ball, we know we can throw it there. He’s a reliable option to get us some baskets, like he’s shown throughout the season. Also, defensively with his hands and him being able to challenge shots and his ridiculous rates of rebounds is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So, Oscar, his game and his game play, speaks for himself. He’s very important for our team.”

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

Team Records, Series Notes, Etc.

  • Kentucky is 24-6 overall, 13-4 in the Southeastern Conference.
  • Ole Miss is 13-17 overall, 4-13 in the SEC.
  • UK leads the series, 109-14, and has won 12 of the last 13 vs. Ole Miss.
  • The Wildcats lead 56-2 in games played in Lexington and have won the last 13 against the Rebels in Rupp Arena.
  • Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats end the regular season Saturday at Florida. Game time is 2 p.m. and it will be televised by CBS.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky finished 18-0 at home this season. It is the 14th undefeated home season in the 46-year history of Rupp Arena
  • It is the sixth spotless home record in Coach John Calipari’s 13 seasons at Kentucky, also 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2015-15 and 2015-16.
  • UK finishes the season with an all-time Rupp Arena record of 633-77, a winning rate of 89.2 percent. Under Calipari, the Wildcats are 216-17 (92.7%) in their home lair.
  • Kentucky won the rebounding 30-24. UK is 21-3 this season when leading the rebounding.
  • Kentucky shot 60 percent from the field (33 of 55), the second-best shooting game of the season. UK is 13-1 this season when making at least 50 percent from the field.
  • Ole Miss became the fourth team to shoot at least 50 percent from the field against the Wildcats. UK has managed to win two of those four games, tonight and at home vs. Tennessee.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 14 points. UK is 309-13 (96.0%) under Calipari when leading by 10 or more points during the contest.

Player Notes

  • Oscar Tshiebwe totaled 18 points and 15 rebounds, adding an assist and two steals.
  • It is his 12th-straight double-double, first Wildcat to do that since Dan Issel had 12 consecutive double-doubles in the 1969-70 season.
  • It is his 24th double-double of the season, ranking second in the nation in that category. He ties Julius Randle for second place on the UK single-season list.
  • He has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, best at UK since Immanuel Quickley had a 20-game stretch in the 2019-20 season.
  • The nation’s leading rebounder has 17 straight games with double-figure rebounds and has grabbed double-figure boards in all but two games this season.
  • It’s the longest streak of double-figure rebounding by a major-conference player since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan also had 17 straight games during the 1996-97 season.
  • He now has 460 rebounds this season, moving past Bob Burrow (459 in in 1954-55) for third place on the UK single-season list.
  • Sahvir Wheeler had one of his best shooting nights, making six of nine field goals, including two of three on 3-pointers, finishing with 16 points.
  • It is his most points since tallying 17 at Auburn on Jan. 22.
  • It’s the 13th time he’s reached double-figure scoring this season.
  • Had a game-high seven assists, matching his season average that ranks third nationally.
  • TyTy Washington Jr. had 14 points, all coming in two key stretches in the game – the first seven points of a 12-2 surge that gave UK its largest lead of the first half, plus seven points in the final five minutes that kept the rallying visitors at bay.
  • Also played a good floor game with four assists and three steals.
  • In UK’s 21 wins that he has played, he has averaged 14.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists, as opposed to 6.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in UK’s six losses.
  • Keion Brooks Jr. had 10 points, five rebounds and two assists, his 16th double-figure game of the season.
  • Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz were honored before the game in Senior Night ceremonies.
  • Grady had nine points and one assist and Mintz scored eight points with two assists.

Coach John Calipari

  • Calipari is now 363-99 at UK.
  • UK is 296-56 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.
  • Calipari has an 808-239 all-time on-court record.
  • Calipari has tallied a 380-120 all-time record within conference play as a head coach and owns a 172-54 record since joining the SEC.
  • Calipari is 17-5 vs. Ole Miss.

In the First Half

  • The starting lineup was Sahvir Wheeler, Davion Mintz, Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the first time this season.
  • Jacob Toppin, Lance Ware and TyTy Washington Jr. were the first Kentucky substitutions at the 10:53 mark, the 15th time for Toppin to be first off the bench this season, third time for Ware and second time for Washington.
  • Trailing 6-5, a 10-0 run put the Wildcats ahead 15-6 and UK led the rest of the way.
  • Five Ole Miss offensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes led to 11 second-chance points to keep the Rebels close.
  • With UK ahead 30-27, seven straight points by Washington began a 12-2 run that gave the Wildcats their largest lead at 42-29.
  • Kentucky went to halftime ahead 44-35, shooting 58.6 percent from the field, including 6 of 11 (54.5%) from 3-point range.
  • UK is now 22-2 this season when leading at intermission.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky began the second half with the starting lineup.
  • The teams played evenly for most of the half, with UK eventually earning 14-point leads at 64-50, 66-52 and 70-56 with six minutes left.
  • A Rebel rally pulled within 74-68 at the 3:16 mark and 76-70 at 2:15, but seven straight points put the game away.
  • Tshiebwe had 10 points and rebounds in the second half.