The story in Lexington on Tuesday night was a tale of two halves as the Kentucky Wildcats were dominated by Arkansas. The first half was all run and gun and back forth as the Cats went into the half trailing just one point.
From there, the Razorbacks really opened up to start the half and went on a 6-0 run, and it really felt like the Cats were never back in it despite getting the lead back down to three at one because they trailed by as much as 16 in the second and finished with a 15-point loss as the Razorbacks pulled out an 88-73 victory.
Afterwards a few players and head coach John Calipari spoke with the media. Here’s a recap of what they said (transcripts via UK Athletics).
JOHN CALIPARI: Give Arkansas credit. They were physical, they drove the ball. Our rim protection was awful. I can’t get guys to body up and do this stuff, and they did a great job of bodying up us. The blocks were not like out of — they just jumped with two hands, they bodied up, and if you threw it into their arms, it was a block. We’ve just got to do it. That’s why I went with Daimion (Collins) a little bit. I thought he was good again today.
You could see Sahvir (Wheeler). We had 15 turns. We’ve been averaging 10, 11 turns, but playing Cason (Wallace) as much as we did, we struggled with it.
But they shot 72 percent in the second half. Come on. You’re not going to win a game if they’re shooting 72 percent. We tried some zone. We did some different things. We switched. They got downhill, and just no one in there wanted to body up, which is what they did to us. But we’ll learn.
They were way better than us today. We’ve just got to figure it out, and we’ve got a day off and we’ll come back and go.
Q. Oscar (Tshiebwe), seven points, seven rebounds, just six shots. What did they do to take away his opportunities in there, and what did you see from him?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, there was one point I said we’re throwing it to him every time, and we were trying to get it into him. I thought he worked at times, and other times they were getting around the post. They trapped him or they just bodied him. I was doing some stuff to let him get some jump shots, to just get him going, and he’s got to be better for us, and he will be. He will be.
Q. With Oscar struggling in the second half, the way Daimion played in the first half, why not more Daimion down the stretch?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know, you as a coach, you go with what got you there, and I wanted to — it was a bigger picture for Oscar than just this game. It was like, let’s get him going just to get him right.
Q. John, their shooting in the second half, do you think it was more of what they did or what you didn’t do?
JOHN CALIPARI: It was both. I mean, they made shots, now. We did all the right things, and all of a sudden they make a shot at the shot clock and it goes down, or a three. They played well, and we weren’t defensively — come on, we’re a pretty good defensive team. We weren’t tonight. We just weren’t.
Q. As competitive as the first half was, how surprised were you the way you opened the first minute?
JOHN CALIPARI: I was just so disappointed. Turnover, turnover, dunk, layup. I’m looking around, I’ve got to call a timeout a minute into the half, and literally like, come on, how did you lose that, how did you not get that ball.
But you know, that’s why I said, okay, here we are, let’s fight our way back. We did some good things and got it close, seven and six and five, but the game was a physical game. If you weren’t ready for that, you were going to get knocked off point.
Q. Coach, you had a career high from Chris Livingston tonight. Most of those came in the first half. What did they do to get him off track of what he was doing there in the first half in the second half?
JOHN CALIPARI: They crowded the court a little bit on him. He missed some shots. He had shots in the second half, and he missed some of them, but he did good. The kid is getting better and better and more confident. He mixes it up, and that’s all I can ask.
He’s got the reason this happened tonight. He was one of the bright spots.
Q. How do you play around CJ (Fredrick) and kind of get him going and things like that?
JOHN CALIPARI: He had rib problems today. His ribs were bothering him, and the only thing I keep saying is as the ball is coming to you, you’ve got to have your feet moving so you can catch and shoot it. If you’re flatfooted, you’re having to ball fake every time. So, we need him to get some of those shots up. But his ribs were — he’s another one that probably should not have played, and you could see that he was hurting the whole time, but he was giving everything he had.
On getting his grove now later in the season considering what happened at the beginning….
“Everybody has been there for me. Just with the coaches putting in work in practice and staying ready and staying confident and staying ready for my opportunity.”
Daimion Collins speaks with the media postgame. pic.twitter.com/RZVEYGZHpO— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) February 8, 2023
On BBN giving him standing ovations the past two games…
“It is great, we have some of the best fans in the country. They come every game and cheer us on win or lose. It is just really great.”
On what was working well for him the first half…
“It was just executing what coach drew up for me. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. They have my back. That’s pretty much what was working well.”
On what was the most important thing for helping him what he went through…
“Everybody in my life has been there for me, they are all behind me and play a part of me. They all are helping me get back in my groove.”
Chris Livingston talks with the media post game pic.twitter.com/ZSv4lwo5PT— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) February 8, 2023
On today’s result…
“It’s disappointing. They beat us last year, so we tried to come out here and play with a lot more energy than we have been.”
On what went wrong in the second half…
“Defense. You’re not going to win a basketball game if the other team is shooting 70-plus percent from the field. I think we had six turnovers at halftime, but we had nine in the second half. There was a lack of fight and a lack of defensive intensity. I’ve got to be better. I didn’t rebound as much as I should. On the defensive end, we gave them second chance points and opportunities. With the lack of fight, I’ve just got to be better.”
On how Arkansas found success…
“I give them credit; they’re a really good team. We still had a lot of breakdowns. Ball screen coverage—that kind of got exposed—and like in the Kansas game, our pick and roll coverage was really bad. Arkansas did the same thing. They made three passes then drove it and we weren’t really protecting the rim. On the other end, when we drove to the rim, there were consequences. For them, there were too many easy buckets.”
On what changed in the second half compared to starting strong in the first ...
“We just started off pretty slow and had a few turnovers early. That really set the tone for the second half.”
On what the three guards from Arkansas brought to the table …
“They’re good in the pick-and-roll. They kept getting downhill on us, something we’ve got to clean up on our own. I give them props on what they did well, but we got to be better in our pick-n-roll in defense.”
On how prepared UK was for the physicality of the game …
“I feel like we were pretty prepared. There’s not a game that we go into that isn’t physical. We’ve played physical teams before, so it wasn’t really anything new.”
On if it was disappointing to lose momentum …
“Nah, we’re going to learn from this. We’re not going to hang our heads on it…we’re not going to let this define how the rest of our season goes. I feel like it’s going to help us stay more sharp and mentally locked in down the road.”