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John Calipari and Wildcats recap Mississippi State, plus postgame notes

The Wildcats are now 18-3 in bounce-back games in the last three seasons.

Wildcat Mascot Logo Cheer Dylan Ballard - A Sea Of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats picked up win No. 13 Wednesday night thanks to a 90-77 victory over Mississippi State.

It was just what the doctor ordered for the Cats, who lost their first SEC game last Saturday at Texas A&M, largely due to the continued struggles on defense.

Kentucky made sure that wouldn’t be the case this time around, holding the Bulldogs to just 29 first-half points before going on cruise control after halftime. Mississippi State is currently ranked 34th in NET and 30th in KenPom, so this was a very good win for the Cats.

After the win, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media.

Here is a recap of what they had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics and our own Dylan Ballard!

JOHN CALIPARI: I just — there’s — we made a little bit of adjustment in pick-and-roll defense, executive decision. They liked it. I liked it. And now we are going to really zero in on getting really good at it. Antonio was really good. Robert was really good. Reed was really good. Tre, I told him, you can’t play as many minutes, sub yourself. And he did. We still have got work to do playing two bigs. But we may have to do it if we are taking Tre out. I went with Justin some at four, not bad. It gives us a 6-7 athletic wing four. So...

The second thing, that team, Mississippi State, is a top ten defensive team in the country. Top ten. I think we got 90. Did we get to 90? That’s a top ten defensive team. And we showed in the first half against a team that’s played well that, we told on ourselves, we can guard, we have got a lot of guys thinking about offense and what I can do. Well, today you know what happened, they went on a run, a couple of guys who weren’t into the game and turned it. You’re out. I’m playing these other guys. Don’t be mad at me, be mad at yourself.

Now, next game Robert could be out of his mind throwing hook passes and, boom, it will be him sitting or Reed getting beat defensively, bang-bang, and then he will be sitting. And it is not a threat. It is, be ready to play.

They start the half, we just let them throw a ball to the post and we stood there and then we gave them a three. Wait a minute.

And all of a sudden it is a 12-2 run. So...

But it is a good team we beat. Every game in this league is like a rock fight. Every game. The kids were ready today. I was really happy.

Q Cal, Antonio had 6 or 7 on 2’s, 9 for 9 tonight on free-throws. Did it in a lot of different ways, zero step-backs, floaters. Just how far have you seen him come offensively in that regard from the last year?

JOHN CALIPARI: My favorite play for him, he started his dance and usually what does he shoot? A step-back, bank misser, it doesn’t go in, he is two for — I think is he 1 for 11 with that shot. I’m like, do your dance, you will get happy, and then go by a guy. And he went by him and got fouled.

You know, again, trying to give each of these individual players what they need and then what they have got to do for us as a team.

You saw late game, like you could tell we worked a couple of days on late game stuff. It doesn’t matter what the score was. It was what we were doing. And, so, we’ve got things to do. But this is a good team. We’re a good team. And we lost that game in overtime. We made 15 three’s, 22 assists, 11 turns, 9 block shots, scored the 90 on the road and you lose? Yeah, they made 17 threes and the next game they didn’t but they played 17 three’s. You know what? All of a sudden, ah, Kentucky. I don’t know if it’s people’s hope or their real opinion. I think it is their hope.

So, we have got another tough game coming up, Georgia, are you ready, has not lost a road game. Georgia has not lost a road. They are so excited about coming here and playing. Mike’s got them playing now. It is another good team. This team beat Tennessee and they got up 15, 16.

Q John, as you been working to improve the defense on this team, how much of it was technique, how much is it want to and desire? Because offense is fun, defense is hard work.

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. And it is a playing desperate. Are you willing to do that or I’m too cool to play desperate and you can’t be in on this team. Because did you kind of see? It doesn’t matter who the five are on offense. It really doesn’t matter. We will score, whatever five we put in. That means you better be rebounding, you better be defending, you better be talking, you better be connected to us or I can play somebody else. That’s not a threat. That is come on, guys, connect.

So, the defense, some of it is, like they kept saying, you know, well, we have just got to really do it. I said, listen, let’s come up with another plan, too. And that’s what we did a little bit, and we were a little more aggressive. But we have got work to do.

Q Coach, you have talked about how crazy the fans are here at Kentucky. There seems to be a group on social media, fans that came together and raised money and put a billboard up saying “Free Big Z” just down the road from the NCAA center.

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. I would say it again, our fans are crazy and I love them.

Q What support does that show him?

JOHN CALIPARI: Let me say this, when you have — everybody wants to have engaged fans. I just walked into that arena. This Georgia game, I want it to sound — when I went to the Philadelphia Phillies playoff game, folks, I got chills. It was so loud and people were so engaged. I want that Georgia game to feel that way, like it is — that’s our fans having a ten-point edge, being those people. And today they were really good.

But I would say that doing that shows how the fans are here.

You know, you have got places where they are trying to sell tickets, where they are trying to get people involved. That doesn’t happen here. These — you know, this is — they are here, they will be waiting on the radio show. It is four degrees out. They will drive back to East Kentucky. They love it and they are a part of this.

And that’s why if you lose sometimes they are still engaged. They are not, like, not engaged. But some — like I said, you know, some of the statements you wonder sometimes, is it their hope or their real opinion? And I am not talking fans.

Q Ugo with four blocks tonight, five blocks last weekend and —

JOHN CALIPARI: He was good today.

Q — and averaging six blocks over 40 minutes. As you try to correct the defense, how big is that?

JOHN CALIPARI: Like Aaron, our seven-foot big guy, and how much better was he this game than last game? He knew he didn’t play well last game. He was better.

Q Cal, I mean, I’m sure by now you have heard about this being a milestone win for you here at Kentucky.

JOHN CALIPARI: Move on. Ask me another question. I literally did not know until their player — I know, he knew. Their player came up to me, “Congratulations on 400.” And I went, oh geez. I forgot about it. I don’t — I don’t — one of their players. My players, they don’t have any idea. They just want to know what we’re eating. Do we have food back here?

All I would say to you, you stay long enough and you have enough really good players, a lot of those things happen. I am not doing this for numbers. I don’t even know what my record is. I could care less. But you can see, I’m locked into how can I help these players? Some of it is, you know, how you help them. You put them on the bench, you just sit them; that’s how you help them. Other times you have got to hug them. You are giving them books for positive

thinking and different things to get them to think different. You are trying to teach them habits because their dominant habits are not real good when you are 19 and 20. They are just not good. You are trying to create new ones. And then every day is a battle of push and pull. And that kind of stuff happens. And I’m, I guess, I’m right near Coach Rupp, right? I’m right there, a couple more games?

Q I mean, you are a little less than halfway. Since you gave me permission to ask another question...

JOHN CALIPARI: So I probably am not going to have that.

Q What I was going to ask, with Big Z, is there — he has talked about it. If it goes on too long, even if he gets eligible, hey, let’s just red shirt. If he gets eligible, I mean, will you red shirt?

JOHN CALIPARI: I won’t red shirt him. I won’t red shirt him. It is not fair for him to go through what he did to get in the school, two months, what he is doing academically, how he is as a teammate.

Every day he walks in and says, “Hey, Coach Cal.” Yesterday, or two days ago, I said to him, you know, I just want you to know I feel bad because I don’t like the way you were treated from the beginning to now. And he said, “Coach, I’m good. I’m good. I appreciate you saying it, but I’m good.”

He’s just a great kid. And he deserves — look, if it were your son how would you feel right now? I mean, he just turned 20. He was a 19-year-old, 20 playing amateur basketball over there. They can make it however they want to make it, but what about this, what about that? I get it. I get it.

But, you know, he is a great kid that deserves it and if he becomes eligible I will play him. I don’t know how much. Maybe both big guys don’t do go and then he goes nuts and we look around and say, oh my gosh, they are not going to play anymore. Maybe. Or maybe it is like, geesh, these two are better than him. We’ll see.

#2, Aaron Bradshaw, F

On the defensive effort tonight compared to before...

We practiced for two days on defense and tried to get better on defense because we all know we are a really good offensive team, but we have been kind of slacking on defense, so we knew we had to pick the defense up.”

On how the team needs to improve the rebounding...

“We just have to get in the gym and continue working. We have to work on our offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, conditioning and getting to our spots.”

On if him and Ugo being out the same time helped build chemistry...

Like I said, that is my brother, my right hand, so we basically did everything together. We got treatment together, played ball together, did off-the-court stuff together. We still do everything together. We are close.”

#0, Rob Dillingham, G

On how the win feels ...

“Happy that we got a little dub. We came off a loss so, it definitely feels good to get this dub against a tough team that beat Tennessee.”

On what the team learned from the loss against Texas A&M that they applied to tonight ...

“Just the little things like teams play better against us. So, we’ve got to be prepared for how they play. Texas A&M had a good game, so we just have to move on, and we learned that moving on and playing the right way and sticking to the game plan will help.

On the start of the second half and how the team got back on track ...

Oh, we just came out with couple of turnovers. Turnovers lead to other turnovers, so it was just basketball. I feel like we just turned it around because we’ve got a bunch of guys, so everybody has their times where they’re not playing so good and stuff. So, we got depth and that gives them time to think about how they’re playing, and then when they get back in, they play better. That goes for me also.”

#12, Antonio Reeves, G

On coming off of a tough road loss and getting a win at home …

“It feels really good, you know. We just played as a team, locked into the game plan, you know, before the game. We know who the shooters are and who’s not. We talked about grit, really, and just going out there and competing as hard as possible.”

On how it feels to score 90 on a team that doesn’t give up a lot of points …

“That we are one of the top scoring teams in the country. Coming from a top 10 defensive team, it means a lot to us. We are headed in the right direction, to be honest, so definitely moving forward we will feel more comfortable about ourselves going out there to play, scoring and all.”

On how the adjustment to the pick and roll defense went tonight…

“We definitely played with some grit and aggressiveness out there. We definitely pushed up on the man and didn’t let them try to bully us on the screen. We definitely emphasized that in the last couple practices before we played.”

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky is 13-3 on the season, 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
  • Mississippi State is 12-5 overall, 1-3 in league play.
  • UK leads the series 102-21 and has won three in a row vs. MSU.
  • UK leads 52-5 in games played in Lexington and has won the last nine in Rupp.
  • Next for Kentucky: UK concludes a two-game homestand Saturday as the Wildcats play host to Georgia. Game time is 6 p.m. and it will be televised on SEC Network.

Team Notes

  • UK is 3-0 this season in bounce-back games following losses. The Wildcats are now 18-3 in bounce-back games in the last three seasons.
  • UK scored 90 points tonight. The Wildcats entered the game third in the nation at 90.8 per game.
  • This is the first team in UK history that has scored at least 81 points in 15 of its first 16 games.
  • Kentucky shot 55.6 percent tonight from the field as the Wildcats missed only eight of their two-point shots (23 of 31, 74.2%).
  • It is UK’s eighth game this season shooting at least 50 percent and the Wildcats have won all eight.
  • UK had 20 assists with only 10 turnovers, a plus-2 ratio. UK entered the game third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at +1.88.
  • Kentucky led by as many as 20 points. The Wildcats are 340-15 (95.8%) in the John Calipari era when leading by as many as 10 points during the contest.

Player Notes

  • Antonio Reeves had 27 points, his eighth 20-point game of the season.
  • He has landed in double figures in every game but one this season.
  • Rob Dillingham had 16 points, his 14th double-figure game of the season.
  • Aaron Bradshaw had 11 points, his fifth double-figure game in the nine games he has played. He also tied for the team lead in rebounds with six.
  • Reed Sheppard had nine points while leading the team with six assists and a plus/minus of +21.
  • Tre Mitchell scored 15 points and enjoyed a perfect shooting night: 5 of 5 from the field, including a 3-pointer, and making all four foul shots.
  • Ugonna Onyenso had three points and was a significant defensive presence, with four blocked shots and six rebounds.

Coach John Calipari

  • Calipari has an 845-256 (76.7%) all-time on-court record, including 400-116 (77.5%) at Kentucky.
  • It marked Calipari’s 400th win at Kentucky. Among active head coaches, he is the third fastest to 400 wins at a program with 516 games. Only Bill Self (Kansas) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) reached 400 wins faster.
  • Calipari is 329-66 (83.3%) at UK against unranked competition.
  • Calipari is 19-1 vs. Mississippi State.
  • Calipari is now 396-127 (75.7%) all-time in conference games, including 188-61 (75.5%) in the SEC.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky started D.J. Wagner, Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, Tre Mitchell and Aaron Bradshaw for the seventh game in a row. UK is 6-1 in this lineup.
  • Ugonna Onyenso, Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard were UK’s first substitutions at the 15:57 mark.
  • After Mississippi State made the first two shots for a 5-2 lead, Kentucky went on a 13-0 run and the Wildcats never trailed again.
  • Kentucky stretched the lead to 20 points at 47-27 and took a 47-29 tally into halftime.
  • Reeves led the way with 16 points and Dillingham had 10, while on the defensive end, UK limited MSU to 35.5% shooting.
  • UK is now 12-1 this season when leading at halftime.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky began the second half with the starting lineup.
  • Mississippi State scored on its first six possessions, needing less than three minutes to cut the margin to 49-43.
  • Kentucky called timeout at 17:14 and the Wildcats steadied with a 6-0 spurt. Then, Mitchell added consecutive basket-and-ones to restore the lead to 61-46.
  • After that the Bulldogs got no closer than 12 points.