Kentucky Basketball returned to Rupp Arena tonight for the first time this season.
The Wildcats defeated the Transylvania Pioneers 94-66.
At times UK looked like the team we all expected them to be this season and at others they looked like yet another freshman heavy team that was still finding its way on the court. All in all, it was a solid performance and the Cats ran away with the victory.
Obviously, the season is a long one and Calipari is still figuring out how to get the most out of each of his players.
Here’s how Coach Cal and some of the players reacted to the first real action of the season, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. What did you like tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: I thought the group I put in at the 16:00 mark really played and played together and was aggressive. And when they started the second half, they weren’t like that.
So we’re still exploring. I mean, we had seven guys in double figures. You know, you had a lot of people doing some things and it just -- the straight line drives, it was kind of like the Bahamas first game, we had 21 straight line drives; this team.
And what Transy does, and Brian does a good job of, they were going to make us use the clock and they were going to make you play for 30 seconds, and we had some guys that were not able to play the full 30 seconds either on a switch. Or how about it went inside with two seconds to go, they throw it out to 3- point shooters and guys that had fallen asleep and they made them.
It’s a great lesson. This will be a great teaching tape. You know, we rebounded the ball. PJ went in in the second half and did what I wanted him to do which is go get five, six rebounds a half. Go get two or three offensive. We need those. We need those extra baskets.
But again, it’s a lesson. Didn’t make a shot. Missed every -- you know, great thing for Tyler, I told him, “You have to get your shot before you catch the ball. This isn’t high school. I catch it and do I have a shot.”
You know before you catch it to go get a shot, and I think it’s good for him. He went 1-for-8. Now, understand, why did I go 1-for-8. You know, what it was? Some of them, I wasn’t ready, or they were too tight for me because I wasn’t ready to shoot it. I thought he had two that he should have let go they then bounced and made it a tougher shot. But this is all new.
Immanuel is better than he played. I thought Ashton played pretty good. Travis did what he did and Nick played well in the second half -- or first half, not so well in the second half. EJ did some good stuff.
But we still -- last thing, guys, and I told them why I did it: We pressed the whole game, not to try to steal. I wanted the condition. Let’s see where we are conditioning. And so you press, and you’re all over the place, and then they hold the ball for 25. That’s great conditioning, and we broke down a ton because of it.
Q. It seemed like your point guards were very conscious of pass first, look for what they were doing first and shooting was kind of secondary to them. How did you feel about that and is that what you wanted to see from them like that?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, they had seven assists together, seven assists and two turns, so they did a pretty good job there. They got to the rim for some layups which is what I wanted. Immanuel is a 3-point shooter that needed to get some 3s off. Ashton is not that guy. He’ll shoot a 3, but that’s not his game. So I thought Ashton played pretty well.
But the scoring, I want him to score. I liked what Quade did away from the ball; exactly what I want him to do: Gets baskets, get a couple assists, you know, shoot a 3.
Q. You talked about the stuff you’ll be able to teach out of this and the good lessons learned. When you go into a game like this, Brian talked about he told his team: Our goal is to help them get better and give them things to look at. Do you almost ask the other coach, can you do some of this, attack us this way; give us this look because I want to see it?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, no, because I don’t want them to change what they are doing. I want Brian’s team to get better, too, from this, and they did.
What they ended up doing and showing these guys, if the other team plays harder than you, you’re not going to look good, and it doesn’t matter what level it is. You have to figure out how hard is this guy playing. I’ve got to play harder than he plays and you have to come in the game with the idea, I’m going to make him chase me. I’m not chasing him.
Every one of our players has improved. Every one of them. Now it comes: Do you -- does that mean you think you don’t have to play harder than the other guy. Because you’re way better as a player, it doesn’t -- you
know, that’s the equalizer in all that we do.
Q. Are there one to two things that you would like to see marked improvement in during the next exhibition?
COACH CALIPARI: We’ve got to make some 3s. And I’ve got to watch the tape to see if, did they take him away or were we not prepared to shoot, you know, 1- for-13, and this might be my best shooting team in a while.
One of the things I’ve told them, though, the good news is we don’t rely on 3-point shooting. There are teams that do. We don’t. So we could go 1-for-13 and still score a lot of points because of how we play.
But that is the one thing that gives us a gap. You make 10 or 11 3s here, and then we’re winning pretty big. And so we -- again, I’ve got to watch the tape and see what it is. Some of them, we may have just been missing.
But the two guys (that normally are the best): Tyler shot four. Immanuel only shot one. Quade only shot two. You know, I mean, those are three of the guys that should be shooting, and I have no problem with even Keldon. I thought Keldon did good stuff today.
Again, the sustaining effort. Being a little winded and still being able to think. Fighting through. It looks as though these guys can play for three or four minutes at a stretch if we’re playing the way we want to play. Doesn’t seem like anybody can really play more than that.
Q. Is EJ building on what he did in the Blue-White Game? Can you see him developing?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, he did good again today. Did some good stuff.
Q. What about Reid Travis? What did you like from him tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, he did good stuff. I mean, he rebounded the ball. He had a double-double. You know, if we could have that out of him every game we play, it’s a pretty good night. He’s physical. He talks on defense. He played good.
Q. There was a nice ceremony for CM before the game. Can you share some of your experiences with him? Tell some good stories.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, let me just say that the first thing that CM was big for basketball, international basketball. I mean, he was involved in USA Basketball, all of it, FIBA. He was like the king pin. He was also big obviously with Kentucky’s athletic department and our basketball program.
And so as a player here, as the athletic director here, knowing that he coached at Transy, we just thought, this would be a good thing. We talked to Martin, and I liked the people here that recognized him and the ovation that they gave him. They did a video on the game.
So there was a television video that they did on him, and I told Martin, he had a heck of a run. Dude had a heck of a run and affected basketball in a positive way on so many levels. It’s incredible. And he’s one of ours. You know, he’s Kentucky’s own.
Q. Any concern about Jemarl not being able to play tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: No, his knee swelled up. So he didn’t practice for two days.
Q. Did you see DeMarcus got ejected in a game he didn’t even play tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: Who is that?
Q. DeMarcus Cousins got ejected in a game he didn’t play tonight from the bench. Surprised?
COACH CALIPARI: I didn’t see it. I don’t know what it was about, but, you know, somebody must have said something to him (laughter). I mean, they shouldn’t have said it. I don’t know what to say. (Laughter).
#22, Reid Travis, Gr., F
On Kentucky’s performance…
“It was good. Just to get out there and play a different team. We’ve been going at each other for a long time especially when you talk about the practices from the summer and preseason. So, it’s nice to go up against somebody else and really compete. Obviously, we have a lot of things to work on defensively and with our condition, but that’s expected the first game when you come out. I think it’s going to be really good for us to go look at the film and really just work on some of those things in practice the next couple of days and get ready for the next game.”
On the good and what needs improvement…
“The good is that our intentions were there as far as working hard, the effort and the energy. We really wanted to do the right things and just some things we need to work on… it’s expected early in the season. As far as cleaning up – some turnovers, rotations on defense, guarding the ball — those are going to come as we start to work on those things some more.”
On what he saw in his performance…
“Bringing the energy and hitting the boards hard is a big thing for me. Points and touches are going to come. We have a very talented team and some nights you just must play your role as far as when the balls going to come to you. Rebounds, defense and energy are things I can bring every night.”
#0, Quade Green, So., PG
On being 1-for-13 from three-point territory …
“We’re just going to keep working on our shooting. That’s what it comes down to really. That’s unsual with this team. How we shoot in practice, but first game everybody got their jitters out so I hope next game we have a better shooting job.”
On difference from this year to last year about talking on the court…
“We are going to play a lot of big teams and a lot of loud crowds and hostility crowds so we got to do a lot of talking.”
On what they did well tonight…
“We talked tonight, more than usual. I was screaming at everybody today because most guys weren’t talking today but I got them to talk, Reid got them to talk, PJ got them to talk. It’s not a small thing, it’s a big thing. No communication on the floor, it can go left. You don’t communicate on defense and somebody can score.”
#25, PJ Washington , So., F
On what the team learned from tonight’s game…
“We need to work on straight-line drives on the defensive end. We got a little tired after the press but they played great against us. They forced us to play the whole shot clock. We’re in great shape, we just need to continue to get better.”
On his growth as a player…
“They really push us in the off season work outs. Our strength coach has done a great job with me and getting my body right. It feels great to me back on the floor and to get this season started.”
On Nick Richards’ growth as a player...
“He’s always in the gym every day. I’m proud of him, I’m happy to play with him. I’m excited to see what he does this year and know he’s going to have a great season in front of him.
On the team’s performance tonight…
“I feel like we attacked the lane really well and shared the ball. We could’ve worked on our on-ball defense more and then a couple breakdowns that led to threes, so those are somethings we need to work on.”