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John Calipari recaps win over Arkansas: Says 4-game skid was great for this team

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Calipari thinks the growing pains UK endured have made them a better team in the long run.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This is the kind of game everyone has been waiting for.

Going on the road against a skilled Arkansas team in a crazy environment and getting the victory that way is extremely impressive, especially considering the past month of basketball.

For the second consecutive game, Kentucky was able to get five players to score 10 points or more. One of the biggest concerns for this team all year has been their inconsistencies on offense. Today shows growth for these guys on that front.

Kevin Knox really made his presence felt in the second half, helping the Cats get a 13 point lead. The question now becomes, can he continue to be that guy going forward? All year we’ve seen him be inconsistent with his superstar play. If this team is going to go anywhere, it’s going to be on the shoulders of Kevin Knox.

This was a huge win for these guys to prove to themselves that they can perform in high pressure situations. At the beginning of the year, Cal repeatedly said that his team couldn’t put together a “full” 40 min.

Also, Cal had some interesting remarks during his postgame radio interview. He actually thinks the four-game losing streak UK just endured was a blessing in disguise.

“You got a team full of young players that have to go through experiences — good and bad,” Cal said. “You cannot talk about them. They have to experience them. The best thing to happen to this team is losing four in a row. It wasn’t good to me because I’m older now and I don’t take it as well. But they needed that.”

Well, we’ve seen the Cats rebound and look good for two games straight. Can they keep it up?

Here’s what John Calipari had to say in his post-game presser.

On overcoming a slow start …

”We kept calling them over. I said, ‘You’re in the game. Can you imagine? You stemmed the tide.’ The thing that I can’t do for these kids: There’s experiences that they’ve gotta live that I cannot talk them through.

“When you’re playing all freshmen—I’ll make that statement again: all freshmen—there’s experiences that they have to go through. One of them’s being down 11-0, on the road, to a team that was so hyped to play this game that it was crazy. The second thing: We’re starting to figure out, and especially me—I just told them, I said, ‘We struggled a little bit early. We weren’t where we needed to be. And then we added Jarred (Vanderbilt). And it took us another three weeks. Now we’ve settled in.’

“About 10 days ago, I had a meeting and gave them their roles. ‘This is your role on this team. Can you do it? Because if you can’t, I can’t play you. And if you need to do more, I’m not playing you. This is your role.’ And I went right around the room and they were all committed. ‘Are we committed to this?’

“Now they still challenge me at times and not—here’s what it is: A guy misses three shots. He doesn’t want to take a fourth one. He has to. You can’t drive it and get it blocked or turn it over because you did not want to shoot the ball. Your job is to shoot it. We’ll try to rebound your miss, or make it. We still fight that.

“I’ll tell you, I’m proud. To be able to come in here, this is a hard place to play, the environment. Thank God it rained like it did, probably kept some people away, but it was, you know—for us to do this as a young team.”

On whether he has found a crunch-time lineup …

”Well here’s what I’ve done: I’ve done away with the rotation, because everybody took advantage. They just did what they wanted to do. They know they were going in. So we have no rotation now. What I’m doing is if a guy’s playing well, he’s staying in as long as he can. ‘Please sub yourself and I’ll get you back in.’ And I’ll ride the guys who are playing.

“It’s that time of the year. I just gotta ride with the guys that are getting it done. After the game, I told Hami (Diallo), ‘Hami, we need you so stay with it. I had to coach to win this game. Stay with it. Everybody in here believes in you.’ The team hugged him and clapped, ‘We need you, Hami.’ ‘But you gotta keep—just focus on how hard you’re working and your attitude about getting better and we’re with you.’

“But, again, I gotta coach the game to win and I thought Quade (Green) and Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) were good out there.”

On what changed with rebounding …

”Jarred (Vanderbilt) and PJ (Washington) went in and then we rebounded. Someone says, ‘If you want to rebound better, recruit better rebounders.’ How about that?”

On their offensive efficiency …

”We’re getting better because we’ve settled in on how we’re playing. There were times we looked confused. You know why? They were. I just tried to make it clear how we’re playing and why we’re playing the way we’re playing. A lot of this was on me. When you’re playing freshmen, you can’t blame them. Their terminology, they don’t know. I mean, I said this one, a 1960 term: ‘I want you to play fast, but don’t be in a hurry.’ ‘What?’ That’s from ‘60s and the ‘70s and the ‘80s. ‘Play fast, but don’t be in a hurry.’

“And I heard them whispering, ‘What is he talking about?’ These kids, this is all new stuff. I’ve said, most of this is on me to figure out and I’m slowly starting to figure out this team and I’m happy with the direction we’re going, but this league is a bear. Arkansas is an NCAA Tournament team and probably I’m going to guess a top six or seven seed. Now they gotta finish and win some games from here on, but we’re playing all these teams and it’s like, ‘Holy cow, this league.’ “

On what changed defending the 3 in the second half …

”OK, they got four 3s on offensive rebounds that we didn’t go get balls and they kicked them out. So four of the eight and then the last one was the 3 at the buzzer where I made a mistake. I said switch. As soon as I saw it coming, I said, ‘Why did I do that?’ and poor Sacha (Killeya-Jones) got stuck up there and there’s no way he could play him. So those were five of the eight 3s they made at half. Offensive rebound, kick out; offensive rebound, kick out; 50-50 ball, kick out. They had four of those. In the second half we rebounded, so now it was tougher for them.”

On the edges of the late-game lineup he used …

”Well when you have Quade out there you got now Shai, Quade. You got scorers. Kevin Knox. And one of our issues was we weren’t scoring the ball. I just went back to, we’re worried about defense—unless we’re holding people to 32 points, we can’t win. So let’s look at an offensive team and let’s see if we can get them to defend a little bit. Just guard somebody and I think we’re getting better.”

On creating open-court opportunities …

”It’s what we have to be. We have to get some easy baskets and we have to fly. Now I’m going to tell you: They get out on misses and makes as good as anybody in the country and we worked for two days. Throw it up and fly back. Turn and run as fast as you can. I thought we did a pretty good job today of that.”