City Sports Report

John Calipari on Kentucky “This team has a will to win”

Caliparicelebrate

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari along with players Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, and Tyler Ulis speak with the media after Kentucky advances to the Sweet 16 with a 64-51 win over Cincinnati.

COACH CALIPARI: It was a good win for our team. I thought Cincinnati played well. They didn’t back away. They came right at us. I always like it when my team shoots 37, 36, 35 percent and wins in double digits. It shows them they don’t have to make shots to win. You can miss them all. No, you can’t miss them all. You can miss most of them, and you can still win games if you defend your rebound and you play that way, make your free throws, and they did.

Q. Talk a deep breath, and if you could just indulge me and talk to me for a minute about what Cleveland people can expect next week when Big Blue comes rolling up I-71 and the connection that you guys have with your fans, which in that part of the country we don’t have a lot of big college basketball.
COACH CALIPARI: Our fans, I just use one term to kind of define — they define themselves, but they’re crazy. They come — our building seats 25,000, and many of the people that will be in Cleveland could not get tickets to our building. So they go to every tournament game. I mean, we had 10,000 people at the early rounds of our conference tournament because they couldn’t get tickets to our rounds. They were like watching the other teams just to be able to say they were a part of it. I would say all the restaurant/bar owners are going to be very happy because, if they can’t get into the games, they’re going to be sitting right there. I don’t think they drink, but they will be there watching those games. You would say, well, they can’t get all the tickets. They somehow figure out how to get tickets. I have no idea how they do it. There will be a lot of blue in Cleveland, no question.

Q. This game to me, it seemed it was about toughness. For any one of you all, how do you feel you responded to Cincinnati’s physicality?
AARON HARRISON: I think we responded pretty well. We knew it was going to be a tough game like that and an emotional game. So we just had to match their intensity and match their aggressiveness.

TREY LYLES: Like Aaron said, we were ready for it. Coach prepared us for it. We went out there, and we matched their intensity and matched their physicalness.

TYLER ULIS: Like they both said, Coach repaired us for that. We knew how it would come out, and we just had to play through it.

Q. Aaron, it was really close there with about three minutes to go in the first half, and then you finish on a 10-0 run. Coach Davis told us that he felt that was a key point in the game because two or three of those turnovers really deflated them. How important, in retrospect, were the last three minutes of the first half?
AARON HARRISON: It was really important. We knew we had to make a run because it was a back and forth game until then. We just got together, the staff and the players, and we just knew we had to make a run and we had to make big plays, and that’s what we did.

Q. Another Willie (Cauley-Stein) dunk, just seems common nature for him now. What was your guys’ response after this? Was it something new for you guys that he hadn’t done before, or was it just the same old thing?
AARON HARRISON: No, nothing new for us. I think we all — when he does it, we all scream like we did it. We’re just used to it.

TREY LYLES: Same thing Aaron said, but hopefully after that, we just wanted him to get going from having a big play like that.

TYLER ULIS: It’s nothing knew to us. We expect that from him. Just gets us really into the game and hypes up the game more.

Q. My question is for any of the players and even Coach Cal, coming into the game, what do the scouting reports say about UC’s big men, like Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark and Coreontae DeBerry?
TREY LYLES: They just told us they were going to be physical, they were going to push, like get physical with us and try to back us down inside. Shoot layups, and offensive rebound is a big part of their game.

COACH CALIPARI: We knew they were a great offensive rebounding bunch, and we talked to them about it, that they create angles. We wanted them to try to score over the top of us because, if you give them an angle, they get to the rim and score baskets. I thought our kids did a pretty good job against them.

Q. You all expected a physical game. I mean, you expected this to be a tougher game, but when you look at some of the other physical games, was this probably the hardest one throughout that you all have had to deal with?
AARON HARRISON: Yeah, maybe so. They were just — we were ready for the physicality, I think, and the big guys really fought hard, and Trey (Lyles) fought hard as well.

TREY LYLES: Like Aaron said, we’ve had it all season. So we were prepared for it. That’s what every team is planning to go against us. So we just went out there and matched their intensity and their physicalness.

Q. For the freshman, a year ago you were in high school. Now you’re playing in front of 20,000 Kentucky fans in Louisville. What was the experience like in your first tournament venue?
TREY LYLES: It was a great experience. It’s almost like a home game with all the Kentucky fans that are here supporting us. It was exciting, and just happy to be a part of it.

TYLER ULIS: Like he said, it was a great experience. I’m happy to be here. It’s a dream come true. Can’t wait to keep going.

Q. Do you guys ever play like a road game with the way your fans travel? I guess conference games you do, right? Is that about it?
AARON HARRISON: I mean, sometimes but hardly ever. Our fans travel everywhere we go.

TREY LYLES: Just like Aaron said, hardly ever. Wherever we go, there’s a lot of fans there.

TYLER ULIS: Like they both said, they travel everywhere we go, and we’ve had a couple where they pack the crowd on us.

Q. You said at the beginning of the season this team needed to get a punch in the mouth. Being in the tournament, sort of a second season starting, is this the punch in the mouth this team needed?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I just want to stay on the course we’re on, which I keep saying they’re not going to do it on their terms. If you want to do something unique and special, you all — we shouldn’t be saying the things that we’ve been saying from the beginning of the year right now. But this team has a will to win. They have a heart. The good news is there’s enough guys that, if two or three aren’t playing well, we can still survive. What they learned today is we don’t have to shoot the ball well, and we can still survive. You just want them going into every game saying, it doesn’t matter what happens. We can still win. And that’s the mentality I want them in. But I got a great, great group. They handle things that are coming at them. People play them physical. No one’s going to surrender. They’re not going to surrender. So if you have to fight, you got to fight. I mean, I’m not going to lose going down not swinging. That means the games get physical. We had many physical games like this. This wasn’t like the most physical — I mean, I could go through your league and tell you there were physical games. But they’re learning each time out. I still have the youngest team in the field, and I would say one of the ways is try to get after them physically and see if you can rattle them. They have handled all this stuff with class. They’ve done a great job. They don’t respond. They just have an even keel about them, which is kind of nice.

Q. For all the talk about what Cincinnati was able to do physically, I mean, you all kind of exerted your will as well. Did the way they did it in a game like this make you happy? Or what impressed you the most?
COACH CALIPARI: I keep talking about Trey Lyles. We’re training him as a 3, but he’s a 4. He can step out and shoot, he can make free throws, he’s good with the ball, but he’s 6’10”. So when we put him next to the basket, I thought he was really good. I thought Karl (Anthony Towns) did some good stuff, and in the second half, Willie did it. In the last game, Willie went 1 for 6 from two feet. Today he missed a couple, and I said, we’re not having that. Turn and try to dunk the ball. He came back in the second half, and I thought he made baskets, and he got that dunk. But our guard play is solid right now. I think from Andrew (Harrison) to Tyler to Aaron — Devin’s (Booker) not making shots right now. We told him after the game, hey, you’ve got to keep shooting because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win. It just didn’t happen to be this one or the first one. You can miss all these ones. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up, we may need you to make some shots. We play around the goal pretty good.

Q. Coach Cal, Coach Davis talked about the free-throw line being the difference in the game. What do you feel the difference was in this game?
COACH CALIPARI: We made some big plays when we needed to to get a gap. We are a terrific free-throw shooting team, so he may be right in that regard because we really do shoot free throws well. The last five games, including this game, we’re at like 76 percent. So if you foul us, the free-throw line’s going to make a difference in the game. But I thought we made — like Aaron made that big three in front of us, and Andrew made a big drive, an and one, and those are the gaps that we need. Then our defense comes into play. I mean, we’re big. We’re 7 foot. I don’t know how many blocks we had today, but we’re a long team.

Q. Is foul avoidance one of the things — I mean, you guys can hit shots, but is this a natural kind of margin that you have often?
COACH CALIPARI: There’s all kinds of ways of doing this sport, coaching this game. We’re trying to teach not to foul. There’s two ways we don’t want to get beat, from the three-point line and free throws. We don’t want to get beat that way. If you’re going to beat us, beat us some other way. We try to drive people off the three-point line, and this is no secret. Every coach knows what I’m doing. We don’t want to give up 3s, and we don’t want to foul. So we’re playing to end the half with six fouls because now you’re never in the bonus. That’s how we play. That’s how we coach. Now, that’s not how everybody coaches, and there’s all kinds of ways of doing this. It’s just what we do. Play the percentages. I was asked coming off the court about they’re playing, they’re slowing down this game. Eventually, you’ve got to shoot the ball against two 7-footers. What I don’t want to do is trap and scramble and give up 3s and layups. Why would I do that when I’ve got a great defensive team? I could do that. I did have to say, are we winning this game or losing this game? There’s literally all kinds of ways of doing this. That’s what we do. Where we speed teams up if we think we need to. Let me say this, in this tournament — and I’ve coached in many — you’re never pressing the best teams into submission. You’d better play half-court defense. You can press bad teams into submission. A good team’s too well coached. You can’t just press them and trap and scramble. They’re going to end up shooting layups and free throws or dunks. So we will press to get into people’s legs. We will trap at times, but I want us to play without fouling, play great solid defense, give them one tough shot, not a three. Don’t let them get to the three-point line. Drive them off the three. That’s what we’re doing.

Q. There’s a couple times where Andrew and Aaron both drove the lane and finished kind of with authority. Can you speak to their development from the time they got here? Not just flailing, hoping a foul is called.
COACH CALIPARI: Andrew had one in the first half, and I took him out. They’re getting so much better. Everything about their games in the last year. They’ve been with us two years. It’s ridiculous how much they both improved. They’re both winning players now. They’re both winning players. They both are not afraid to make game-winning shots because they’re not afraid to miss game-winning shots. They’ll make free throws. They’re both defending better. Now, Aaron gave up a layup at the end of the game. He just stopped playing. Andrew gave up a three during the game where he just stopped on a guy, where the guy moves and gets a three. Reality is those are few and far between. Those two right now are playing as well as any guards in the country, and they’re 6’6″. They’re 220. They’re good athletes. They’re really skilled, both left and right. You can’t say force them left. Guy will go left. You can’t say force him right. He’ll go right. They’re both really skilled. Again, I don’t think they get the credit. They carried us to the final game last year, those two. You watch the tapes. Those two carried us to where we were. Struggled a little bit in the final game. We never would have gotten into the final game without those two. Now they’re starting to do the same thing again. It says something about who they are as players in their heart to win and their will to win.

Q. Coach, you said Ulis is like the spoon in the milkshake. He mixes them all up. He seemed to do everything today, get the ball to whoever needed it, five assists today. What has impressed you about his game?
COACH CALIPARI: The greatest thing about Tyler is he’ll do whatever needs to be done. He wants to play with Andrew, and he has no problem with Andrew being the point. I’ll play off the ball. I mean, that’s what makes him unique. He’s not worried about me and let me have this and this is mine. He’s not like that. If I said, “Who do you want in with you?” He’ll say, “Andrew.” That’s the first, Andrew. I won’t get it out of my mouth, and that’s what he’ll say. So today a big play, Andrew drives, throws it to him for a three, bang. He and Andrew are like chest bumping. That’s what you want to see in this. This thing for these guys, they just won — I told them today after the game. You just won 36. Never done before in college basketball. 50 years from now, you’ll probably look back and say wow. 50 years from now. The parity and the balance and all the other things in college basketball makes this ridiculous. You have guys like Tyler who probably don’t realize what they’re doing because they’re so young. They’re 18 and 19 years old. But I’m having fun. I’m a little under the weather yesterday and today, but I’m having fun seeing these guys go. They are working through stuff, like things are happening in the game, and they’re working through it themselves. That’s what you want. You want them to feel empowered.

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