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March 17th, 2018

Q&A from the Cats after a Second Round Win over Buffalo

JOHN CALIPARI: My comment to the players after the game was the reason this has been the most rewarding season I’ve had in over 30, or however many I’ve done this, is because of what’s happening for Wenyen, what’s happening for Hami. You saw what he is and what he’s capable of today. Let me say this, you may say that — I was trying to learn about him and he was trying to learn about me. We were trying to figure this out. Everybody said, Why are you starting him? Because he deserves it, I love him, and he’s going to do it. It just took us a long time.

Wenyen, the same. He had to conquer himself. When you’re not playing well you have to kick out of it and go.

And Shai, I didn’t really enjoy coaching Shai, but he’s a good kid, I guess (laughter).

Q. What I asked Hamidou yesterday about whether they were overestimating the importance of experience. Do you think you answered the question today?
HAMIDOU DIALLO: The same answer yesterday. We just try to come out and try to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did today. And can’t feel better about this one.

Q. At one point after you hit a 3-pointer, you turned to the crowd and silenced them. Do you enjoy when you have a crowd against you? Does that feed you guys?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: This whole group is a bunch of competitors, we go after it every day in practice. We love proving people wrong, and that’s what we did today.

Q. I’m sure you saw that Virginia lost yesterday. Is that a wake-up or a reminder to see when a huge upset happens? Is that something that reminds you that anything can happen in March Madness and makes you play more on your game?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, Coach has been telling us this whole week, You never know what can happen in this tournament. And you have to step up and make plays. And we don’t focus on any team but ourselves right now. We try to get better each and every game.

WENYEN GABRIEL: Definitely. I don’t watch too many of the games, but when you hear about the upsets, it tells us to lock in more and focus on anything can happen.

HAMIDOU DIALLO: It makes us play with a little more chip on our shoulder because we don’t want to end the season now, we want to play to the last game. So we’re coming out there with more chip on our shoulder.


Gilgeous-Alexander: “We don’t win without Hami”

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hamidou Diallo was spectacular in Kentucky’s win over Buffalo on Saturday. Diallo was so good, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the team’s leading scorer with 27 points, said Kentucky would be going home if not for how Diallo played.

Personally, I don’t think we win tonight without Hami,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after the game. “He played huge for us down the stretch. We went to him a little bit in a set, and he had like four baskets in a row that were really big. He works really hard, and when you work hard, good things are going to happen for you.”

Diallo scored 22 points, the most he’s had since he went for 23 in the Garden back in December, and 18 of those 22 came in the second half on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. But it wasn’t just the scoring he provided that helped his team win, Diallo also had eight strong rebounds and two big blocks on the defensive end. He did it all, which led Kevin Knox to say, “That’s the Hamidou we need for the rest of the tournament.

Quade Green added, “He’s the best defender in the country if he’s locked in like that.”

If that version of Hamidou Diallo continues to show up, Kentucky is as good as anyone in the tournament.

Jarred Vanderbilt provides an update on his status

Jarred Vanderbilt is getting healthier, but only by one percent per day.

In his latest update on his injury, Vanderbilt told reporters that he is now “71 percent” healthy, a slight improvement from his 70 percent estimate yesterday.

By my calculations, he will only be up to 76 percent by Thursday, which is still short of the 95 percent John Calipari said he needs to play him.

Hopefully we get a better and more reliable update on his status sometime next week.


SB Nation

The Tennessee Volunteers have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

Loyola-Chicago is the first Cinderella to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament after the Ramblers pulled off a dramatic game-winning shot in the final seconds of the second round.  SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams gave the Vols a one-point advantage with a late And One.  The next time down the court, the ball had bounced perfectly for Loyola.  It did not have an extra bounce for Tennessee.

Tennessee’s elimination is not only hilarious, it makes the South Region look like the Bad News Bears.  Kansas State, UMBC, Loyola, Nevada, Cincinnati and Kentucky are the only teams still alive.  I like my team(‘s chances).

Hamidou Diallo punches Kentucky’s ticket to the Sweet 16

© Kyle Terada | USATSI

Watch out Atlanta, Kentucky’s coming for you. Thanks to a likely hero and an unlikely one, the Cats will advance to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in the John Calipari era to face the winner of Kansas State/UMBC.

The way they got there? It’s kind of awesome.

An unlikely hero

The war over who should be MVP raged on social media, but my game ball goes to Hamidou Diallo, who turned in his best game as a Wildcat with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. This season hasn’t been easy for Hami, but after a string of quietly impressive performances, he broke out in a big way, punishing Buffalo in transition and providing some crucial hustle on defense. A pair of dunks speak volumes for his performance:

A likely hero

People need to stop saying Kevin Knox is this team’s best player because that honor clearly belongs to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai turned in 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, once again carrying the Cats when the offense stalled. I worry that we’ll never fully appreciate the things Shai has done for this squad, especially because it’s looking more and more like he’s playing his last games as a Cat.

The team’s hardest worker and role model, Shai takes everything personally, including Buffalo’s trash talk and the crowd’s clear bias:

When asked about his clutch three, he delivered this great response.

“This whole group is a bunch of competitors, we go after it every day in practice. We love proving people wrong, and that’s what we did today.”

The trash talk was personal

From Wes Clark asking for another shot at Kentucky to Buffalo’s coach calling Calipari a whiner, there was all sorts of extra incentive for Kentucky to take this game personally. According to Kevin Knox and the score on the scoreboard, they did.

“Pretty much all of us took what they said personally,” Knox said of Buffalo.

“We just try to come out and try to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did today,” Diallo added. “And can’t feel better about this one.”

In his best I-didn’t-take-it-personally-but-of-course-I-took-it-personally, here was Calipari’s response after the game.

“And I whine,” Cal said of having a team of all freshmen. “Coach [Oats] and I talked about it before the game, Nate and I talked. There’s nothing there. He’s a great guy and a heck of a coach now. What he’s done and how that team plays and what they’ve done in their league, amazing. It’s amazing.”


The Cats heated up from outside

Everyone was worried about Buffalo’s three-point shooting, but the Cats matched the Bulls 7-7 from the three-point line. Thanks to Shai, Quade, Hami, and Wenyen, the Cats started a new streak, with Gabriel showing flashes of his SEC Tournament self with a 3-5 mark from behind the arc. While his post play still makes me nervous, Wenyen finished with 16 points and an even more important 12 rebounds. Way to go, Wenyen.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s perimeter defense was once again effective, limiting a red-hot Buffalo squad to 7-31 from three. At times, it felt like the Bulls couldn’t miss, but in the end, the Cats’ length won the day.

PJ got his stank face on

PJ Washington was limited by foul trouble most of the game, but in the second half, helped Kentucky take control with some dominant play inside, finishing with 12 points and 7 rebounds. With PJ out, Kentucky stalled; with him in, Buffalo couldn’t stop the Cats inside. Once again, PJ proves he is this team’s x-factor, as is that stank fact that’s become the thing of the postseason:

Shoutout to Wes Clark

The Missouri transfer turned Buffalo sharp-shooter crowed about wanting another shot at the Cats and he did his part, finishing with 26 points (4-10 3PT FG) and six assists. Clark took some years off my life in the second half, which is why I had to stand up and give him kudos after this fantastic quote in the postgame press conference.

“On top of us being good-looking, we do play hard. We’ve got some grit to us. That’s fine, we’re a fun team to watch.”

Yes, you were.

Kentucky will face…?

Kentucky will take on the winner of Kansas State/UMBC Giant Killer, which goes down tomorrow night at 7:45 p.m. ET. Until then, book your hotel room. Catlanta, here we come.

POLL: Is Pat Forde mad?

It seems Pat Forde is mad.

Yahoo’s best Calipari hater tweeted after Kentucky’s Round of 32 win, “Kentucky has beaten a 12 seed, a 13 seed and will get either an 8 or 16(!) seed in the sweet sixteen in Cat-friendly Atlanta. Anyone remember Sunday, when Cal was complaining about how hard his draw was?”

Reading that, it sure does look like Forde is mad. It reads like he is mad, and knowing his disdain for Calipari, it is very likely he is indeed mad. But I cannot confirm whether or not #HeMad.

So I’ll ask you, Big Blue Nation: Is Pat Forde mad?

Let’s put it to a vote:

find bike trails

I think we’re going to find that he mad.

Shai’s Spirit is taking Kentucky to New Heights

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as Kentucky’s steadiest force on the court.  His production over the last month has stood above the rest, but it’s the intangibles that have made a difference in his game, and the entire team.

As soon as John Calipari took the podium following Kentucky’s 20-point victory over Buffalo, he sang the praises of Wenyen Gabriel and Hamidou Diallo.

“The reason this has been the most rewarding season I’ve had in over 30, or however many I’ve done over this, is because what’s happening for Wenyen, what’s happening for Hami.  You saw what he is and what’s he capable of today.”

Cal finished his statement with a little joke about the other player in the room, SGA.  “I really didn’t enjoy coaching Shai, but he’s a good kid I guess,” Calipari said with a smile.

What makes Shai different than his teammates is his attitude and work ethic.  When Kentucky struggled, he did not let it get him down.  He just kept going to work.  His perseverance has paid off tremendously.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 19 points yesterday, but he only made 5-of-18 shots.  Instead of letting one bad day of shooting get him down, he responded by hitting 10-of-12 shots for 29 points.  His production has carried Kentucky over the top, but Calipari believes his infectious attitude has been the biggest difference-maker for his young team.

“He has a spirit about him, a smile,” Cal said.  “His spirit starts moving us that way.  He was the one guy having fun.  The other guys on this team two months ago, everything was a struggle.  This kid was just smiling and laughing, and I kept bring it up, ‘be like him.'”

Shai had a few kinks to work out throughout the year.  After hours of film and early morning workouts, he’s never been better.

“What he was missing, any kind of skip, he couldn’t see it.  So you gotta keep showing him and you have to reward him.  Now you’re seeing him come down and throw skip passes, but it took two months,” Cal said.

His patience and positive attitude has paid off.  “He’s playing himself into being one of the best players in the country,” Calipari said.


AVAILABLE NOW: Get your official Sweet Sixteen apparel!

Kentucky is headed to the Sweet Sixteen in ‘Catlanta! Head to now to get your official Sweet Sixteen tee!

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LIVE: Kentucky’s Postgame Press Conference in Boise

John Calipari and a few Kentucky Wildcats will be taking the podium to talk about Kentucky’s victory over Buffalo in the round of 32.  See everything they have to say below:

Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander Carry Kentucky to a 95-75 Victory over Buffalo

© Kyle Terada | USATSI

For the seventh time in nine years, Kentucky is in the Sweet 16.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander steadied the ship and Hamidou Diallo exploded for 20 points to lead Kentucky to a 95-75 win over Buffalo in the Round of 32.  On paper, Kentucky’s performance looked dominant, but that was not always the case.

A strong start put Kentucky up by as much as 12 in the first half, but Buffalo would not go away.  Wes Clark, who finished with 26 points, found his range from behind the three-point line to cut the Kentucky lead to five with 12 minutes to play, but it was not enough to keep up with the Cats.

As the team struggled to fight through foul trouble, Shai took control of the game.  After a 27-point performance, Gilgeous-Alexander now averages 21.8 points per game in the postseason.  Diallo’s energy put Kentucky over the top with a few incredicble dunks.

Kentucky will play the winner of Kansas State-UMBC next week in Atlanta.