John Calipari met with the media today to preview his team’s game vs. Louisville tomorrow. We’ve already shared his comments on Louisville and how he’s taking responsibility for this team’s woes, but here are five more things that stood out to me.
1. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery have been better in practice
One of Kentucky’s primary issues is post play, or the lack thereof. Nick Richards regressed vs. Utah and was plagued by foul trouble vs. Ohio State. Calipari said he’s encouraging his junior big man not to play scared, and that both he and EJ Montgomery have looked better in practice this week.
“He’s just got to play. He’s got to create more opportunities for himself to score, and we’ve got to create more opportunities. He’s shooting almost 70%. EJ (Montgomery), the same. But, the biggest thing in all of this comes back to battle. You’ve got to compete. You’ve got to fight. They’re both learning. They’re trying.”
2. Inside play is important, but “we’re not going to be a team that posts it 50 times in a half”
Getting Nick and EJ back on track will certainly help Kentucky, but expecting post play to be the focus of this offense is unrealistic. Instead, Calipari hopes that getting some baskets around the rim will open up the game for his guards.
“We’re not going to be a team that posts it 50 times in a half. It’s not going to be who we are,” Cal said. “We’re a team that you’ve got to steal some baskets near that rim. We’re shooting a fairly good percentage as a team. We really are, but if he’s (Nick) shooting and EJ combined are shooting let’s say 60% what do we need to shoot from the 3 to get the same kind of result? Forty percent. What are we shooting? Thirty. Twenty-nine. So, now do you take more 3s? And all you geniuses – ‘We’ve got to shoot more 3s’ – or do you try to get them more shots? As we’re trying to say we’re a good shooting team, but at this point, let’s try to get them more shots.”
After sharing the advice he’s giving Nick right now (“Search shots out that you can make”), Calipari doubled down.
“It’s OK, let’s get these guys the ball and space out and see what they do. Again, I’m sitting here acting like we’re going to post Nick 40 times. It ain’t happening. But there’s going to be times where we had an opportunity to throw it to him and we didn’t.”
3. Praise for Nate Sestina
Nate Sestina was a bright spot of Kentucky’s loss to Ohio State, and Calipari said that even though the Buckeyes were able to shut him down for most part in the second half, his performance bodes well moving forward.
“Thank goodness his hand injury was his non-shooting hand or he probably wouldn’t have been able to do what he did,” Cal said. “We just made a decision to let him be the 3-point shooter and then we put in a couple things that was fine and now the adjustment was made and now maybe we have an adjustment to that, what teams will do to this. But he’s one of those guys, and he’s also tough. He’ll also fight. That’s what he adds to this group, plus he’s a veteran.”
He also hinted at using Nate more on the inside if the matchup calls for it.
“I’ll tell you who’s good in the post is Nate (Sestina). He may not be as big, but Nate is physical, he’ll create space, he’s got a good jump hook, he can make free throws.”
4. Ashton Hagans is playing well, but needs to be more disciplined
Hagans has been Kentucky’s saving grace this season, but Calipari said he can take his play from “good” to “great” with more discipline.
“Look, Ashton is playing good. He’s not playing great yet because he’s still—the discipline defensively and offensively puts us in bad positions when he breaks it off. He’s just gotta be more disciplined for 40 minutes. Shooting the ball better. Making free throws. Being strong. We remembered him missing all layups last year, didn’t we? Now all of a sudden he’s making all layups unless they block or foul. No call but maybe he won’t get it in.”
Even Hagans resorted to hero ball at the end of the Ohio State game, which Calipari said is a sign he needs to trust his teammates more.
“I call it trust. He’s gotta trust these players. He’s gotta trust if I throw it to them, he’s going to do something good better than I can just jam it in here on two big guys that are 6-9. Gotta trust. Right now we’re not quite trusting each other.”
5. A classic line
With a team struggling to find its footing, Calipari kept going back to the fact that it’s only December, so he’s got plenty of time to figure this out; however, like the rest of us, he couldn’t help but acknowledge just how big a win over the No. 3 Cards would be.
“The good news for us, and I keep saying it, it’s December. It’s not a make or break. I know people want to say, ‘This is it.’ It isn’t. It’s December, but it’s just the next game for us – and I say this ever year – unless you win then it’s a huge game.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Watch the rest of Calipari’s remarks below thanks to our videographer Bradley McKee.