We’ve already shared the highlights of John Calipari’s Ole Miss preview with you — newsflash, it’s Valentine’s Day, not Thanksgiving, Coach! — but Cal being Cal, there are some leftovers to go over. Here are five to get you ready for tomorrow’s game.
Let the guards drive or get it to Nick?
Kentucky made its big second half comeback at Vanderbilt in part because Calipari tweaked the offense a little bit, spacing the court to allow his guards to drive the basket more easily. The Cats outscored the ‘Dores 51-28 in the second half, so it clearly worked, but Calipari doesn’t want that new approach to come at the expense of Kentucky’s bread and butter, Nick Richards.
“I’m just seeing everybody else do it to us, that’s how they’re trying to play. We’ve got some things we’re doing that can lead us into that, but the other side of it is, we’ve got this kid on the team that, jeez, when you throw him the ball, stuff happens for us. Nick Richards. So, in a way, you want to say, let’s play to our strengths. Our strengths may be different than their strengths, but when you’re in games and you’re seeing people do certain things, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I wonder if we could do a little bit of that.'”
How good is Breein Tyree?
“Whew,” Cal said when asked about Ole Miss’ senior guard. “The last three games he’s averaging like 38 points a game. He was out a few games, which they lost, understandably. He makes everybody on the court better. He defends. He tries to steal. He’s good. In our league, how many of our guys are like him? Not many. He’s playing well and somebody that we better keep an eye on.”
Calipari fact check: Tyree is actually averaging 33.7 ppg over the last three games. But yeah, he’s really good.
He’s not letting anyone let go of the rope
Everyone is proud of Nick Richards for his progress this season, but, as we’ve heard a few times over the last couple of weeks, the staff is refusing to let the junior big man rest on his laurels. Same goes for the rest of the Big Four as Kentucky enters the final stretch of the regular season.
“He’s good. He’s building his own confidence through demonstrated performance. He’s not delusional on the court. Anytime he starts to slip he’s got a whole staff all over him. Like, I may walk in the gym and he’s on the treadmill and I’m thinking, wow, isn’t that great, he’s out there conditioning. No. He came in half speed and Kenny (Payne) put him on the treadmill. ‘Alright, you don’t want to do this? Get on this treadmill.’ We’re not letting up on him. We’re not letting up on Tyrese (Maxey). We’re trying to hold Ashton (Hagans) accountable. They’re all responding. We’ve got a great group of kids.”
“They have to fail — and sometimes miserably”
One of Kentucky’s biggest issues this season has been finishing games, which Calipari says they should be really good at considering he has three point guards on the court most of the time. But, it’s — wait for it — a process.
“The issue for us is that we’re playing with three point guards. Our decision-making late in the game should be better than anybody else’s team in the country. It should be. Now, it hasn’t been until the last few games, but why wouldn’t it be? If you’re a point guard, are you trying to make the hardest play? Are you not seeing what the game is? If we get something easy, fine, if not we’re going to work the clock? Are you not thinking with us? Are you just exchanging baskets? Are you not thinking basketball? Part of that is us and me as a coach training them to finish these games off, and it takes time.
“This is all – talking to a coach today – this is all process. They all have to go through it. Let me tell you the other thing they have to do: They have to fail – and sometimes miserably. Because they have to learn. Am I going to blame everybody and be delusional or are the people around me going to blame everybody? Or am I going to take account of what just happened and own it and then change it?”
Speaking of Ashton…
How Ashton Hagans bounced back vs. Vanderbilt
After a string of sloppy performances, Ashton Hagans got back on track Tuesday night, flirting with a triple double and only turning the ball over once. Calipari said Hagans not only played with more discipline, but recognized when he needed to come out of the game for a breather.
“Made easy plays. He wasn’t trying to do crazy things. He was more disciplined. He also subbed himself, he played 31 minutes instead of trying to play 37 minutes, which means in that extra five or six minutes, that’s when the play comes way back both defensively and offensively. So, you know, I love the fact that he subbed himself.”