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Everything you Missed at Today’s Basketball Press Conference

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After an enormous Senior Night and ahead of postseason play, today’s meeting with the media had an odd lull to it, providing less news than normal with Joel Justus at the podium instead of John Calipari.  Still, you’ll find a few interesting nuggets from the 17 minutes spent with Justus, De’Aaron Fox and Isaac Humphries.

JOEL JUSTUS

On UK having slow starts and fast finishes …
“I like the fast finishes better than the slow starts. I think we all do. It’s funny that’s what we’ve kind of been talking about. We’ve talked about it as a group. We’ve talked about it as coaches. We’ve brought that to the players, and said ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I think whenever you’re coaching, as a staff, we ask them. They’re the ones that are doing it so you say, ‘Hey why? Why? What is it? Do we need to do something better? Is it something we need to practice? Is it something that we need to fundamentally change at the games? Is it a warm up?’ I think that’s the thing we’re trying to figure out and address verses play ostrich and put your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.”

On how the team responded to those questions …
“I think it’s still an open-ended discussion that we’re going through right now, but I think everybody sees that. The players and coaches, and are aware that we need to focus in a little bit on that.”

On if the staff is pleased with how the team executed the full-court press …
“I think that was something we’ve kind of had in our pocket to use, and obviously it gave us a bit of a boost similar to — oh man what was it? — when we threw the zone out there against, I guess it was Georgia. We got off to a bad start and we played some zone, here at home, and that gave us a bit of a momentum swing similar to when we pressed. So I think anytime you can throw a change up, and our guys are smart, most of them, I would say. When you can throw change ups like that, and then the guys embrace them, it always makes for an easy transition in-game.”

On why the slow starts are a concern if they tend to end well …
“I think that as you get into the NCAA tournament and you get down double digits there’s a sense of, ‘Oh my gosh, this might be it.’ Whereas right now, you’re able to play and know, ‘Okay, it’s a big game if we win, but if we lose we still move on.’ And you learn from it. I think for us, it’s something to say, ‘Hey alright now this is coming up. You get down double digits, you get down, you have a bad start and you’re playing a champion from a smaller conference. You’re playing a champion from a larger conference or a team that’s been in big games that knows how to hold a lead and close a game out.’ Similar to what we’ve talked about. When we get up double digits, how do we play with a lead? How do we close teams out? By this time of year, you’re addressing both of those situations.”

On freshman forward Bam Adebayo fouling less in recent weeks …
“I think he’s playing smarter. He’s older. He’s in those situations to where he knows when to, I guess, back off, but I think a lot of it is positioning. (Associate Head Coach) Kenny (Payne) and him and Cal have talked a lot about being in the right position. Being ahead, thinking ahead, and I think as young guys are here and they learn and they mature and they grow through film, through experience in games, through experience in practice, you start to — I know this is a bit of a shocker — get better. But at this time of year, it’s that time where you start to see improvement, and I think Bam’s been a guy that we’ve talked about all year as a guy who is continuing to work. He’s continuing to ask questions. He’s continuing to get in the gym, to get in the film room and say, ‘Okay, what can I do to get better?’ And anytime you have a team of guys like that, but more importantly an individual who’s focusing in on his personal development and performance, good things are going to happen.” 

On freshman guard Malik Monk having slower first halves and stronger second halves …
“You know, that would be a question obviously for him to say.  I think with what we’re talking with Malik about is being that aggressor. For us, we are really trying to focus in on him getting paint touches. Whereas he’s being on the attack, you know, and not necessarily settling because he is a shooter. He’s a guy who takes shots and you want taking shots but also he is a guy who is getting to the free-throw line. He is getting the ball in the paint. He is a gifted passer. He is a willing and able passer. So, good things happen when he gets down hill and puts that extra pressure on not only his man but on a secondary or tertiary defender.” 

On if Kentucky’s slow starts are because players aren’t listening to staff …
“I’m not sure that from our standpoint that we are looking at it as a blatant disregard for what the staff is saying or for what Coach Cal is saying. I think they’re young guys, and I think for the most part they are still trying to figure out, like young guys do — and as a new father I’m sure you’ll figure it out – they’re going to push the envelope to see, ‘Okay, what can I get away with today? Or what can work?’ Then it’s like, ‘That didn’t work so now let’s go back and try something else.’ ”

On Texas A&M freshman forward Robert Williams’ improvement .…
“Well, it’s the same thing we’re talking about just now with young players going through practice, with young players going through games and experiences. Both of their bigs are extremely gifted. They both can score. They both can pass. They require a lot of attention on the defensive end and it’s a big game for our big guys to come and be ready to compete, to be ready to battle. So, I think from how they’ve changed from January to now, I think there is a seismic shift in their development individually, but also collectively. They’re playing hard. They’re playing together, and they present major problems for us on the defensive end and it’s gonna be something that we will have to focus in on today and tomorrow to get our game plan set for those guys Saturday morning.”

On where UK stands as a team right now …
“I think we’re in a good place. I think Cal thinks we’re in a good place for March 2. I think we want to be in a better place tomorrow. I think we want to be in a good place, and then we test ourselves on March 4. I think that’s where we set our sights is for 20 minutes from now to see what we can do to improve today. Take that for what it is, and then get better tomorrow when we practice in College Station. Then you have Saturday morning, an opportunity to see where we are. To see what we’re about, and whatever situations present themselves how we handle those. Then we get ready for Nashville and go from there.”

On UK’s rebounding since the loss at Florida …
“I think it’s something that we’ve talked about. I don’t know that I would say that it is the best. I think we have done better on the defensive end. I think we’re guarding ball screens better. I think we’re guarding the paint better, and I think then we’re closing possessions out with two-handed rebounds, and clearing the ball to then fly on offense. But, I think it’s an area that we have emphasized. I’m not sure that I would say it’s the best, but I would say it’s up there with something that we have emphasized as an area that needed improvement.”

On playing a game at 11 a.m. local time …
“I mean our bodies will feel like it’s 12 (p.m.), and we’ve done that a couple of times. And it will be an electric atmosphere. Always is down there in College Station. I think when you’re playing and the ball goes up and it’s tipped — it’s 40 minutes right then. If there’s anything that’s any more important than what’s going on whatever time of day it is we’ve got issues. But I don’t see that being an issue or a problem with this group.”

On updating some of the UK players’ health …
“I think we’re continuing to go through the season, and guys get bumps and bruises here and there. I think everybody’s fighting to be their best, and their healthiest at a key time. I think everybody’s in a good place.”

DE’AARON FOX

On why Kentucky has started slowly in games lately …
“I don’t know. Sometimes we just have slow starts. We just gotta learn how to play desperate the whole 40 minutes. We’ve been getting down and having to fight back and it being a close game. So, I feel like if we play desperate from the start we don’t have to worry about 10-, 12-, 15-point lead that we have to cut into and then try to get up ourselves.”

On what they should do to get this desperation …
“I don’t know. Sometimes we just don’t have energy at the beginning of the game and then we kind of kick it in a little bit too late. I think if we can start the game like then it’ll be much easier and better for us.”

On why the players may not always listen to the coaches as intently initially …
“Sometimes I guess the players think they have a better feel for the game since you’re out there, but then other times you realize Coach is right.”

On if the lack of desperation at the start of games can be attributed to the players knowing they still have another game to go whether they win or lose …
“Not necessarily. At this point, postseason is creeping up on our minds. Most of us haven’t gone through it yet. I can’t really say for other people.”

On how close his knee is back to normal …
“It’s really close. I’ve been in treatment every day. No telling, but I’m able to play, I’m able to run, so I’m fine.”

On if the season has been a humbling experience for the team …
“Yeah, yeah. We have a few losses we probably shouldn’t have. That’s when we really learned. After, I guess, those three losses in four games we kind of tried to turn it up, we changed practice a little bit, flipped a switch and I feel like we’ve been playing a lot better since then.”

On what they did to flip a switch …
“It’s just effort, things like that. Like I said, trying to play with desperation from the beginning to the end of the game. Some games we’ve done that and win by 30, then some games we didn’t, we get down and come back. If we can do that for the full 40 minutes it’s hard to beat us.”

On what he’s learned from being an observer during his injury …
“You just kind of see the game differently. It really slows down when you’re not playing. Just seeing stuff, being able to talk to my teammates and knowing what I need to look for when I got back.”

On what he picked up from the Florida game on Feb. 25 that he missed …
“Just playing hard out there. I think we were down 10-0 or something like that, and just watching my guys fight back and being able to win a tough game like that against a team like that. It just made me want to come back and fight more, fight with my team and always play hard.”

On being more animated on defense in the last game …
“Yeah, it’s something I know I have to do as a player to get where I want to go.”

On if there are any parts to his game where he’s still trying to knock rust off from his injury …
“Well, I haven’t gotten layups that I was getting before that. But then when I have I’ve been missing them. Just trying not to worry about that. Just trying to keep doing what I’m doing. I know it’ll all come back.”

On how much he’s changed his conditioning in light of the injuries …
“The first practice I was back it was pretty difficult, but just trying to get through it all, try to work out a little bit more, get more conditioning while we’re practicing. We’ve been running a little bit more just because I’ve been out a little bit. I know I’m going to have to just to be able to pick up and run the point guard for most of the game. But I’m still getting back, probably not 100 (percent) yet, but I’ll be there.”

On going back to Texas …
“It’s going to be fun. We’ve played this team before. Trying not to worry about family and friends being there. But at the end of the day it’s still just a game.”

On UK’s first game against Texas A&M …
“We won that game pretty comfortably, but it’s a different team (and) we’re a different team now. We’re just going to try to go in there and do the same thing.”

On how well he knows Texas A&M freshman forward Robert Williams …
“We played together last year on the AAU circuit, so I know Rob. I know Rob really well.”

On assistant coach Joel Justus saying the staff asked the players why they’ve gotten off to a slow start and if he had an answer …
“No, I don’t remember really what anybody said because it was an early Monday morning when we had those meetings.

“We have those meetings at 8 a.m.”

ISAAC HUMPHRIES

On the improved rebounding effort …
“After the Florida loss, we kind of emphasized that we weren’t doing well and to try and really work on that a lot more and stuff like that. We’ve just definitely been emphasizing rebounding more and we have been rebounding really well lately. We’ve just been working on it.”

On the team’s slow starts …
“We’re still trying to work that out, to be honest with you. I feel like today is going to be the day where we’ll definitely talk about it a lot. We’ll try and figure that out. We’re just trying to get to a point where we start how we finish, if that makes sense. We kind of finish desperately and we’re playing with desperation and stuff like that. We want to get to a point where we start like that too.”

On how hard it is to play desperate for a full 40 minutes …
“I mean, yeah. But, we have a rotation. That’s what a rotation is for, I guess.”

On Texas A&M being a big game for the frontcourt players …
“I mean we’ve played these guys a couple of times before. I played them a couple of times before. We played them once earlier in the season, obviously. We know what to expect. Their big guy is good, (Tyler) Davis. We like the challenge and stuff like that, so it’s just going to be a fun game in that sense that we can have a challenge and fight through that sort of thing. We have to be ready for it.”

On the difference for him from this time a year ago to now …
“This time last year I didn’t really know what to expect from me in a game. I didn’t have a set rotation, I didn’t know when I was going to go in. This year I know the time I’m going to go in and come out and stuff like that. I just go in and try and work hard while I’m in there. That’s the biggest difference, just me knowing when I’m going in and being ready for that.”

On returning to Texas A&M where he had one of his best performances, and remembering how the game ended a year ago …
“I’ve tried to move on from that (the technical foul for spiking the ball.) Obviously, it’s going to be brought up again every A&M game. No thoughts, really. I’ve forgotten about it.”

On if he has mixed feelings about the game after playing well, but it having a bad ending …
“Obviously, I’m going to try and go in and do as well as I did last year. That has nothing to do with the team, I try and do that every game. It was a good game down there last year. (I’m going to) just try and emulate that.”

On if the team is looking for Malik Monk in the second half of games …
“For sure, yeah. When he gets on a roll, it’s time to get Malik the ball because he’s our scorer. He knows how to score really well, and he just gets it done. But in saying that, when it’s not happening for him people are there to do the same job. Yeah, we definitely — when we think he’s hot and if he’s going we definitely try to get it to him.”

On Bam Adebayo staying out of foul trouble and what he’s doing differently …
“He’s just kind of figured out how the game is refereed and how for a big man it’s — for a big man it’s kind of different for everyone. Different for our position because we are very contact-driven at the five, so I just think he’s figured it out. It’s a sensitive thing in the paint. Sometimes they’re fouls and sometimes they’re not. So, I think he’s found out what is and what isn’t and he’s just more comfortable.”

On if the players watch other SEC games to get a sense at how big of a game it is on other team’s schedules when Kentucky comes to town …
“No, we don’t really pay much attention to how they’ve played other teams. Obviously, we scout the other team when we play them, but I don’t pay that much attention (to the crowds).  I think there’s a lot of truth to it how big it gets when we go to play another team on the road. It happens every game. It’s always sold out. It’s always shirt day or whatever. We’re used to that, and I think there is a lot of truth to it.”

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR