Once again this season, John Calipari sat down for his weekly call-in radio show with Tom Leach on Monday evening.
Like Mark Stoops does during football season, Calipari uses this time to break down his team’s recent performances, what to expect against future opponents, and update the fans on potential injuries.
This evening, Calipari joined the show to break down Kentucky’s loss to Auburn, how his players could have learned something during the Super Bowl, the team’s upcoming challenge against Mississippi State, and how impressed he is by the women’s basketball team, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the John Calipari Show on Monday evening:
Calipari hopes his team learned from Tyrann Mathieu during the Super Bowl
Before Calipari could even dive into the specifics of Auburn and how the loss came to fruition, he talked about last night’s Super Bowl and how his team can learn from Kansas City safety Tyrann Mathieu.
“First of all, who watched that Super Bowl? Holy cow,” Calipari began. “Let me tell you. I’m talking to my team, and my question to them both individually and as a group, do you want to be empowered or do you want me to just do this?”
Down in the second half, Mathieu got in a heated exchange with his teammates on the sideline where he called on them to toughen up in order to win the game.
At the end of the day, he hopes the players on this roster hold each other accountable in the same way.
“Who doesn’t want to hold anyone else accountable? The guy that doesn’t want to be told anything,” Calipari said. “You watch that football game. You know what the biggest moment was? When that defensive back went into the defensive huddle and went crazy. Looked like he wanted to fight someone. He looked at his players and said, “We aren’t going to lose because you don’t want to fight!” It was because he stepped in and said “this isn’t happening because we work too hard.”‘
Right now, though, the Wildcats don’t have that mindset.
“We don’t have that right now,” he said. “No one wants to be held accountable. That’s that next step for this team and what we’re working on.”
What went wrong against Auburn?
After moving on to the actual game, Calipari was rather blunt in his assessment of the loss.
Why did Kentucky lose? They weren’t physical.
“The physicalness of the game got the better of us,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been worried about with this team. [Auburn] just came out and won the game. All the stuff that happened during the game – and I know there was some questionable stuff – if we didn’t get physically pushed and shoved and held our positions, we would’ve been fine.”
Another issue for the Wildcats? They got distracted to close out the game, with Calipari noting that a few key players refused to look his direction to set up plays in crunch time.
“I could not get my team’s attention,” he said. “They’re shooting free throws, and we couldn’t talk about what to run? Couldn’t get the attention of two guys, maybe three. We got beat up pretty good, and those guys are focused on their own stuff. … No one looked over. You’re kidding me. If you’re wondering why we looked so bad offensively late in the game, it’s because we couldn’t run anything.”
Mississippi State is going to be a major test, especially down low
Kentucky will follow up its matchup against Auburn with yet another physical opponent in Mississippi State.
And according to Calipari, it’ll be a “great test” to see if they can actually play against teams like this as the regular season comes to a close and postseason play begins.
“Mississippi State, they’re really physical. Uh-oh,” he said. “This is a great test for us. Where are we? And can we play in these kind of games?”
The Kentucky head coach went as far as to say that they are the “best rebounding team in the country.”
“They’re the best rebounding team in the country and they’re physically tough,” Calipari said. “They make jump shots. They take pull-ups and they make them. They won’t go all the way to the rim, they’ll pull up and shoot it. They’re a good team. We don’t have a lot of room for error. Any team we play has a chance to beat us, and Mississippi State [isn’t different].”
Rebounding is an issue, but they’re working on it
One fan called into the show and asked Calipari why his players are so afraid of boxing out down low and fighting for rebounds.
The answer? Because it’s easier to avoid the contact.
“If you had a choice between blocking out and not blocking out, what would lead you to not blocking out?” he asked the caller. “They don’t want to touch a body [in the paint]. They’re a foot and a half from the cheerleaders. [Someone] came in our gym and saw us preparing for Auburn, he asked why we spent two days boxing out and rebounding. This is why. But then they didn’t do it. It’s hard, it’s much easier to get underneath the basket than fight.”
And unfortunately for the caller, along with the rest of the Big Blue Nation, those frustrations may be back on Tuesday night if the players don’t step up and fight.
“If you want to get mad [about their play against Auburn], you may want to watch this game again Tuesday,” he said. “Except they do it with bigger guys.”
If they want to win, they simply have to rebound the basketball. That’s the answer to Kentucky’s issues.
“You think we did some rebounding drills today? If we want to win, we’re going to rebound,” Calipari said. “If it gets physical, it’s hard. But you need to do that if you want to win. There’s going to be pain involved with growth. There’s going to be pain involved with winning. Just compete.”
Considering the struggles, why did he play Nate Sestina so much in the second half?
After several stretches of impressive play, EJ Montgomery sat on the bench late in the game while Nate Sestina continued to receive minutes.
Why? Foul trouble and shooting.
“EJ was in foul trouble,” Calipari said. “You’re trying to get guys to play, but Ashton was in foul trouble, other guys had four fouls. That hurt us some. We don’t shoot a whole lot of threes, we drive it and score inside a whole lot. Wouldn’t you think the team that drives it more would go to the line more?”
While it’s no secret that Sestina has struggled over the last several weeks, Calipari is confident that the Bucknell graduate transfer will find his groove once again.
“Nate hasn’t been what he was earlier, wouldn’t you say? But let’s get him back to where he was,” Calipari said. “If we fight, we’re fine. … Playing Nate some, he’s been knocking down those threes all year long. He just happened to miss them. He was wide open, it happens.”
Calipari compares his team to the women’s basketball team
The Kentucky head coach then brought up Matthew Mitchell and the women’s basketball team, comparing his current situation to the one they are dealing with across the hall at the Joe Craft Center.
With superstar guard Rhyne Howard out with a broken finger, other players on the women’s team are forced to step up in her absence, something Calipari sees with this team on a smaller scale when Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans are forced to sit with foul trouble.
“Rhyne, she’s a 30 point-per-game scorer,” Calipari said. “She may be the best player in the country. She’s not doing it against Popcorn State, she’s doing it in the SEC. Now she gets hurt, she breaks her finger. What happens between her coming back to now? Everyone else on the team has to survive and get better. But it’s really hard to play without a 30 point scorer. They don’t have to score 30, but the other girls have to step up. … Without Nick and Ashton, we’re doing whatever we can to stay out of the water.”
If Richards and Hagans are dealing with foul trouble or flat-out struggle in any game they play in, the Wildcats need some of the role players to step up. When they don’t, losses come.
“For this team, Nate has to do what he’s capable of doing,” he said. “EJ, same thing. Tyrese, I know you’re a freshman, but you need to play like a sophomore. If we have all of that, we’re going to be fine. But we can’t afford for Nick and Ashton to not play well and other guys not step up. We can be fine if other guys step up.”
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to fighting and playing physical. If not, the ceiling of this team is nothing special.
“We just need to figure out how good we can be,” Calipari said. “If we don’t fight and battle, there is a cap on how good we can be.”
The end of the first half killed Kentucky’s chances to spread the lead
A key moment in the game that Calipari feels contributed to the shift in momentum and Kentucky’s eventual loss at Auburn Arena on Saturday came at the end of the first half.
When they played scared and let the crowd take over their emotions, they missed an opportunity to go into the half by nearly double digits and take over the game.
“They pressed us at the end of the half. If anyone tries to spread the floor, try to score 100. Go,” Calipari said. “We never throw back and forth versus a zone press. We never throw it way up the court against a zone press. That’s what we did at the end of the half, could’ve been up nine at the half. It was nuts. Why did they do that?”
Calipari hates the 9 p.m. start time as much as we do
When reminded that Kentucky’s game is at 9:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening, Calipari was not shy in letting the world know his thoughts on the late start times.
“Ugh. Agggghhhh. Ugh. I’m usually in bed by 9:30,” Calipari said.
Couldn’t agree with you more, Coach.
EJ Montgomery “feels he’s closer” to making a jump, Calipari set to “try something new” with him
Calipari, who has discussed Montgomery’s need for conditioning throughout the season, compared the sophomore forward’s situation to that of former Wildcat PJ Washington.
“EJ is going through what PJ is going through his freshman year,” he said. “Remember when he had to cut some weight and get conditioned? That’s what EJ is dealing with.”
Once he breaks through with his conditioning, Calipari is confident that Montgomery is going to see a massive leap in production.
”It’s not that I think he’s closer, he feels he’s closer,” Calipari said. “It takes kids time, it takes a while for some peopele to break through. I know how good he is. He can’t just say “I want to shoot jumpers.” He’s 6-foot-11, get inside and score there, rebound the ball. Then shoot when you’re able to. We’re going to try something new with him, we’ll see [how it goes].”
Calipari calls on the fans to show up on Tuesday
As hard as it is coming off of a loss, Calipari hopes the Big Blue Nation comes out in full support at Rupp Arena on Tuesday evening.
“We need fans,” he said. “We need you to be standing and being there for these kids. After the win at Texas Tech, you guys were [going crazy]. We lose one at Auburn [and the support dies down]. We need fans there for us.”