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Tony Barbee on close games, 3-point shooting, Hagans and more…

One of UK’s assistants filled in for John Calipari at Monday’s basketball press conference, as is tradition. This time around Calipari handed the duties off to Tony Barbee, who spoke with the media for about 10 minutes before the team’s afternoon practice and then a flight for Baton Rouge later this evening. A source very close to the team’s aircraft tells me the Cats are looking at 6 o’clock departure time; until then, this is the full transcript of Barbee’s comments (via UK Athletics) about the come-from-behind win over Ole Miss and the challenge ahead against the now second-place LSU Tigers:

 

On the close wins and losses this season preparing the team for tournament play …

“Well, of course we would prefer them all to be 20- or 30-point blowouts. It makes the bench a lot more comfortable. But no, it does, especially for the young guys. We’ve got a veteran group of guys that have been through it and know how to handle it. They have been carrying us through a lot of these situations, and it’s good to see the freshmen get the much-needed experience because once you get late, late, late in the season, the race for conference regular-season champion is going on. So, you’re playing for something this time of year. You get in the conference tournament, obviously it means something. And then when you get to the NCAA Tournament, then you’re talking about true one-and-done scenarios. So, being in these close games are definitely a benefit, especially to our younger guys.”

On what the team has learned about themselves in a stretch of close games …

“Well, we are tough and we are resilient. We’ve got a don’t-give-up, refuse-to-lose-type attitude and that is a positive thing. If we lose, it is just that we have ran out of time, not because we let go of the rope. That is something that is hard to develop, but it’s a positive when you see your team has that innately. So it’s a good thing for us.”

On why they are shooting better on the road …

“You got an answer for me? Because I don’t have one. We probably spend as much time in our opponents’ building as we do in our own so that’s not a factor. So, who knows what it is. But, we’ve got fantastic shooters and I think in the few home games that we have remaining, hopefully we will start to shoot a lot better.”

On debate on practicing more where you play games …

“I don’t think it matters. You look at Cal’s win-loss record over the course of 10 years, hard to argue about the success in that arena. So, I don’t think–the rims are 10 feet, the court is the same length, the basketball has the same amount of air in it. You’ve gotta – no matter the background – you’ve gotta to be able to get results at the end of the day. We are getting them on the road. We have to figure out how to get them at home.”

On Rupp Arena’s basket layout for a shooter and if, in his opinion, as a shooter, if that makes a difference …

“Exactly. I was a shooter. When I hear those arguments from our guys, I say, ‘That’s the arguments of non-shooters.’ [Media laughs.] Everywhere we play, somebody’s got a different ball. There is a Nike ball here or it is an Under Armour ball here or it is an Adidas ball here. It’s a Wilson ball there. The nets might be different, tighter, looser. The rims are different color orange. You can either shoot the ball or you can’t. It doesn’t matter the background.”

On Ashton Hagans’ stats over the last few games …

“Well, the only thing I will say is that we wouldn’t trade Ashton for another point guard in the country because the results of the team are the ones that matter. You’re going to have ebbs and flows as an individual through the course of the season. That’s just human nature. So, we expect Ashton to get back on the upswing here pretty soon on the offensive end of the floor because he is gifted on that end too,  just like he is defensively.”

On the defense recently and holding the last six opponents to 40% shooting …

“Yeah, I think our defense is evolving and coming along. I think our veteran players have carried us on that end of the floor as our younger guys have caught up with the intensity, the speed, the scheming at this level that you have to have. And then have five guys working this well on the floor, I think we are happy where our defense has progressed, but like every aspect of our team, we’ve still got a ways to go to be the best that we can be.”

On the improvement of the defense when having the same seven or eight in the rotation …

“It’s been a ton. You see the symmetry and the chemistry coming along on the defensive end of the floor. These guys are connected and we’re communicating better. That’s a big part of defense. It is always a struggle to get the young guys to understand what communication is. Communication is two-ways. It’s not just one guy saying, “Do this.’ It’s two guys commuting something that they’re seeing. We’re working on anticipating. We’re working on seeing ahead because if you see ahead, then you are able to communicate what you see. So, it’s a lot of these different things that the younger kids don’t know and struggle with coming in the door. This group of younger guys has learned and taken it on. And so now you put those two together, the veteran group with the younger group picking it up, we’re becoming a pretty special defensive team.”

On EJ Montgomery’s improvement and final-minute play on Saturday where he dove on the floor and got the ball to Ashton Hagans …

“It happened twice in the game. I think we all teased him that he had to trip. It couldn’t have been that he ended up on his back. He dove for a couple of loose balls, but he had to have gotten tripped. It couldn’t have been him just getting after it [joking]. But no, it’s EJ evolving as a player. I keep saying it every time I come out here: We talk about a guy – saying EJ – we have had a lot of atypical freshmen here, and EJ is no different than just other normal freshmen around the country that it has taken him a little bit longer in the process to get it. But, is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with PJ Washington or Willie Cauley-Stein? You can do both here. You can be one-and-done and out the door or you can come here and develop and take your time. You can do both. It’s on your timetable, not on ours. And EJ, it’s neat to see him starting to see some of the fruits of his hard work and the success and the praise because we don’t win that game the other night if it’s not for EJ.” 

On if they anticipate LSU being a bit of a “wounded animal” after losing a few recently …

“I wouldn’t say (that). I mean, yeah, they’re two (wins out of) five in their last five, but I think if you look at the conference and the parity in the conference, any given night there is not a lot of separation. Anybody can beat anybody on any end of the floor, and it’s not like, all right they’re two (wins out of) five and three of the losses they’ve lost by 35 each. That’s not what happened. They have been in a lot of close games all year long in the conference. They have won their fair share obviously and naturally it’s going to go the other way against you a couple times. But they are a fantastic team and we know what a challenge it is going on the road, especially to a place like Baton Rouge, like the arena down at LSU.”

On LSU’s offensive efficiency and what makes them good on offense …

“They’ve got five guys that are starting that are not just averaging just 10 points. They’re averaging significant double figures. They’re a fantastic rebounding team on the offensive end of the floor. They’ve traditionally been since Will (Wade) has been there. They will shoot it and then they go get it. They shoot the 3. They drive the ball. They’ve got a couple guys that can post up. (Trendon) Watford is a matchup problem at the three. So, it’s the reason why they’re a fantastic offensive team because they’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts that can do a lot of different things.”

On how much the mental aspect of basketball comes into play for a player or team …

“It’s huge. It’s 90-10, mental to physical. Obviously you’ve gotta be in great condition and you’ve gotta be strong and all of those things. That’s a given. But it’s the mental strength, especially this time of the year. The season is starting to get a little long in the tooth. The dog days of conference play is winding down. Everybody could be looking ahead to the postseason. But it’s those teams that stay in the moment the best and the coaches that can keep their teams in the moment. And again, I’ve been around for Cal as long as anybody and there is no coach that does it as good as him of keeping his team present right now and not worrying about what happened before, who cares what’s coming up next weekend. That does not matter. The only thing that matters is today’s practice and us getting better and focusing on us and getting ready to play a terrific team in LSU.”

On what can throw off a player’s mental game …

“Fatigue. Fatigue. Whether it’s the course of a long season or in the course of a hard practice or the course of a game, fatigue, as they say, makes cowards of everybody. And it’s really the fatigue that you get lazy mentally. So that’s probably the biggest challenge this time of the year and if you can keep your team energized and together and connected. You’re tired of seeing the players, the players are tired of seeing you, and they’re tired of seeing each other. They are tired of flying on the planes together. If you can keep your teams excited about each other, and Cal has done that as good as anybody since I’ve been with him, which is a long time.”

On if Calipari has started cutting back on practice …

“Oh yeah. Once you see the guys start to get it, there’s no need to keep them out there for hours on end. This is a group that’s starting to get it. They are holding each other accountable. Like Cal says, it’s becoming a player-driven team that if someone is not carrying his weight, the first voice you hear is not the coach. It’sthe players that are saying to their teammate, ‘Look you’ve gotta carry your load.’ So, it’s neat to see that come together. I keep beating a dead horse, but Cal’s as good as any in doing that year in and year out. We all get worried about a loss here, a loss there early, but you see it over and over again. Late December, early January, his teams connect, cohesive, come together and then take off, and then what happens down the stretch, we’ll see.”

On the team’s mentality after becoming the leader in the conference and …

“Again, it goes back to not looking in the past because you can’t change it. There’s no sense in looking forward because you can’t do anything about it. The biggest thing we’ve gotta do is keep this team present, in the moment. That’s today’s–focus on today’s practice and then focus on preparation for LSU tomorrow. That’s the only thing that you can control.”

 

You can watch Barbee’s entire press conference below:

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR