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TRANSCRIPT: Joel Justus previews Kentucky’s road trip to Vanderbilt

On the upcoming game against Vanderbilt …

“I think that when you play the way that they play – and they space the floor – they do a great job of moving the ball, moving people and getting to their spots. I think you’ve seen how they played in Rupp Arena. I think how you saw them play against LSU. They’ve got the ability to space the floor. They’ve got great guard play in Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. that can get by your initial line of defense, which they did against us here a little bit. When they get paint touches, you have to collapse, and that leaves shooters open. I think a big thing when you play a team like that is you just can’t give them early open looks. It’s something that we talk about to where they are in rhythm with their feet, where they’re in rhythm with their hands, where they’re in rhythm with their eyes, to where they are going to feel good about shooting the basketball.”

On the key to defending the 3 …

“I think that its starts on the ball when you have good on-the-ball defenders that can keep the ball in front of you. Problems happen defensively whenever teams penetrate that initial line of defense, and now you’re in tags, you’re in rotations, and now you’re helping to where then teams drive and kick, and now you’re playing in a scramble mode. I think the amount of possessions, the amount of ball reversals really lead to that for good shooting teams and good passing teams. I think we did a good job of that on Saturday in Knoxville. Tennessee, I think, was sixth in assisted field goals in the country and we did a pretty good job of containing the initial penetration to where that limits ball reversal for 3s.”

On if Immanuel Quickley just doesn’t show up ever …

“Any of our guys can have an off night. That’s one thing that we all have to remember. I think fans have to remember that these are people; these aren’t machines. They’re allowed to play really well. They’re allowed to not play to their best. I think the thing about Immanuel, taking your words – “not show up” – I think Immanuel shows up every single night. I think he’s a guy that competes and he’s a guy who’s focused. He’s a guy that’s driven. Now, if shots don’t fall, sometimes that’s the way the game is, but he’s going to be a guy that’s engaged in huddles. He going to be a guy that’s talking, that’s touching, that is ready to play. Now whether he plays to the best of his ability like we’ve seen really since Christmas, obviously we’ll have to wait and see game to game. I think that we’re a different team, which we can all go back and look and see how he played against Utah and Ohio State and that wasn’t as well as he’s played since then, but even in those games, he was engaged, he was ready to play, he fought, and now obviously he’s being more aggressive offensively and making shots.”

On the luxury of having a fourth guard like Johnny Juzang step …

“I think Johnny is a guy that has put time in, that has kind of listened to Cal and always said that you have to be ready when your name is called or when your opportunity is given. He is a guy that has put in that time, that’s put in the work, but has also stayed confident, stayed hungry, and obviously we need that. You can’t go into a season and only expect four or five, six guys to drive you. And especially if you’re going to win the SEC Tournament, where you have to play three games in three days, you’re going to have to have some depth, especially on the perimeter. You look back to our game vs. Wofford last year in the NCAA Tournament and we had a guy come off the bench that was in a reserve role and played extremely well and gave us some minutes. So, you’ve always got to have to have a team full of guys that are ready to go, and I think Johnny is much more confident in that role, and that’s a good thing.”

On the key to extending 10-point leads during the game instead of allowing the opposing team to creep back in …

“I think it’s experience again of learning to play on the road with a lead, learning to play at home with a lead. You’ve got still combinations of guys playing longer stretches. You know, and it’s young guys being in certain situations like we were the other day where you miss the 12-minute timeout, play for an extended period of time, and we got caught with a lineup that was on the floor that had to play a ton of minutes and you had guys that were gassed. you give up a couple different offensive rebounds, you give up a late-clock 3 and the lead goes from, I guess, what was it, maybe 10 to four in a span of three possessions. Luckily then you get three straight full timeouts and you get a chance to catch your breath and the we run away at the end. But anytime you have young people, you have guys that are learning to play with each other in certain situations. You’re going to have those periods of the game that go up down. What we all can’t get lost on is that there is 13 guys on the other side of the floor that are preparing to play well, that are working hard in practice and are being coached by tremendous basketball coaches that are going to put them in situations to succeed as well.”

On Ashton Hagan’s turnovers going up over the last few games …

“Ashton is a driven, competitive young man that wants to do well first and foremost. And sometimes Ashton comes in and just is trying to make the right play be perfect instead of just taking what’s there and getting our team into some offense or taking a shot. You know, he’s trying to get guys involved, and I really think he’s trying to do what Coach is asking him to do. He’s trying to do what our team is asking him to do. And he wants to win more than anything. Sometimes it’s unlucky, sometimes it’s him forcing it, sometimes it’s the fact that e haven’t had guys play well when they’ve had their opportunities and now he is playing extended minutes when he should be coming out and grabbing a quick blow. I don’t think it concerns us; I think it’s just another opportunity for him to learn and grow. I mean, he’s still a young basketball player in the grand scheme of things, and for us it gives other guys and opportunity to step up and play well, and thankfully for us they have.”

On if Hagans is trying too hard …

“I think everybody at times tries too hard. I think that goes back to the character of the people that we recruit. I think it talks about they are coached here. Coach Cal is unapologetic that we teach winning basketball here. We find that in the recruiting process. Guys want to win. You don’t come to Kentucky unless you want to win. Ashton is one of them. Immanuel Quickley is one of them. Really, everybody in that locker room wants to win or they wouldn’t be here. As a staff, we all want to win. And that’s what’s No. 1 for us is teaching our guys how to play winning basketball because if you play winning basketball  you are going to play basketball for a long time.”

On Keion Brooks Jr. grabbing a career-high nine rebounds against Tennessee …

“He was active. Keion is an active, live body that doesn’t quit the first time he’s hit. He had a little period of time where he was playing well and then got a little bit sick. I think we talked about that. Now he’s back feeling 100%. He is practicing really well. He is an active, live body, like I said, that brings tremendous energy. Once again, every time he plays, every minute, just gains experience. That is really just what we need for everybody, but for guys like Johnny and guys like Keion, it’s big for us moving forward.”

On how often the team forgets the other team Kentucky plays …

“I think that it is pretty well documented by us, by Coach Cal that we’re that team that we are the most worried about every single day. We are not as worried about the other team, but the SEC is a tremendous conference with great coaches, great home courts, and it’s a big deal when Kentucky comes to town. I think you see teams sometimes play uncharacteristic for how they have played in the past because they really want to beat Kentucky more than they want to play well individually. I think that teams are going to do things, they’re going to play well, they’re going to play harder, they’re going to play more together than they have maybe in previous games. I think that’s why Coach is so dead set on teaching our guys how to play winning basketball for 40 minutes, and this group is starting to really feel that and come together, and I think that’why you see us playing better.”

On this team’s great free-throw shooting …

“I think we have guys that are confident. I think that they have had demonstrated performance of success making free throws in games. And that’s really the biggest thing is when you make them in games, you’re really going to feel confident stepping up. I think that when you look at Nick Richards, you talk about Ashton Hagans, you talk about Immanuel Quickley – guys that have the ball and have been in big-time situations – they’re going to be comfortable. But I also think you look at guys that have come into this program or this team this year, they have been in situations where they’ve had to take big shots whether it be in a grassroots game or a high school game. I think you see guys that are playing with more and more confidence daily.”

On Vanderbilt being a team that’s maybe figuring it out and becoming more confident …

“I think they’re a team that has another very good coach, a good staff that has a tremendous wealth of experience at the highest level. I think they’re getting a group of folks that haven’t had a tremendous amount of success to believe that if they play hard and they play together that good things will happen. And when you’re focused on that, similar to the way we are, I think the results take care of themselves. When you’re coaching a group of young people, you don’t talk about wins and losses; you talk about your preparation, you talk about building your confidence, you talk about going into every single possession to try and get a good result. And regardless of that result, you head onto the next possession. Like I said, that’s something we do with our guys and guys come here to be coached that way, and I think you see that with, not only with Vanderbilt, but you see that across the country with teams that are getting better.”

On what the team is doing for John Calipari’s birthday …

“I don’t know if I have a god answer for that [media laughts]. I wish I did. I think we’re going to practice, and then we’re going to head to Nashville. I think he gets to have dinner with his daughter (Erin) maybe tonight, I’m not sure, but I would imagine that. But other than that I’m sure we’ll watch some film of us not playing well against Vanderbilt and some film of us playing well against Vanderbilt [media laughs].”

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR