UK Assistant Coach Tony Barbee met with reporters today to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Georgia. We’ve already shared his remarks on EJ Montgomery with you, but here are a few more things he said that are worth passing along.
1. This team is learning how to finish games
The way Kentucky came together to hold off Arkansas on Saturday was impressive, especially when compared to their performance at South Carolina on Tuesday. Barbee said the number of close games this team has played in so far will only help them down the line.
“Just their will to win, their competitive spirit. We’ve got a group that hates to lose, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game. But these guys are going to battle, scrap and fight. And if you lose a game, it’s only because we ran out of time, not because we gave up or stopped trying. That makes a special group when you’ve got talented guys like we do that care about winning and losing.”
“We ran out of time”? Have Barbee and Bill Self been hanging out lately?
2. They’re working on fouling less
That Cats have had 26 fouls called on them in each of the last two games. Barbee attributed the high number of fouls to Kentucky’s physical practices, and said the team is working on keeping it cleaner during games.
“We did a lot of fouling. We did a lot of fouling. It’s something we work on. One thing we try to do is make a very competitive practice. Coach wants practices to be harder than the game. You’ve guys have heard it forever, and obviously I’ve heard it from him forever: When you are that competitive, you’re fighting. They’re brothers and they’re teammates, but they’re fighting for their opportunities. Our guys are fighting for their livelihoods, so in practice it’s competitive. But, the one thing we try to limit is the grab and the holding and the fouling because that then translates. What you do in practice is what you’re going to do in the game. We’ve got to be more conscious of what we do with our hands on defense. We’re getting our hands on post players, drivers of the basketball too often and it’s too easy for our officials to see and call.”
3. Why Calipari doesn’t use zone
After John Calipari was thrown out of Saturday’s game vs. Arkansas, Kentucky used a zone defense to great effect. Barbee, the zone guru on staff and one of Calipari’s former players, was once again asked why Cal is so hesitant to use zone. His response?
“I can only speak since I’ve been here, but we’ve worked on the zone every year since I’ve been here. I know Coach is–even when I played for him, we had a zone we would work on for just in case. Obviously, he’s a man-to-man basketball coach. He likes the accountability that comes with man-to-man, but he’s always been prepared with the zone in case you need it for a variety of reasons. Obviously, we needed it last game because of the foul trouble, especially with Ashton having those four fouls and the way they were driving the ball. We could not afford to have Ashton foul out of that game, and that’s probably what would’ve happened if we would have stayed in the man.”
4. Ashton Hagans is “indispensable”
Kentucky gets a ton of production from the Big Four of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, and Tyrese Maxey, but Barbee said Hagans is the player they must have on the floor to play their best basketball, which is why it’s so important he doesn’t get into foul trouble.
“We’ve got interchangeable parts, but if there’s one guy who would be indispensable it would be him just because of how disruptive he is on the defensive end of the floor for the other team’s offense, how much he means to our offense and his ability to make shots for himself, but probably more importantly how easy he makes the game sometimes for the other guys on the floor. Whether that’s getting Tyrese or Immanuel open shots, Johnny (Juzang) open shots. Getting Keion (Brooks Jr.) and Khalil (Whitney) open shots. Or then finding Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery) for lobs. Nate (Sestina) open shots. We don’t have a lot of guys like him that see the game that way with the ball in their hands where they can create one-on-one and beat their man, and then has the vision to see the other nine guys on the floor. That’s a special attribute he has.”
5. Shoutout to Johnny Juzang’s rebounding
Finally healthy, Johnny Juzang is beginning to make an impact in games. After the freshman guard grabbed five rebounds in Wednesday’s loss at South Carolina, the staff rewarded him with more playing time vs. Arkansas. In 17 minutes (his most PT since the win over Fairleigh Dickinson back on Dec. 7), Juzang had five points, including a three, and one rebound.
“That’s why he got the minutes he got the last game based on what he did at South Carolina, getting those five rebounds in very limited minutes. Unfortunately for Johnny he got sick. Now he’s back healthy and he’s earning his right to play. That’s one of things you’ve always had to do for Coach is you’ve had to earn the right. Nothing’s ever been given for him, and Johnny’s starting to earn the right to get more minutes.”
Enjoy the rest of Barbee’s presser below thanks to our videographer Bradley McKee.