WATCH: John Calipari discusses Kentucky's win over Arkansas

On3 imageby:Tyler Thompson03/02/24

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John Calipari was a happy man following No. 16 Kentucky’s 111-102 win over Arkansas. When he sat down with reporters, Calipari explained why he took Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell out in the final minutes and stuck with an all-freshman lineup, which led the Cats to victory. He gave special mention to Justin Edwards, who scored eight points and grabbed three steals after checking in at the 5:42 mark.

“What about what Justin Edwards did today? Think about it. I looked at him and said, ‘Are you okay to go?’ ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ He showed unbelievable confidence in himself. And it didn’t come from me. That kid lives in the gym. That pull-up three, I mean, that was the game.”

Calipari also discussed some changes he made to Kentucky’s gameday routine, Reed Sheppard’s advice to play Zvonimir Ivisic more, and how he had to go to zone when the Razorbacks just wouldn’t stop scoring. See all of it below.

John Calipari Transcript

Q John, there at the end you ran with five freshmen once Antonio went out and they went on that run. Just talk about how those five played together and finished up that game for you and their growth.

JOHN CALIPARI: Alright, so I had a really good friend of mine who is – I can call him a business genius and said you don’t need to explain yourself. You are… and what you’ve done… but in this case I will explain myself. Okay. I told the team, I only subbed Antonio for one reason. He had not been subbed yet and he had 7:50 to go and give him a minute or two and I will put him back in. Tre and Adou were playing okay but I wanted to get Justin at four. So I just looked, I said Justin you go to four and all of a sudden the game changes. So now I know I’m not going to sub. And we did have five freshmen in and came back and did pretty good.

Q John. People our age, a team like this, the way the season has gone it’s either going to make us feel young or age us rapidly. Which one is it doing it?

JOHN CALIPARI: I think they’re aging rapidly, oh, you are talking about me. The only thing I can tell you folks is I can’t, when you are dealing with young people – people’s children. You can’t worry how you feel. You can’t. If I did, I’d be under the covers some. If I listen to anybody who’s never coached who wants to criticize me personally. I can’t do the job with these kids. So losing, for me, I’ve spoiled not only everybody myself – like you are supposed to win every game. What? No one wins every game. So, losing stinks probably even more so now than it did 10 years ago. But the winning still is unbelievable. And then the biggest thing for me. What about what Justin Edwards did today? Now think about it. I looked at him and I said are you okay to go. Yeah, I’m good. He showed unbelievable confidence in himself. And it didn’t come from me. The kid lives in the gym. That pull- up, that three. I mean, that was the game. And I hadn’t played him for a lot of minutes.

Robert Dillingham, I had to take him out. He held the ball, took some crazy shots and he comes back and play the right way and finishes of the game. And I put him on number zero. I said no, Robert is going to guard him. He put him on number zero and he kind of slowed him down and he still got some buckets but they were not the same way and he stole the ball. So that’s the kind of — Z. You guys have to understand now Z hadn’t played basketball for six months. It took him two months to get admitted. It took him another two months for them to say he should have been playing. He should have been playing from the beginning of the year. Now all of a sudden he hadn’t played in six months. Do you know who reminded me of that? Reed. Coach now, Z is really good. You have to understand he hadn’t played for six months. Reed reminded me. And I said, I know that, what do you think I’m not watching?

But the stuff he is doing. How about Aaron today? Like Aaron played really well. For me as a coach I get as much enjoyment out of that kind of stuff as I do anything. But losing beats you down but I can’t let it beat me down long. Ellen will tell you. When I come home and the next morning, by the afternoon I’m good. And I’ll be honest. If I would get up early and go to the office and watch the tape and get started, I’d be fine. But I like to be in misery for at least five hours. And I’m in misery. And then I get over it and you know, individual meetings or whatever. So, yes?

Q John. We know defense has had a lot of problems this year and is it a problem for 33 minutes and they finally in clutch moments got those late game stops and got those steals. Was that finally what you have been asking in the clutch moments?

JOHN CALIPARI: I told Jay right after the game, at one point I was saying let them score so we can get it back. I wasn’t saying that. But – that’s what it looked like. It’s like let them score fast. They came in with a great game plan. I knew Muss would have them ready. I was really worried about this game. I had them stay at the hotel last night. I haven’t done that for a year. We came here and stayed in the hotel and had a meal and you know what we did this morning? We shot around at a 1:30 game. I don’t ever do that. Breakfast here and then let’s play this game. Why? Because I knew this was going to be this way. I knew it. They didn’t, but I knew this was going to be a really hard game. Do you know why? They got a really good coach and they got really talented players that can break you down and go get baskets. What did they do? They broke us down and went and got baskets. We just happen to score more than them today.

Q Coach. I looked up last year’s eventual national champion going into March was 21 – 7. Nobody knew. Nobody knows this year. We write a lot about the losing. You talk about it. How much do players at this point even worry about that or are they focused Right now on-?

JOHN CALIPARI: They are 19 years old, they are hungry. They are 19. You know what? They know what’s going on around them. We were a couple of bounces of the ball away from being 1,2,3,4. A couple of bounces, free throw. Fumbling a ball. The shot thrown in at the last half second. But do you know what? Like I told them even this game before. This is going to be an experience that helps us grow. And it ain’t going to be easy. I also told them the beginning of the game is going to be crazy. Don’t be phased. What was the beginning of the game? I had to go to a zone folks. I don’t ever play zone. We went to a zone just to stop them from just running through us. And then I ran a zone the last play of the half. Is everybody happy? They made a three. So.

Q Kind of piggybacking off of that John. What are the drawbacks of staying in the zone? It kind of reminds me of 2015 Duke that went zone and was having similar problems.

JOHN CALIPARI: I would never watch that game so I would never know. I would tell you that – how many teams played a lot of zone have done stuff. And especially when you are talking veteran teams. It’s different than having young teams. The good thing about us playing zone. We have no idea what we are doing. So how can they know what we are doing. We don’t even know what we are doing. We don’t even know our slides and where we are supposed to go. And all of a sudden that will confuse them but the problem is it’s hard to rebound. I like guys being responsible. I told them after we have to come up with plan B if someone gets it going or we have to do some different stuff. So we will. Last couple.

Q Cal. Have you ever had a guy like Rob that could be as of as he was early and then still be able to do what he did late and how much confidence does that give the guys out there that are with him when he gets on one of those?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well they will just throw him the ball and they celebrate him. And I said for the rest of their basketball lives. What they seem to have learned. DJ, Robert, Aaron. I can go on and on.

Guys within this team that have played a bad half. Knew that they were not going to play that way the second half. That’s one battle. The second battle becomes – you have to have so much supreme confidence that no one can take it away. Not me, not a player on the other team, not an official, no one takes it away. The only way that you get that way is to live in the gym. I told them today, I’ve had players live in the gym. I’ve not had this many that live in the gym. That absolutely – they get work in. And they are building their own confidence. That’s what they are doing and you got to have supreme confidence that even if I miss two I’m making the next two or I’m making a game-winner. I keep talking. You own your attitude. You own your response to stuff. That is being professional. You understand those things. If you don’t, you’re an amateur. You play well and you sit on the bench and you have bad body language. That’s what a ninth grader does. That is a ninth grader. That’s an amateur. The professional goes, alright, let me watch this because when I go back in I’m ready and I’m going to make something happen. We are trying to get through all of that kind of stuff with this team but you got a bunch of 19-year-olds.

Last thing guys, I’ve got to respect them. Can you imagine the stuff they are hearing or the stuff they read or the list – could you imagine? You having all of that stuff about you? Many of the things aren’t good. And some people that are calling you are trying to alibi for you and blame everybody else except your own performance which you should own. I respect these guys. There’s never been an era like this one. 15 years ago it wasn’t like this. Even 10 years ago. It wasn’t like this. This is ridiculous for these kids. And then you are playing everybody’s best effort when you’re playing here. Even at home.

Good group. Like I said. I’m liking them. I felt good at halftime. We went down and missed and gave up some 3s and had to get the guy out. You can’t be in man. Not doing that. And so then from there we just, you know, just hang around. People want to beat you. Look at Z going nuts. He’s like he’s 12. 7’2″ 12 year old. Thanks guys, appreciate it.

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2024-04-22