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Quotes from the season's final SEC teleconference

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For the last time of the 2011-12 season, John Calipari joined the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. He talked about his team, the SEC Tournament and the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Here are his comments, along with those of a couple of UK's opponents from this past weekend on the Wildcats:

Calipari


On his team heading into the NCAA Tournament ...

"(We are) playing our best basketball. We lost that last game, kind of takes a lot of plate in one way. I would rather have won it since we had to stay down there through Sunday. I like my team, but going into a tournament, we have a team that has a little bit of everything. (We are) just going to have to fight though and understand that nothing in this tournament is given to anyone. Every game, you must play and every game is a competitive game. If you think the other team's going to be intimidated, you're crazy and you get knocked out quickly. We've used the season to prepare our team for this, not just this week. Everything we've done has been gearing toward this run of games, but we got to keep them in the moment. We got to keep them weekend to weekend. Really, the focus for us now will be this weekend and being in a better frame of mind, including me and our coaching staff. It's all of us getting back to, 'Alright, let's go have a ball and let's go do this."

On whether he sensed something different with his team during the SEC Tournament ...
 "I think all of us, including me. If you have to fight these guys now to get them to really compete at that high level, you're not going to advance in this tournament. I've done it many, many times. What I told my team last night (was), 'I'm going to chalk it up to third game in three nights.' We hadn't done it all year. We hadn't played in a tournament like that and we didn't have any gas in the tank, but I want to give Vandy credit for how they play. And what I mean by that is we missed shots late in that game those last four or five minutes we haven't missed all year. But the biggest point of this is I was dragging these guys across the finish line and they got to drag me across the finish line and that means that we all have to have more fun with this. Look, you guys know, the guys that have watched me, at the end of the day when they watch my team play in this tournament, I want them to say, whoever it is, 'Kentucky has more fun playing than any team in the tournament.' Then I've done my job. But the only way you can have that is an intensity level that's off the charts, that we have the camaraderie, we do look after each other, they do execute, they do play off of one another, but there's got to be a little bit more, a little bit more than we're doing. The tournament for us will be handled like every other game, but, again, there's a sense to this game to game, don't get beyond, don't feel this, 'We have to win this tournament.' No, what we do is let's just worry about playing well and everything else will take care of itself. Let's worry about playing well, let's worry about playing harder than the opponent, those kind of things."

On his thoughts on Marquis Teague's play ...
"He'll be fine. He's not going to play great every night out, but neither are any of the other kids. They're not machines. And if he's not playing well, maybe we play Doron (Lamb) a little more point, but it's not going to be much more because you look at it, a bad game for him is six assists, no turnovers and a steal or two and pretty good defense and just didn't make shots. It's not a bad game, but it's not one of his better games. What I'm saying to my team is, 'When  you're not making shots, what do you do to help us win?' Well, he defended and had assists, because you're not going to shoot it great every night out. Doron didn't shoot it well; he was 2 for 11. So how do you feel about him going into the tournament? Hopefully he makes more shots. I like my team. I like my point guard. I like who we have. We're a very young team, a lot of stuff to experience. We got this win streak off our backs. That's a good thing. Let's just go in and take each game in its own right and see how well we can play game to game."

On the team saying they didn't want to lose to Vanderbilt while Calipari said it can be a good thing ...
 "Yeah, I know but we can all say that. Hey, I would have rather won the game, but in another sense, I'm saying we don't want anything hanging on us. I think everything that needs to be said has been said and me personally, so now we can play ball. Let's go play. There's nothing there for us except let's play well. Let's worry about playing well and just getting better. We got three weeks to say, 'Let's make some incremental increases in different areas. We do that, we'll be fine.

On whether Vanderbilt seemed like a different team in the SEC final ...
 "No, every time we've played them they've been like that. We've just been fortunate. The first year we beat them twice. Last year we split with them. This year we beat them twice. Believe me when I tell you, every game we've played them has been decided the last minute and a half, every one. What happened this game is, when we got us, we missed a 3 in the corner that was wide open and then we come down and go under a pick and roll and their point guard. (The lead) went from nine to four, bang, in that five seconds. Then, all of a sudden, they made plays and we missed shots that we always make. We missed five point-blank (shots). We all went like, 'What? How'd we miss that?' I'm not talking 3s, I'm talking two footers. And then we even missed some free throws that we haven't missed. They played and did their thing and we played how we normally play, so they're playing well. I'm just telling you, I've said all along, we've got four (Sweet 16 teams). I thought Mississippi State was a Sweet 16 team, but I said Florida, you look at Vandy and even Alabama. Alabama's got a tough draw, so they've got two tough games, but I think they're a team that can advance too."

On what he meant by saying he had to "drag these guys across the finish line" ...
"The tournament games down there, again, I was looking for more fire from guys. And that's what I was talking about, more fight. And again we had won games where we either started slow or we let a guy back in it and we finished them all off. And truth be told, we almost finished this one off. Just make two shots out of your last six or seven and you win the game. I'm a little bit of a perfectionist; I want them to dominate people. And that may not be fair when you're talking Vandy and Florida and even LSU. It may not be fair, but that's how I view these guys and so (we're) trying to get them to that next level, trying to make sure that they understand you're going to have to outwork the other teams. And we're capable of doing it because of our athleticism and length. (We're) not getting enough in transition. Maybe we're not running hard enough, not getting it in quick enough. We're not rebounding the ball and everyone flying wide right now. We're not getting enough transition baskets. We got to get some freebies. So there's a lot of things that I'm looking at, but I'll address it with these guys. The greatest thing about this group is you got a bunch of good, really good guys who care about one another, who pick each other up, who listen, who want to be coached. Everybody talks about, 'Cal, this has got to be the hardest (team to coach). You got all these stars and seven guys in high school averaged 25.' Well, they're all good kids. They all want to be coached. They all want to win. They all want to play well. They want to play well for each other. So it's not as hard as everybody's saying. The hard thing is they're so young, you're doing a lot of teaching. The other stuff that I've had to deal with with teams, I haven't dealt with this group. It's just the teaching and the explaining over and over and over and over and every situation that comes up is a new situation and then you think they know and they don't and you got to go back and explain it through. I've had a ball coaching this team now. I just want to have a ball from here on having fun, having people watch my team saying, 'Man, they're having a ball playing.'"

On what the SEC has to do to rectify only getting four teams in the NCAA ...
"I don't know if it's rectify. I was sick to my stomach when Mississippi State lost. I was sick to my stomach when Tennessee lost because then I felt Mississippi was going to have to beat Vandy to get in. I thought Tennessee, if they had won that game, they would have been in. Some of it falls on us coaches. We got to take care of business and there are games that our teams have got to win. I think the things that Tennessee did all year, I'm still convinced they're an NCAA team. I'm just telling you. I would suggest that they will have a good run in the NIT if they choose that. See, a lot of teams go in there and are mad about having to go play in the NIT. I've have had teams that loved it because where we were at that time. We were trying to make statements. We finished in the Final Four a couple times in the NIT and then we won the NIT one time. So our teams went in with something to prove. My hope is our teams from this league that are in the NIT have something to prove. Again, I can't recruit against Derrick Kellogg (head coach at Massachusetts) being my former point guard, but I hope our teams do well and advance. I really hope our teams do well in the NCAA and advance the same way. Wouldn't it be great to have a couple of us in the Final Four? Now, all of a sudden, people start recognizing that there is great basketball played. I had friends call me (who) watched our Florida game and then the Vandy game say, 'I watched all these other league tournaments. Your teams were as good as anybody.' And they were. And they are. But we'll be there when a team can lose in the quarterfinal and still get in to the NCAA Tournament like a Tennessee or a Mississippi State."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings


On why he thinks UK is still the nation's best team and what beating Kentucky means to his team ...
"First of all I think they're the best team in the country because they've proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I tell our team this a lot, that the best team doesn't always win. It's the team that plays the best. We played them two very close games, but in the last three minutes of the game of each of those first two games, they played better than we did and that's why they won. And yesterday in the last three or four minutes, we played better than they did and that's why we won.

"I think, if anything, it just gives us confidence. It's one thing to play somebody to a tight game and lose, but it's a whole different ball of wax when you're able to play somebody that good and get a victory. I think the biggest thing is just confidence that we can win against elite teams and so hopefully that will help us going forward."

On the possibility of playing Kentucky again in the Final Four ...
"Anything is realistic until it's proven to you it's not possible I suppose. I think that most people would very easily and accurately say that it's a realistic possibility for him. I hope it's a possibility for us, but we'll find out. I don't like to use clich├ęs, but we're going to play Harvard on Thursday and if we're able to win that, we'll play the winner of the other game on Saturday and see where it takes us. I'm not going to declare that it's a possibility. It's a possibility for us to win just about any game we play if we play up to our capabilities."

LSU head coach Trent Johnson

On whether he has rethought his position that Kentucky is the nation's best team ...
"No, I just think that they're going to get everybody's best shot. A lot of times, teams are going to play over their head against them. But I just think moving forward that them, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Florida, all those teams are great representatives for our league. All of them have a chance. I don't think people really realize how good of basketball was played in this league this year."

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