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Coach Cal on SEC teleconference: "Whatever's going on with this team comes back to me"

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John Calipari joined the Southeastern Conference Coaches' Teleconference on Monday morning, reflecting on Saturday's loss to South Carolina and looking ahead to the final week of the regular season. The theme, in Coach Cal's words: "At the end of the day whatever's going on with this team comes back to me."

Coach Cal

On this week's matchups ...
"Both teams are playing well. Alabama just had a great win against Auburn, their in-state rival. Played probably as well as they've played all year and Florida just keeps moving right along. I mean, everybody talks about the close games and this and this. Well, they could also beat you by 25. They're that good. So they deserve their ranking and we've got two great challenges for our team."

On how frustrating the first 30 minutes of the South Carolina loss were in hindsight ...

"Well, I wish I would have watched the last 10 minutes because I heard it was pretty good. But I will tell you that, you know, we're a team, like every other team out there, if--again, there's a lot of teams trying to figure out, OK, how do we do this? We went from playing Florida and Mississippi on the road thinking we have this figured out. I don't know if it was my arrogance or the team's arrogance, but at the end of the day whatever's going on with this team comes back to me. It's really funny: It was about a month ago that I said, 'Looks like I gotta coach this team like I'm 35 again.' And for a while, to get them to play harder, to get them to focus more, to get them to execute more, to let them know what was acceptable and not acceptable, that's what I talked about. But let me say this: I will be whoever I have to be because this isn't about me; it's about this team. And I've gotta get them more confident and figure out what do they need me to be? A cheerleader? What do they need me to be at this point? And that's how I've always coached and it's never changed. If I have to be tough, I'm tough. If I have to be easy, I'm easy. But, again, it was only a few weeks ago that's what we talked about. So as we go forward, the whole point of us: How do we get our defensive confidence? How do we get our offensive confidence? Well, we just had it 10 days ago, two weeks ago. How did that change? What did we do different?  How did we think different? That's what we're going through now."

On players still losing focus at this point in the season ...
"They're 18 years old. They're 18 and 19 and they're not machines. I've been through this. I've been, you know--and again, you've seen a little bit of everything and every team I've coached, it's a process and they're not one step up, the next step up. You know, I can remember in 2011, no one ever thought we'd win a game and we couldn't win a road game and all of a sudden we figured it out late and that's what's we're hoping with this team. And that would be our plan. My whole thing right now: Let's get this defensive confidence back. Let's get this offensive confidence back. What do we have to do in practice to build that? What do we have to do during the games to build that?"

On the importance of experience in college basketball ...
"Well, there's no question the teams that are winning right now at the highest level all have some veteran guys. They've got seniors, a lot of them who were backups at one point in their career. And to play with all young guys like we are right now is really difficult. And what's difficult about it is, like I said, it was only two weeks ago we had played Florida and we'd have played at Mississippi and played as well as we had played all year and we're looking like we've got this thing figured out. But they're 18 and 19. You don't know what shoves them in another direction. Again, I was coaching hard for a while. Now you're trying to figure out what's the next thing. How do I have to do this? How do we have to practice to get them right? With a veteran team, as a coach you already know how they're going to respond. You have an idea. And they know how you're going to respond. So they know your response to not executing or, 'If I don't play hard, I know how he's going to respond.' Or, 'If I get physically pushed around, I know what's going to happen.' Well, we're all growing right now. And again, look, my team, we're talented enough to do what we want. We could beat anybody in the country. But we've also proven we can lose to anybody in the country. And so it is on us right now and basically it's on me. I don't put this on 18-year-old, 19-year-old kids. They don't know. You think they know why they're going through that they're going through? In most cases they don't. It's our job and my job as the head coach to figure out what we have to do, how we have to do it to get them to play as well as they can possibly play."

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant

On Alabama's upcoming matchups this week ...
"Obviously our first game against Kentucky on the season. Watching them play, obviously extremely impressive. I know they're coming off two tough losses here in the last couple of games, but as talented of a team as we've faced all year. Senior Night in their building and coming off a road loss, I'm sure they'll be at their best. We'll have to get prepared for what we'll face against them tomorrow night. ..."

On what has gotten Levi Randolph going ...
"I think he's playing really well. I think he's playing with a lot of confidence. Our team, I think, is feeding off of that of late, so we just need to have him keep with that mindset and stay aggressive and continue to step up and provide what our team needs."

On what gets a guy going like that late in the year ...
"I think you see that all over the country. Sometimes, for whatever reason, guys will respond to certain messages or to certain things that happen over the course of a season. For Levi, obviously, the last four, five ballgames, I think he's really taken his game up another level and I think it's just a credit to him. He's worked extremely hard. He's a good player and I think we all feel like he's capable of doing what he's done for us. So, it's good to see him be able to step up and produce the way he is."

On if Trevor Releford should be a candidate for SEC Player of the Year ...
"I think if you look at his numbers, you look at what he's been able to do night in and night out for a basketball team -- especially a year in SEC play when, from a scouting standpoint, teams obviously are aware of what he's capable and game plan to try to limit his opportunities - he's consistently been able to produce for our team. To me, obviously this is a one-year award, but over the course of his career he just continues to get better and improve and add things to his game. I think you look at the importance of him to our team in terms of being able to go out there and affect the game in a multitude of ways -- whether it be scoring points or getting his teammates opportunities to score points or making plays on the defensive end of the floor, getting a steal - I think he's been a guy that has affected the game in a lot of ways. Certainly he would have my vote, so I think he's had an outstanding year and I think he's very deserving of every consideration."

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