John Robic filled in for John Calipari at UK's press conference following a loss at South Carolina on Saturday, but Coach Cal joined Tom Leach for an interview on UK IMG's radio broadcast. Here's a complete transcript of his comments.
On what he told his team ... "Well after the game I told them how proud I was that they fought and got back in the game and gave themselves a chance to win. But I said, 'You have to play the whole game that way.' Now, what happened early: The game was called like the old way. It was very physical, body-checking, hip-checking and we thought that was an excuse to miss shots. You've gotta how the game is being called and play that way. So in the second half I thought we started driving. But still--look, when the other team's the aggressor and is playing harder, that's the kind of stuff that goes their way. And so, you know, hey, give them credit. We weren't ready--the game was too physical, bottom line. A couple guys had turnovers, guys missed--again, we had 21 offensive rebounds and only made 14 baskets. That means you had the ball one foot from the goal 21 times aside from all the other shots you took and couldn't get it in the basket. Now, either we're not very good from one foot out or, you know, we just couldn't play through the bumps in the chest."
On whether the game plan for opponents will be to play physical ... "Yes. And the other things is we gotta figure out--I told them after, 'You guys became player-driven and were talking to yourselves, getting yourselves going and huddling. And that's what I'm to get you to play like when I'm sitting on the bench. It's--I don't want to do--again, they're counting on me too much. And again, they're immature. Things don't go their way, they're looking for excuses. But again, they showed in those 10, 12 minutes, that, yeah, we're good enough. We did the same thing with Arkansas. Well, you gotta play 40 minutes that way. And that's where we are right now. Tough loss on the road. You know, would have liked to have stolen this one in the end. Feel bad I got thrown out of the game, but I'll be honest with you: I think we were better with me not there, you know, because I think that maybe it kind of calmed things down on the floor a little bit as far as the calls and all that and we had our chances to win. Proud of our staff. That's how you want it to be: If something happens to me, we have this thing in order where can win and play well." On building on that ... "Well, we--and we got two tough games left. I mean, Alabama wins big today and coming into our place with the attitude that they can beat us and we gotta go to Florida our last game before our tournament. So we got a lot left in front of us and we got some work to do."
On shots not falling ... "Well, you could say that I think we're still trying to avoid contact and fade away instead of just get fouled and go. And the second thing is, when the last two games were really old-school physical, like, you were going to get bumped on every shot including jump shots and you had to be able to play. I'm not sure we're ready for that. And you're right, that is the M.O."
On defense getting them back in the game ... "Yeah, and, again, we broke down in that first half to give them some shots and you look at open 3s and different things like, 'Guys, you can't do it in the game like this where the other team's inspired. But we're learning and we're just going to march on. You know, for all of us, we gotta look at it, watch the tape, learn from it and let's move on and get ready for Alabama."
On what was the difference between the first 30 minutes of the game and the last 10 ... "I think it was energy. We didn't come out with a lot of energy like we should have. In the second half we talked to each other and we were more like team-oriented - like talked to each other in the second half - and I think that's what brought the confidence up and gave us that extra boost."
On how they come back from this loss ... "Next day, by practice tomorrow, just let this game go and just keep moving forward. We're trying to make, like, a big run in the end and we're just going to keep going day to day."
On sensing Cal's frustration was boiling over ... "Yeah. It was just him coaching. And he was just trying to talk to us. We just weren't listening sometimes so he had to scream a little bit just to make us listen. We just got to start listening when he says something the first time and just keep executing."
On if Cal should have to do that type of stuff this late in the season ... "Definitely not. It's just, I guess we lose focus like I've been saying the whole season - concentration."
On how much they let missing shots affect the rest of their game ... "I don't think it affects us as much. Probably put our heads down a couple times, but we just try to keep going play to play and just try to go to the next play like Coach says. Next. We try not to let shots affect us and just get back on D." On if he shares Aaron Harrison's confidence that they can still make a run ... "Yeah, definitely. We didn't come this far. We're not going to lose. We just feel like we can keep playing, just make a great run."
On what was going through their heads when Coach Cal got ejected and if that had an impact ... "It was just another obstacle we had to overcome. It was just a tough game. It was just an obstacle. We just huddled and said we just got to do what we got to do to get back in this game."
On how frustrating this week has been and how tough this will be to come back ... "Frustrating? It's frustrating to lose but coming up, we know we can do and it's going to be a great story."
On if they feel like they got it together at the end ... "Yeah, definitely. I think it was a lot about pride too. We knew what we had to do, and we couldn't just go out like that so we just fight and scratch and crawled and just did everything we could."
On why he thinks this can still be a great story ... "Because we know what we can do. We know, we talk about it. Even after the game, we just, we know what we can do and we know we're going to make a run to have a big, great story for everyone to talk about."
Willie Cauley-Stein had 16 points and 13 rebounds in UK's overtime loss to Arkansas on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As Julius Randle, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein came for interviews following an overtime loss to Arkansas, the mood was understandably somber.
They walked down the hallway from their locker room slowly, sank in their chairs and spoke in hushed tones.
A day removed from talking about his team turning a corner with a raucous celebration of a win over LSU, Randle fielded questions about whether he saw the 71-67 defeat coming.
"I never go into the game thinking we're not going to put the effort out that we should and do the little things," Randle said. "We just didn't tonight."
John Calipari, meanwhile, ran down the reasons for the defeat in his own postgame press conference.
"They beat us to loose balls. We missed 10 one foot shots. We missed all free throws that mattered." Calipari said, referencing UK's 12-of-22 free-throw shooting to Arkansas' perfect 16-for-16 performance. "We have a lead late, we're leaving timeouts, not executing."
After UK (21-7, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) trailed for all but 2:43 of the first 34 minutes, the Wildcats pulled into a tie at 52-all and eventually a 57-52 lead on the strength of a 14-2 run. But after grabbing that five-point lead, UK shot just 1 of 5 from the field and 1 of 4 from the line.
Arkansas (19-9, 8-7 SEC), eager for the chance to sweep the season series against UK and pick up a resume-building win, took advantage and forced overtime. In the extra period, the Cats' bid for a second straight overtime win in Rupp Arena fell short due to three turnovers and numerous misses around the rim as UK shot 26 of 76 (34.2 percent) for the game.
"We couldn't throw a rock in the ocean, but it happens like sometimes in games," said Randle, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. "The main thing is -- especially when things like that happen, you can't really get it going -- that's when you have to lock in on defense and come up with 50-50 balls. We didn't do that tonight."
UK had a 47-38 rebounding edge on Thursday night and even won the turnover battle, 20-18, but Arkansas blocked eight shots and contested countless more in the paint to flummox the Cats.
"We took two steps back today," Calipari said.
With just three games left in the regular season, now is not the time for that to happen. Concerning as that may be, it's also the reason why UK has to move on and move on quickly.
"There's no reason to soak in it, just remember the feeling," said Cauley-Stein, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds. "It's getting too close to crunch time. You can't dwell on it and then do the same thing the next game because you're thinking about the last game. Then the next thing you know, you stepped way too far behind and there's no return after that."
That's especially true because of the way UK's schedule sets up in the coming days.
The Cats will get right back to practice on Friday with a game at South Carolina awaiting them on Saturday. After less than 48 hours between games, UK will turn around and face Alabama on Senior Night on Tuesday.
Taxing, yes, but also exactly what the Cats want.
"That's the great thing about basketball, you know, is it's not like football (where) if you lose a game you have to wait a week," Poythress said. "Basketball, you know, you play the next couple of days, so we're just trying to get this out the window. We lost. We know that. There's nothing we can do."
Cauley-Stein, who according to Calipari saved UK from what could have been a "15- or 18-point" loss, agreed.
"You gotta come right back at it, gotta take the medicine tomorrow at practice and then you got a game the next day," Cauley-Stein said. "That's love to me; I wouldn't want it any other way."
In other words, the Cats don't have time to let a sour mood following the loss linger.
"We just gotta stay the course," Randle said. "Adversity's gonna hit anybody. It doesn't matter if you're a basketball player, it doesn't matter who you are. In life, adversity's going to hit you. It's definitely hit us this year, but if we're staying the course, keep being strong and don't let it waver you I think we'll be fine."
Julius Randle and the Wildcats will host Arkansas in a rematch of an overtime loss on Thursday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Since he arrived in Lexington over the summer, Julius Randle has gotten used to his surroundings.
He knows the short walk from his dorm to the Joe Craft Center quite well. The same goes for the path from the training room to the men's practice gym.
This week, something new stopped Randle caught him by surprise after John Calipari had a photograph from the wild celebration following UK's win over LSU plastered on the wall under the word "FAMILY."
"He didn't tell us anything," Randle said. "It's just right there, a big picture."
The photo shows Randle on his back, smiling from ear to ear. His teammates are mobbing him after he hit a game winner in the final five seconds to take down the Tigers for their sixth win in seven games.
The image joins countless other memorable ones from the Coach Cal era, ones Randle first noticed on recruiting visits as a high schooler. Now, he's immortalized alongside his Wildcat predecessors.
"You see all the guys that have come through, to see them on the wall and you've got a picture of all us on the wall, it's a pretty cool thing," said Randle, the reigning Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week.
Most of the time, new decorations are saved for the offseason. This, Calipari believed, was a time to make an exception. It wasn't because of the significance of the shot either.
It was that moment of celebration that Calipari wants his players to remember.
"I think that's part of what, as coaches, it's what we want them to understand: That's what it feels like," assistant Orlando Antigua said. "That's what it's supposed to be about."
Shouldering the burden of expectations, there have surely been times when the Cats have lost sight of that fact, moments when basketball felt more like a responsibility than a game. But after months of work it's all beginning to pay off, paving the way for moments of elation like the one that punctuated the LSU victory.
"We see we're getting better as a team and once you see the results things start to become more fun," Randle said. "You may not see the results for a while but you gotta stick with, stick with it, stick with it and just keep fighting, keep getting better. We see that we're getting better."
The hope, now, is that improvement fuels more improvement and joy fuels more joy.
"They're competing and enjoying the fact that they're competing together, working together and seeing results," Antigua said. "To see that pure joy for one another, it's what the coaching staff has been working to try to get them to."
More than a month ago, UK showed signs of progress in a loss at Arkansas. In spite of dealing with numerous bad breaks, a hostile road crowd and an energized Razorback team, the Cats battled to the final possession.
"It was a tough environment to play, but I do remember that being kind of a little bit of a breakout game for us," Randle said. "It was learning how to fight, not stopping, just playing hard."
Of course, carelessness with the ball and a Michael Qualls put-back dunk in the final second would undo the effort in an 87-85 overtime loss.
"I think we had 17 turnovers that game, but we competed, played hard," Antigua said. "Arkansas comes out and plays really hard. Coach (Mike) Anderson does a great job of getting those guys to play the way they want to play, speeding up the game. I think we handled it pretty good."
No. 17/15 UK (21-6, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) will look to handle it even better on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET as the Cats host their second game in a row with payback on their minds.
"We've watched film of how we played at the end and the difference between then and now, it's a tremendous difference," Randle said. "We play harder. We play more as a team. We care about each other more. It's little things we do on defense. We've made adjustments since that game. We've gotten better each game."
Arkansas (18-9, 7-7 SEC) can say the same. The Razorbacks have won five of six to play their way into the NCAA Tournament conversation, including two of three on the road.
"They're better," Antigua said. "They're right in the middle of the pack with the rest of the teams in the conference and we know they're going to go out and compete and play hard, and we're excited about the challenge."