Florida Travels to Kentucky to Cap Regular Season
March 6, 2015
Kentucky completes its home-and-home with Florida to close Southeastern Conference play on Saturday, March 7. Tip is set for 2 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by CBS.
|Kentucky vs. Florida
Saturday, March 7 - 2:00 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | UF
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Video via CBS
By no means is this the finish line.
A Saturday matchup with Florida marks but another step on a memorable journey, but this step merits some special attention.
With Kentucky a win away from completing the first perfect regular season by a power-conference team since 1975-76, even John Calipari stopped for a moment to think about what it's taken to get here.
"I'm not reflecting back right now, I'm looking forward," Coach Cal said. "But I will tell you for them to stay the course is a challenge in itself here."
With each win, the hype with which the top-ranked Wildcats (30-0, 17-0 Southeastern Conference) began the season has only intensified. Even so, they've remained as one.
"To stay into each other, to not listen and let the clutter affect who you are and how you play, it's amazing," Calipari said. "I mean, you got guys that aren't worried about Player of the Year, yet if they were playing 35 minutes a game and getting the ball every time, they'd be Player of the Year. They're not worried about it. They're just playing basketball. They're just trying to play for each other."
With the eyes of the college basketball world trained on Lexington for Saturday's 2 p.m. ET matchup with the Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC), the Cats are choosing to keep that attitude. Like Coach Cal, they'll save most of their reflection for later. ... read the full preview
Cat Scratches: Malone, Long, Lanter enjoying ride as Senior Day approaches
Sam Malone's first three college seasons couldn't have been much different.
Coming to Kentucky as walk-on, the Scituate, Mass. native was there every step of the way as the Wildcats went from national champions in 2012 to first-round NIT losers in 2013 to within one win of another title in 2014.
"Freshman year I thought it was going to be like that every year, then the next with that NIT--it was totally different from the first year," Malone said. "But we just stuck with our game plan of what we were doing as far as the program goes, and we're back to where we want to be."
The Cats are a game away from completing the first unbeaten season for a power-conference team since Indiana accomplished the feat in 1975-76. Malone and Long have already been a part of a pair of Final Four teams and they clearly have designs on making it three within the next month.
"So far it's been great," said Long, a Dumont, N.J. native. "We've had two real good years and this year the story's not over yet. It's been a great ride all four years. Just appreciate everything and it's been real fun." ... read the full feature
This Week's News
- Facing the largest second-half deficit of its so-far perfect season, No. 1 Kentucky clamped down defensively, ripped off a 14-0 run and put away pesky Georgia 72-64 on Tuesday night to remain unbeaten heading into the regular-season finale.
- Kentucky is 30-0 to start the season for the first time in the history of the program, bettering the the 1953- 54 group's 25-0 start.
- UK is the only team in SEC history to begin a season 30-0.
- It's also the Wildcats' best start to a conference season since the 2011-12 team went 16-0 in league play.
- Kentucky's 30-game winning streak is the second longest overall in school history.
- The streak is the longest over the course of a single season, besting the 1995-96 Wildcats.
- The 30-0 start is the best of any John Calipari team he has ever coached.
- The 30 straight wins is the longest winning streak of Calipari's career, bettering his 2008-09 Memphis team's 27 consecutive wins.
- UK has won 52 of its last 54 games as the Associated Press top-ranked team.
- Calipari has a 96-9 all-time record when coaching the nation's No. 1 team, including a 55-4 mark at Kentucky.
- Kentucky committed no turnovers in the first half and a season low three total for the game, the fewest in the Calipari era.
- Kentucky's three assists in the first half were its fewest in a first half this year.
- Kentucky scored 18 points off turnovers, compared with four from UGA.
- Georgia had 11 turnovers, compared with three by UK - all of which came in the second half.
- Georgia did not have a steal; UK had four.
- UK won bench points 19-15. UK has won bench points in every game this season.
- Aaron Harrison scored Kentucky's first nine points of the second half, after having played six minutes in the first half due to picking up two fouls.
- After trailing by nine at the 9:12 mark in the second half, Kentucky went 7 of 9 from field-goal range.
- After Georgia took a 62-56 lead with 5:36 left to play, UK closed the game on a 16-2 run.
- The Wildcats took a 65-62 lead at the 2:53 mark in the second half, UK's first lead in 12 minutes. UK never trailed after that.
- Kentucky's largest lead of the game was the final score, with UK ahead by eight.
- Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns led all scorers with a career-high tying 19 points.
- He scored 17 points after halftime.
- Aaron and Andrew Harrison combined for 28 points and were the only other players besides Towns to reach double-figure scoring.
- The Wildcats claimed the outright regular-season SEC title on Saturday with an 84-67 victory over Arkansas.
- The win clinched the top seed for UK in the SEC Tournament.
- It was the third consecutive game that the Wildcats did not trail.
- Kentucky shot 29 of 60 from the field (48.3 percent). The Wildcats just missed out on shooting 50 percent or better from the field for the 10th time this season.
- UK outscored MSU 40-24 in the paint.
- Kentucky improved to 6-0 vs. ranked competition, winning those games by an average of 17.2 points per game.
- Kentucky shot 75 percent from the line (21 of 28). The Cats have made at least 70 percent of their foul shots in 13 of the last 17 games.
- At one point in the second half UK led by as many as 31 points vs. the SEC's No. 2 team.
- In back-to-back games, Trey Lyles has his two highest-scoring games of the season. He had 18 points Wednesday at Mississippi State and 18 vs. Arkansas.
- Aaron Harrison had nine points and a career- high five steals.
- Andrew Harrison tied Lyles for game-high honors with 18 points. It is his second-highest game of the season.
- Devin Booker scored 10 points, his fourth double- figure game in a row and 17th double-figure game of the season.
- Tyler Ulis notched 14 points, tying his season high set in December at Louisville.
- Willie Cauley-Stein had seven points and a solid floor game with nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocked shots.
- Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein is one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy award.
- John Calipari is one of 15 finalists for the Naismith Men's College Coach of the Year.
- The winners will be announced during Final Four weekend.
- As part of a 20th anniversary celebration of the UMass men's basketball 1995-96 Final Four team, the UMass Department of Athletics announced Wednesday plans to retire a jersey in honor of John Calipari during the 2015-16 season.
- The official date of the jersey retirement ceremony and other information surrounding next year's 20th anniversary celebration will be announced at a later date.
- Calipari began his head coaching career at UMass where he turned the Minutemen into a national powerhouse from 1988-1996.
- In addition to the 1995-96's team's 35-2 record and the Final Four appearance, Calipari led the Minutemen to the 1991-92 NCAA Sweet 16, the 1992-93 and 1993-94 NCAA second round and the 1994-95 NCAA Elite Eight. UMass won five straight Atlantic 10 titles during that span as well.
Media Opportunity - March 6, 2015
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari
On the possibility of honoring underclassmen on Senior Day ...
"They all told me they're staying so we're great."
On asking the players to take risks ...
"There are things these kids have worked on in practice, a lot of it individually, to stretch out their game. You've got to go try it in the game. You're going to make some mistakes. You're going to turn it over some. We went back over our stats, and in our lowest-turnover games our points per possession were our lowest. And as our turnovers went up a little bit - now they can't be 25 - but where they're in that range I'm talking about - 11, 12 maybe 13, 14 - we had our highest number of points per possession. That's just how it is. I don't want my team to have seven turnovers. That means that we're not being aggressive enough. We're not trying. Go play. I'm not holding back. Now I don't want you to leave your feet, one-handed catches, look-away passes, crazy stuff. But I'm saying be aggressive and make plays."
On if he's ever had to ask a team to make turnovers ...
"Sure. I tell them the numbers that we want, this is what my teams historically have looked like - the numbers. And it's usually around 11 assists a game. We don't have to be like, we never turn it over. Yeah, you shoot it every 30 seconds, you don't play, you're holding the ball. We don't play that way. We're playing fast."
On if there's significance of going for a 31-0 regular season ...
"No. I mean, Senior Night, it's our last game. The season has flown by. I can still remember meetings in the Bahamas, having a bunch of wide-eyed freshmen not knowing what in the world to expect. They played well down there and started feeling good about themselves. Every game seems to be an event. This will be another event. Florida could have and maybe should have beaten us last time. Missed free throws down the stretch that gave us a chance to win the game. They can beat us this time. They're good. I would predict that their guard (Michael) Frazier II will play. (Dorian Finney-)Smith is now playing so they have a full complement of players. It's going to be a hard game for us."
On what has been most impressive about UK's season so far ...
"I'm not reflecting back right now. I'm looking forward. But I will tell you for them to stay the course is a challenge in itself here - to stay into each other, to not listen and let the clutter affect who you are and how you play. It's amazing. I mean, you've got guys that aren't worried about player of the year, yet if they were playing 35 minutes a game and getting the ball every time, they'd be player of the year. They're not worried about it. They're just playing basketball. They're just trying to play for each other. You've got kids that they're saying are top-five picks playing 23 minutes, taking nine or 10 shots. Not worried about it; they just want to win. I love Bill Walton saying that the player of the year is Kentucky the way they share, the way they're playing. Everybody should be rooting for it. I don't think everybody is, but."
On the timing of the Bahamas trip for this team ...
"You can only do it every four years. I think that all of us should have two trips if you want in four years. And I think everybody should be able to practice 10 days in the summer for their kids. This was good for our kids, not program. It was good for these kids. If you don't chose to take a trip, practice 10 days at home. If you don't want to take a trip, maybe a foreign team will come and play you a couple games on your campus. And then college basketball owns August. Our games out-rated USA Basketball. `What?' Yeah. They were on ESPN and they out-rated USA basketball. That means that college basketball, if you want to get a jump start, you want to start changing, (you can). The 30-second (shot) clock is great, but just call fouls. We'll score more because we will shoot more free throws. Just call fouls so there is more freedom of motion and less banging and bumping, take over August. There are all kinds of things. I like the fact that we are able to prepare young people for what lies ahead by spending some time with them and team building."
On how the Bahamas trip helped bond the team with new players and veterans ...
"It wasn't that. We needed to do this to see if the platoon system would work. And not only if it would work but would they buy into it, would they allow it to work. And all answers were yes to that. And that's where we knew we could do this."
On what it would mean to be undefeated going into SEC Tournament ...
"I don't know. We haven't won the game yet. I mean, I'm not trying to be disrespectful. We could lose the game. Then how should we be remembered? How do you think? Successful? Not successful?"
On this team playing in Rupp Arena for the last time ...
"Yeah, I told them we have limited time together. I told my staff, you know every minute you can spend with these guys you better spend with them. I mean, get to the lodge, get meals. Let's just do everything together because this thing is just going to wind down. It's a unique group. I mean, the strength is in the pack more than any team I have ever coached. Everyone has stepped up at different points. I'll be honest with you: Everybody has also stepped back at different points. And when they step back, someone else stepped up. Sometimes they stepped back so someone else could step up. It's been a unique thing with this team."
On how UK's depth has led to its success this season ...
"Well, that's why it's nice having nine or 10 guys and just always say I only need five of you. So whoever wants to play today let me know and we'll go with you five. We have nine of you. All nine of you go out there and go do it. I mean, Marcus Lee and Dakari (Johnson) basically won the last game for us because of how they played. And Andrew and Aaron (Harrison) have just stepped up their game like they did a year ago."
On the difference between the first game with Florida compared to tomorrow's game ...
"Well, he spreads the court, and what they are doing in their pick-and-rolls is just keeping everybody away from the basket, trying to get rim baskets or 3s, or moving the ball from there and driving. Billy (Donovan) has done a great job with this team."
On how quickly the season goes by ...
"I told these guys when we were in the Bahamas, `Next time you turn around it is going to be Christmas. Next time you turn around we will be starting the conference tournament. And then the next time you turn around we will be hugging each other and saying it's done, this was a great year dadadadada. You don't understand it until you get into it.' The players who have been through this all nodded their head and said, `He's right; it flies.' "
On if he feels seasons go by faster as he gets more experienced as a coach ...
"Yeah, they fly. The only issue is every game - and I'm in the locker room - it's an event. It's never like, `Let's just go play a nice basketball game.' You walk in and it's T-shirt night, bat night or cup night. You'd like to coach a meaningless game at times. Just one time, let me go and do it. I could've done it in the Bahamas, but I let the assistants coach them."
On what made the season seem to go by so fast ...
"Platooned. We platooned. No one was playing 38 minutes a game. Guys were playing 23 minutes. Nobody ever got worn out."
On the Bahamas trip ...
"It was a good trip and it served its purpose. Like I said, I think if teams choose to do that twice every four years, then what's the problem? If you're not making that trip, then why not practice 10 days? Why not bring a foreign team on your campus and play? Play four games on campus. Who cares? It's August. It's not taking away from academics. It's like the selection committee puts this tournament together. Whether you play out west or east, you're not missing class. `Well we want them close.' No. You're missing the same class whether you're going to Pittsburgh, Cleveland or wherever you're going. You're missing the same class and it's the same with that stuff. They always want to refer it back to class stuff. I just don't think that's true."
On if there's a scenario tomorrow where the three seniors get to play ...
"Yeah, I hope so."
On talking to Willie Cauley-Stein about specialization ...
"I'll tell you what, he was a great badminton player. I saw him play that. I'll tell you what, he was really good at: I watched him play kickball. You could not believe it. I saw him play football. I never saw him play basketball in high school. I saw him in an AAU game get three points and thought, `Oh my gosh.' But then again, I saw Karl and was like, `He has got to be better than this.' Ask him. In kickball he would spin them. He would kick and spin and the ball would (noise). I couldn't believe it. That's probably why he move's so quickly - his feet. He can move them side to side and stuff."
On getting his jersey retired at UMass ...
"It's neat. What they're doing is honoring that grouping of players in the 90s. I've gotten a bunch of calls from those guys and if you've ever started your first company, then it's your baby. It was all of us coming together as a staff and more about that than me specifically, but I do appreciate it. I'm honored. My daughters went to school there. It's where we raised our children. That's our home and we still consider it that. My son went to a prep school that was 10 minutes from there and he wasn't even born up there, but he still wants to be near UMass and Derek Kellogg. It's a neat thing."
Sophomore center Dakari Johnson
On his feelings going into the final regular-season game ...
"We just gotta treat it like every other game. We know that Florida's going to come in here with a mentality to beat us. So we just gotta go out there and play hard."
On the last Florida game ...
"It was an intense game. They played probably their best game of the season against us. I know that's what their coach said. And we just came in there and pulled out with a win."
On handling the spotlight ...
"Just staying in a group. Just staying within the team. It's just about us right now. We're just with each other."
On whether he's felt the spotlight change as the season has gone on ...
"No, not really. Our focus never wavered. We just focused on competing out there and just getting better each and every day."
On Karl-Anthony Towns' amusement park comment ...
"Yeah, I would agree with that. It's been really fun just competing out there and just winning games and just getting better each and every day."
On the three seniors ...
"Yeah, they're a real huge part of the team. When I first game here, they did a good job helping us transition into what this is. They've been here for a while so just pulling up and coming up with a win tomorrow would be big."
On whether Senior Day is emotional because guys may leave early ...
"Maybe, but at the same time we just gotta focus on the game tomorrow."
On what an unbeaten regular season would mean ...
"It would be great, but at the same we have to go into every game like it's out last. And we just gotta compete."
On why Coach Cal has been able to make this team work ...
"Just keeping us focused. Just keeping us about each other and just telling us what he wants us to do and just go out there and do it."
On what he does to become his best ...
"Just competing constantly. Just going into practice with the same mentality. We've been going hard in practice against each other. So just keep that competitive spirit."
On how much Towns has improved this season ...
"He's improved a lot. In the beginning he was kind of fading away on his shots, but now he's just going straight into his shots. He's improved a lot."
On whether they are still having fun ...
"Yeah. There's going to be a lot of pressure and Coach Cal already told us about that. We just gotta come in with the mentality. That's the only mentality."
On how they stay loose ...
"We go to team dinners. We just have a lot of good guys in the locker room and a lot of fun guys to be around."
On what the comeback at Georgia showed ...
"It shows that we have a determination to win. We were down at one point. We just came together and got some stops on defense and we just never freaked out."
On Cal saying they needed him and Marcus Lee to play like they did at Georgia ...
"It just starts in practice. Just competing hard in practice is going to translate to the games."
On allowing ranked opponents to have the lead against them for just over 22 minutes ...
"That's the first time I ever heard it, but that's crazy. That just shows how well we help each other on defense and just communicate on defense."
On when the buy-in started for this team ...
"Probably in the beginning of the season. We all just brought in--Coach Cal had meetings with each and every one of us and we just bought into the system."
On what Cal's message to him was in that meeting ...
"The meetings, it's individually based. How we can help the team, how you can help the team, the role that you have. He just tells you straight up what your role can be to help the team."
On whether the team's unselfishness has surprised him ...
"It hasn't because we have a lot of good guys who accepted their role and who's not selfish, who doesn't care about how many minutes or how many points they're going to get."
Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein
On if he thinks about going undefeated tomorrow ...
"Not really. That's how you get beat. If you think about it like as a whole like that, you just gotta take it one step at a time and let nature take its course."
On imagining being one game away from an undefeated season after losing at Robert Morris two years ago in the NIT ...
"Never really thought about it. It's kind of cool though."
On what he expects tomorrow to feel like ...
"It's probably going to be, you know, really good energy. But it's going to be tough too at the same time, so it's not something that you can just take lightly and stroll in there and think you're going to win. You know, we're going to have to come to play."
On how the team has matured over the past few months ...
"You know, the maturity level on this team compared to, like, the last teams is crazy. My last two years here (were) like--it was like so hard to get people to play hard all the time, or, you know, do certain things all the time and like this team just gets it from the get-go. It helps when you have a lot of people who come back, but still, even the new guys coming in, they got it from the jump. You know, never really was an issue."
On what got the team to buy in and be so unselfish ...
"We all have one goal, a couple goals. One of them is ultimately winning a national championship, so that's where everyone's mind is at. And then, you know, make something for yourself and that's gonna happen if we all play together and we keep continuing to win. Play for each other and then that takes care of itself."
On if the offense has matched up with the defense yet ...
"Nah, it's still not there. It's getting there, but (we) still got a lot of work to do on that."
On if he'll take a moment tomorrow just in case it's his last game at Rupp ...
"I don't know."
On if the team will take a moment and reflect on the season ...
"I think that's one of those things that's gonna hit you later, maybe not at the time just because, you know, it's not gonna really mean a lot at the time `cause you still got other stuff. Like after the season's over, a month from now, when you look back at how fast it went by, and, you know, if we do have a chance, you know, to make history on that level then you're obviously gonna think about it."
On how fresh he feels at the end of the regular season ...
"A lot of it's just mental. Your body is gonna be tired, but it's a lot (more) mental at this point in this year just `cause now you really gotta buy in to everything you learned over the year and put it into effect and keep on doing what you (were) taught."
On how helpful the Bahamas trip was and what they were able to learn ...
"Guys just got in their heads how Coach Cal works and how he operates. Gives you a chance to see how the season's gonna go and gives you, like, a different mindset going into the season `cause you've already been doing--that takes away like three weeks when your regular season starts. (Reporter says it basically puts the team in early December.) Basically, yeah."
On what he feels about the seniors and their last time at Rupp tomorrow ...
"It's gonna be crazy. Kind of surreal because, you know, I came in a year after them, so, you know, I've been with them through the works of it. They won a championship, then lost in the first round of the NIT, then went back to a championship and then, now on this team, so they've been through a lot. Been on a rollercoaster, so it's going to be big for them."
On at what point they recognized they could do something historic ...
"We knew that in the Bahamas, early, just because of how much talent was coming and then after the first couple practices you could tell where everybody's mindset was. Once we got everybody back, me and Trey (Lyles) coming back, and then we (were) all together hooping and stuff, you could tell that the mindset and everything was just different."
On if he was doing the math while he was on the bench in the Bahamas, thinking about how good the team could be once he and Lyles were added to the mix ...
"Yeah, I mean Coach (Cal) was saying that. You know, we'd have team meetings and he'd be like, `This is crazy. We don't even have our whole team here and we still look really good,' and how excited he was for everybody to be back and the season to get going."
Freshman guard Tyler Ulis
On if they allow themselves to reflect on what they've been able to do ...
"No, not really. We're just trying to get better as a team, focus on our goal and try to take it one game at a time."
On if he can feel that there's something extra about tomorrow ...
"Yeah, it's a big game tomorrow. We want to finish the season out with our record being undefeated. But when March starts, as the tournament starts, everybody is 0-0. Coach stressed that to us and we just have to focus on that."
On if he thought going undefeated was possible ...
"Yeah, I can believe it with all the players buying into what Coach wants us to do. We have a lot of great players, a lot of great kids, so if we just keep trusting each other we'll be fine."
On how Saturday marks the last time this group plays together at Rupp Arena ...
"It's very special because as a team we've been through a lot together this year. Like you said, it's going to be our last time playing at Rupp together. It'll probably be memorable. Last time Tod, Sam and those guys will play in Rupp. It'll be fun to play."
On how they stay loose under so much pressure and attention ...
"I don't see it as pressure. We're just trying to play to the best of our ability and win every game one at a time."
On how well Andrew Harrison has played of late ...
"He's been playing great, pushing ball, keeping the pressure on the defense, being a playmaker on the defensive end. It's just helping us a lot as a team."
On what he's learned from Andrew Harrison as the season has progressed ...
"I've learned a lot with how Cal coaches him, what he tells him to do and stuff like that. With him being here last year, he knows what Cal expects."
On him being on the floor during crunch time ...
"If I'm in there, it depends on who all is playing good. We have a lot of players so it could be Devin, Aaron, Andrew, Trey, different lineups we could work with. It's just a matter of how the flow of the game is going."
On what he expects to see from Florida ...
"I expect them to come after us, give us a great game and try their best to win. We just have to come out and play better than we did last game, and just try to pick it up."
On if the older guys remember losing to Florida three times last year ...
"I don't think so. I think everybody just wants to get out there and play. Not really thinking about last year, we've already played them once this year. It's just more as playing for ourselves and trying to get better as a team."
On where this team can still grow ...
"We need to keep it on them the whole game. We play in spurts sometimes. We just need to come out aggressive, stay aggressive in the second half and when we get leads, just try to bury our opponent and not let them get back into the game."
On if the buy-in in terms of the scheme UK plays with is more impressive, or the team's maturity ...
"It's both because you have a bunch of great players at one school and everyone wants to play and everyone wants to show their stuff, but we're all buying into what Coach wants us to do and playing 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, maybe 10 minutes if someone has it going. It's just an honor to be on this team because everyone is respecting each other's game and trusting each other."
On if they've thought about being perfect ...
"I'm pretty sure everyone thinks about it, but we're not focused on that. We're just trying to build as a team. There are a lot of things we can work on. We just want to keep it simple and take it one game at a time."
On what he, personally, does to keep the clutter out ...
"My circle is pretty small. Of course, my best friends, my dad, my parents, stuff like that, talk to me about that stuff, but it doesn't put any pressure on me. It's just like, I don't want to lose, so I understand where they're coming from. I just come out every game, play like I need to play and do what I need to do for the team."
On if their offense has caught up to their defense ...
"I feel like we're getting there. It starts with me and Andrew pushing the ball and getting the offense in more of a flow, assists. When we keep the pressure on the defense and don't back it out we're pretty good offensively."
On what Calipari has done behind the scenes to help get this team to where it is ...
"He just tells us to stay within each other. Coach throws a lot of things, teaches us a lot of things, just making sure we're within our team and don't let anybody outside of us take us out of it."