UK Makes Record 51st NCAA Tournament Appearance
March 15, 2011
Kentucky will be making its NCAA record 51st NCAA Tournament appearance, capturing the Southeastern Conference's automatic berth after posting a 70-54 win over the 12th ranked Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament championship.
The Wildcats clamped down on the Gators defensively, holding them to just 38.6 pct. from the field while forcing Florida into 14 turnovers, which the Cats converted into 20 points on the offensive end.
Kentucky on the other hand was very stingy with the ball, turning it over just six times.
Pregame Press Conference
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
Q. Darius, on both sides of this a lot of guys haven't played in NCAA Tournament games. As a guy who's played in some and started in some, how much value do you think there is in experience?
Darius Miller: It'll be kind of important. I think we'll be ready to go, though. All three of us have experience in the NCAA Tournament. We know what to expect, and if we can set an example for the younger guys, I'm sure they'll be ready to go.
Q. Darius, could you talk about the impact that Brandon Knight has made on your team as a freshman?
Darius Miller: He's had a big impact on our team. He does a great job of running the team on the court, playing point guard. That's what we need him to do, and he's done a great job of it. He rarely makes mistakes. He's starting to talk to guys and tell me where they need to be if we're out of position. Like I say, he's just doing a great job of running the team when we're on the court.
Q. This is really for all three players. Kentucky has had players leave after one year of the so-called one and dones. Wondering how you feel about that rule and how it impacts your team, particularly after last year when so many left after one year.
Josh Harrellson: You know, I think it's their own decision. I would have loved for everybody to come back last year. I mean, the talent we had and the guys we had, we had a great group of guys. We had unbelievable talent. I would love for them to come back. It's hard for young guys like that to turn down the kind of money they talk about and a chance to make something for themselves and for their family when turn down that money when they need it. I mean, I don't blame them, but at the same time I wish they would come back.
DeAndre Liggins: I guess the same thing Josh said. Their family may be struggling, but that's their decision they've got to make, and if they choose so, then I'm happy for them.
Darius Miller: I kind of feel the same way, too. I don't have a problem with it at all. Like he said, we had great guys on the team last year. We had a greet team last year, we had a good team this year. It would be hard for anybody to have a chance to change their family's life.
Q. What do you guys think about Princeton? What do you know about them?
Darius Miller: I haven't got to see too much of them, so I really don't know. We went over what they're going to do for the most part, and we feel kind of comfortable how we think we're going to play. But like I said, I haven't really seen them play, so we're just going to have to be prepared to go.
DeAndre Liggins: I think they're much like a team from our perspective like Cornell last year. They make you defend the whole 35 seconds. We just have to be disciplined and watch their every move.
Josh Harrellson: Yeah, like they said, I really don't know much about them, but they've got to be pretty good to win their league and be in the NCAA Tournament. Any team in the tournament is a contender for the NCAA title, so they're going to be pretty good.
Q. Josh, talk a little bit about your head coach. There's a lot of good head coaches here, but in a situation like this where you know you're listening to someone who's been there and done that before, how much of an advantage is that?
Josh Harrellson: Yeah, Coach Cal has been here I don't know how many times. He was talking about at practice he didn't know how many times, just 15 or so. Coming from a coach like that that's been to championship games, has been to Final Four, he knows what it takes to win, he has a young team year after year, so he knows how to mature them into being great players. And having a knowledgeable coach like John Calipari that gives us a great advantage to some other teams that haven't been here or their coach hasn't been here that many times and maybe he's not experienced as Coach Cal. He's getting us right and he's doing everything we have to do to be prepared to play.
Q. When did you guys get over the fact that it was a 4 seed and not a 2 or 3 seed? When did the team kind of move on from that?
Darius Miller: Pretty much the same day. We had no effect on where they was going to put us. We can't change it, so we had to get over it right after it happened actually. We kind of looked at it, seen it, had our reactions, and then right after that we knew we still had to take care of business. Either way we're going to play the best teams in the country, so it really doesn't matter.
Q. Josh, as one of the veteran guys on the team with so many freshmen, what kind of leadership things have you tried to impact on to these guys?
Josh Harrellson: I think all three of us try to lead by example out there. We're some of the hardest working guys in practice and in games. DeAndre is our best defender, he plays with the most energy out of anybody. He really leads by example out there, and when we see him play, it takes our team to another level.
Me just personally, I just try to go out there and tell them what we've got to do, just try to show them the right ways and try to be a vocal leader out there when we need some help.
COACH CALIPARI: Excited to be here.
Q. Coach Johnson said he was pretty secure in the fact that he thought his team wouldn't be caught up in the hype of this, he felt like he knew what to expect from his guys. Have you gotten to the point where you know what to expect from this group?
COACH CALIPARI: No, we don't. When you're starting three freshmen and three players who were inexperienced prior to this season and you jumble them all together, they can get off kilter at any point.
What I'm comfortable with is we're playing as well as we've played all season. What I'm comfortable with is individual players are playing better than they have in their careers. That I'm comfortable with. How they'll respond to this situation, I have no idea.
Q. You speak with the progress of Brandon Knight has made during this freshman season, how would you characterize it?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I had him at my house, and I told him that his curve is probably sharper than even Derrick's or Tyreke's or John's. Where he was at the beginning of the year and where he is now, it's been a -- you know, you're talking about a freshman, 18-year-old guard, leading his team, playing just about every minute that he can stand on that basketball court. And we're one of the five teams in the country with the least amount of turnovers. And so that alone, he's running the club, he's still scoring, we need him to score points, he's kind of going through what Tyreke and John Wall went through. Those two in high school took a lot of shots, just like Brandon, and had to figure out how I do this within this team. Derrick was a little different. We had to get him to shoot.
But I'm really pleased, really pleased.
Q. Maybe more than any other coach in the country you've embraced the one and done player. Can you talk about the effect that that has on your program from year to year? And if you could change anything about that rule, what would it be?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I've said this: Sometimes I don't think people will listen when I say this. I don't like the rule. I don't like the one and done. I don't think it's good for college, I don't think it's good for the NBA. But it's a rule that we have to live with. I recruit the best players I can recruit, and I don't try to hold them back. If a freshman is better than an upperclassman, he's playing. There's nothing in any team I've ever coached that says it's my turn. It's no one's turn. Who deserves to play? At the end of the year -- during the season it's about our team. I just told our basketball team that -- who is the best team in the field that's playing together the best, that has the best players? That's the team that's going to win.
At the end of the year, it's about the individual player. I will not talk a kid into staying that has an opportunity to go. I never have. And there's some that I will recommend that they do go. If there's some that want to go and I don't believe they should, I'll still support them because it's their life and their choice, and our program will do fine.
We've lost some players after a year, and we've survived. I tell kids, you know, early on I would say if you want to do what's right for you and your family, you probably should put your name in the draft. If you want to do what's right for me and my family, why don't you stay a couple more years so we can win a whole lot more games? You say embraced it; it's what the rule is.
Now, the option is, like why do you recruit such good players? Well, because they want to play for me and I want to coach them. And then the other side of it is there were other players that were more highly rated than some of the guys I've coached, yet my guys seem to have that opportunity to go and we encourage it. So we've been fortunate that way.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how much of a good eye-opening reminder Cornell's run last year was just to show your players how deep and dangerous an Ivy League team can be?
COACH CALIPARI: You know, I'm really trying to get us to just worry about us right now. They know how good Princeton is. They know -- and again, from us talking to the kind of shooters they have, the kind of game they played, they've won 25 games. I mean, you're talking about a really good team that's well coached, that defends. But I want them focused on us. Look, if we come out and play as well as we can and we don't win, what are you going to do? You walk on.
Last year we hit in the NCAA Tournament, we were playing well, shooting well, and we hit an 0 for 32 stretch, second half against Cornell, 0 for 12, the first 20 shots against West Virginia, 0 for 32. Well, stuff happens.
And I'm just trying to make sure that this team is in the right frame of mind to approach the game, and let's do our best. Let's worry about us.
Q. You've had all season long, pointing your kids to this tournament, talking about this tournament. Do you step up a notch once you get here? Do the nerves kick in? Do you feel differently when you get here?
COACH CALIPARI: Preparation, like today, I was really anxious, and last night anxious as I'm watching tape and trying to figure out -- you can't spend two and a half hours now. You've got an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe some do; I don't. But you have an hour and 15 minutes to get in what you want to get in, so every practice has to be sharp and on the point and then you have to stay focused on us, not on the other team.
But when the game starts, everything that we were supposed to do or go over, I feel comfortable with, and then we just let them play.
At the end of the day, I want my team having more fun, and we just said it in the SEC tournament, you have more fun than any team in this tournament. If I've done my job when people watch us play, they say that team is having fun playing. At the end of the season that's what I've tried to do every time I've coached, I want my team having more fun playing basketball than anybody.
Q. Tampa has two of the more storied basketball programs, yourself and UCLA. What have you learned about what it's like to be in this seat and this show that is Kentucky basketball?
COACH CALIPARI: One, there's -- you know you're temporary. This seat is not changing. You're here for a short time and do the best you can in the job.
And the other side of this job is that it's more than just coaching basketball and going to your office and watching tape. It entails more than that. This kind of job, or at UCLA, you've got to say, bring it, let's go. I love it. And I do love coaching. I'm humbled, and I tell Dr. Todd and Mitch Barnhart that I just truly appreciate this opportunity.
My mother passed in November and got a chance to see me before she passed coaching at Kentucky, and it is a storied program. And I'll tell you, the opportunity to be here and be a part of it and be a part of the Big Blue Nation and see and know that they live and breathe with every basket, the whole state moves on a made basket and a miss. We understand it.
But that's what makes it Kentucky, and there's nothing like it. Nothing like being a part of it.
Q. With all the focus on the freshmen players, the three guys who were up there before you, how important have they been to you and what are you looking for from them, especially this time of year?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I'm really proud of those three, and I'll tell you why: Josh played 35 minutes last year all season. He's playing 35 minutes a game. Neither DeAndre or Darius were in significant games at significant times. We needed those three to step up for us to be what we needed to be. You can't count on freshmen.
Our last nine games where we really played well, as well as anybody in the country, Darius has been in double figures, DeAndre has been phenomenal defensively, and Josh has played like one of the best big men in college basketball, and that's why we're here. That's why we won the SEC tournament. I was so happy that Darius was MVP and Josh was All-Tournament.
Now, those freshmen are very talented, from Brandon to Terrence to Doron, they're three of the best freshmen in the country. If there's five freshmen that are the best, they're three of them.
But you're right, without those veteran guys, who had to step into different roles than they did a year ago, we're not here playing like we are.
Q. You beat Florida twice, including in the SEC title game, they said the 2 seed, you get the 4. How have you used that with your players this week?
COACH CALIPARI: I tried to tell them don't worry, but I think Florida deserved a 2 seed. I don't know if a 4 was what we should have gotten, but we did. At the point that it was done, I said, we have no control over where they put it or where they place us, for whatever reason they do it. It doesn't matter.
At this point the only thing we can control is how we play and how we prepare and how focused we are going into a game. We have no control over that stuff. Florida deserved a 2 seed because of how they played all year. If they had beaten us in that final game, you would have said easily a 2 seed because we have playing as well as anybody in the country and got them pretty good down there. Everybody was like, well, they shouldn't be a 2 seed. Why? Why do you say that? Could we have gotten a little better seed? Yeah, maybe, but at the end of the day, you've got to play the games.
The other thing I told them, just so you know, that is not ruining our day. We just won the SEC. So go to a movie, forget about it, don't look at it, don't look where -- and I did, I watched a movie, enjoyed the SEC, I had a smile.
Next day a little angry. All coaches are when the thing comes out. They're mad at their seed, they're mad at where they're going, they're mad at their pod, why did they put us in there, I knew we were going against this guy, they're doing it on purpose, it's personal. And then the next day everybody gets over it and they move on and you're in the tournament and let's play.
Q. The comment has been made through multiple outlets that there isn't a great team in college basketball this year. From the inside can you evaluate that assessment and does it create an opportunity for a team like you have to capitalize?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know why they'd say there's not a great team. Great, that word, is overused. But what I would tell you is there's four or five teams that have separated from the rest of us. And maybe there's 10 that are all pretty close. And then there's another 30 or 40. But in that 30 or 40, any of those guys can get to the NCAA Tournament.
Your draw matters, who you have to go up against, because if you're going up against one of those five or six, you've got an issue, you'd better be playing real good to get there. But you can do it. I think there's some outstanding clubs this year, and I think at the end of the day this is going to be a crazy tournament. Crazy.
Q. Nobody has mentioned Princeton yet. Nobody knows anything about them outside the Ivy League probably and all the Kentucky fans likely are booking their tickets to New York or looking ahead to West Virginia. How do you prepare your team and prepare them for Princeton?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, what we do all the time, we don't show them much tape of anybody we play. They'll see tape at the meal prior to the game. They don't get a scouting report. That's all season. They never get a scouting report. Whatever they get, it's from us. I'm worried about my team.
Princeton can beat us. They can beat just about anybody. They shoot it, they're long. I'll bet Princeton is bigger than we are. They've got more size than we do. Their guard play is outstanding. Their best player comes off the bench, I don't know why, their senior, and he's really good, and people are going to find that out.
But again, I worry about our team and what we have to do, or at least get my players to. I'm watching all the tape. My head is spinning with Princeton right now. But I don't want my team's heads spinning. I want them to worry about us. If we're not good enough to beat them playing as well as we can play, then they move on and we don't.
Q. As somewhat of a follow-up to that, do you see similarities between this Princeton team and the Cornell team you saw last year?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, they do not run -- I've coached against Coach Carril. They're not the Princeton -- strictly Princeton, you know spin dribbles, double back doors, chin action. They're not -- they have the chin action, they do the back doors, but they do it to their strength, which is back doors to post-ups, back doors to isos, three-point shooters coming off stagers. They're doing different things. They're scoring 70 points a game. In a Princeton offense to score 70 points that means you're playing faster than a normal Princeton. So I think it's the coach's own stamp, and I think a lot of it comes from John Thompson, the way he did it, which is his own version of Princeton. I think this is how this team is playing. They're good, they're very good, and they shoot it, which is scary.
Q. To sort of follow up on that, you're sort of the signature program for the double drive program. Princeton is obviously the signature program for the Princeton offense. Can you talk about what those systems have done for the way that basketball is played in this era and what's the best way to match up with a Princeton offense team?
COACH CALIPARI: You know what, after dribble drive motion, they have -- it's Princeton on steroids is what I say, and we're trying to get the back doors, we're trying to create great space, we're trying to create threes, we're trying to attack the rim. But instead of on the pass and the spin and the back door, we're doing it on the dribble basically is what I said.
This team, we're having to do it a little different. As a matter of fact, we're running some Princeton stuff. And why? Because we need space to do our dribble drive. So when you see us in a handoff, a back door, my gosh, they're running Princeton. Yeah, we're running a little bit of it to get us space to run our driving motion. But to guard Princeton, they're going to get back doors.
We played Princeton when I was at UMass, and they put the sky cam over the top of the court so that you could see all the back doors and you could see it developing. I was like the Washington Generals for Coach Carril so the country could see his back doors and all the other stuff. But it's hard to guard, it's really hard to guard. And what they try to get you to do is overreact to things or overpressure or come out and go crazy, and all of a sudden they're spaced out above the foul line and they're getting backdoor lay-ups.
But this team, they're dangerous because they play faster. They'll pull up on the break and the guard will shoot a 25-foot jumper and it'll go. They'll put themselves in pick-and-rolls and handoffs where their guards can get to the rim. They're a good team, a very good team.
Locker Room Quotes
On ankle injury…
“It hurt a little bit, but once the game started it was okay. After the game it was killing me. But I got a lot of treatment, iced it, and I will be ready for tomorrow.”
On everyone playing well now…
“That’s what we need to win games; everybody needs to contribute. That is how it as been lately, and if Darius keeps playing like the way he has, I think we can beat anybody in the country.”
On Princeton playing with nothing to lose…
“Yeah, but I think we should win the game though. We have to continue how we are playing with our defense.”
On how good the defense is…
“We have been great. Everyone on the team knows what’s going on. We are stopping them from what they are doing.”
On how good the team is…
“Everyone is growing up and the olders guys are being leaders. We have been talking on defense and team rebounding. Brandon has been pushing the ball as the point guard. If we continue doing that, we can be great.”
On playing Princeton…
“They are going to work the shot clock and try to wear us down a little bit on the defensive end. Like I’ve said, we just need to prepare and play our game.”
On thoughts of Princeton’s style…
“We have not watched video of them yet, but we plan to tonight. We know what coach has told us about them.”
On Princeton pushing the tempo…
“He talked to us about that, but we have to be prepared and go. We know they are a good team; we have seen their record. It is going to be a good game. We are ready to go.”
On being nervous in the NCAA tournament…
“Everyone has the butterflies when you step out on the court, but you have to play harder and get the butterflies out first and just play basketball.”
On it possibly being his last game…
“I am just going to come out and leave every piece of energy and effort on the court. It is my last year, it could be my last game at any time so I just wanted to go out and play hard.”
On the team coming together…
“I believe so. We know each other a lot better and built relationships to become better friends as the year goes through. Early in the season we had out cliques, but now everyone is coming together and playing team basketball, which is fun.”
On the argument that experience beat youth…
“I think Cornell made the same argument last year when they started five seniors. We started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. I think that who wants it more will come out and take it from the opponent. Hopefully we want it more than they do.”
On the team’s confidence level…
“I think our confidence is out of the roof right now. We have been playing team basketball and coming off a strong SEC tournament with some great wins. Hopefully we can carry that confidence over.”