Final Four Awaits Kentucky-Notre Dame Victor
Kentucky and Notre Dame meet in the Midwest Regional Final on Saturday, March 28 for a spot in the Final Four. The game will be televised by TBS and tip is set for 8:49 p.m. ET.
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NCAA Tournament Central
Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
Saturday, March 28 - 8:49 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | UND
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Audio (Westwood One)
Karl-Anthony Towns is in the conversation for best big man in the country.
The 6-foot-11 freshman has turned into a dominant force the last two months of the season and his Kentucky team has come to rely on him.
But on Thursday night, the Wildcats got but a point and two rebounds from Towns, spelling trouble for their quest for a national title and a 40-0 season, right?
Instead, the Cats tied a Sweet 16 record for margin of victory with a 78-39 throttling of West Virginia.
"It's one of those things that, not many people in the country could ever say that they played the way I played and still come out and win by 39," Towns said. ... read the full story
Cat Scratches: Notre Dame presents polar opposite challenge for UK
In the days leading up to Kentucky's matchup versus West Virginia, it was often asked how Kentucky's offense would fare against West Virginia's No.1 turnover-inducing defense.
As everyone saw, it did just fine, doubling up the Mountaineers 78-39 in front of a sold-out Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night.
Now just one game away from its fourth Final Four berth in the past six seasons, the question for Kentucky has reversed from how its offense will handle the opposition's defense, to how the Wildcats' defense will do against Notre Dame's offense.
"Defense is our first priority as a team and that's what we pride ourselves in is being a defensive team," freshman forward Trey Lyles said. "I think that tomorrow going out against a great offensive team is just going to pick it up even more for us."
That defense was on full display against West Virginia. UK scored 18 of the game's first 20 points and held the Mountaineers to just 19.2-percent shooting in the first half. The second half wasn't much better, as West Virginia didn't hit a basket in the second half until 8:42 had ticked off the clock.
Such numbers aren't expected again against the Irish. Notre Dame enters Saturday's showdown third nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, is the No. 1 2-point shooting team in the country, is No. 2 in effective field-goal percentage and No. 3 in offensive turnover percentage.
"They're very precise," Lyles said. "They run their plays, they run everything they're supposed to, to the pinpoint. We just have to go out there and try to disrupt it in any way we can." ... read the full story
Cat Scratches: Cauley-Stein embracing pressure of big stage
Willie Cauley-Stein has talked many times over the last year about how difficult sitting on the bench for the latter half of Kentucky's magical tournament run was for him
On the eve of the Elite Eight, he revealed another facet to what it was like being relegated to spectator status.
"It was a weight off your shoulders though, knowing you're not going to have any impact on the game playing," Cauley-Stein said. "So that worry, that stress, you didn't have to endure that."
Unable to play due to a stress fracture in his ankle that knocked him out of UK's Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville and had him in plainclothes for the Elite Eight and Final Four, Cauley-Stein admits there was part of him that enjoyed just being along for the ride.
A year later, he has no such chance.
Cauley-Stein is the upperclassman leader and defensive anchor for top-seeded Kentucky as the Wildcats carry a 37-0 mark into an Elite Eight showdown with Notre Dame at 8:49 p.m. on Saturday. Night in and night out, the 7-foot junior draws the toughest defensive assignment and carries an ever-growing offensive load.
In short, whether UK makes its fourth Final Four trip under John Calipari will be up to Cauley-Stein as much as anyone. Different as it may be from last year, it's exactly where he wants to be.
"It feels good," Cauley-Stein said. "You just embrace it. You can't be scared of it. You can't be scared of the moment that we're in." ... read the full story
This Week's News:
Kentucky's NCAA Tournament History
- UK is making its nation-leading 54th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
- Kentucky is 119-47 (.717) all-time in NCAA Tournament games.
- Since 1992, the Wildcats are 118-32 (.787) in postseason play (SEC, NIT and NCAA).
- Kentucky is making its 12th appearance as a No. 1 seed. The Cats were a one seed in the 2012 tournament en route to its eighth national championship.
- UK is 21-3 (.875) in NCAA Tournament games under the direction of John Calipari,
- Calipari is 46-14 (.767) as a head coach in NCAA Tournament games, the highest winning percentage among active coaches.
- Calipari-coached teams have appeared in three of the last four Final Fours and is the first such school to achieve that feat since UCLA from 2006-08.
- Calipari has led UK to three Final Fours in four years and leads the country with four Final Four appearances since 2008.
UK in the Regional Rounds
- Kentucky improved to 35-11 in regional semifinal games.
- The Wildcats have won all five Sweet 16 games they have appeared in during the John Calipari era.
- UK is 16-18 in regional final games but has won its last three games under Calipari in the Elite Eight.
Wildcats Lead in NCAA Tournament Wins
- UK leads the nation in NCAA Tournament wins (119).
- It also leads the country in wins in the tournament since 2010, when John Calipari first led Kentucky into the Big Dance (through games on March 26):
- 21 -- Kentucky
- 13 -- Florida, Louisville
- 12 -- Connecticut, Kansas
- 12 -- Butler, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State
- Kentucky opened the game on an 18-2 run and never looked back in a 78-30 rout of fifth-seeded West Virginia. UK's lead reached 20 at 30-9 with 7:53 left in the first half and peaked in the opening frame at 27 at 42-15 with 1:52 remaining.
- UK opened the second half on a 10-0 run and held West Virginia scoreless for the first 8:17 as the Mountaineers were 0 for 12 from the field to start the half.
- Kentucky had 13 fast-break points, including eight in the second half, while holding West Virginia to just two.
- UK held a 44-32 rebounding edge, including a 33-19 advantage defensively. Offensively, West Virginia owned a 13-11 advantage.
- Kentucky scored 34 points in the paint while limiting West Virginia to 12.
- The Wildcats had 13 assists to West Virginia's seven.
- Kentucky combined for more blocks and steals (14) than West Virginia made field goals (13).
- In addition to holding the Mountaineers to their lowest point total in a half this year, the 18 points the Wildcats surrendered in the first half also tied for the lowest in a half of any team in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
- It's the 17th half this season UK has held an opponent to less than 20 points in a half.
- According to ESPN Stats & Info, WVU's 39 points were the fewest scored in a Sweet 16 game since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1975. It's also a WVU school record for fewest in an NCAA Tournament game and the fewest scored by any team in this year's tournament. Only one other time has UK allowed fewer than 39 points in an NCAA Tournament game.
- Kentucky is 60-0 when holding the opponent to 55 or fewer points under John Calipari.
- According to ESPN Stats & Info, West Virginia's 24.1 field-goal percentage was the lowest ever in a Sweet 16 game and the worst field-goal percentage by the Mountaineers in a tournament game in the past 50 years.
- Kentucky entered the game as the nation's toprated shooting-percentage defense, and the Wildcats held West Virginia to 24.1 percent from the field. It is the fifth time this season UK has held its opponent to less than 25.0-percent shooting.
- According to ESPN, UK's 39-point margin of victory tied the largest scoring margin in Sweet 16 history.
- Kentucky held West Virginia to .582 points per possession, the second lowest by a UK opponent this season.
- UK shot 81.3 percent from the foul line (26 of 32). Kentucky is 66 of 88 (.750) from the charity stripe in the NCAA Tournament.
- Kentucky did not trail in the game. The Wildcats have trailed for only 191:05 of a possible 1,515 minutes this season.
- UK won bench points 30-10. Kentucky has won bench points in all but one game this season (vs. Arkansas in the SEC Tournament championship game).
- Kentucky committed 10 turnovers, its 17th game this season with 10 or fewer. West Virginia had 13 turnovers.
- Five players scored in double figures for UK for the first time since March 14 vs. Auburn
Trey Lyles had a team-high 14 points.
- He led UK in points for the fourth time this season.
- His six made free throws tied a career high.
Andrew Harrison had 13 points and a team-high four steals with three rebounds, two assists and one block.
- His 9-for-10 performance from the free-throw line tied a season high from the charity stripe.
- He's scored at least 13 points in four of the last five games.
- Dakari Johnson had 12 points and six rebounds with two blocks, both marking his high totals since the Auburn game on Feb. 21.
Aaron Harrison had 12 points and scored in double figures for the second consecutive game.
- He has scored in double figures a team-high 23 times this season.
- He's now 39 points away from 1,000 for his career.
- Willie Cauley-Stein had a team-high 10 rebounds with eight points and a team-best three blocks.
Tyler Ulis had nine points, five assists, three steals and three rebounds.
- Ulis tied his career high in steals (three) and minutes (34).
- He has had three or more assists in eight of the last nine games.
- Ulis has scored six or more points in a career- long five consecutive games.
- Devin Booker recorded 12 points with four rebounds.
- Kentucky started the game 2 of 20 from the floor in the opening 8:03, but utlized a 10-0 run to end the half and take a 31-24 edge into the break. It would be a lead UK would not relinquish.
- The Wildcats surpassed last year's Wichita State squad for the most victories to start the season (36).
- Cincinnati won the rebounding battle 45-38. Cincinnati's 45 rebounds was the second-highest total allowed by UK this year (Texas A&M: 52).
- Kentucky blocked nine shots, compared with six by Cincinnati. Cincinnati's six blocked shots tied Texas A&M for the most by a UK opponent this season. Cincinnati made two 3-pointers, marking the seventh time this season a UK opponent has made two or fewer 3-point shots.
- UK trailed for 7:42 seconds.
- Kentucky won bench points 18-15.
- The Wildcats are 7-1 in NCAA Tournament games held in Louisville. UK is 4-0 in NCAA Tournament games held in the KFC Yum! Center.
- Trey Lyles recorded his second career double- double. He scored 11 points, had a career- high 11 rebounds and added two blocked shots.
- Aaron Harrison had a team-high 13 points.
Tyler Ulis had nine points, five assists, three steals and three rebounds.
- Ulis tied his career high in steals (three) and minutes (34).
Media Opportunity - March 27, 2015
Video: Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns
Video: Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles
Video: Tyler Ulis and Dakari Johnson
MODERATOR: We're joined right now by the student- athletes from Kentucky. Coach Cal should be with us in just a moment, we'll start taking questions right now.
Q. Aaron, I guess everybody wants to know how the ring finger is on that left hand, and if that's going to be any sort of factor going forward here?
Aaron Harrison: It's a little sore but it's not going to be a big factor in the game, I'm doing a lot better and continue to get treatment and things like that.
Q. For all five, when you're playing as well as you did last night how much fun is it to be out there on the court.?
Andrew Harrison: It's a lot of fun. You see your teammates enjoying themselves on both ends of the court we're getting after it, it's nothing better.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, we're a defensive team and we defended really well last night, we enjoyed that, and.
Trey Lyles: Like they said, it's just a lot of fun, our defensive, at least our offense lobs and stuff like that so our bench gets into it and it's just fun to be a part of.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Just playing like that, having the lead so far up and allowing Brian and Sam and EJ to get in, it brings joy to us, for real.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Just a lot of joy playing defense like we did last night.
Q. This is for all you guys, I know you've been asked about this before, but when you come to Kentucky, you know that you're going to have to give up some of your stats, you're going to have to be one of a number of guys when if you had gone anywhere else you would have been the guy. How difficult of a decision is that when you're 17 years old and you're looking at the possibility of being a star versus coming to Kentucky and doing what you guys are doing?
Andrew Harrison: It's tough. It's tough sometimes, but when you're winning like this and you have so much talent on your team and all the guys get along, it's not like we have ego problems or anything like that so it's fun, it's fun, it's worth the sacrifice definitely.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, as he said, I mean it works out as long as we're winning and we knew the sacrifice coming to Kentucky but we all were unselfish enough to take it and we're undefeated.
Trey Lyles: Like they said, it's just fun and it just shows how selfless everybody on this team is and how much we care for one another and how much we care about winning.
Willie Cauley-Stein: You've just got to trust what Coach is saying, coming here like he told every one of us straight up that you're not going to be the man of the team, you're going to have to sacrifice and that's why we're able to play the way we are, just because everybody bought in.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Like they said, it's just buy into the program, buy in the process. We did a great job of just sharing the ball and sharing minutes and coming out with the record we have right now, looks like a big success.
Q. This question is for the twins. Can you guys talk about how well you work together and maybe a good question would be, what is it about your brother that makes you as good as you are on the court?
Andrew Harrison: That's a tough question, I never got that one before. I mean, I don't know. He just score, so you find him, he usually makes the open shot, you know he can make the big shot, so it's fun playing with him.
Aaron Harrison: Andrew, he just gets me involved. Not only me but the rest of these guys, too. He's a great point guard and just my brother really.
Q. For any, all of you guys, seems like all season you've talked about it, when you perceive that there's a team that is a challenge or a threat, you sort of rise to that. You guys are the top defense in the country. Notre Dame may be arguably the most efficient offense in the country. Is that one of those kind of things that stokes your competitive fire, I guess?
Andrew Harrison: I mean it's a good thing that we rise to the occasion, but like I said, Notre Dame is a great offensive team, it's going to be a big challenge.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, they're a good offensive team and we're a great defensive team, so it should be a good little match-up, I guess.
Trey Lyles: Like they said, we're just going to have to lock down defensively and play up to competition and just raise our game.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Like all three of these dudes say, they're a great offensive team, we're a good defensive team, so we've just got to stick to what we know and just play the game and let it come to us.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Like they said, we've just got to play a great defense and just match them.
Q. This is for Trey, Willie and Karl-Anthony. Notre Dame hasn't doubled down on bigs all season when opposing teams get the ball down below. What have most teams done against you, and what happens when they don't double down on you guys?
Trey Lyles: Most teams have double downed pretty much on the post when we give it to these guys or Dakari or Marcus, and then when they haven't, it's pretty hard for them to stop our bigs one-on-one.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Like Trey said, most teams double us in the post, but that opens up our guard, so when they don't, it allows us to establish an inside game and be able to work inside out.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Like they said, they just, they've been doubling a lot all year but when they don't, we have been able to (inaudible.)
Q. This is for anyone and everyone, obviously you guys like winning and are very good at winning and want the national championship but listening to you guys, it also sounds like you enjoy playing good defense, playing unselfishly, seeing your reserves go in at the end of the game and just being together, so I'm wondering if you can imagine five or 10 years from now, looking back on this season, do you think the wins are going to be foremost in your mind or is there something else that you're going to remember liking about this season?
Aaron Harrison: I think what we're going to remember the most, just the way that we came together and how so many people doubted if we could play, if Coach could put all this talent together and play together, and we could all sacrifice, and that's what I'm going to remember the most.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Just going to remember most just being with everybody, just enjoying our time together, just cherish the moments we've had together both on and off the court and just being in each other's presence, it's going to be one of those things I'll take with me for the rest of my life.
Q. You guys talked about sacrifice a minute ago. About sacrificing being the man. Do you feel like you've also sacrificed some of your NBA draft stock because you're not playing as many minutes, not getting as many stats, is that something that's part of the equation for you?
Andrew Harrison: No, I don't think so. We all are evaluated the same and they come watch practice and stuff like that, so it's not really affecting -- I mean, it affects your numbers but I think the teams up there can really evaluate you equally as everyone else.
Aaron Harrison: Just like Andrew said, just you've got to go out there and if you play well, they're going to evaluate you and then it's not really about who's on your team or who's not on your team, but you have to enjoy winning. I think that's a big thing and then at the next level, too.
Trey Lyles: Like they said, you know, you're going to be evaluated either way, it doesn't matter how many minutes you play. They look a lot at winning and that's what we're doing.
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think what Trey said, I think a lot of the upper level is all about getting wins and having competitors compete at all times. So I think that's what they evaluate a lot.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Like they said, we just, it hasn't hurt any of us. I mean, it's not about the minutes we get, it's about what we do with those minutes.
Q. Willie, are the nerves different as you move on from round to round? You played briefly last year in the Sweet 16, but as you play in the Sweet 16 now, last night, and you're going to get ready to play in your first Elite 8 game, is it a different set of nerves than any other game?
Willie Cauley-Stein: Slightly. Not that much because at the end of the day it's just another game and it's just another step to where we're trying to be. And I've got a great group of guys that's got my back at all times, so the nerve is just a game. It's not, you know, the bigger pictures, it's just that one game and you've got to take it one game at a time.
Q. Everybody that plays you seems to have a blueprint for how to beat you, at least until the game starts. I guess my question is, how much do you guys focus on the other team? How much do you focus on the scouting reports, film study, game plan, what have you, as opposed to how much you just focus on yourselves and playing the way that you guys can play?
Andrew Harrison: I mean, I don't know, we just kind of stick to our script, just listen to Coach and keep doing what we do no matter who we play. Like West Virginia, we knew they press and stuff but we just stuck to the script for the two places that we had and we succeeded.
Aaron Harrison: Like Andrew said, we stick to what we do, of course we make adjustments here and there but for the most part we stick to our game plan, and stick to our method.
Trey Lyles: Like they said, most of the time we just stick to our game plan and we make adjustments where needed and we move on from there.
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think any preparation we do is just constant. It's like if a team does something really well, then we'll spend, you know, 10, 15 minutes on handling that, and everything else we do is just about our script and what we do.
Karl-Anthony Towns: I think it's just as important as other concepts is also important to know how we play basketball, we go into practice every day making sure we know our game plan, both defensively and offensively and make sure we can execute it.
Q. For any of you guys, I guess to start with Karl, what do you think of the -- talk a lot about sacrifice. What do you think about the sacrifice that a guy like Dakari Johnson has made who would probably be the starting center on this team had you not come here, he seems to have handled that pretty well, and when you guys need him, he's there, last night was an example of that. And for the rest of you, just what you think of Dakari's sacrifices?
Karl-Anthony Towns: I think that has been tremendous. I mean, he played really well last year in the tournament and I come in and neither one of us can start, it doesn't matter. I think that the biggest thing is that, like he said, there's no bench on this team, it's reinforcements and everyone's there to just do what they can do to contribute to a W.
Andrew Harrison: Yeah, Dakari, great player. When he's ready and focused, he's as good a big man in the country. So we just -- we all sacrifice and we just thankful we have a guy like Dakari on our team.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, Dakari's a great guy, a special player. It's just what we all do. I think we all sacrifice for each other, and Dakari's just one of the -- just another great guy on the team at this point in time.
Trey Lyles: It shows tremendous character on his part. He goes through practice and everything like that, like everybody else. And then once his number's called, he goes out there and he performs.
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think it just shows that the egos on the team is not bigger than the team. For a player like that of his caliber to kind of take a back seat but then come in and do the damage that he's able to do, it's just big for us as a team and helps us.
Q. Andrew, are you guys aware of Notre Dame's history of shocking No. 1 teams? And then secondly, what concerns you most about this Fighting Irish team?
Andrew Harrison: We can't really worry about the past, we have to worry about the game tomorrow. We just know they can really score the ball. That's probably our best defense of the year, to contain them.
Q. Andrew, this is for you: Last night Coach Cal said that if there were a better point guard in the country, he didn't know of one. Does he ever tell you that to your face? What's he like in practice on you?
Andrew Harrison: He's on me. I mean, I bet everyone up here thinks he's on them the most, but we just take it as, you know, he's trying to help you and you just listen to them.
Q. Willie, last night obviously the trash talk in pregame fired you guys up. Are you guys always looking for come kind of an edge to motivate you?
Willie Cauley-Stein: No. I think guys are self- motivated and I think guys know exactly how they see themselves playing in the game and going to the game ready to play and take care of business.
MODERATOR: We would like to thank the student- athletes from Kentucky for joining us. Andrew and Aaron and Trey and Willie and Karl-Anthony are going to head to their breakout rooms. First question for Coach Cal?
Q. Cal, you and his teammates have said for two years now that Andrew is one of the funniest guys on the team. We don't always see that in his public comments. Why do you think he has those kind of differing personalities in private?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't think he's different. I think he is, you know, guarded somewhat. But he is funny, and the players know it, like I just love that his spirit right now on the court, how much he's grown, you don't see any body language, all you see is a positive, aggressive, attacking player who talks on defense, is helping his teammates and he is a great teammate. The young kids love him. All the freshmen absolutely love him.
Q. John, there was a story the other day that suggested you guys don't spend a lot of time watching film. Kind of in conjunction with that, especially this time of year when the turnaround is so quick, how much time do you spend on what the other team does in preparation, how much time do you spend on just what you do best?
COACH CALIPARI: Me personally or my team?
Q. The team, the way you coach them this time of year.
COACH CALIPARI: What I'll do is I probably will watch the last five games a team plays personally. I will -- if we have played them in the past, I'll glance at that tape just to see if there's something they did against something we did in the past. A lot of times that's not relevant but I'll take a glance. But my team, we're worried about us and I've always been that way but even more so this year. The only tape they'll watch of the team, unless they've watched them on TV, will be at the dinner at 4 -- in this case, 4:30 the day of the game, there will be a 10-minute clip of the other team and that's it. There's no let's watch an hour of tape, this is what they're doing. I want them worried about us. We'll give them what they need today. We will work on drills that break down their offense. They won't know it. They know we're doing something for a reason, and then when they see the tape, they'll understand what we did.
Q. John, notwithstanding what you just said about not overpreparing in terms of the other team, when you look at Notre Dame as a coach, as a basketball man, what have you seen in them the last five games that jumps up at you?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, aside, they haven't changed offensively. In other words, they're one of the best 2- point shooting teams and one of the best 3-point shooting teams and one of the most efficient teams in the country. They score in bunches, they can score at the rim, layups, post-ups. They can score on breakdowns. But what I've seen in the last five games is they're really defending. They're playing more physical, they're playing tougher, their rotations are tighter and I think that's why they've gone on this run, because now they can get to 75, 80, and they make it hard for you to do it now.
Q. Cal, you've talked about that when you recruit a guy, you say there are no promises, you're not necessarily going to start, but when you look at what your kids have been able to do, are you impressed with that they have all bought into it? That's tough to do at that age and especially in this day and age when there is so much tension and so much tension on staff?
COACH CALIPARI: That should be the narrative of this team. It's not a lot of times, but you're talking about a lot of guys sharing, the term we use, everybody's trying to eat, don't be a hog, everybody's trying to eat. And if you chew a lot, you'll be full, you don't have to take 25 shots. But you have to understand how this happened. We had four guys return that we did not think were coming back, so we were left with 10 guys. Now, my choice was to either play seven and figure out why I wasn't going to play three. Bury them, do whatever, but you three aren't playing. Or I could try to play 10, and by playing 10, I didn't think that we could shuffle 10 in and out. That's why we platooned. We've stuck to a version of it, playing nine guys, and it was great seeing Marcus Lee and Dakari play as well as they did yesterday. That's because we're playing them, they're in a rotation. Karl gave us ugats, nothing, and we still win big because of those two, and that's because we're playing them. The other thing I would tell you is we coach every player on this team like they're a starter. There's no one coached -- we don't have subs. I've said that statement before. We have reinforcements. We've got them and you look up and there's about 12 tanks coming over the hill. "What the -- what?" That's what we've been doing.
Q. It's your fifth Elite 8 in the last six season, Notre Dame's not been here since '79. Is there any sort of advantage mentally the way you prepare your players to play when there's that sort of discrepancy in the two teams?
COACH CALIPARI: It's a one-game shot. You can say Mike has my number. They beat us by a hundred the last time we played. Mike has my number. I bet you Mike says that has no bearing on this game, and I would tell you what my teams have done historically have no bearing on this game. This is a one game shot. He's got his team playing as well as they have ever played. Our guys played a really good game without Karl, and you know what, it should be a great basketball game. It's going to be a very hard game for us because of how they play, how they spread the court, they're defending better, that they're not afraid to let balls go. They've got guys that will attack the rim and want to. This is going to be a hard game.
Q. John, the theory goes that somebody's going to have to play close to a perfect game to beat you. How close have you guys come to playing your absolute best?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I don't know if someone has to play a perfect game. My team knows that every team that's left playing can beat us, we know that. Somebody talked about perfection. We're not perfect; we're undefeated. I mean, we should have lost five or six games. I mean, easily could have lost those games. And we were lucky enough to win, stay undefeated. We're not perfect. But I think someone would have to play well the way they play. You know, the thought of playing fast or pressing, playing slower, I don't know. How do you play when you play your best? But here's the great thing, our team's not worried about that, we just don't want to help them. So let's make sure we're at our best, we're the best version of ourselves, we know how we want to play. What they did against West Virginia, the best thing was we talked about this is what we have to do versus the press. If you turn it over, you're sloppy, your spacing stinks, you don't come back, you're helping West Virginia, don't help them. The second thing we talked about, you can't give them offensive rebounds, that's the other way they score. So don't help them by giving them offensive rebounds. That's why they weren't able to score a lot of points. The guys went out and said we're not going to help them. Well, this is the same kind of game, you can't help Notre Dame. If you do, you're going to lose because they're that good.
Q. Can you talk about their -- I know you talked about their perimeter a few minutes ago, but specifically their two backcourt guys, Grant and Jackson? I would think, I haven't seen you a lot, I would think you have played a tall point guard like that at some point this year but maybe not.
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, we have. What they are is they're break-down kids who can get their own shot that are really skilled and tough. Mike opens up that court for them so they have every opportunity every time they catch it to attack the rim. If it's a late clock, one of those two are going to have their hands on it and they're going to take the shot. They've won 35 games or whatever they've won because they're really good, they're really well-coached and they've got really good players who play to their strengths.
Q. Coach, how concerned were you when you saw Aaron get hurt last night, you went over and kissed him on the head. And then how much was that concern alleviated when he was able to go back in and where is it right now?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, when I first saw it, I heard my wife just scream as a mother, and then I just -- I had to look away. But he came right back out and I said is it your left hand or right hand. He said my left hand. That's why I kissed him, you're fine. Today I just grabbed him as I walked out and I said give me this. (Motioning.) I said, "What's wrong with you, do you have rubber bands for joints? What have you got?" I think he's going to be okay but until we're out there, we'll see. It was pretty ugly.
Q. You mentioned Karl earlier and his struggles in last night's game, but when you've challenged him and he's had a game like that this season he's generally responded very quickly. Can you kind of talk about his coach-ability, and does it remind you of anybody else you've had in the past, and the ability to kind of respond to the coaching?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, he's a great kid. I've been harder on him than anybody on this team, but I told him at the beginning of the year, it would be that way because he had a long way to go, but I saw his upside being the best big guy in the country, and I'm not settling for anything else. When he gets off point, I'm right there, but after the game I get a text from his dad: Stay on him, don't let up, Coach. Not: Get him more shots, play him more minutes. That's the greatest thing about coaching these kids, they trust us that we're about them, we're about them getting better individually, that I want every one of them to shine, I want every one of them to be talked about. And so when they have a game like that and we still win, kind of takes the pressure off you. Willie's had games like that and we've won. I could go right down the line. Trey's had games like that, and we've won. But that's what makes us unique in that there's no pressure on you to play great but prepare to play great, prepare to be the best version of yourself. If you're not, we've got this. Maybe it's not your game. That's when you have the numbers we have how we can play.
Q. Coach, when you talked to the team before the season about this philosophy of sharing and platooning, did you address with them how it would or would not affect their NBA draft status? Here we have a couple lottery picks averaging 10 points a game?
COACH CALIPARI: How about the No. 1 pick averaging like nine shots a game? How about if you're his father, are you happy with that?
Q. I'm worried.
COACH CALIPARI: You're worried. We hired an analytics person. All our stats are per minute stats that they see, and they're all based on 34 minutes per game. So whatever minutes you play, it doesn't matter, your stats are going to be evaluated and those stats are sent to the NBA, even though they don't need them because they're statting them the same way we're statting them. They're not looking at shots or -- they're looking at per minute shots, per minute so they can evaluate these players. And when they look at their efficiency, I'll give you an example: Defensive playmaking is huge in the NBA. Defensive playmaking, steals, blocks, versus your fouls and deflections. Well, we're keeping those, we're letting them see those things because that's how they're being evaluated. Look, I keep saying this, 25 years ago an NBA contract was worth $125,000. If you're in the Top 10 picks, you're going to make 25 million, your first deal. Your second deal could be worth another 80, and it is going up. So I have to respect that, that it's 80 million, 120 million for these families and their children and their dreams and aspirations. I have to respect that, and I do. But I also know we had 10 guys, four stayed that we didn't expect. So who were the three that I was going to leave out? Whose child was I going to say you're not playing and I'll bury you to make it about you. It wasn't me; it was you. Or try to play 10, and that's why we did this, which meant I had to hire an analytics guy because I had to sell this. I had to sell it throughout the year, that no one got hurt. How about this? We still have a guy that they're considering for the No. 1 pick. We have another two or three that are lottery picks, and most of them aren't even averaging double figures. It tells you the NBA is about analytics, it's not about just simple numbers. And I'll say this, even bad teams have a leading scorer and a leading rebounder and they stink, but they've got a leading scorer and a rebounder. Now, if that's who you want to be, you're not coming to Kentucky. It ain't about 30 points. Now, you could get 30 points in two, three, four different games, just not going to average 30, got too many guys.
Q. Coach, you've mentioned the fan base and how passionate they are quite a few times over your career. This sounds crazy, but have you actually raised the expectations with this team to where you can't even lose a game? They expect you to be in the race, but now it's --
COACH CALIPARI: Well, if I have to deal with their expectations, I would be under the desk in a fetal position. So I don't worry. The expectations we have for ourselves on this team is within us. The only thing that I can be concerned with is us being at our best and us having each individual player being coached as though they're a starter being the best version of themselves, understanding what that looks like. We do a lot of video of them at their best. Here's what you look like at your best. I want them to visually see it over and over and over. If that's not good enough, I promise you I'll be fine. I told the players already, you do your best, you're -- if that's not good enough, I'll deal with the response, I'll deal with it. Because these kids right now, what they've done and how they've done it, it's been special.
Q. I'm sure you talked about guarding the 3 a little bit already, but specifically with big guys like Willie, Trey, how do you coach a huge guy to run at a smaller guy and be solid in it?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we practice it a lot but it's real simple. In the game, if you give up a 3, you're coming out. You say what you want, come over here. Next guy. I tried. You didn't try hard enough, you're out. You hold them accountable. The one thing I would tell you, I'm not afraid to coach these guys and tell them the truth and they all know that. They all want me to be real, be truthful. They don't want mind games, they don't want you to lie until you're real with them, then it's not so fun, then they'll say be real with somebody else. But the reality of it is you hold them to a standard. If you accept mediocrity, you're getting it every time. We just -- it's not acceptable here. This is how we play. Willie, Trey, Dakari, Karl, they can all do it. It's really hard. So when they do it in a game -- or do it in practice, I'll blow the whistle. What does that tell you guys? They can do it. Why would they choose not to do it? Because it's really hard. So if that's your choice, then you're not playing. You can do this, you're proving it right now you can do it. But what, it's really hard. Yeah, no kidding. What we're doing is very hard or everybody would be doing this.
Q. It's only been two years this program lost the NIT game to Robert Morris. I know the personnel is vastly different, but did that change approach, mentality, anything in this program coming out of that experience?
COACH CALIPARI: No. I mean, when Nerlens got hurt, it changed our team. We would have been an NCAA team that year with Nerlens. Nerlens ran into that stanchion that was on the court, and it changed our season and the direction of what we were doing. But no, look, when you lose -- we lost six guys the year before. Six went to the NBA. Even that team, two guys go to the NBA. But I don't think it changed what we did, we just -- it's one of those things you deal with. We didn't blame the kids, we took responsibility, I did personally. Still had two kids go in the first round, can you imagine? We lost to Robert Morris. I was on the west coast, a guy asked me, "Who did you lose to in the NIT?" "Robert Morris." "One guy?" "No, Robert Morris University, what are you talking about, one guy?"
Q. Coach, Coach Brey doesn't like to double down on bigs, he's done that all year. What have most teams done against you and what happens when they don't double down on your bigs?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I've seen them do both, I've seen them scramble, I've watched the North Carolina game a little bit, they'll dig, they'll get down in there, and if you bounce it, they'll leave and trap that way. They just don't automatically say we're going big to big. He just doesn't do it, but they do other things to kind of screw you up.
Q. You would anticipate a little bit more this time around?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, I would say, I would say.
Q. John, just clarification, when you were talking about Aliquipa and playing, was that as a player, was that as a camp organizer?
COACH CALIPARI: When I was in Aliquipa? Aliquipa, Monaca Center was when I was playing. You played on the outdoor courts. When the wind was blowing you had better shoot layups. Literally there were 60 guys there. If you lost, you went home.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CALIPARI: Listen to me, if the wind was blowing and you had to shoot layups and you had a break-out, you were getting run into the fence because that other guy didn't want to lose either because he had to go home but it taught you to play to win and figure it out or you could complain and say my fault and drive 40 minutes back to Moon Township. But we had a great bunch of guys that I played with: The Bill Mazers, the Mike Bartells, Tim Millers, Scott Turch has played -- I'm forgetting. Robert Tipper. We had a bunch of guys, Mike Bartells. We would all get together and jump in the car and go and play, and we became close through all that stuff, but it was a great time. I'll say it again, we went to each other's houses and ate there. If they weren't there, you still went in and ate. That's just how it was back there in Moon Township and Coraopolis and all that stuff where we were from. But it was a great time to learn about look, man, this is all of us doing this together and having the drive to try to win and knowing that if you work, the grind of it gives you the opportunity. You've got to love the grind, the day-to-day stuff.
MODERATOR: We would like to thank Coach Calipari for joining us.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports