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Kentucky Opens SEC Play, Hosts Mississippi State




Jan. 7, 2014

Cat Scratches: Cats trying to turn new off-court closeness into on-court success

Since they live together, practice together and work out together, it would seem a natural thing that basketball teammates would bond quickly with one another.

Not so, says John Calipari.

Gameday
Gameday Information
SEC Opener
Kentucky vs. Mississippi State
Wednesday, Jan. 8 - 8:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | MSU Get Acrobat Reader
Coverage
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG
Gameday Live: Live video, stats, audio, blog, and social media
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You see, for all the Wildcats share, they each still lead their own lives during the school year.

"When you're (in classes), everybody has their own schedule," Calipari said. "They all do. And so it's hard to say - they get up for breakfast, they really don't want to look at each other and go to class at 8."

But in Coach Cal's experience, that changes during the break between fall and spring semesters.

... read the full preview

Scouting the Bulldogs

Under the direction of second-year coach Rick Ray, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have opened the year to a 10-3 overall record and have won five of their last six outings.

Mississippi State has three players scoring in double-figures - all among the starting five. Guard Craig Sword leads the way with 14.3 points per game. Forward Gavin Ware pours in 11.2 points per game while also adding a teamhigh 8.9 rebounds per game.

Guard I.J. Ready has only suited up in nine games thus far and leads the team with 32 assists good for an average of 3.6 per game.

Series History vs. Mississippi State

Kentucky owns an 89-20 record in the all-time series, winning 11 of the last 13 and five-straight. The Wildcats are 45-5 all-time against the Bulldogs in Lexington including owning a 24-2 mark within Rupp Arena.

Close Games

Since 2001, the two teams have met 15 times with 12 of those contests being decided by nine or fewer points, including four overtime affairs.

Last Time vs. the Bulldogs

In the lone meeting of the season in 2012- 13, Kentucky claimed an 85-55 victory in Rupp Arena on Feb. 27, 2013.

Alex Poythress had 16 points and eight rebounds, while Willie Cauley-Stein chipped in with 12 points and six boards. Jarrod Polson added nine points and a team-high three assists, and Jon Hood contributed five points and a trio of rebounds in the victory.

SEC Openers vs. Mississippi State

Kentucky and Mississippi State have met in the SEC opener three other times in program history with the Bulldogs owning a 2-1 mark in such games.

The first came on Jan. 4, 1950 in Lexington with the Cats earning an 87-55 victory.

On Jan. 3, 1976, UK traveled to Starkville and lost 77-73. The last opener came on Jan. 5, 2002 in Starkville resulting in a 74-69 overtime victory for the Bulldogs.

Pregame Media Opportunity - January 7, 2014

Head Coach John Calipari

On if Willie Cauley-Stein is the team’s most irreplaceable player …
“Well, the one thing that I forgot is that we played with Alex (Poythress) and Julius (Randle) and we were really good, too. That makes you 6’9”, 6’8”, 6’7”, 6’6”, 6’6”, so as I said that, what I was doing is I was trying to challenge Dakari (Johnson) and Marcus (Lee) that ‘Hey, if we need you for 20 minutes can you do it?’ I know the other guys can. They’ve been better in practice. It’s been a good two weeks for them.”

On the team coming together without school and just basketball …
“Everybody has their own schedule. They all do. They get up for breakfast and they really don’t want to look at each other and go to class at eight. They come here after taking a nap, they get to the training room, maybe they talk, maybe they don’t, they practice, they go back to eat, but it’s a different setting. Every team I’ve coached has come together. Now, I don’t know what that means on the basketball court, but I do know they know each other better; they have a better feeling for each other. It starts there in my mind.”

On where he will see the team growth …
“Hopefully defensively. We just ratcheted it up a little bit. Hopefully we hold the ball less and if you have it, you’re a passer, and if you don’t, you’re a scorer, which means when you do catch the pass, you’re in attack mode or shooting mode and you’re not holding it. Hopefully they’ve learned that and they see the benefit from that. I think the other thing is the pace. There is a sequence to the game. We go, it’s not there, you don’t take a bad shot. You don’t just throw it to somebody to throw it. There is a sequence to how we play. I think we’re getting better at it. I think we’re getting better at pick-and-roll both defensively and offensively. We’re going to play a team that is a lot like Boise State. In other words, they’re playing at the 3-point line. That’s what they’re doing. You take it out on the side, and they’re going to play a 1-3-1 that will be spread out all over the court. They’re going to fly up and down, run a high-low offense or run some back screens to down screens. They do some really good stuff and they play good as a team. It’s a challenge for us. For us, it’s let’s see what steps we’ve taken and not playing, we may be rusty. We’ve played two games in 19 days. Think about that. And, two tough games. Now we have three games in seven days. We’ll see. Two of them are on the road, and two of them are in tough venues to win.”

What he wants to see besides a win …
“I just want to see that there is carryover. There are certain guys that are playing so well right now. Just go do it in the game. You have no reason now. We’re talking to some guys now that if you’re capable of doing this and you don’t do it, that’s mental. It has nothing to do with anything else.”

On who needs to translate their practice play into games …
“Alex (Poythress). We’re asking for a couple more baskets and a couple more rebounds from him. He is absolutely like ‘wow’. I’ve never seen him play like this. Ever. Now go do it in the games. Andrew (Harrison) is really in an attack mode. He’s down and ready before he catches the ball. Now go play that way. Dominique (Hawkins) does what he does and brings it on every possession until he can’t go anymore. Like I said, Marcus Lee and Derek (Willis), I want to try and make sure we keep them engaged. It’s hard to play 10 guys. It is. But those two deserve to be on the floor some.”

On the difficulty of changing the rotation in January …
“Here’s the thing that’s happened. If I had a team of juniors and seniors, there is no question that they would be in the game. You know the juniors and seniors. I’m still figuring out this group. We’ve changed how we run transition. So everything we’ve practiced for two months, we’re not doing that anymore. I didn’t like it. It didn’t fit this team, so we changed. If you have a veteran team, you can play nine or 10 guys. And then when you get to the real games, you’re down to eight. But, those other games, you’re playing nine, 10, 11 guys. But, you’re not playing them to see what they’re all about. You already know that. That’s the difference in coaching young teams. I’m going to say it again, this is the youngest team I’ve ever coached and I coach all young teams. They’re good kids. People say ‘Hey, how is it coaching so and so?’ I say this is the greatest group of kids I’ve ever coached. Their basketball habits are bad. Their responses to situations are bad. But, they’re great kids. We have not had an issue of anything. I mean, anything. But, their basketball habits stink. I mean, they’re just the worst. I’m telling you. But, they’re changing. I’m seeing it right before my eyes. If we can get them to where we need to have it, then it’s on. Right now, it’s still 'let’s see it in games.'”

On if he’s seen anyone taking charge off the court …
“I’m trying to teach everybody to lead, I’m not trying to teach one guy and then he’s the leader by himself. I’ve never done that and the reason is I’m responsible for a lot people’s children so if I’m being fair I’m teaching them all how to lead, what it means to lead. So at different points in the season, different guys lead, it’s just how it is. If I teach them all how to lead, some may stay in the background because that just don’t have it but at least they know what they have to do if it comes time for them to step up to the forefront and say, ‘I got this.’ So we’re trying to teach them all and if you think leaders are born, like, he’s just born a leader; well I haven’t met one yet. I mean everyone that I’ve had to coach or player that I’ve wanted to lead, I had to teach it, I had to be in the room, I had to get in the office, I had to do it in practice, I had to sit them down by themselves, tell them what it means, how to do it. Leadership is not you running around and us doing everything for you, that’s not what a leader is about. A lot of it is new to them.”

On Andrew Harrison’s bad habit of standing straight up and not moving enough …
“You should have seen him the other day, he went down and we threw him the ball and it was basket, dunk, assist, basket like four straight times when he didn’t have it, it came to him and he just blew by. We’re just like, we’re looking around like, wow, maybe he got it. Then about five minutes later he was standing straight up and down. Stop. You’re standing. Because he’s done it 18 years that way. See the reason I’m saying think pass when you have the ball and think score when you don’t have the ball it flips on them how they’ve always played. The way they’ve played, and this is every terrific high school player, I’m going to score this ball and if I can’t score it I’m going to throw it to you but before I do I’m going to take one more look to see if I can score this thing and then I’m going to throw it to you and when I throw it to you I’m going to look at you now, see if you do anything. The other way is, I have it, I’m a passer, when I don’t have it, I’m down ready to score now. It could be James Young learning that, we’re trying to teach Julius when you throw it out of the post or double team, repost. Just throw it out and repost. But they didn’t know, they didn’t know it, they didn’t do it. But they’re making strides.”

On telling the players to think pass when they have the ball and think score when they don’t …
“It’s not a mental trick; it’s just to get them to think different. I tell them all the time, I’m telling them to run blind and I mentioned this on my show last night. Run blind is like a football player who is a wide receiver that is not receiving the ball but runs his pattern like he is receiving. That’s running blind. So I’m trying to get these guys to run the wing, run the wing blind. Don’t jog like; well I don’t think I’m getting this one. And the big guy, run blind, fly and maybe you get the ball, maybe you don’t. That’s what we’re trying, those are just ways of getting them to think different than they’ve thought.”

On the players knowing they have a bull’s eye on them every night out …
“They’re figuring it out. Well, believe me, every game we play the other team is so jacked up to play us they can’t see straight. I was talking to (Belmont head coach) Rick Byrd the other day and he said, ‘the best game we played all year is against you guys.’ And he said, ‘we’ve come down, we’ve got to get it back up.’ But I’m laughing, every team we play, either they come in to play great and they’re emotionally ready, now we may take some game away from them because of how we play but the reality of it is it’s not based on them not being ready to play. But Dominique (Hawkins) has done well. He’s the typical guy that I’m trying to teach to have amnesia. Move on to the next play, it’s how he plays, he doesn’t worry about what he’s done, he’s just playing hard, he knows where he’s supposed to go and how hard he’s supposed to play. He defends. It’s been fun watching his growth.”

On everyone getting joy out of seeing Dominique Hawkins succeed …
“They like him because they know he works hard and he’s a great teammate, he’s about his team, he’s not about himself. ‘What do I have to do to help the team?’ He’s established his role and he does it well and everybody respects that. They respect that in him. I have some of the recruits that we’ve signed, hit me on the text saying, ‘I love Dominique’s game.’ So you’ve got everyone watching it and it’s a good lesson, when you come with energy and you come to compete, you know, you stand out. You just really do.”

On how the team was about getting the extra workout in before this recent break …
“They were OK, some of them, not all of them. You know, Alex (Poythress) smiled yesterday, did something, dunked on somebody, just grabbed the ball, went up and just, he was smiling and I stopped and I said, can you imagine, Alex is smiling. I said, ‘Did he smile at all last year?’ Coach (Orlando Antigua) said, ‘Yeah, when he was leaving the gym.’ It just takes time and every player is on their own timetable, it is. And you could say, ‘Well you’re letting,’ no, no, no. No. They’re all on different timetables, they get it at different places and we all. I just hope this team is getting it so we can move forward. I’m coaching more strategy and schemes and sequence than I’m coaching emotion, hustle, intensity, competitiveness. That stuff they need to bring every day, I need to coach basketball. What I was doing for two months in the other.”

#2, Aaron Harrison, G, Fr.

On the importance of Camp Cal ...
"It has definitely been really important. We all got to know each other going out to eat every night and spending a lot more time together. It definitely helped us off the court."

On what the team got out of the past two weeks on the court ...
"We definitely became a better team offensively and defensively. We just learned how to come together more as a team."

On how much of that togetherness started at the end of the Louisville game ...
"The Louisville game definitely opened our eyes to show us that we all need to play hard and everyone has to play together and buy in to win. That really helped our team confidence and helped us all around."

On if the team got closer during Camp Cal ...
"We definitely got closer."

On him telling the players when they have the ball think pass first but when they don't have it think shot ...
"Actually, that makes a lot of sense. It helps everyone be prepared to shoot and be prepared to play and score."

On if he had heard that before ...
"I hadn't, but after he said it and explained it, it made a lot of sense."

On how important the end of the Louisville game was to the team's confidence winning it without Julius Randle ...
"I mean, it was great for the team. We just played together really and it showed us that if we play together we can do a lot of things."

On if that taught them something about playing together with Julius Randle as well ...
"Yeah, it is really about the defensive end really. That is where we really have to play together helping each other out and talking a lot. That is the main part, I think."

On the importance of having the break before conference play ...
"It was really good for us to come together and we got to spend a lot of time together. It was really good for us as a team on the court and off the court to learn about each other and spend more time together."

On his thoughts on SEC play starting ...
"I am excited to get league play started. SEC is great basketball. So I am ready to get everything going."

On his reflections of the past 10 days ...
"Just getting myself in shape and better shape than I was and just becoming a better teammate."

On any mental improvements ...
"Nah, not really."

On what he means by being a better teammate ...
"Just making sure I am playing hard and making sure I am bringing energy to the team and definitely making sure I am not bringing down the energy level."

On his brother's play ...
"He is definitely coming along. He had a little slow start at the beginning of the year, but he is definitely coming along. You saw him in the past couple games playing very well. He created a lot of big shots against Louisville. He is playing well."

On if he felt he was seeing the guy he had played with all these years watching Andrew play against Louisville ...
"Yeah, I was happy for him and excited just for him to get that confidence that he always had back. I was happy for him."

 #5, Andrew Harrison, G, Fr.

On Coach Calipari telling them to think pass when you have the ball and think to score when you don’t …
“It’s weird, but we definitely understand where he’s coming from and what he means by it, just being ready and try to move to the open spot when you don’t have the ball.”

On what the team got out of the last 10 days of just practice …
“I think we became better as a team. More togetherness, just getting better defensively, talking more and all that stuff.”

On how eager he is to get back on the court and play a game …
“I’m very excited to play a game tomorrow. I’m just ready to see some new faces on the court.”

On being sick of practicing against each other …
“We’re not sick of it. It’s not over. But it’s definitely going to be fun to get out there against some new competition.”

On being tired of seeing Calipari in practice …
“Nah. It’s fun. You learn something new every day, so it’s fun.”

On the evolution of his game …
“I feel like I’ve done better, but I still have a long way to go. Really just being a leader, that’s what I’m really working on.”

On how important the time was they spent off the court the last two weeks …
“We all liked each other before, but now I think we’re all closer. We all talk and laugh like we didn’t do before. I think that’s very helpful.”

On why they’re talking more …
“I don’t know. We just started to talk more. We really had no choice. We really had no one to talk to besides each other.”

On where they’ve benefited the most on the court …
“I think we’re playing a lot harder, practicing a lot harder. The beginning of the season was pretty much a humbling experience and now we see how hard we have to work. At the same time, we still have a lot of talent on our team and I think the sky is the limit for us.”

On whether or not this is the first day he’s started thinking about Mississippi State …
“No, yesterday we watched some film and stuff like that. They’re a great team and we have to be ready for them.”

On the worst habit he’s had to break …
“Standing straight up, just looking at the ball, not moving without the ball and not being ready to shoot when I don’t have the ball.”

On what he’s learned about some of his teammates over the break that he didn’t know before …
“All of us are super talented. I knew that about everybody. Just seeing how willing we are to work hard and get better.”

On growing a beard …
“Oh no, I’m going to shave it. When my mom sees it she’s going to kill me.”

On whether or not he feels more in control of this team …
“Definitely, I think so. I think I’m starting to try to become a leader. Just being able to call my own plays and stuff like that without having to look at Coach every play, it’s just really knowing what I’m doing.”

On feeling like he could take charge at the end of the Louisville game …
“In those types of games, I always feel like we’re going to win even though we lost a few of those close games in the past. We have so much confidence that we know that no matter what, if we play hard it’s going to be a good game.”

On how the point guard position has been different in college than what he expected …
“It’s different. I’m not going to say it’s easier because you don’t have to do as much scoring-wise, but calling plays and stuff like that, not holding the ball as much, it’s tough sometimes.”


 

 

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