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Kentucky Travels to Starkville to Face Mississippi State




Feb. 7, 2014

Cat Scratches: UK facing first second-time test at Mississippi State

Gameday
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Kentucky at Mississippi State
Saturday, Feb. 8 - 1:30 p.m. ET
Starkville, Miss.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader (Supplement Get Acrobat Reader) | MSU Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG
Live Video via WatchESPN
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It’s a unique experience in conference play, facing a rematch with a familiar opponent. This weekend, Kentucky will take on that challenge for the first time.

After taking down Mississippi State 85-63 on Jan. 8 -- exactly one month before the second round with the Bulldogs -- the Wildcats have reason to be confident.

“(The coaches) really haven’t told us anything special about it, but since it’s our first time playing a team twice we feel like we should be able to play just like last game because last game we played great,” freshman Dominique Hawkins said.

Hawkins is one of eight scholarship freshmen on the youngest team in the country, a fact that might cause some concern that the No. 18/14 Cats (17-5, 7-2 SEC) could overlook Mississippi State (13-6, 3-6 SEC), a team that has lost four in a row. UK, however, is on guard entering Saturday’s game at 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC TV).

“We definitely don’t want to do that because we know playing in the SEC anything can happen,” Hawkins said.

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Pregame Media Opportunity - February 7, 2014

Head Coach John Calipari

On playing Mississippi State for the second time …
“Well, they had a four-point lead on us and we didn’t get away from them until later in the second half. It’s a huge game there, sellout and everything else going on. It will be a hard game for us. It was a couple-point game with Florida there in the first half. They’re not going to walk away from us. This is a great challenge. They left our building saying we can beat these guys.”

On (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver’s wish to move the NBA-eligible rule to 20 years old …
“If you’ve been following me for the last four, five to seven years, I’ve been saying that it’s going to separate. The NCAA would separate. You’re going to get five or four leagues, 70 teams, 80 teams are going to go. And then I said that the two-year rule is the best way of doing this. Now, that being said, we need to do a better job of taking care of these kids. How we feed them, how we prepare them for that next step, how we ensure them. This will be an NBA thing, it won’t be an NCAA thing. If they’re going to be in college for two years, then we need to make sure the kids are going to be covered, that we’re preparing them. After two years, you’re going to have most of the players a year and a little bit more from a college degree. So academically, they’ll (be prepared) in every way.”

On if he changes his recruiting tactics if the new rule is implemented …
“There are going to be a lot of mad coaches out there if this thing changes.”

On why coaches would be mad if the new rule is implemented …
“Because I get these guys for two years, that’s why.”

On Mississippi State struggling offensively …
“I don’t know. Georgia was struggling, and they just got 90 at home (vs. LSU). We’re just trying to get better. Our team is zoning in a little bit better. They understand.”

On Julius Randle’s rebounding going down in SEC play …
“He’s the only player in college basketball being played by three different people and the other team will tell you they’re doing it. (Tennessee forward) Jeronne Maymon, who is one of the strongest kids you’ll play, at halftime, went to his team and said ‘look, I’m not even going to try and score. I’m just going to make sure he doesn’t get to the basket.’ That’s what they’re all doing. At the end of the day, he’s getting better. We’re trying to find different ways to play him, he is passing it out of traps quicker. He’s got a couple of things he needs to shore up, but that’s who I want on my team. He’s a winning player, he’s tough; he can make key baskets like he did down the stretch at Missouri even though he is getting fouled on just about every possession. There is whacking and body contact, and he looks at me and says ‘Coach, leave it alone.’ If I got on an official ‘Leave it alone.’ which is a good thing.” 

On UK as a team getting to the free throw line …
“We should. When you talk about one team shooting a lot of jumpers and we’re posting it and driving it, we should shoot it.”

On why Julius Randle has been to the foul line more often recently …
“They called the fouls.”

On the SEC so far this season …
“I was surprised that LSU lost, but that’s this league. Georgia went to Missouri and won. You know, this league is that way. Tennessee, I was surprised they lost to Vandy, but then you look around and Vandy has won five-straight games. So our win at Vandy is a pretty good win. Florida is just head-and-shoulders above everybody right now. I think they’re not only veteran players, but they’ve got talent. A combination of those, and those guys are a little bit above the rest of us. We got some time before we play them, but the rest of us are kind of lumped in there.”

On if parity in the conference is good …
“Yeah, it should be. It should be. It should be. And, you know, you got, again, you talk about leagues, you know, this league is right there with any of them and you go on the road and lose, it shouldn’t be season ending unless you’re going to do that with every league. ‘You lose on the road, you’re out.’ You know, that shouldn’t be just an SEC thing.”

On Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins saying they love playing on the road …
“Yeah, I mean we know it is going to be a t-shirt night, is it a t-shirt night? It is a t-shirt night. It’s a whiteout night. That’s surprising to me. But that’s what happens when we go on the road.”

On if there was anything in particular that led to his comments about being the most over-analyzed team …
“There are a lot of things I just feel like saying but what happens is, whatever I say, one, people know what my mind is, they know what I think. I don’t know how they know everything that I think. You know, it was funny, I leave mass this morning – and I’m praying for the team, praying for enemies and all that – so I’m leaving, a guy taps me and says, ‘I’m with you coach.’ I’m like, what? So I get in my car and I call DeWayne (Peevy), ‘hey DeWayne what’s out there?’ And he goes, ‘what are you paranoid?’ And I just bust out laughing, what are you talking about? What’s going on? So all I can tell you is, you throw a comment out, I don’t know, I mean was it on TV or was it on – what happened with it? Was it, what happened? Was there a lot of yelping? Guys tell me there was a lot of re-yelping. Like re-yelping. Like re-tweeting. Like the re-yelp. The re-tweet yelp. So whatever, if it stirs everybody up I’m fine. I mean, you know it will create some votes and all the other stuff but it is what it is.”

On if he actually thinks they are the most overanalyzed team in the history of sports …
“What I see going on is amazing, that I make a comment and it is all over the world. Worldwide. But that’s part of what playing here or coaching here is about. And let me say this, this, coaching here, I’m not saying it’s a problem. It’s not a problem for players. This has been the greatest five years of my life coaching here. I’m not saying it’s an issue but you all know I speak the truth. And I’ll say things, I speak the truth.  But it’s funny how guys know what my mind is. Like, ‘I know what he thinks.’ Really? I like to talk in parables and those who understand listen and the others don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. But it’s fun, a fun thing about being here. I mean, I think it’s prepared our players and it’s taken me to the beginning of February to convince these players that every team is against us, everybody is against us, Jerry (Tipton) is against us. It’s taken me that long but you know what? You guys have helped me. They now believe it and it’s made us play better. Alright, I gotta go to practice.”

#25, Dominique Hawkins, G, Fr.

On playing Mississippi State for the second time and whether there is anything special about that …
“(The coaches) really haven’t told us anything special about it, but since it’s our first time playing a team twice we feel like we should be able to play just like last game because last game we played great.”

On whether there is a danger of overlooking MSU …
“No, definitely don’t want to do that because we know playing in the SEC anything can happen.”

On his game …
“I feel like my game is improving every day in practice. Coming in, getting more shots and just doing the things I need to get better at. With my playing time I don’t have any problem with it as long as we’re winning. I know that other guys that get in the game, they do good and when they’re doing good they’re going to get more playing time. So I accept my role.”

On what coaches have told him about his decreased playing time …
“They really haven’t told me why, but I probably know why. Because Jarrod (Polson), he’s been playing really well and with him playing well he kind of gets more minutes than me. But I’m fine with it.”

On whether he will pass up shots like the last time UK played MSU …
“I’m definitely going to take those shots now. I’ve been getting in the gym, like I said, more and I have plenty more confidence.”

On being confident playing on the road …
“Going into the next two games, playing on the road, it really doesn’t bother me or the team as well because we just feel like it’s another game. But we know that all the fans are kind of against us when we’re on road games but I feel like that kind of makes us want to play harder once that happens.”

On what he has done to build confidence …
“Help my confidence, the coaches have been telling me, ‘Shoot the ball,’ and that’s given me great confidence. Even my teammates when they pass it to me, they’re telling me shoot if I’m open. I’ve been able to get in the lane and get a few shots in in practice and when I make shots it gives me more confidence.”

On whether they are thinking about Florida yet …
“We’re not thinking about Florida yet. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”

On his fall at Missouri …
“I went up for a layup on that one. I came down on my back and I bruised it up, but it should be fine now. I feel like I’m a hundred percent.”

On Calipari saying UK needs to “take care of business” and whether that’s the team’s approach …
“Yeah, definitely. If you come in and just take care of business you’re basically just doing your job and we know how good we can play. When we play like the way that we should play, we take care of business and get the win.”

On Jarrod Polson saying he enjoys road games …
“I agree with it one hundred percent because playing at your home it’s kind of a little bit more pressure on you because you’re supposed to do good and supposed to win the game. On the road everybody else is against you and booing you. It gives me more energy and I want to be able to play well on the road.”

On hostile SEC road atmospheres …
“Going into atmospheres on the road, I never experienced anything like this before and I think it’s insane how the fans are like yelling at us, telling us names that I never heard before. It’s just unique though how the fans come up with creative stuff just to try to mess with us and get in our heads. But we all just block it out of the way and just have fun and play.”

#3, Jarrod Polson, G, Sr.

On how they feel right now …
“We feel pretty good. We had a really good practice yesterday. Hopefully we can have another good one today before we travel down to Mississippi State and hope to get a ‘W’ down there.”

On what the difference is between a really good practice and just a normal practice …
“Focus is the biggest thing for us really. If we can have a really good and focused practice, that’s what we would call a really good practice. Guys were really in tune yesterday and going hard, so hopefully that will translate to the games.”

On playing at “The Hump” …
“Honestly, I don’t know. Their fans are pretty crazy down there. I remember two years ago the championship team had a really hard time down there too. Luckily we got that win. So their fans are really passionate down there and hopefully we can just kind of translate that out and get a W.”

On how much better they feel about being on the road after the win at Missouri …
“I think we feel pretty confident. I think, honestly, we kind of like to play on the road. It’s kind of just us against the world when we’re on the road, and we kind of like that, so we’re excited for the challenge and hopefully we can come out with a win.”

On his thoughts on playing a zone …
“I think it’s going pretty well. I think Cal likes it – not the whole game, of course – but I think he likes to put it in in spurts, maybe in foul trouble or something like that. I think we’re doing pretty well at it and we have really long athletes on our team, so it suits us pretty well.”

On whether this team is starting to jell …
“Yeah, I think so. That’s been the case in my four years here: It just takes a while to learn your role and really perfect that role, and I think guys are dealing a really good job of listening to Cal and translating that on to the practice floor and obviously into the games.”

On Mississippi State leading by four at halftime of the last game …
“I think if I remember right, they had a lot of dribble penetration. That’s one of the biggest things we’ve been working on as guards in practice is trying to cut off our man instead of letting (them) get by (us), because we know if we can cut off our man then Willie’s (Cauley-Stein) going to be down there or Dakari  (Johnson) or Marcus Lee to block the shot. As guards, that’s what we’re trying to focus on.”

On how Willie Cauley-Stein changes what they do defensively when he’s playing well …
“Willie’s kind of just the protective blanket for us guards really. Obviously if the guards let the man go right by him it’s going to be hard for Willie because they’re going to go right into him, but like I said, we have to kind of cut them off just enough to where Willie can be there and block the shot. And you guys saw it last game: He was unbelievable. So hopefully we can keep getting that presence out of him.”

On whether he feels like they are being over-analyzed …
“I don’t really know. I just know that we have the best fans in the world, so if that’s what they’re talking about, then sure, but I think that’s a good thing more than a bad thing.”

On whether he laughs when he hears about them being over-analyzed …
“Yeah, I mean, I guess so. People will find a story about anything. I don’t even know who said it or what. (Reporter: Cal). Oh, Cal said it? I don’t know if we’re over-analyzed, but we have the best fan base out of any team, so if you count that as over-analyzed, sure.”

On whether the criticism ever bothers them …
“Not really. We try not to pay attention to the bad stuff because that’s just not good for your mind.”

On whether there is anything different about playing an opponent a second time …
“Honestly, not really. Obviously we know a little bit about that team more than we would about a team we haven’t played yet, but as far as us goes, we go into every game the same way, worrying about us and executing, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do Saturday.”

On whether there is any concern with a young team overlooking a team they already beat …
“I don’t think so. I think they’ve already learned that any road game in the SEC is tough. Us veterans have told them: It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing; if you’re on the road in the SEC, it’s going to be a dogfight. So I think they know that, we know that and we’re going to be ready for the challenge.”

On how much they look at the SEC standings …
“Me? Not really at all. I don’t even know where we’re ranked at in the SEC, honestly. But honestly, I don’t think we worry about that and that’s good for us because honestly we’re just worried about ourselves and getting better.”

On whether winning the SEC is a goal …
“We want to win every game, so I guess that would be a goal in that case, just to win the SEC. But I think we’re more worried about us getting better every day than looking at the standings.”


 

 

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