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Wildcats Take Momentum to Music City for SEC Tournament




March 13, 2013

Following a dramatic 61-57 upset of No. 11/9 Florida in the regular season finale, the Kentucky Wildcats will be riding a wave of momentum into the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., this week. Freshman Archie Goodwin scored 16 points and had a career-high four steals in the victory to lead the way. Classmates Willie Cauley-Stein had four blocks and six rebounds, while Alex Poythress pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds to aide the cause. UK claimed the win to improve to 21-10 overall and 12-6 in league competition and claim the No. 2 overall seed. The Blue and White will face the winner of the No. 7 seed Arkansas and No. 10 seed Vanderbilt matchup on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Kentucky won both meetings against the Commodores this season, and dropped the lone matchup with the Razorbacks.

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SECT Quarterfinals
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Arkansas/No. 10 Vanderbilt
Fri., March 15 - 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville, Tenn.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | VU Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG
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Cat Scratches

  • Kentucky is in its 110th season of basketball.
  • Kentucky is the all-time NCAA leader in wins with 2,111.
  • Under the direction of John Calipari, the Wildcats are 26-4 (.867) in the month of March.
  • The Wildcats are 119-23 (.838) in the SEC Tournament and 11-1 in SEC Tournament games held in Nashville. The Cats have won three SEC Tournament titles (1984, 2001, 2010) in the Music City.
  • Former UK great Jamal Mashburn will represent UK as its "SEC Legend" this week in New Orleans.
  • UK SEC honors (League Coaches): Freshman of the Year - Nerlens Noel; Sixth Man of the Year - Kyle Wiltjer; Defensive Player of the Year - Nerlens Noel.
  • Noel was a first-team All-SEC and All-SEC Defensive team selection by league coaches. He was joined by Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress on the All-SEC Freshman team.

Media Opportunity - March 12, 2013

Head Coach John Calipari

On the season being a humbling experience ...
"It's a learning experience for me. It's going to make me a better coach for next year's team. Some of the stuff that went on that won't go on next year, holding the bar to a higher standard. We'll have enough guys that my bench is going to be my best friend. All of those kind of things that will come into play. You start to figure out why my teams have been so good for so long and can we now get this stuff going? Can we turn this? This is about when we did it two years ago, but those guys made an effort to listen, to say we're going to do what we're asked to do. We're going to play at another level. We're going to take it up a notch. We're going to really fight like heck and play to win. This group can do that same thing, but we'll see."

On Willie Cauley-Stein being unsure if UK has turned the corner this time ...
"I think there's (are) some guys in there that Willie doesn't trust. When they don't feel like playing, they don't play. We have a little bit of that. Again, if you had a bench, you could just sit guys. That guy wouldn't play, you could just sit him. This team has gone and done a lot of good stuff. At the end of the day, you look back with all that's happened to this team, to be where we are, second place, have the most wins against the top six teams, us and Florida. What? What just happened? Looking at guys playing and we're just hanging around, and that's what we want to do. The other side of it is, with what we were and where we were, it's pretty good stuff."

On how his team has come along this season ...
"They're still fighting how they have to play. At some point as a player you have to say my stuff isn't working and I'm dropping like a rock, so tell me exactly what you want me to do. That's hard. That's an experience. You just keep fighting. You keep dying and keep doing it. That has been an experience for these guys, having to be coached, having to have been called out, having to have been told you're wrong where they've never had it before. 'You're not working hard enough. You can do this.' 'This is the best I've got.' 'No, it isn't. You have more in there.' 'It's the best I've got, and if we lose the game, we lose the game. I'm not giving anything more.' Getting through all that kind of stuff and we're still young. You can have this team and next year's group on the same team. Now, all of a sudden your bench is your best friend, practices are at a level that are ridiculous, and my hope is that as we wind this down, we go to this tournament and next tournament that these guys say that enough is enough. And they hold each other accountable and they get each other to do what they need to do because this team's good enough. I still believe in this team. This team can do whatever they want, but you can't say, 'I want to do that, but I don't want to do this to get to that.' You can't. It doesn't work that way."

On what Calipari has learned about himself this year ...
"I thought I was too old to go through what I just went through, and I guess I'm not. When some guys were struggling, I said, 'I'm too old to go through that.' You know what? The one thing I have to say about this staff is no one quit on this team. No one quit on individual players. We kept trying to figure out ways, how do we get this turned? How do we get them to figure it out? Because at any point, I've been doing this long enough that it doesn't matter... Two years ago, Connecticut won the national title. They were 9-9 in their league. They were like an 11 seed in their tournament. And then they figured it out and guys started fighting and they started playing well. You can do this. This is one of those years. But you have to want to do it. And that has to be one of the most important things to you. Not how you're playing, how we're playing. That's part of what we're fighting to break through with this team. That's why I put out the post (on CoachCal.com). I didn't put out the post in response to anything else. I wanted my team to read what it means to be 'players' first.' That wasn't what that was about. I'm sitting there thinking of stuff and I said, 'You know what? I'm going to tell the team and I'm going to tell everybody so everybody understands what we're trying to get to.' This team, it's learning. It still wants to fight things and doesn't want to go the whole Monte. But they're getting closer. Yesterday's practice was good; one of our better practices. I'm anxious to see how we do today."

On comparing this team to the 2011 UConn team and who is his Kemba Walker ...
"Maybe It's Willie (Cauley-Stein), maybe Willie becomes the most dominating big guy in college basketball, makes a difference in every game and everybody else just does what they're supposed to do."

On Willie Cauley-Stein's game against Florida ...
"I think the staff told him that every time you came out you saw what happened. I had to play him with four fouls with 11 minutes to go. Why did you play your guy with four fouls? We wanted to win, didn't want to lose. I put him back in so we could win the game. Then if he fouled out I would figure out what to do to try to win the game. 'Well you should have let him out till four minutes to go, and been down 18 then put him back.' Good move, not bad. It entered my mind to do that. Not long, but it entered my mind. The question was almost like what question is that? Were you not watching the game?"

On players winning SEC awards ...
"They're being questioned across the country now. PTI (Pardon the Interruption) says you have no point guard, kid can't play. Says the recruiting were mistakes. I've had people, I won't tell you who they were, but they said those kids aren't good enough. All of the sudden you look at Alex (Poythress) and Archie (Goodwin) and say 'they say you're not good enough.' That's what happens when your team struggles. When your team does really good you don't even have to take the most shots, you can be the No. 1 and No. 2 pick. I've been trying to explain that all year, but I'm going to carve out my own niche. What happens is you start dropping like rocks. We have something to prove believe me. Individuals, as a team we have a lot to prove. I keep telling them 'let's worry about us, let's just play at our best and see what that means.'"

On Alex Poythress' potential ...
"He's okay, he's still got a ways to go to be what he's capable of being."

On Kyle Wiltjer winning SEC Sixth-Man of the Year ...
"Happy for him. They didn't take the voting in the last week I could tell you, but I'm happy for him. Maybe that inspires him to step up his play again."

On Nerlens Noel's surgery ...
"It went today. We haven't talked to him, but we will be getting updates. We will put them on CoachCal.com."

On trying new things this season ...
"I like winning more, and so I'm going to do everything to try to get the team across the finish line. As a coach you're doing everything that in your heart of hearts, in your bones, you know you normally wouldn't do or wouldn't accept or wouldn't even consider to try to get your team across the finish line. At the end of the season time to regroup, going back to how we do things. It was very hard. I had bloody lips going home biting my lips home many nights. My wife (was) like 'did you get in a fist fight?" No, I bit my lip for 25 minutes straight. This team can turn this on if they choose to. We were in practice yesterday and guys were going so hard. What does this prove to you? They can do it if they choose to do this. They just choose not to do it. Then by not choosing to do it they don't understand it's selfish. 'I don't shoot all the balls.' That's not what selfish is. Giving less than your best effort to cover for your teammate is selfish. When you're dealing with 18-19-year olds they don't even know this stuff. The teams I've had in the past, even with young kids, you have to have veterans that can tell them what to do. You have to have enough guys so you can sit guys on the bench. This team has that. I'll tell you who has been playing well Jon Hood. Jarrod Polson (is) giving everything he can. I'm comfortable going with Jon Hood. I may even play him at four some. He's been playing well. The great thing (is) we have a lot to prove. What do you want to be? How do you want to do it? We're going to do this together. We have a lot to prove. We're going up into an environment that's going to be a great testing ground for us. Here we go, let's see what we've done."

On being a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament ...
"That would have been tough (being a lower seed). Obviously in any tournament you're in, the higher seed you're in the better chances of winning the tournament. It's just how it is. Doesn't mean we're going to win it, doesn't mean you get to the finals. There are upsets every year in every tournament, but the percentages are in your favor if you're a higher seed. It's like the other tournament I tell you all the time the seed matters. When they act like well you're in don't worry about it, it matters. The higher the seed the higher your percentage chances of winning. It's just how it is. So teams right now, some team are fighting for the higher seeds, their coaches are right. Coaches get mad if they don't get the right seed, they're down a level or two, they're right to be mad because it affects what their team could do."

#15 Willie Cauley-Stein, F, Fr.

On how he feels going into the postseason ...
"I feel good. Yesterday's practice was really good. It was tough, but guys seemed to be in it mentally, more focused."

On how to make this latest turning point stick ...
"Focusing on what we've got do. It was good that Coach didn't back off yesterday in practice and is going to continue to push us through because he said last year, or in years past, that they would have had two days off instead of one day off. So it's good. It'll keep us in the right mind frame that we need to be in going into it."

On leaving no doubt about NCAA selection ...
"I mean, absolutely. We just need to go into the tournament with the mindset like we're not trying to get beat, like we want to win it, obviously, and keep it rolling."

On whether anything has told him UK is ready to make a postseason run ...
"I couldn't answer that now. I couldn't answer it now. We've been here before like this, so I'm not even going to try to answer right now."

What do you mean "been here before" ...
"I mean we've been where it seemed like we turned the turning point and reverted right back. So I just don't know."

On whether he and Archie Goodwin being vocal about how they played at Georgia affected things ...
"I mean, yeah. It definitely affected the game. When guys step up and do what they have to do, it just makes everybody else's job easier. We just played better."

On Alex Poythress being a mystery ...
"Alex is just--I don't feel like Alex knows yet. And Coach says you mature at different rates and I feel like he's just taking longer to mature. Alex is a great kid. He's not bad or anything, so it's just whether he wants to mature faster and listen and do what Coach is telling him to do. It's all up to Alex."

On whether Poythress saying he was disappointed in his own play is a sign of progress ...
"He's showing maturity in saying that he's wrong and not saying, 'Well, everybody else is wrong that's watching,' or, 'Coach is wrong.' He is stepping up and saying he's doing bad and he's the problem and stuff like that."

On how close Poythress was to playing the way he needs to play against Florida ...
"Alex is in spurts. He'll play like a beast in spurts and then I don't know what happens. It's not a beast though. And then there are some games where he's playing 25 minutes as a beast and then those are the games where we're beating people by 20."

On what he learned about his own importance from the Florida win ...
"Just defending and energy, that's where I feel like that's my spot on the floor is just energy and effort and making hustle points and just talking to everybody and loosening everybody up."

On why UK has seemed to turn the corner so many times ...
"I don't know. Guys relax or guys don't focus. I honestly don't know."

On what it takes to turn the corner once and for all ...
"Just listen to what Coach has to say because he's been through it for so many years. So that's something we don't get is the time that he's spent in this and preparing guys for it. We're fresh in the game; he's been there for a long time so we just have to listen and I don't think that's what we've been doing."

On whether he prefers playing Arkansas or Vanderbilt ...
"It don't matter who we play. We just have to focus about ourselves."

#33, Kyle Wiltjer, F, So.

On how he feels going into the SEC Tournament ...
"Very good. We had a great practice yesterday. Guys are working hard. We're just looking forward to the SEC Tournament."

On what was good about Monday's practice ...
"We practiced really hard, just like we played in the game. We really focused on defense yesterday. I think that's a key going into these two tournaments is just playing great defense, locking down and being a better team."

On what they need to do in the SEC Tournament to make sure they get in the NCAA Tournament ...
"Just take it one game at a time, play our best and then everything will take care of itself."

On how they prepare for two very different teams in Arkansas and Vanderbilt ...
"Coach Cal has just emphasized preparing for ourselves. That's going to be the biggest battle is just playing against ourselves and just becoming better, and then whoever we end up playing, just going over their sets and stuff like that just getting ready for the game."

On what he needs to do to get back on track ...
"I just keep working, doing the same things I've been doing. Getting in the gym more and getting more shots. Just stuff like that to stay positive."

On what he did earlier in the season to get out of a funk ...
"Same thing. Just working after practice, coming in at night, shooting. Just stuff like that. Just working hard at practice and just doing the same things but stepping it up a notch."

On it being hard to maintain the mentality that the next one is going in when you are struggling ...
"Yeah, it's always tough as a shooter. That's why you've just got to keep shooting and get yourself out of it in practice."

On how tough it is to put the chatter of the NCAA Tournament in the back of their minds ...
"A little bit, but Coach Cal does a great job of just thinking about ourselves and staying in the moment. We've been focusing on that all year. It's a lot easier."

On how big it was to beat Florida ...
"It was a huge confidence boost whenever you can compete with teams like that. It's something we had to show. We really made some big plays down the stretch there to get that win. We're proud of that."

On some guys needing to be against the wall to really change ...
"Yeah. Cal's emphasized when you're down, you've got to keep swimming and keep working hard, and that's what we've been doing, just bringing it every day and working hard no matter what the outcomes of the game were."

On the importance of keeping that mentality heading into the SEC Tournament ...
"It's very important. You've got to have confidence going into the tournament, so we've just got to keep that momentum."


 

 

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