Kentucky Makes Record 50th NCAA Tournament Appearance
March 16, 2010
Kentucky Makes Record 50th NCAA Tournament Appearance
The Wildcats make their NCAA record 50th NCAA Tournament appearance after claiming the Southeastern Conference's automatic berth, winning the 2010 SEC Tournament.
UK posted a dramatic come-from-behind 75-74 overtime win over Mississippi State in the championship for the program's 26th SEC Tournament championship.
DeMarcus Cousins recorded his 20th double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, including the game-tying shot in regulation.
Fellow freshman John Wall finished with 17 points - seven in overtime - nine assists, six rebounds and five steals earning tournament MVP honors.
Freshman Eric Bledsoe led the Wildcats with 18 points including executing a perfect missed free throw play with five seconds left that helped lead to Cousins' game-tying heroics.
Patrick Patterson, who was celebrating his birthday, finished with 15 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocks.
Cat Scratches: UK has been building for this tourney run for a long time
The 2010 NCAA Tournament has been in motion for a long time for the Kentucky Wildcats.
When Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart hired head coach John Calipari on March 31, he had an eye on the next March. When John Wall signed with UK just weeks later, he did so to win a national championship. And when Patrick Patterson decided to return to Lexington for his junior season, he did so to take the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career.
Now he's making sure he doesn't miss a moment of it.
To ensure he didn't miss the Big Dance because of any unforeseen accidents, Patterson surrounded himself in an imaginary safety bubble. The only time he left the Wildcat Lodge was to eat and practice. When he did leave, it was by two feet and not the four wheels of a car... Read the Full Story
Pregame Press Conference
Transcript courtesy of the NCAA
Questions for the student athletes.
Q. First, you're a guy who has been in the program for a while. Can you just kind of describe the culture change when Coach Calipari came in and made the change? Can you also comment on just the addition of John to the program? What are some of the things you see about his game, some of the things you like, some of the things you might even change?
Patrick Patterson: As far as Coach Calipari coming to the program, that was a huge, drastic change. Just a total is 180 degree change. Being used to the style of play I've been playing for two years at the university. Low postman, just the fans, you know, their attitude that they had with us.
When Coach Calipari came in and the type of success that he's had in his past and what they thought he could do in the future, the fans were more active, more into it, more energized.
Myself, I seem to be more happy, to just have more fun and look forward to playing basketball now. Especially with the recruits and the team that we possibly could have, and the type of run that we could make in the future. I was looking toward the future and what we could have.
As far as John, he's a phenomenal athlete, phenomenal player. He has a tremendous basketball IQ. He always wants the ball in his hands in crunch time situations. He's a tremendous leader, tremendous person. He's just a great guy to be around.
Q. No one knows at this point what's going to happen next year. But you've got this tournament now in front of you. How do you approach the next three weeks and what are your goals? How are you taking this right now?
John Wall: I'm taking this like this is the final step for us as a team together, you know. It's our goal, we had a goal to win a national championship, and we're not guaranteeing it to nobody and no fans and saying it's going to be easy. But we're trying to be each other's brother's keeper, and try to find our way and hopefully win a national championship.
This is a big step for my and my teammates together. We've just been fighting and all the hard work we've been through and stuff Coach Cal put us through, and us combining and getting a whole new coaching staff and the six recruits and seven returning players, to come in and make it to the tournament, we want to make something special out of it.
Q. As you go from stage to stage, regular season game, conference game, conference tournament, has there been more anxiety for you, a little bit of nervousness or anything?
John Wall: Yeah, I think when the SEC Tournament started I was a little nervous because it's the postseason. It's close to the end of the season. The regular season went by smooth, and the SEC Tournament went and got pretty good, you know.
It's another big stage. It's your last final step to leave your mark for the season with your teammates and try to win a national championship and bring it back to the school, Kentucky. So it was nervousness, but once the ball tips off on, the nervousness goes away and you just go out and play basketball.
Q. I'm sure you guys have heard that no No. 1 seed has ever lost to a 16 seed. Does that put any pressure on you guys or does that enter your mind at all going into the game tomorrow?
John Wall: Yeah, it enters your mind. You don't want to be the first school to lose to a 16 seed. But we're just going in, listening to everything Coach is telling us preparing for the game. Not overlooking no team. You never know what could happen. They could come out and hit a lot of shots and they might get the lead and feel confident.
We've just got to go out and play basketball like we've been doing this whole season, and don't overlook no team.
Q. This is your first NCAA Tournament. You've been at Kentucky three years. How have you approached it, and what are your feelings as you're getting ready to play your first game?
Patrick Patterson: Feelings right now, I'm just anxious. Ready to throw the ball up, ready to tip off and have fun with my teammates on the court. Freshman year I wasn't able to participate. Had surgery on my ankle so I wasn't able to play. It was something I've always dreamed of, something I've always wanted to do.
Finally to have such a successful team and having so much fun and being around a great bunch of guys and the type of family and brotherhood that we have with each other, it just transfers over onto the court.
We all have a lot of fun with each other on the court. We just feed off each other's energy. So to be able to go into a game like that, we all just want to have fun.
As far as it being my first time, it's a lot of people's first time on this team. So we just have to listen to Coach and just go out there and play.
Q. You guys have had a number of close games in overtime games where your freshmen have come through at the end. What is it about this group of freshmen that's allowed them to take on such a big role in those pressure situations?
Patrick Patterson: They don't play like freshmen. People say they're freshmen, they're immature, inexperienced, but they don't play like it. They play like veterans.
Out there on the court, they want the ball in crunch time situations and they always seem to make the play whenever we need a stop on the defensive end or rebound or even a basket. They want the ball. More than not, they always score.
So they don't play like freshmen. They play like veterans. They play like they've been through it before. They play like they know what to do in order to get the win.
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari.
A few thoughts on your preparations as you get ready for your game tomorrow, and then we'll take questions.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I think we all know I've got the youngest team in the field. Inexperienced, not a whole lot of NCAA experience, if any. Of our top eight we have no NCAA experience. Yet, just a great group of young people. They care about one another. They love one another. They joke with each other. They've got nicknames for each other.
The veterans respect the young kids. The young kids respect the veterans. I've done this a long time, and it's special when you have this. Yet we're so inexperienced it's kind of scary.
But they're loving each other, and loving on each other. And I'm loving them. It's just they're a good group.
Q. Having said that, you've brought a lot of highly seeded teams into the tournament. When you're expected to stick around for a while, how are your expectations for the first round maybe different than the typical survive and advance mentality?
COACH CALIPARI: When you have a team this young, you're in the survive and advance mode. What we're talking about and the message I've given the team land the plane. Land the turbulence. There's storm, there's lightning, people drinking their "Hater Ade" and coming at you. There are going to be things written and said. It's all coming at you. Land the plane. Survive and advance.
That's all we're thinking about. We're not worried about score and who scores and what. Just land the plane and move on. Including East Tennessee State, who can beat us.
Q. Can you talk about the freshmen you have, and how they've helped return Kentucky back to national prominence?
COACH CALIPARI: We've got five freshmen. Jon Hood hasn't had the opportunity that the other four have had. But all four of the other players are terrific talents, good people, smart basketball players and students, and they drive our team.
Yet we have veteran players like a Patrick Patterson, who, if he wanted to say "it's my team and I'm taking all the shots," he could have said that. He doesn't say it. He's scoring a little bit less. He's rebounding a little bit less than a year ago, yet his stock has gone through the roof, which is a great thing for coaches, all of us to say you can do less yet be more valuable to yourself and your team.
But the freshmen, you know, adding them to this team, it's been, you know, a boost. It's given us what we've needed to get to that next level.
Q. Obviously you've had some experience with this the last couple of years. But is it difficult to turn and to put the ball in the hands of a freshman point guard? Is there a common thread between Derrick and Tyreke and John as far as competitiveness or basketball IQ or that kind of thing?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me start by saying it's not hard if they're that good (smiling). But the second part of it would be this all three of those players are gym rats. They love being in the gym. John Wall works harder in practice than anybody we have. He's the hardest worker in the weight room. He's also the student with the highest grade point average. Doesn't miss a class, doesn't miss a tutorial. They're all driven to be special. All three of them.
But they're all three different. People ask me to compare them. They're different. People ask me who I like the most. I love them all, yet they're all special in their own right and they're all going to be great at what they do because they want to be great. They don't want to be just another guy.
But it's been a fun experience coaching John. I had a ball with Derrick and Tyreke. They still call, I call them. You know. It's just I've been blessed. Let me say this: That my best players have been good guys.
Q. You mentioned before about the possibility that East Tennessee State could beat you. I wonder if Sam Houston State, especially being here, is an example that you can or would or have brought up to your guys?
COACH CALIPARI: I just saw Bob in the hallway and I said, "You made 19 threes." He said, "We made 18, but I had one guy make 11." He still remembered the game. And Sam Houston had us beat. Miami of Ohio had us beat. Stanford had it. You want me to go through those again? I can do that. We've been on the ropes many times. Mississippi State had us beat in overtime twice.
So we find a way to win. The kids refuse to lose. They have all that stuff, that will to win. Yet I think what you do is try to shorten the game. You try to hope you're making threes and that we make no threes. That's how everybody's played us all year.
So I would imagine every team we play will play us somewhat like that.
Q. When you brought your team here three years ago, Memphis team I'm talking now, same two rounds, you took your team on a tour around the city. Anything similar this time?
COACH CALIPARI: I thought about it as the plane landed to go around to some of the areas. We've got I saw Donnie who was one of the policemen who took us around, the sheriff's with us that took us around to some of the different areas where the levee broke, which were amazing things. But as we landed, I thought about it.
We got here late last night and it's kind of moving quickly, so we may be have time. Maybe try to do it in between today and the game if we have time. But, yeah, this is a story in itself, this city.
I also asked how is everything going? And all I can tell you is everybody's ecstatic. The Super Bowl changed things. Now they have all these other events coming in. Next year they have this. It's exciting, because I love this city. I've always had fun down here. It's been one of the great venues for a Final Four. Maybe thee best. San Antonio right there with it, Indianapolis there with it. But I would say New Orleans is one of those places.
So we're happy to be here and just happy to see the city rebounding like it is.
Q. When you've had the type season you've had and the high seeding and the wins, is it from your perspective, is it hard not to think "we should be in the Final Four" or "Final Four or bust" type thing?
COACH CALIPARI: You've never coached before, I take it. This thing when you're in this tournament, anything can happen and it does.
At some point a 1 is going to get beat by a 16. I just hope it's not here in New Orleans, but it's going to happen. The 2, we had Roburt Sallie had to score 35 points for us to beat a 15 last year. If he doesn't score 35, we lose to the 15. It can happen.
There are teams tired. There are teams having issues right now, even if they're highly seeded. There are other teams that are on a rise and they're moving in the right direction. When you start playing, you start figuring out.
And all of us coaches are trying to do I would say if you're coaching for this tournament, everything is geared towards playing your best right now. You have this weekend, if you're good enough to move on to another weekend and then one more, can you get your guys playing their best? That's all we're thinking.
Right now, until we step on that floor tomorrow, I have no idea. Plus, we're so young. We have no NCAA experience. No one's played in an NCAA game that are in our top eight guys.
So I'm just worried about let's see how we are, let's make adjustments as the game goes on on, let's see how good East Tennessee State is and how well they're playing, and let's figure out how we can land the plane. Just land it. Even if it's bumpy. Just get on on the ground. That's what we'll try to do.
Q. Can you explain where you came up with that metaphor?
COACH CALIPARI: I was talking to a coaching friend of mine. And I do this, I'll talk to four or five different guys. And I'll get stuff and they're always guys that I talk to when I'm getting ready for an NCAA Tournament run. Give me stuff.
The guy that told me may be embarrassed if I tell you, so I'm not going to tell you who it is. But his thing was and Chuck Daly had said it. And it came from Chuck Daly. Chuck had said when things are crazy and, again, anything can happen to try to separate your team. It can be people say or do or write or do anything to try to break things down. You just say those are the turbulence. Those are the wind shear. That's all that stuff. But you've just got to land the plane.
In this tournament, that's all you're thinking about. Get this thing on the ground, and let's go from there.
Q. I was looking at one of the books that this school put together. On the back cover there is LeBron James, and there is Magic Johnson, and there's 2000 wins and so many emotional kind of peaks as the season has gone on. Have you been at all surprised at the way things have ballooned around the program with the fan response? I hear you tell them all the time "you people are crazy"
COACH CALIPARI: They are crazy.
Q. Just talk about the trip, the flight itself to this point?
COACH CALIPARI: You know what, when you're going through it, you're just throwing things at me that bring mental pictures to my mind. But we're just trying to play East Tennessee State. When this thing is over, done, I'll sit down and think back a little bit.
Now, it won't be long because I've got to go recruit. We've got to get guys. So it will be boom. Then maybe in May, June, I'll have time to think about what we just did. But right now it's all about tomorrow. It's about let's make sure these guys are in the right frame of mind.
Q. The only two players that has any NCAA experience are Ramon and Perry. And they were pretty much forgotten down the SEC stretch. But you had to call on both of them last week in the SEC Tournament.
COACH CALIPARI: And they played well. They played well.
Q. What do you expect from them from here on?
COACH CALIPARI: I think we can count on them. I think the advantage we have over most teams is when you talk about our ninth and tenth player at this point are Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris, they're two starters from this team a year ago. They're both athletic, they're long, they're smart, they're tough.
I'll tell you, Perry has been playing really well. Hadn't been real fair with Ramon, because the other guys that played well hadn't given him much minutes. When I do, it's not enough to let him get going.
I made a statement to him, I've got to leave you in there for four straight minutes. I'm going to just leave you in. Because it's not fair putting you in for a minute or two and taking you out, because you can't get anything going. But both of them in the SEC Tournament were a big factor why we won the tournament.
Q. First, on Selection Sunday there were reports out of Kentucky that gave a lot of people the impression that maybe you thought the bracket wasn't ideal for you guys. I don't know if that's --
COACH CALIPARI: I said that?
Q. Maybe some of the players or whatever. Just that it was a very tough road to the Final Four. I don't know if that was true or if it's evolved over the last few days. The second, I was wondering if you could help me on this thing. Have you heard what the U.S. Secretary of Education has been saying about this if teams don't graduate 40 percent of their players they shouldn't be allowed in the NCAA Tournament? And I wondered what you thought of that?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I don't know, you know exactly what if kids leave early or go pro. I don't know all the particulars of what he's saying. But we're about academic standards. We graduated 80 percent of our players at Massachusetts. We graduated 19 of our last 23 players at Memphis. We're going to graduate three seniors on this team, and we're going to have a junior that's going to graduate this year. So, academically, I'm all about that.
How they do it, though, you've got to be careful. Because of kids transferring or kids going pro early or how do you do it and all of those things. The APR, we were at 1,000 percent the first term. Kentucky last year got one of the awards for one of the highest academic programs in the country.
So, you know, however they do it, they just have to be careful that you include all the stuff that we have to deal with. What was your other question?
Q. About the bracket being kind of tough for you guys going in.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I would tell you that when we looked at it, I call Sunday "Complaining Sunday" for all coaches. Your bracket's too tough, your seed's too low. Why am I in with this guy? We all do it. Every coach. Then you move on to Monday and figure out how do we advance? How do we play this one team and how do we do it?
But I think all the brackets are hard. Some may be harder than others. This guy may say this bracket's hard, this guy may say that bracket. Oh, this is really easy. There is no easy road to Indianapolis. Don't let anybody tell you there is an easy road. There is none. They're all hard.
Now, there are some may be harder. But the teams that are going to make it harder may get beat. So all of a sudden this guy looked like he had the toughest road, it happened to us three years ago. Arkansas got beat. Then Pitt got beat. We ended up playing Bucknell and Bradley to get to the Elite Eight. We had the toughest road of anybody.
It didn't turn out that tough because and no disrespect for those two programs. But Pitt and Arkansas were the teams we thought we were going to have to face. We didn't face them.
So you don't know. After you complain on Sunday, you're done. Now we play the games. No more complaining. And I think all the coaches are the same like that. But I also think they all complain on Sunday.
Q. How important is that 3 spot for you guys in order to make a run? You have guys like Darius, Darnell, Ramon, DeAndre right there?
COACH CALIPARI: That position just defensively and rebounding is vital. We're not a three point shooting team. If we make threes, there will be a pretty big gap, a la playing Tennessee. We go 2 for 22 up at Tennessee. And it's 65 65 with two minutes to go. We make 8of22 in the SEC Tournament, we win by 30.
So you can get that gap, but we're not a three point shooting team. That's not why we win or lose. It will be our defense, our rebounding, our team play. Our assists. How we play inside. Do we score in the post? There are other things.
Now I'd like us to make threes. We're a good three point shooting team. We're at 34 or 35 percent. That's not bad. But there will be games, certain games where we won't make shots and we'll just deal with it.
Q. DeAndre Liggins is a local kid for us. Can you talk about him this year?
COACH CALIPARI: Early on on I wasn't playing him much. As a matter of fact, I didn't play him at all. And he came back and played so well for us. He was the energy off the bench. There were people in our state screaming for me to start him.
The reason I didn't start him is I felt we needed his energy off the bench. We need that from him in this tournament. It's not the fabulous play, the scoring and all. He can do that. It's that energy, the clapping on defense, and then guarding the ball. There is no such thing when he's playing right as a 50 50 ball. He gets them all. There is no 50 50. He gets them.
When he's playing that way, man, are we good. Because he gives us one more athletic defender. The last two weeks he's been kind of shaky. He hasn't played as well. But I'm doing everything I can to get him back to that and I'm hoping. But it's hard because this stuff is mental more than anything else.
So we need him. He knows that. He's trying. And he's a wonderful kid. I had people call. Larry Brown called me and said "I love Liggins." This is the coach of the Bobcats. Said "I absolutely love that kid." He knows he can guard a one, two or a three. He's skilled, so he's important to us.
Q. What is your relationship with the Bartow family?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, Coach Bartow has always treated me like family. And, I mean, over the years he's always done that. And he and his wife have been so kind to me. Then all of a sudden I go to Memphis and now he's working with the Grizzlies and we really got together to spend time.
I talk to Coach probably about once a week, once every ten days. So when I saw the draw, my first call was Coach Bartow, and I talked to his wife. I said, "Can you imagine?" Then he called me back and he said, "Coach, I root for you every game. But I'm not rooting for you this game." (Smiling.) You know, he'll be here. He and his wife will be here. He's just one of the wonderful coaches who coach this sport. Who did it at different schools and did it right, and did it with good people and won. They named the gym after him. I mean, that's what a good man he is.
He's a dear friend and mentor, but he's also going to be on the other side for this game, I imagine (smiling).