Kentucky Meets Wichita State for Sweet 16 Berth
March 22, 2014
Cat Scratches: Cats confident with or without Andrew Harrison
ST. LOUIS -- Kentucky and Wichita State are set to face off in the most anticipated game of the round of 32.
CBS has its top announcing crew in town for the showdown between the team that was supposed to be unbeaten and the one that actually is. National media members from every outlet have descended on St. Louis ready to add to the hype.
But on Friday, the status of one of the key players in the matchup was thrown into doubt when Andrew Harrison went down with a right elbow injury in the final minutes against Kansas State.
As much as the powers that be may want both sides at full strength for the made-for-TV matchup, the NCAA Tournament stops for no man.
"Will they postpone the game for a little while so he will get healthy?" John Calipari said, drawing laughs. "Or do we have to play? We probably got to play."
Andrew Harrison is officially listed as day-to-day as of Saturday evening, marking no change from the wee hours of the morning following UK's second-round victory. But after a night of treatment, the freshman point guard is in significantly less pain, though still stiff.
Pregame Media Opportunity - March 22, 2014
Q. Andrew, how is your elbow? If you could just talk about what you had to go through since last night, what you have done with it.
Andrew Harrison: It is some pain, I have just been icing it. Our coach has been taking good care of me and just going day by day.
Q. Willie, we spent some time the other day talking about your interest in the KU-K-State game when were you growing up. What did you know about Wichita State growing up?
Willie Cauley-Stein: You know, I didn't really know a lot about them. I knew who they were, but I didn't really pay attention like that growing up.
Q. I feel like all season you guys had a target on your back. What is it like to come in sort of being an underdog?
Alex Poythress: It just comes to knowing that somebody has to be the underdog but at the end of the day you still have to play the game. It doesn't really matter, everybody is 0-0 at this point, you know.
Q. This question for Willie. It's kind of bouncing off of players. There may not be a Wichita State connection, but you played AAU ball against Ron Baker and he was talking about that a little bit in the locker room. Also your mother and Ron's mother played college basketball together at St. Mary's of the Plains, I don't know if you knew that or not. Ron was talking about it a little bit. How special is it for the connection? It is weird, right? How special is that western Kansas connection a little bit from your roots up to now?
Willie Cauley-Stein: I mean, it's a small world. I would expect something like that to come from southwestern Kansas because everybody really knows everybody.
And you know, it is just kind of cool that we share that type of connection and then we're both here and both, you know, experiencing one of our biggest dreams, playing in the NCAA Tournament. And why not do it together?
Q. Andrew, maybe just expand. Are you expecting to play tomorrow at this time?
Andrew Harrison: Yes, sir.
Q. Were you able to practice today?
Andrew Harrison: We haven't practiced yet.
Q. Are you going to practice?
Andrew Harrison: Coach has told me to do whatever I can do. So I am going to go out there and do whatever I can.
Q. Who is the key match-up for you when it comes to facing Kansas State and what have the coaches drilled down on dealing with Baker, Early and --
Dakari Johnson: We all know that they are a good team. It's going to be our whole team is going to have to play well defensively against them because they move the ball and share the ball a lot. And it will have to be a good team effort for us. We know they have a lot of great players and there is not really a key match-up, we will have to play well defensively as a team.
Q. I don't know if any of the other players want to expound on that.
Andrew Harrison: Like Dakari said, it will be a team effort. We all know we're going to have to play our game, but at the same time it's a team game. Team defense wins, that's what we're going to do.
Q. For Willie. As much attention and focus as a Kentucky program gets daily, what do you imagine it is like to be undefeated at this stage of the season and how much additional burden does it place on you?
Willie Cauley-Stein: It depends how you take it. You know, Wichita State has a bunch of swagger right now going into this game, being undefeated and being as good as they are defensively and offensively. So you know they have a bunch of swagger with them and they are probably not really even thinking about their record. They're probably just going step-by-step, game by game. That's the way you really got to approach it.
Q. For any of the players. Does the fact that Wichita State's unbeaten 35-0 provide any extra motivation for you guys at all? Is that streak on your mind at all, trying to end that?
Alex Poythress: No. At the end of the day, like I said earlier, the record is 0-0. It is the NCAA Tournament, the records don't mean nothing anymore. You still have to play each other. Just survive and advance at this point right now.
Dakari Johnson: Yeah, it is not really one of our goals just to focus on that. It's just going to be a regular game and we have to fight to pull out the win. So we just have to look at it that way.
Q. Willie, one of the Wichita State players said in the locker room that if you get caught up in trying to prove a point, and I guess they could have one to prove against you guys to validate their success, that's when you stumble. Do you guys also have to be leery of that going into this game, thinking about people talking about streaks or proving something against the undefeated team?
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think for us we're not really trying to prove anything, we're just trying to play the best to our ability and just play hard like, you know, our Kryptonite is playing hard. And now that we are starting to do that, that's basically what we are focusing on, playing through 40 minutes hard and playing defense like we've been playing. And, you know, it's going to be a good match-up and a good test for us.
Q. Any of the players can answer this. Is there a particular thing you need to take away from Wichita State tomorrow? Is there a position on the floor, a shot, is there something particular that you have been looking at doing? Or is it just the team rebounding and team play?
Andrew Harrison: Coach talked about transition, getting back in transition. Making sure we make them take tough shots and not let them get too many easy buckets. And that's one thing we have to focus on.
Q. I got one for Andrew and Dakari. Were there any jitters playing in your first NCAA Tournament game last night? Is there anything you took away from the experience that you think will help you against Wichita State?
Dakari Johnson: Yeah, there were a little bit of nerves going around for me. But I'm just glad I got my first NCAA game under my belt and just to be more comfortable from now on.
Andrew Harrison: Oh, yeah, for me I was a little nervous, as you could see. I almost air balled my first free throw. So I mean after that I started sweating a little bit, it is just like any other game.
Q. Well, they talked about all of the things that they learned from having experience as college basketball players. This is obviously the first NCAA Tournament for all of you. You played one full year of college basketball. You learn more I would assume in your sophomore, junior and senior year.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Yeah, I mean experience -- the more games you play the more you're going to learn about your team and what kind of stuff you go through. And you know, it is a roller coaster ride. And I mean that's -- we've been through it this year and I think we as a team has learned a lot and for them only time's going to obviously make you learn more stuff.
Q. For Willie and Dakari. Could you just talk a little bit about what you know about Wichita State's inside play?
Dakari Johnson: We know that their 4-man is very versatile. He can step out and shoot. And the other rebounder is very physical and they crash the boards a lot. So we will have to do a good job in blocking them out and stuff like that.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Like Dakari said, we were told their 4-man is basically a 3-2 instead of a 3-4. And you know that they are really aggressive in the paint. They look to score every time they touch it in the paint.
You know, that's going to be a test on me and him because, you know, a lot of times people that we play don't really, you know, once they get it in there they kind of see our size and then they throw it out. In this case it's not going to be like that because they are super aggressive when it comes to scoring in the paint.
Q. This is for any of you guys. If you weren't in this game as a basketball fan is this the sort of match-up in the NCAA that you'd say, okay, I am going to make sure I am going to be in front of the TV to watch this game, and why?
Andrew Harrison: Definitely. Two great teams matching up. I mean why not, this is basketball, it is what you dream of as a kid, the NCAA Tournament. Playing on one team. So it should be fun.
Alex Poythress: At this point if you are a basketball fan you would be tuned into all the games. Every game is a great match-up. Anything can happen, to see what is crazy, like last-minute plays, last-second shots. You know, people coming back from down 20. And something you love to watch as a basketball fan.
Q. I'm just curious how much you've seen of them. Have you seen a full game? Have you seen just tape? SportsCenter highlights? Give me a sense of your exposure.
Willie Cauley-Stein: We haven't really prepared or watched them prior to this morning. You know, we were worried about going game by game and, you know, we looked at them a little bit this morning. They're a really good team. They all play well together. They have been together for awhile and I mean they're just the ideal, you know, team that people talk about.
Q. For any of the players, specifically Willie. A lot of eyes are going to be on the match-up between Julius and Cleanthony Early. How do you see the match-up going? How important do you think it is?
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think that, you know, can't really get caught up in one-on-one match-ups. Not one player's going to kill you, it's a team effort really. And we do so much switching he's not going to be the only one on him. Everybody is probably going to have to guard him at some point. And I mean it's really just a team effort.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, gentlemen, thank you very much.
The head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari.
COACH CALIPARI: We're happy we're still playing. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q. Could you give us an update on Andrew's arm?
COACH CALIPARI: You know, I think he's going to be all right, but we got to prepare as though something -- what happens if he doesn't play, what happens if he is 70% and we don't feel we should play him. And we just have to prepare, but he looks good. I think he'll be fine, but you know.
Q. Coach, I'm sure there's a lot of enticement for this game, but is their 35-0 record at all mentioned by you as motivation?
COACH CALIPARI: No. I mean they -- at this point I just don't want my team to make this game bigger than it is. It's a basketball game. We've been getting better. Our team has improved, individual players improved. We improved defensively, we're sharing the ball more.
We still do some things that we get in the huddle, why'd you do that? I don't know. We still have that answer a little bit.
But, you know, we just don't want to make it bigger than it is. It's an NCAA Tournament game against an outstanding team that's well coached, that plays extremely hard, that has a great will to win. Has been in close games and then just made play after play after play to get it back to 12, 13. They're good.
Q. What have you thought of Julius' freshman year? He obviously came in with a lot of hype. How do you think he fared in his first play?
COACH CALIPARI: He is a guy that is still trying to find who he is as a player. And I was trying to help him and didn't do a very good job until hopefully now, trying to get him to figure out exactly how he needs to play to have success both for himself and his team.
But when you look at the numbers and what he's done, our strength of schedule was number two in the country, which means he played against the best. And he's out there with a bunch of other freshmen.
You know, it is hard to help each other when you are trying to figure out how I need to play. But they never stopped. He's a great kid. He is really -- he's gotten better. He's gotten better and he's been fine.
Q. Is it fair at all to say as you have been trying to teach these guys about team defense and helping and sharing and whatnot, that in some ways Wichita State is a model of what -- even though you are totally different teams athletically looking, somewhat of a model of what you are trying to get these guys to buy into?
COACH CALIPARI: They are, but let me say this -- so is Virginia, so is Mercer. And I can go on and on. There are a bunch of teams. And when you look at those teams they have veterans, like they are juniors and seniors. And we're trying to do this on steroids, so to speak, to go, get it done now. And we all expect it, I expect it.
You know what's been great for me as a coach, for awhile there are certain things that cannot ever be acceptable if you are coaching and you really want to win and you want to help them become a good team. Body language. There is a certain thing, it is not acceptable, certain body language. An effort level that's not where it needs to be. A focus where you're not concentrating for us. That's unacceptable. Teaching them what it means to be unselfish.
Those things, you can't cheer those. You can't like, why are you so tough on the kids? Well, I'm tough on all my teams until they understand those things to be a good team you have to have them. And after that, you can step back.
Right now, I'm not coaching those things. This team got it later than any other team I've coached. Yeah, because they were all freshmen. Didn't have veterans to show them. But they got it. And now I'm able to coach more relaxed. I don't have to be on them about effort or focus and whether it be a practice or whatever. But it just took time for them.
Q. I'm wondering, you said last night you hadn't scouted them yet. What have you learned in the last 12 hours that you didn't know last night?
COACH CALIPARI: I watched five tapes. I am all taped out right now. I had to take some time to step away.
But the games I watched, you're talking about a team that understands each other, has an outstanding point guard. Has a 4-man that's not a 4, he's a 2-3. Has big people that will put bodies on you. Has shooters and athletes also who come off the bench. You know, they'll pressure you if they can. They are man-to-man team. Hard ball showing, they do great stuff.
And defensively they're keeping people under 40% and like under 30% from the three because they close out, they know how to play. And they're good. They're good.
I mean to be honest, I can't control them. I've really focused on my team, but I want to have a feel for how they are going to play. I am focused on how do we continue to grow.
Like today's practice, we have to coach today and still teach. Like yesterday's practice, the shoot-around, we're still coaching. There are so many things that we have to keep throwing at them because they're so young.
Q. And a quick follow-up to that. In that kind of environment then, does it help or hurt? It doesn't sound like these guys have seen a whole lot of Wichita State on TV or tape.
COACH CALIPARI: They know each other. You'll be surprised how college players know each other. So they know their players. They knew their players more than I knew their players.
Like I said, does anybody -- oh, that kid went to Cleveland State, he was -- da, da, da, believe me, our guys know them. The guys know each other. It is social media. I mean they watch and hear. And AAU, it's changed.
Q. In your experience, do you think freshmen play anymore differently or carefree in the second NCAA Tournament game opposed to the first?
COACH CALIPARI: I hope so. I hope so. I mean two years ago we started three freshmen and they could lose themselves into the team. You know, two of the guys didn't care about scoring. And when we got our point guard under control and playing, truly running our team and becoming what they do, we became a good team and they all kind of got lost in each other. And we were a pretty good team.
This team is still -- we need more time. I wish we had another month to really get them to lose it in each other. But you know what? The switch turned quickly, you know. And again, a couple of different little tweaks to get them thinking different and they ran with them. And they are doing well.
Q. I apologize if you answered this before I got in here, but both Andrew and Aaron in the locker room used the word "if" about Andrew playing tomorrow. Is there any reasonable expectation that he couldn't go?
COACH CALIPARI: Sure. What if he is 70% and I see it? And I just say we can't win with a guy at 70%, we're going to have to play without you.
But we have time. We'll see. If he can play, he'll play. But we'll prepare today as though he is not. I told him do whatever he wants in the shooting, in the practice today. If you want to be out there, be out there. If you don't, don't.
Q. John, just wondering when you talk about your team's lack of experience, what would maybe just winning an NCAA game and getting that, can that help this team? Talking about how much jitters they had the other night, can that help them through one game?
COACH CALIPARI: Sure. But probably you are playing a really good team the second game. Even though the first team you played was a grind-it-out team, a really good defensive team, also and we played pretty well for that environment and never playing in an NCAA Tournament game, anyone.
But now you're going up, it's the next step. Every team that's left can defend. There's not a team in this tournament that can't defend. And you have to be reasonably focused on running your stuff and creating good shots. And if you happen to get open shots, you have to make those at a high clip. You can't make 30% of open shots or you're not going to advance.
Q. John, when Gregg Marshall was in here he said he hadn't bothered to even send a form letter to your players recruiting. That kind of speaks to the different models that can work in college basketball. How many of their guys showed up on your radar screen during the recruiting process?
COACH CALIPARI: You know, most of them probably had, but it never got to the point where I recruited them. But you’ve got an eye out on a lot of kids.
But you have to understand now, I have been on that other side. For 20 years I was at a non-BCS school. I was at UMass and at Memphis. So I have been over there and I've also -- and I said this yesterday -- I've been through what he is going through, trying to keep a team focused in staying in the moment when you are undefeated and you are trying to run the table. Very difficult. And he's done a masterful job. A masterful job.
You would think at some point they start feeling the weight of the world. Like just wait a minute -- they're not. They play to win. Any time a team has made a run you don't see like, Oh, my gosh, we may lose. He's done wonderful work. So I have been on the other side though
where I'm -- you know, UMass I think we had one McDonald's All-American, it was Donta Bright, and we were playing in this and the Final Four. You know, I've been there.
Q. John, if Andrew can't go, how -- Polson has been around awhile, been there, played in NCAA Tournament games, won National Championship. Do up think he will embrace this opportunity to shine and how do you think he will handle increased minutes?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know how we will do, we may have Aaron start at point guard. Like I said, we will practice a little bit today and we'll see.
Will they postpone the game for a little while so he will get healthy? Or do we have to play? We probably got to play, so...
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you very much.