Kentucky improved to 17-5 (7-2) on the season with their 80-72 win vs. Mississippi State, the 14th consecutive win vs. the Bulldogs.
Nick Richards led the way offensively, scoring 25 of his career high 27 points in the second half.
Immanuel Quickley continued his strong play by scoring 21 points to reach double figures for the eleventh consecutive game and 20+ for the third time in four games.
Additionally, E.J. Montgomery had one of the best games of his UK career, totaling 12 points, 8 rebounds a career best three steals.
John Calipari discussed it all after the game. You can find the postgame transcript and video below.
Q. Early on it seemed like by having your guys push it on a defensive rebound, it sort of made them maybe not send as many guys to the offensive glass, but also, kind of got you guys started?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s how we want to play. I just got a great text from a buddy of mine, “If Ash (Ashton Hagans) doesn’t get in foul trouble and Nate (Sestina) is right, you guys are fine, and when EJ (Montgomery) plays the way he plays, you’ve got a chance.” We’re still not quite there. We’ve got to get a couple more guys playing better, and basically, what EJ did is what my vision for him is. Notice he didn’t take many jump shots, and the one’s he did… anybody watch the game? He missed. But everything else was at the rim, at the rim, at the rim. He squared up and drove the ball. And what’s all we’ve been trying to get him to do. Play through bumps. Want to get hit. Go in once. How about that one where the guy grabbed his arm and he still made it? How about that block down the other end. EJ was ridiculous. That’s who, that’s my vision of him. That’s what I think he is. Now, why do you think he was able to do that? What have we been doing with him? Conditioning. They don’t like it. It hurts. It’s hard. It’s hard. The conditioning is starting to pay off. Now he’s got to step on the gas and even go farther.
Q. When Nick (Richards) and EJ have huge games, they are not huge physical specimens, how do they counteract going against somebody that chronic?
JOHN CALIPARI: They have got to hit first. They have got to want contact. They have got to play lower than the other guy. They can outrun people, which means they can react quicker to what’s happening, which is what Kyle (Tucker) said. They outrun the big; now you are in control of what’s about to happen.If he’s outrunning you because you’re not in really great shape and you let go of the rope; you’re tired, after three runs, you’re behind everything, and now you look like you’re getting thrown around. Both Nick and EJ are becoming conditioned big athletes. We just got to take that to another level. What I’m happy, and again, those last eight or ten fouls that they fouled purposely, but we made free throws. That’s big. We went up and knocked free throws. Nick made his. Immanuel (Quickley) made his. Ashton made his. You know, when a team is trying to foul you, you’ve got to be able to say, you’re not winning this way, we’ll make these, and that was big for us.
Q. Did Nate get his shoulder popped out and come back in?
JOHN CALIPARI: I didn’t ask him.
Q. Do you know any status going forward for him?
JOHN CALIPARI: I just said, “Can you play?” and he said, “Yes.” All right. Go in.
Q. Given the way Mississippi State plays, how much did you challenge Nick and EJ to respond physically after what happened?
JOHN CALIPARI: We did drills for two days, the same drills we did before Auburn (laughter) for two days, but you must be lower than they are. If you’re establishing straight up-and-down, or as Kyle would say, erect, you are going to get knocked around. That’s just what’s going to happen. Bend down, get low.
Q. Playing low and being in great condition, is that harder for big men?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yes.
Q. How much harder?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s kind of like lifting. So, when they are your size, lifting, they lift like that… okay. And when you’re their size and you have to list, you’ve got long muscles… DarrellBird, little short muscles (laughter). Long muscles, and it’s the same, the longs, big guys develop later. Like EJ, it’s taken him a little time. So what? What is the issue? It’s taken him longer. I had a guy hit me today and say it’s the first time I saw EJ smile on court because he’s in shape. You know what you look like when you’re out of shape? You’re not smiling. You’re looking like you’re… he’s now out there alert and focused and ready, and when he needs a break, he says, “Give me a minute.” And I tell him, “Go back in when you want to go back in,” and we’ll wake up and go in. That’s what he is. He is a premiere player, one of the best players in the country. He’s just not done it yet, but tonight was that first step. Now build on it. Now you’re going up. You’re playing at Tennessee. Hard place to play. They just won tonight on the road. Rick’s got his guys playing better and better and they are physical. They are physical.
Q. How about EJ’s defense on (Reggie) Perry.
JOHN CALIPARI: Good.
Q. How well do you think he played that?
JOHN CALIPARI: He did good. There was a couple times that he played behind him but I thought what our guards did and how we played Perry was pretty effective, and we had spent two days, we started one way and the staff talked me out of it and I’m glad they did. Then we went another way and I was fearful because we’re small, and if you trap with both bigs, that means you’ve got three little guys around the rim if he decides to shoot it and miss it. So we did some different things. We did that, and the guys, they did a good job. You see how important Ashton is to this team, do you see his energy to start the game? This team, we can’t afford him getting in foul trouble and I keep saying, “You cannot reach. Don’t. It’s not worth it.” It’s not worth the one steal when you go five times and two of them are fouls. It’s just not worth it. So thought he did a better job today.
Q. The technical, deserved or not deserved?
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, yeah, my thing is real simple. If an official, this is just my belief, I may be wrong in this, but if you miss a call and don’t make a call, it don’t matter what the coach does. Take it. Take it. And so, you know, in that case, I did enough to deserve it. But I’m just… we’ve had a couple games now, I’m getting kind of up to here now, and so I’ve got to stand up for these kids. I can’t let stuff happen, or it’s okay to… I’m not going to let that happen. Now, this crew tonight did a good job on this game I thought. I mean, if they called a foul down here, they called a foul down here. You can’t take the last ten fouls they fouled us on purpose. You have to eliminate those. But you know, it was a physical game. They were physical. And guess what? We were physical.
Q. You’ve always been a pretty vocal proponent of the extra pass. Saw a pretty obvious one between Tyrese (Maxey) and Ashton in the second half and ended the night with 14 assists. Happy with those efforts?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, we’re getting better. I mean, I thought Immanuel took some shots, like step backs. Just take a two. It’s not how we play, anyway. And I thought he took one where the ball bounced out and we had another clock, he took one quick. But he’s playing so well, and playing with so much energy, and you know, you let him play through. But again, Keion’s (BrooksJr.) vital for this team. Johnny (Juzang) is vital for this team. Nate is vital for this team. Dontaie (Allen) met with me. We are going to give him a little time to condition. I may start playing Dontaie. Came in and said… you know, he went through a workout like with our team, like doing individuals, and I had never seen him go that hard, like ever. I went, “That’s who you are now? Are you ready to go?” But what I don’t want to do is use his year if I don’t intend to play him. I’m not going to play him 30 seconds or a minute and use his year up. I won’t do that to the kid. But we are down to two and the rent is due. We could use one more guy.
Posted by Go Big Blue Country on Tuesday, February 4, 2020