Just three more games to history. The Kentucky Wildcats easily handled West Virginia, doubling up WVU 78-39 in a game not much closer than the score. The Wildcats, undefeated on the season, advance to the Great Eight to take on Notre Dame. Coach John Calipari discusssed the team after the game on Thursday.
COACH CALIPARI: I was really pleased with the energy of our team. I was pleased with how zoned in they were, with how we were going to attack the press, how we were going to finish and we were going to just, hey, if we could score a hundred, score a hundred, just play. I wanted them to play loose offensively and they did, but I was proud of the guys. It was a great defensive effort and that’s what it was. For Marcus Lee to Dakari, I thought they were excellent. Obviously you know that Andrew played a great basketball game and drove us, Trey played well. Devin made a couple shots, Tyler played well. Willie did what he does. The only guy, I said, was Karl was not as engaged with the team as he normally is, and I don’t know why he wasn’t but we’ll need him for the next one.
Q. John, you said especially of late you wanted these guys to be the best version of themselves. How close did they come to that tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: In that first half we did a lot of good stuff. Again, we did it without Karl. First play the game. He lowered his shoulder, and what are you doing? Because the guy bumped him. We know how good Karl is and he feels bad about how he played, but he’d feel great for his teammates but he needs to have a presence. Now, what Dakari did was like, wow, you could play without Karl. Well, Dakari was really good today. Marcus Lee was good. But again, I go back to Trey Lyles and I keep telling everybody he’s like an X factor for us because he is a four playing three but he’s skills and creating shots for his team now, making shots around the basket, making free throws, he was good.
Q. John, Bob said that he thought your 2010 team was more talented but they didn’t guard nearly as well as this team does. Do you agree with that?
COACH CALIPARI: Possibly. My 2010 team?
Q. The team that they beat with John Wall.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, there was a lot of teams that he beat.
Q. The team with John Wall.
COACH CALIPARI: That team, we were not an execution team, that team. That team was a team, we just — we got together in September and we tried to figure it out. I had a great run and great time with those kids but we weren’t an execution team, whether it be on defense or offense, we would breakdown. But we were so dominating in some other areas that we could get you but we weren’t a great shooting team. Very streaky shooting team. This team is probably more consistently skilled as players. But John Wall and DeMarcus, they were in the All-Star game. Patrick Patterson, he’s on the edge of the All-Star game. You talk about Eric Bledsoe, even Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, we had a house, but we weren’t an execution team. This team being we had more veterans, I’ve coached them a couple years, a little more execution.
Q. Back in the locker room, Tyler might be as kind of swaggy as I’ve heard him all year. Did he really take some of the things said yesterday kind of personal, because he said you wanted to win by 50 tonight if you could?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, that didn’t come from me because that’s not how I coach. What I keep coming back to my team, we’ve had teams talk about the game. I mean, what, someone’s going to come in and say we’re going to lose and they’re going to say they’re going to win but we say at some point you have to step in the ring, we’ll lift the rope, you’ve got to come in here. I don’t want my team playing angry, I don’t want them to be mean, nasty, hateful, I don’t want that. It’s not us against the world. It is play with joy and love of the game and love of each other. That wins every time. The other stuff turns to fear. When it’s not going good and you’re mad and you’re trying to elbow and all of a sudden you miss a shot, your physiology is real close to fear. They may have said we wanted to win by 50, but they won because they were focused on how we had to do it against this team because we beat a really good team pretty good but that’s not indicative of the year they had.
Q. Notre Dame played a second half of offense tonight that was as amazing as your defensive first half. Do you think your players will relish an opportunity to now face a team that people will say maybe the best offensive team in the country?
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t know, I didn’t get to see the game obviously. My staff came in and said, oh, my gosh. They went bonkers. And I said, like how? Like, every way you could go. Mike Brey and I are friends. I know how good a coach he is. As a matter of fact, we went to Notre Dame, what was it, two years ago, two years ago, Michigan, when we got beat by 30? It may have been a 30 point rout, they beat our brains in. I know how good a coach he is, I know how good their team is. As a matter of fact, I think their football team rushed the court, if I remember right. We ran out of there. We saw them coming, we ran the other way.
Q. Could you just update a little bit on Aaron. He said back there he’s fine, he’ll definitely play Saturday, that he popped his finger back in himself. It looked pretty gross.
COACH CALIPARI: It was awful, and then I kept looking like, is that his right hand or is that his left hand, I couldn’t figure it out, and he said left, I said you’re good, tape that thing up. And I put him back in, I just wanted him to take a shot or two like to make sure he would feel okay, but then I told him don’t you drive the ball, don’t go near the basket and then I just took him out because we have a day and a half to get ready. But he’s fine. He seems to be fine. It will be hurting tomorrow, I imagine.
Q. There was so much talk about their press and how aggressive they were, the traps. It never really was a factor. What was the key to that?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, again, when you have to prepare to play the teams we play, that press and trap and play physical, you have a little head start. At the beginning of the year, it’s one of the things that we’ll say let’s make sure we’re good against a press, that we have great spacing, that we understand what you’re trying to do and playing off one another, but an old friend of mine says you press a pressing team, you press a pressing team. And that’s why we put in the diamond press and that’s why we did some of the stuff we did, just to press them to go like you’re not going to be the aggressor; we’re going to be the aggressor, too.
Q. John, how good was it to see some offense from Dakari and Devin both again tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s terrific. I’m happy for them. Devin worked so hard. It’s been tough, he’s 18 years old, he’s probably one of the youngest freshmen in the country, he got on a run, and all of a sudden he’s making shots, and if you remember the comment, it’s like I’m shooting it in the ocean. And then his ocean got really small. Now you’re watching him, and I kept telling him, this whole team wants you to shoot the ball. He had to tighten it up, he got a little loose with his shot, and when you do that and you start missing, it goes the other way on you fast, but I thought today he was terrific. He makes us, he spreads you out. Now all of a sudden you’ve got he and Aaron and Andrew’s making shots and Trey’s making his pull-ups, all of a sudden you’re a pretty balanced team.
Q. Can you kind of describe what you think Aaron’s kind of competitive edge is that he stayed in after he got hurt and was battling against those guys?
COACH CALIPARI: I think both he and his brother, they’ve been there. They dragged us last year to the championship game, there’s no question it was those two, what they did. And it’s not just Aaron making the shots. It’s all the other things they did on the court defensively, run-thru’s. Those two dragged us. Now you’re watching us and I hate to tell you those two or dragging us again. I thought Andrew was ridiculously good today. He was so good. His spirit is so good. He is defensive playmaking away from the ball, he’s playing the ball, he’s attacking, he’s playing with speed, he’s getting by people. I mean, I just am so proud of him and what he’s doing. If there are better guards in the country, you’ve got to show me who they are. I think they’re both playing well. And then you have — when they back up a little bit, you’ve got Tyler and Devin. And I can put Tyler in there with them, which really relieves a lot of pressure from having to handle the ball.