Calipari likes how Wildcats battled in loss

Published 9:35 am Friday, November 17, 2017

LEXINGTON (KT) — John Calipari knows more about his team after the seventh-ranked Wildcats won two or three games in a five-day span to open the season.

Although the Kentucky coach doesn’t have all of his offensive and defensive schemes installed, Calipari was pleased with his team’s performance in a 65-61 loss to No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago. To Calipari’s surprise, Kentucky gave the Jayhawks all they could handle before Kansas pulled away down the stretch to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

“I kind of thought we were going to get smashed up there,” Calipari said Thursday. “At the beginning of the game, a lot of people thought we were going to get smashed up there. And these kids fought. We still don’t know what we’re doing. There are so many things that I needed to do in that game, but I’m trying to talk them through it. But it’s hard. I don’t want to give them too much because I’m more concerned about their fight and their aggressiveness and their attacking mode.”

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Like his coach, Kentucky freshman Hamidou Diallo liked the way the Wildcats performed against the more-experienced Jayhawks.

“They competed, we competed and we just couldn’t come up with the victory,”

Diallo said. “It was a close game. We just gotta be happy with that. It was a learning experience and just gotta get better until hopefully we see them again in March.”

Sophomore Wenyan Gabriel said the four-point loss served as an early indicator of the team’s progress with a team that features an all-freshman starting five.

“We’re still thinking about the game,” Gabriel said. “We’re a young team. We just think we should have won the game. We’re thinking about the slow start or a couple plays that happened near the end. (Coach) Cal is trying to let us know it’s a whole game process what happened in that loss. He’s proud of us still. It’s just a learning process. I feel like a lot guys saw from that game we’re a young team, we have a lot of potential and we’re just trying to get better.”

Calipari singled out his team’s ability to handle adversity after falling behind by double digits in the first half against the Jayhawks.

“They didn’t wilt,” Calipari said. “They got down twice, first half, second half and they didn’t. Good sign. Now, execution, creating shots, some of this – and I’ll be honest with you most of it is on me to put them in a better position. Teaching them how to win.”

Calipari said the main point of emphasis going into Friday night’s home contest against East Tennessee State will be “about spacing the court the right way.”

“When you get double-teamed, when you’re post feeding, where are post feeding from?” Calipari said. “The spacing so that we can drive the ball. Those are the kinds of things I’m trying to hit them with. There are things that happen in the game that they’re just not going to know. Here’s what it becomes: fight like crazy, talk, see it and fix it. That’s the best I can tell you. Talk to each other. See it and fix it. You know, I’m going to try and put them through some situational stuff today. Going to show them the last three, four minutes of the game today so they can see it and I can talk them through what was good and what wasn’t good.”

In moving forward, Calipari wants the Wildcats to become more aware and take advantage of late-game opportunities on both ends of the floor.

“You don’t take a shot unless you think you can make it, or you have a chance to be fouled or we have a chance to rebound it,” Calipari said. “You can’t just shoot a ball, you can’t just shoot a fade-away. You gotta shoot the shot. Either I’m gonna get fouled, I’m gonna make this or we’re gonna rebound – or don’t shoot it. Simple.

“On defense we’re gonna give you one contested, tough two. We’re not giving you an open three. We’re not giving you something around the goal. You’re gonna take a tough two and we’re gonna rebound like crazy. That’s winning basketball. It’s not brain surgery. That’s winning basketball.”

Cats sign three

The Wildcats signed three players during the early fall signing period, the school announced Thursday. The list of signees include Tyler Hero, Keldon Johnson and Immanual Quickly. All three players are four- and five-star prospects and considered among the top players in the Class of 2018.

“We’ve signed three really good players, really good kids who had a burning desire to be at Kentucky, which tells you they’ve got a toughness to them,” Calipari said. “They didn’t need to be begged … they wanted to be here. All three are guards, all three are tough, and all three have a fight and a skill about them. All three of them are gym rats – the kind of guys who come here and do well. All three are driven and wired the way you have to be to be successful here. They’re going to add to what we do.”

Calipari said he’s “excited about this class” and added, “we’re not done yet.”

“We have to see where all this stuff goes, but our need, we have filled,” he said. “These three guys are what we needed, and that’s what’s happened. I’m excited.”

Gametracker: East Tennessee State at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.