Game Story: Kentucky pulls away from Vols, 80-70
On what Derek Willis’ shooting does for Kentucky…
“When they shoot the ball like that, we’re the ones that need to make 11 three’s, we’re the ones that need to be doing that. They shot it well. Again, it’s my fault. We probably should have started switching a little bit earlier. We got a couple of them in transition that needed to get back. At one point in time we started to switch our 1-4 and then at the very end we put a small lineup out there and started switching everything. That’s my fault. I probably should have done that earlier. But the fact is they played well. I said coming in here, ‘you take away the Kansas game, which I thought they really had a great chance to win, (and then when they came to us) we obviously played a great game and our best game of the year, but you go back and you look at the scores, they’ve been playing terrific. I felt coming in our game in Knoxville they were starting to find themselves and it’s really impressive the way John (Calipari) has his team really understand their roles. The chemistry is just great. They know what they’re looking for. Coming in we knew, you look at a guy like Tyler Ulis who is terrific, controls the game, and does so many things, you have to believe he and Jamal Murray are going to get theirs. What you hope is that you don’t let a guy like (Derek) Willis breakout like he does. They do enough that they’re going to get there so you can’t let the third or fourth guy get going. That’s what happened.”
On how being on a streak from the perimeter helps Kentucky build from game to game…
“I think it does. We know because we’ve had games where we get going and we have games where we know we’re not scoring well and have a hard time putting the ball inside and doing something to break that rhythm. I think they take good shots. I think they played the way John wants them to play and I think he has a terrific point guard. Defensively they’re not going to give you anything easily. Ulis affects the game that way. They did a great job on (Kevin) Punter tonight. They were working so hard to keep him away from the right side of the court. (Punter) has to make that adjustment because he can go left. He needs to do it more. They worked hard at slowing him down early. Our guys fought to stay back in there. Every time we thought we could get it close they would hit a big three. Then they grabbed some offensive rebounds in the second half that really hurt us too.”
On what Armani Moore did for his team tonight…
“All year Armani and Kevin Punter we’ve just put so much on them. What we said coming into this game, when you go back and you look at when we play our best basketball we have more coming from Robert Hubbs. We’ve got more coming from Admiral Schofield. I think it’s really neat watching Shembari Phillips. I really liked his domineer tonight. I thought he came in here and was really poised. I thought Kyle Alexander (had a lot of poise) too. Kyle has literally only been playing three years of basketball. He played on the same team as Jamal Murray and he hadn’t played very much. For a guy that has only played competitive basketball for three years he’s doing everything that we could ask him to do. We need more guys. Armani, we put so much on him to defend and rebound. And he is a big time competitor too. But again, sometimes my frustrations I kind of take out on him because we want to win and we expect so much from him. When you look at it when it’s all said and done, you look at what he does and he does it out of sure determination. He and Kevin both need more consistent help from his teammates.”
On Devon Baulkman’s left shoulder injury
“He was back there getting X-rays when I walked in. He’s had that problem before. They thought it might have popped out on him, which has happened to him in practice some. He’s had to deal with that for the past couple years. ”
On how well Kentucky is compensating for not having a post presence
“I think John is doing a good job trying to build a little bit more of that into what they’re doing. There was a difference when he threw it into the post when we had Kyle in there. Kyle made it a little bit more difficult. They made a couple post moves where they took advantage of trying to throw the ball in there against Admiral Schofield, and you would expect a guy that big to score over top of him. I think they still, you look at it and points in the paint, I count those baskets as Murray and Ulis’ getting down the lane. Those are points in the paint too. That is as affective as throwing the ball to a post player there. Just like we’re trying to continue to develop our young games, I think John is trying to do the same thing. Again, I just think they really understand their roles. Each guy that goes into the game really understands what is expected of him. I think that is a sign of a team that is really starting to figure it out.”
On the quick turnaround with LSU game Saturday
“Yeah, quick turnaround, got to get our mind right. You know, go try to protect our own court and get back to school and watch some film and get ready for our next opponent.”
On how hard it was to see Baulkman go down again
“I saw him step and he was just like, you know, reaching at his shoulder and was just in pain. I already knew like, his shoulder popped out, again. You know, I can’t tell you how many times since I met him his shoulder popped out. ”
On the biggest difference in the second half
“Those guys had a lot of 3s, you know, and with us, we kept fighting man. We just tried to chip at the lead.”
On the quick turnaround with the LSU game
“I think the biggest part about that is just making sure that we get home and practice. Make sure that we eat the right things and be ready for that game.”
On how Moore and Punter are key offensive players…
“It is tough at times, but I mean, that just shows that me and KP gotta get more people involved. You know, we are just trying to do everything ourselves. You know, we gotta try to be playmakers for
On if he felt like it was his best offensive performance in awhile with 21 and 11
“Yeah, for the most part. I mean, I just feel like I came out, didn’t try to force anything tonight. I took the right shots and the points came and the rebounds came.”
On what happened to Marcus Lee there?
“No, no, his back tightened up, so didn’t think he could go. That was fine, it gave Isaac [Humphries] a chance. I thought Isaac was tremendous for the minutes he was playing. He’s just got to get on the floor more. He’s got to be out there. I thought he tries and he fights so I was happy with how he played.
I told — Tyler Ulis passed on good shots and took tough shots. I said you can’t do that. And if you go 1-for-12 and we lose a game because you’re taking open shots and they’re not going, that’s fine. But you can’t pass on open shots and then take tough shots. I thought Jamal [Murray] was good, and obviously Derek [Willis] offensively did what they had to for us to create a gap. So it was a good game.
“We didn’t have the energy that we’ve had in a couple of games, but I’m telling you, they’re not machines. It’s hard in every game. We had three games in five days. I said would you rather be practicing or playing games? Playing games. So we’ve got a tough road ahead of us, but that’s fine.
On Isaiah Briscoe’s had ten rebounds, Jamal Murray’s nine
“It was even before because he wasn’t getting balls and one-handed rebounds. I just said go get balls. Isaiah, he’s just got to take shots and not worry about missing. He’s shooting way better in practice, and I’m even saying our post players are scoring in practice, and they’re just not carrying it over to a game right now, but they will. The same with Isaiah. He didn’t have to make every shot. Just there’s a couple if he made it creates a gap especially when they’re not playing them. It makes them pay for that.
“Like I said, we’re defending better. We’ve defended way better than we did up there. We still broke down some, but we did a better job today.
On Jamal Murray scoring in different ways, getting to free-throw line
“It’s exactly what we want. How we want him to play. He took one bail-out three and he knew it. I said ‘why’d you do it?’ What we were doing is we were drag screening, which meant the whole lane was open. So whoever had the ball, all you had to do was beat somebody out of bounds. Other than that one, I thought he played an outstanding game. He’s trying to defend better. Couple breakdowns defensively, and it’s mostly that we’re not talking and communicating. But, you know, again, he goes 3 for 6 from the three. That’s perfect. Then get your other baskets going to the rim, and ones, make free throws, 9 out of 10, nine rebounds. It’s a good game. Two assists, a steal, a block. I mean, he did a little bit of everything today.
On how Jamal Murray has his approach changed over the last five or six games
“Well, again, instead of making hard plays, like ‘I got this lay-up, but you watch this.’ You try to explain to him really, really good players make hard plays look easy. Bad players make easy plays look really hard. And he started the season, that’s what he was doing. So you saw turnovers like ‘why is he doing tough shots?’ Now if he has a shot, he’s taking it. He’s getting the ball by the man, so he’s creating fouls. You know, he’s creating for his teammates.
“He’s becoming — he’s a big guard and a well-rounded guard who can play and pick-and-roll, and he can handle, he can score it. He’s a big lead guard is what he is.
In what ways has Isaac Humphries improved the most since he got here
“Well, he just fights. He goes after balls, and that’s all you want guys to do. You’re not going to get them all, but try, attempt. He’s not afraid to contact. When there’s contact, he’s in the middle of it somehow, and it gives us what we need. I mean and he waited a long time to get this opportunity. Now he’s got an opportunity to play and he’s taking advantage.
“But, again, if we’re without Alex [Poythress] and Marcus Lee and we go to Texas A&M on game day with a day off, not going to be easy.
On adjustments made against Kevin Puner Jr
“Well, we played that middle pick-and-roll to where, if we played it so we could switch it or stay, depending on what they did, and it gave them no easy baskets, which they got a ton of those up there (in Knoxville). The guy that hurt us was the [Armani] Moore kid, and again, what he did was he beat us on the bounce. He had 15 in the first half or 14 in the first half. Again, he was driving right and he kept beating us on the bounce.
“He’s a strong kid, and he hurt us on making shots in the first half. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds. But the kid, Punter didn’t do as much, but again, he had 19 points. It’s not like we shut him out.
On Derek Willis
“Yeah, I think as he defends better and rebounds even better and becomes where he enjoys physical play like he wants it like ‘this is how I want to play,’ he becomes as good as anybody. Think about it, he’s 6’9, 6’10. His arms make him about 7’2. Think about that.
“He’s making free throws. He’s confident. He takes responsibility when he’s playing poorly. He’s not looking to make excuses, and everybody, you know, Tyler didn’t play great today, nine assists, two turnovers. He didn’t play great today. He didn’t play where he had been playing.
“But what’s changed our team is Derek. He made us a totally different team. The minute we said — then you say why didn’t you do it earlier? Didn’t know. When we went to it, it was obvious everybody could see he just changed our team. The other thing is he’s coming every day. Doesn’t mean he makes shots every day, but he comes every day and gives you everything he has.
On Thursday-Saturday games
“Probably the guys that played a lot of minutes will do treatments and stretching and that kind of stuff, and then have the guys that didn’t play as many minutes do individuals and then we’ll come together and maybe script some of our stuff that we want to use against them. Then we’ll probably walk through their stuff before we get on the plane and go down there and that will be about it.
“We’ll have a shootaround the day off, get a great shootaround in, and let’s go play a ballgame against a really good team. They just won their last game against Mississippi down there, and they won by 15. They played Tuesday, so they’ve got a little gap in between the game. But like I said, if it’s practice for three days or play a game, I think all of these kids would rather play games.
On if his team is “figuring it out”
“Yeah, I think last game, the best part of last game is I could step away — didn’t do it on purpose — but I could step away and see that this team was empowered. That they were running and doing the things that we had taught and they didn’t need me there.
“There were calls from the sidelines, so it wasn’t just random stuff. We watched tape, who made that call, we made that call. Who did that? We did that. So it wasn’t just random. There were things we grounded out, guys played aggressive, and I walked away saying this team is empowered now. They need to take us for the drive. It’s not me driving them anymore. It’s not me battling them anymore. I don’t need to. Today I had a couple guys we’re telling you how to play, just go do it.
“So there were a couple guys we got on and mostly just for scrappiness and stuff like that. They’re dragging us now, and that’s what I try to do every year. If I don’t have a team empowered and it’s us and we’re dragging them, it’s hard to advance. If your team’s empowered and they’re playing and holding each other accountable, I don’t have to do it, they’re doing it more than I am, that’s the way you want it.
On his teams becoming empowered at different points of the year
“It all depends on the team. And sometimes it’s my view of it too, and sometimes I’m wrong. Like this team, I did not think they were ready to say let’s go do this. Then I sat back and I watched and I’m like, they are. They are ready. Yesterday’s practice and the day before, you’re talking about short bursts, let’s go. And again, I think Tyler, they’re feeding off Tyler’s confidence, and he is helping all of those guys be confident. He really is.
“Like I said, I know there are some really good players out there in this country, but he’s got to be in the equation for Player of the Year what he’s doing, the numbers and what he’s doing for our team, phew.
“And if you don’t think he’s very good, you better hope you don’t play us. ‘Not that good. He’s small.’ Okay. Then the game’s over and you say, ‘oh, my gosh, he controlled the game.’ If you remember early in the year, I told you, he didn’t know how to lead off the court. He’s now leading off the court. They started a breakfast club, he and Isaiah, and all of a sudden they’re dragging guys in with them. Sometimes there’s 12 of them there in the morning. I don’t know. I don’t see it. I don’t ask about it. It’s their choice to do it. They’re probably doing it four days a week, and that was him and Isaiah, which it’s a big step.
“He’s talking more. He’s talking to guys off the court. I told him, you can’t just lead on the court. You’ve got to lead off the court. They’ve got to know you’re there for them. He’s truly a servant leader right now.”
Grant Ramey covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at twitter.com/GrantRamey