John Calipari Q&A post-UCLA

Derek Terry, Beat Writer
Cats Illustrated
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Q. It looked like you guys might have three SEC teams in the Elite 8?

JOHN CALIPARI: No. There are not three SEC teams in the Elite 8. We're supposed to be a bad league. That's got to be all these other leagues, right?

Q. What does it say about the competition in your conference?

DE'AARON FOX: We lost two games in conference play, and everyone wants to say other conferences were better or our conference isn't as strong. But I mean, when the tournament comes, not necessarily -- sometimes the best teams win, sometimes it takes luck. But Florida, Florida blew us out at their place. We found out then that they were a good team, and South Carolina was ranked when we played them. And I mean, right now, they're just showing them how strong our conference is. Three teams in the Elite 8, man, that's tough to do. That's almost 50 percent of the field.

Q. How much has De'Aaron Fox grown as a leader from the time he arrived on campus to who he is now?

JOHN CALIPARI: He's grown, but what he's learned to do is play physical, not take a hit and fly, and throw a ball. He's learned to play through bumps. He's learned to work. He's understood the grind now. It took him a while. They think, well, I'm just going to go play. He shot 15 percent for a while. Like, dude, you can't miss every single shot. Now all of a sudden, if he's open, that ball is down.

Second thing is he goes to the rim, and I know if he gets hit, he can still make it. Well, early in the season, he wasn't doing that. But I am so proud of him, and today all I did at halftime is say, guys, are you watching this game? They said, yeah, okay, good, then you know we're playing through De'Aaron Fox. The rest of you take a backseat, play off of him, but everything we're doing good is through him the whole half. And they were ecstatic. Good. Let's do it. Got a good team. They share.

Malik started slow, but then came on and made some shots that created a gap. Bam struggled a little bit but still did good, rebounded, and did his thing. Derek made a couple threes, spread it. Dom did what he does again. I thought Isaac was really good today. I thought Isaac played well. So it's nice that we got some good guys and good guys playing well at the right time.

Q. When you played UCLA earlier this year, when you took that loss, did you learn something that helped you to this win tonight?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, we learned that we have to -- we had to do a better job of coaching defense, and we had to get them to understand transition defense better, playing elbows and blocks better, taking more pride in defense. Because we lost to Kansas, UCLA, and that Florida, all in a stretch. You know, again, you're talking, I mean, they're really good teams, but it was our defense that hurt us. I think right now people are looking and saying, he's got all these freshmen, he's playing freshmen, and they're defending like they're seniors like they've been around.

Well, let me just tell you, every game we play is a Super Bowl, not just this one. Every game in our league is a sold-out war, different shirt, coat, hat day, whatever you want to say, and I think it also helps South Carolina and Florida. And Vandy, Vandy should have won that game. Arkansas should have won that game.Our league had 11 teams in the top 100, and I believe 70 in the top 50. But again, well, that's ACC, they play football. We've got terrific coaches, we've got terrific programs, and out of 32 leagues, we were the youngest league in the country, out of 32 leagues. So it's only going to get better.Now, I have a feeling my young guys won't be around next year, but I've got another crew coming in, and I've got to shout out to Devin Booker. Ms. Veronica, his mother hit me today, wishing me luck, and I said I'm so proud of your son, and he goes for 70 to night. How do you get 70? Like he showed up our team. We just have a great win and they're going to be talking about Devin Booker all night now.

Q. All year long you've talked about the importance of playing situational basketball, about the team making good decisions. How happy were you with that aspect of the game?

JOHN CALIPARI: We're getting better. We're getting better. Still in the first half, there were a couple like, why did you do that? I did it because I'm 19 years old and I'm on the biggest stage I've ever been on in my life, and you're asking me why I did that? These kids aren't machines, they're not computers. They're going to make mistakes. They're going to miss shots. They're going to do stuff that you look at and shake your head. But my teams always do it because they're always so young.But they're getting better, and they knew whose hands the ball was going to be in. Now, next game it may be we play through Bam, or it may be Malik, and they'll be fine with it. De'Aaron will just get Malik a bunch of shots.

Q. Is there an advantage to playing a team that you've already played in the regular season in the tournament? You're playing another team that you beat this time, but is there an advantage to it?

JOHN CALIPARI: I think for Roy and I, being that we know each other's teams, and we played for a few years, and it's a quick turn, you know, so the more information I have, the better. Because we're going to practice tomorrow at 3:00. That'll be the practice. And then we play the next day at 4:00.You know, it helps both teams that we play because we'll know each other pretty well. And let me say this: North Carolina is so good, and they've been so good all year. Guard play, size, rebounding, fly, being able to score, Jackson will get 40. He had 40 on us last game we played. Roy has done a great job with his team, and I'm looking forward to the game just because I like my team, and we've got a good group of kids, and I'm like jacked up. I'll sleep tonight because I'm getting old and I'm tired, but I'm excited that we're still doing this with this group of kids.

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