Calipari transcript: “The first game you play is the toughest”

John Calipari met with the media tonight at UK’s team hotel here in Nashville to talk about Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal game with Vanderbilt, a 75-72 winner over Arkansas.

Here’s the transcript:

Opening comments.

“I didn’t watch the game, but I watched our tape with them last game and I’ll watch the game they played tonight before I go to bed. Just did a little walk-through with our team. We played them twice. They know us, we know them. They’ve won five out of their last six. Since we beat them, they’ve won five of six. The only game they lost was at Florida, where no one won. They make 13 threes today. We’re playing them in their hometown. I mean we’ve got a challenge. This is going to be a really hard game for us.”

What’s the difficulty of playing a team three times?

“It’s not that, it’s playing a team that played tonight. And they’re going to be fine. It’s the third night they start feeling it. The second night, you see Pitt got beat today — I can go back through the line. People got beat that the other team played their second game, and the first team, or your first game. That’s a hard one.”

How much is it also an equalizer that you’re playing a team that takes the second most threes in the league and tonight hit 12 or 13 of them?

“Same thing against us. If they hit 13 threes we’ll probably go home a loser. We’re going to guard them, but it doesn’t matter. They’re going to shoot them. Whether you really guard them, then they’ll step back deeper. Odom is going to step back, he’s going to shoot them. Johnson will shoot them. They’ll all shoot them.”

Willie (Cauley-Stein) has had two good games against them . . .

“He was ok (at Vandy) and he was better the last one, but he’s playing better. I’m not worried about Vandy as much as our team playing well, and he’s been playing well. We’ve got to have the effort. Everybody has to give us an effort. We don’t have enough guys for no-shows.”

Do you still feel like you’re in a one-game season position?

“We can’t worry about any of that stuff. What we’ve got to do is let’s play against ourselves, let’s be the best we can be, let’s have everybody show up and do their job. You don’t know, there are so many things out of our control. They’re going to shoot 30 threes. Some of that is out of our control. The way the game is officiated. It’s out of our control. So there are so many things that are out of — don’t worry about that. What we control is us. Let’s worry about being at our best and let’s compete against ourselves. And that’s what I do in all these tournaments.

“We’ve had three really good days of practice. And I was probably as hard the last three days as I was at any point this season. And I told them, because the first game you play is going to be the toughest game in the tournament. After that, it starts going downhill a little bit. It’s a little easier. This first one will be a bear. And so I’ve tried to be rough and tough and they’ve responded. So we’ll see.”

You had double-digits leads on them both times (and had to hang on), was there anything . . .

“It got up to 14 or 15. We broke down on offense and defense. We have a lob where my man tries to do a double-scoop-behind-his-head-throw-without-looking and they come down and make a three. We gave them three threes by just getting screened and not talking. And they’re a team that makes them. So all of a sudden they make their baskets and you come down and do something dumb and they’re going to take advantage of it. They’re a good basketball team. Like I said, they’ve won five out of their last six. This is not a slouch team. We know how good they are.”

How much better are they now than when you played them the first of the season?

“They’re better. I think he’s done a great job with this team. He’s got a young team. He’s got an inexperienced players like we we do.”

How has Alex Poythress been?

“He’s been good. He’s been ok. We did a lot of good stuff, a lot of competing. Today we didn’t do any contact. We did an hour. We went over there and shot around so they could see the building. We did an hour, no contact. I just want them fresh and ready to play.

“But again, how do you think they’ll play? Come on, now. You’ve watched us all year. No one knows. Have no idea. This isn’t a team where, ok, I don’t know how that other team is going to play but I know how we’ll play. I have no idea. Hopefully we come out of the gate and we play well, but even if we don’t, I just want to see us play for 40 minutes.. Play . Compete. Battle. Don’t hang your heads. Don’t droop your shoulders. Don’t jog back because you’re embarrassed on how you’re playing. Play. Battle. Fight. That’s all we’ve been talking about.”

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