Assistant coach John Robic addressed the press after the game as Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari went to visit his son at the hospital.
Q. Did you guys have to re-emphasize going inside in the second half and using your size?
COACH ROBIC: I think we settled in the first half. You look at the shots that we took, 4-for-20 from 3. We knew we had a size advantage. It’s something that we really worked on during this break, during this 13-day break.
We got the ball where we wanted to in the second half, but we were getting pushed off the block when we didn’t have to be pushed off the block. The person that did the best job was Dakari (Johnson). He got the ball tight. He got it with two hands and was forceful once he caught the ball.
It’s something that we are going to have to continue to do. That was a big game for him and his confidence, and it’s a big game for our team having a 7-foot, 265-pound player in the middle.
Q. Cal has talked so much about Alex’s (Poythress) practice and we’ve seen little flashes of it, was tonight the best you’ve seen him play in a game so far this season?
COACH ROBIC: This season? That’s how Alex’s been practicing. He’s played very, very well. His confidence level should be at an all-time high and I really think that he’s seeing that. He’s bringing an energy. He’s doing the things that he can do.
Now, keep doing those things, but he has to expand a couple other things. Now he has time to work on those things. With his physical tools, he’s playing within his game, and he’s able to do a lot of good things.
Q. The first half, Cal had talked about — worried about maybe being a little rusty. Do you think he was rusty, lethargic –
COACH ROBIC: I think not lethargic. I think we were rusty. Having 13 days, even the players were like, ‘We finally get to play a game.’ It’s just the way the schedule went, but I do think that we were a little bit rusty. Not in — we’re in game shape, but we weren’t ready for the game when it started. And it took us some time. Really happy for Dominique Hawkins, comes in and gives us great energy, really got us going, again, mentioned Dakari and Alex, and James Young was terrific.
Q. You guys had 12 assists in the second half, you were pushing the ball a lot with your pass and moving the ball well; was that the kind of stuff you focused on the last 10 or 12 days?
COACH ROBIC: That’s exactly what we worked on. Coach came in with a game plan after the Louisville game from the 29th through today of a checklist of things that we need to get better at to improve on, to do some things we had not even worked on, and I think we accomplished all those goals.
But in transition, much better in the second half. Some maybe forced turnovers and trying to hit ahead, but we have to play faster. I think Andrew (Harrison) has been great in practice doing that. Sometimes he just throws it not looking where he’s throwing the ball and see if someone is open, but he initiates it. Our other guys are pitching it ahead when they need to, and that’s going to help us in the long run.
Q. (Question regarding Mississippi State’s transition points in the first half.)
COACH ROBIC: Well, we gave up, I believe 12 transition points in the first half. They finished with 16 and maybe one of them was late in the game there. Poor transition defense, sometimes guys run to their man instead of picking up the ball and then switch off at another point in time. That is something that we have to work on but it is inexcusable really. In any other game that could be a key.
Q. (Question regarding if Dakari Johnson is ahead of Willie Cauley-Stein as far as low post moves.)
COACH ROBIC: I think they are two totally different players, in that obviously Willie is quicker and more bouncy, where Dakari doesn’t have the lift that Willie has. I was happy with Willie’s post play today. The left hand jump hook that he set him up for (was great). He has been working hard on it. We feel comfortable throwing either the ball. That was the first signs of Dakari actually finishing plays. It was good to see. He ran the court better. I think he got two baskets in transition if I am not mistaken, which was good to see. You just can’t throw lobs to Dakari as high as you can to Willie.
Q. (Question regarding Julius Randle getting double teamed defensively and if there is an adjustment the coaching staff will work with him on moving forward.)
COACH ROBIC: First off, he has to catch the ball tighter, no question. If he sees space, he has to take it. If they are going to send two or three players at him, he has to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team, our players are finally understanding to be in certain spots on the post-ups.
The only thing that disappointed us a little bit, especially in the first half, we just weren’t down and ready to receive the ball to be able to attack. And in the second half we were much better at doing that and taking gaps. Because, you know, Coach said during this layoff that when you don’t have the ball, that’s when you need to look to score. And it’s really true. I’ve never heard it before he said it, but it really is true. There are a few things in 18 years I haven’t heard with him, but that was one of them.
Q. Is it a sign of James’ maturity when in the first half he takes 14 shots when you really need them and the second half you don’t need his offense as much and he pulls back and takes only four shots; is that something as a coach you like to see?
COACH ROBIC: Well, we like him being aggressive. I can’t think of any of the 18 shots that were bad or forced shots. James is a scorer.
I mean, if he has it going, he has it going, and he has that green light to shoot the ball. I mean, if he’s down and ready like I just mentioned, shoot the thing, because he’s one of the better shooters and he’s just a slasher scorer and we need those baskets.
The thing that sticks out to me, though, is 10 rebounds and five assists. So he played a complete game. I’m happy for him that way because he’s practiced better, he’s defending better, he’s being more talkative. And that was one thing during this layoff that, our entire team, is they have gotten to know each other a lot better, they are communicating better and they are understanding what we are trying to do better than any other point in time in the season.
Q. Can you just elaborate on what Dominique gave you in the first half? Looked like he was being a little more aggressive with his shot, too.
COACH ROBIC: None of this affects Dominique, I don’t know how many people were here, the 23,000, it doesn’t affect him. But he just — he does what we ask him to do. He doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t lie. We try to tell him to lie every now and then. The hustle, he’s where he’s supposed to be.
Defensively he puts pressure on the ball. Like to see him have a little bit more confidence to shoot the basketball, because he shoots it well in practice. I was glad to see him knock down his free throws. He just brings an energy that you have to find time for him on the floor, and that’s why he’s out there.
Q. Kind of just answered my question there, but does Dominique have a full green light? He seemed hesitant in shooting the ball.
COACH ROBIC: I think he’s probably not 100 percent confident, because he wants to do the right thing. And if he misses his shot, he probably thinks he did something bad. He’s just that type of kid.
And I think what he’s — if you watch his game, he’s more comfortable trying to get to the paint and jump over somebody, even at his size, and he’s comfortable with that. He’ll get there. Shoot, he’s played in 14 games, but he’s great, because he just gives us everything he has.
Is that it? You guys get an early night tonight.
#22, Alex Poythress, G
On his performance…
“It felt good. I was just trying to bring some energy and just play. We were down at first so we had to pick up the energy and start playing. ”
On a slow start in the first half…
“They hit some shots early and we were missing a lot of shots. We should’ve been more focused on defense. That’s how we gave up 40 points in the first half and that’s way too much. In the second half, we started guarding, started defending and tried to hold them.”
On their improvement in the second half…
“Offense will take care of itself. We were trying to guard and try to pick it up on the defensive end. Get blocked shots, get steals and get more shots.”
#44, Dakari Johnson, C
On how it felt to be playing again after the long break…
“It felt great. Being able to get in the game and make an impact felt really good.”
On adjusting defensively…
“It has been tough. I am used to playing all the time. It has been humbling, but just listening to Coach Cal during practice and getting better is the main thing I have been focusing on. They had another big guy and I felt that I could play good defense and take advantage of the opportunity. Teams are going to try to put me in pick and rolls, so that factors in how I play.”
On hustling on every play…
“Yes, I have been pushing myself to do that. Whoever is the big man used to take it out, but during the break Coach Cal has been telling me to run.”
#1, James Young, G
On his performance today…
“It was just a good game. I practiced really hard, got a lot of shots on the floor before the game and I guess it just carried over.”
On working Julius defensively and seeing a need to step in…
“Yeah, they were pressuring Julius a lot, double-teaming him like they always have, the other team. I scored on the outside a little bit so we could ease it up on the post a little bit.”
On Alex’s game off the bench…
“Alex is doing great. He’s been working really hard in practice and that’s carrying over into the game. I guess you could put him anywhere on the court you want and he’ll catch a lob and you saw that today.”