Everything Rick Barnes and John Calipari Said Before Saturday’s Game

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    No. 1 Tennessee travels to Lexington on Saturday night to face No. 5 Kentucky for the 226th all-time meeting between the two teams.

    The Wildcats lead the all-time series 154-71 dating back to 1910, but the Vols have won two out of the last three, and UT head coach Rick Barnes is 4-3 vs. the Wildcats during his tenure with the Vols. Tennessee is 1-0 vs. Kentucky when ranked No. 1 in the country.

    Ahead of Saturday’s big game, Rick Barnes and John Calipari met with the media. Here’s what the two head coaches had to say regarding the game. We’ll start with Barnes.

    On Kentucky forward PJ Washington:
    “I think he made the right decision to come back to school and work more with those guys. I honestly think he is a much more improved player from a year ago.”

    On Kentucky’s defense: 
    “I am pretty much locked into what we do, believe it or not. I have so much confidence in what we do. The scouting that we put in, I do not think there is anybody doing a better job.”

    On how important Saturday’s game is: 
    “Our guys know that, but we are focused on what we have to do to go in there and play good basketball. They are a different team from a year ago. They are starting a group of guys that it is hard to pack it back in there. Regardless of all the outside things that people want to talk about, it is about us keeping focused on what we have to do.”

    What he saw in the Kentucky-LSU game: 
    “We play totally different from LSU. We are a different team than them. We all know each other this time of year. There will not be any surprising. We have a pretty good feel. They have a pretty good feel. It is going to get down to execution.”

    On having veteran leadership: 
    We have been in some big basketball games over the last few years with these guys, and they have grown. They will be ready for it. There is no reason to think of why they will not be. They have handled some tough situations, even this year. Experience is a good thing, but this Kentucky is a totally different team. I hope that we are too, and I know both of us have a chance to get better.”

    On if the team likes playing on the road: 
    “There is probably less distractions on the road, because once we get there, we have been doing the same thing for four years now. We go to practice, have a meal and then have a meeting. They would rather be in a hotel than at home. When they are in a hotel, they spend time together. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I know we are an older team. What matters the most is locking into what we have to do.”

    On how focused the team is heading into the meat of the schedule:
    “I don’t know. I think they are all close games myself. We will see. I do not think we go into any game and expect to win by big numbers even though we have been able to do that some. I know we have respect for our opponents, this league and how good this league is.”

    On the importance of rebounding:
    “It is important as a team that we rebound the ball. I would say that whether we were playing Kentucky or anybody. We have to rebound the ball better, and our guys know that. We are going to have to do that, and they are really good at keeping the ball alive. They have one or two guys that fight and get it. We are going to have to be concise with all five of our guys going down there and rebounding.”

    On if playing big games has worn off:
    “I like to think that we have seven or eight games left in the regular season, and you should be used to a lot of different things. I know they see the hype around this game, and there are going to be bigger ones. I don’t think this game is going to define our season or Kentucky’s season. There is too much basketball left to play. It is a big game because it is the next one on our schedule, and it’s a big game for them because it is the next one on their schedule.”

    On if the players know to treat it like another game:
    “A year ago at this time, we were pretty much locked into what we had to do. Last year is when we started playing really good basketball together, and everybody seemed to find their niche. I think our guys are locked in, and we would not be where we are if they were not locked in. I have no reason to say they aren’t locked in.”

    On the first top-five matchup since 2003 in the SEC:
    “I think it is great. I think it is great for our league. I am hoping we can get eight or nine teams from our league in the NCAA Tournament. These next two or three weeks are important for everybody. I don’t question that our league is as good as it has ever been. When you think about the two teams at the bottom, they lost two guys that were first-round draft picks. If you threw those guys into the mix, even Texas A&M, this league is a terrific basketball league. I know how far we have come in four years, and I know how far this league has come too.”

    Here’s what Calipari had to say.

    His thoughts on the Tennessee game:
    “Be a hard game. They’re good. They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re physical. They fight for second and third opportunities to rebound. We’re struggling with rebound attempts right now. They are going three and four jumps at a ball. If you don’t block out, they’re jumping over your back. I mean, they’re going to tip and grab. They’re good. They deserve to be the No. 1 team, and they deserve to have the winning streak they have.”

    Other than Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, who stands out:
    “They’ve got a deep team, and their guard play, the way they shoot and the things that they do – they’re not winning with one guy or two guys, they’re winning because of how they’re playing. The biggest thing is, because they lead the country in assists – their assist-to-turnover ratio – they’re not going to beat themselves. They’re going to create great opportunities, and they shoot the ball well. You better play a good game. That’s what I tell you. You better play good. Better not be any tentativeness. Just let it go and go play.”

    On the challenge of Ashton Hagans guarding Jordan Bone:

    “Well, Ashton (Hagans) the last three games has not played well. Matter of fact he’s not played well at all. This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was 10 days ago, 12 days ago when everybody was talking about him as the best on-ball defender in the country, a difference maker, a creator, he pushes. That’s all gone away, so we need that back. He knows it. He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall. Like you said, Bone is playing fast. I mean, he pushes that ball. He either throws it ahead or drives for a layup. They’re playing good. Rick’s (Barnes) doing a great job with this team, really.”

    On Tennessee being a veteran team:
    “That’s why they create good shots for each other. That’s why they don’t beat themselves. That’s why they’re physically tough. They’re good. I mean, they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason, and they’re the No. 1 team in the country that’s on a big-time winning streak.”

    On if the team has moved on from LSU:
    “I hope so. I mean, I have. Usually, if I move on, they’ll move on. I’ll grieve for 24 hours, and then I move on. It was a game that you play like we did in the second half against them and against Mississippi State, I saw it coming. I talked about it at the Florida game, and I think you almost have to get knocked in the mouth and take a loss. I texted them probably two hours after the game and basically said it’s tough losing, but we needed this because people were moving in the wrong direction and not listening to what we were saying. We went from the defensive team in the country to giving up layups. How does this happen? To giving up baskets or not rebounding or playing a half and then the second half not playing. So how does that happen? Most of it is mental, and most of it becomes what I had talked about nine days ago, eight days ago. There becomes an arrogance when you’re winning, and we kind of got away from what makes us good, including individual players. Hopefully that’s a great lesson going into this game. I hate losing, but if you need to get rocked, then so be it.”

    On comparing schedules:
    “They’re beating everybody pretty good right now. Their numbers have not changed game to game. They beat Alabama at home, who beat us. So, no. They’re good. They’re a team, if they keep going like they are and stay injury free, they’re going to be one of the last teams standing.”

    On the loss to LSU:
    “I loved how we finished the game against LSU. We finished with confidence. You can’t only be confident when you’re desperate. You have to play that way. With young teams, it takes time. It takes time to get that through. Last year’s team got it in March. This team seemed to get it early, now they’ve stepped back. You have to get that back.”

    On if Washington’s foul trouble issues recently are cause for concern against Tennessee:
    “He plays alert, and he plays before his guy catches the ball. If he’s playing after the guy catches it or playing after it hits the rim, then he’ll have trouble. I think he’ll be fine. Last couple of games, his rebound attempts have gone down. Rebound attempts, which means your rebounds have to go down. If you’re not attempting to rebound, you’re not going to get the ball. It’s like one of those little things. Those have gone down, and I’m telling him, you have to get those attempts back up. Doesn’t mean you have to get every ball, but you have to attempt to go get every ball.”

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.