Everything John Calipari said after Kentucky basketball survived Saint Joseph’s in OT

Kentucky basketball has survived its first upset scare of the 2023-24 season.

The Cats were pushed all the way by Saint Joseph’s on Monday night in Rupp Arena, but UK escaped with a 96-88 overtime win thanks to a trio of 20-plus point scorers.

Tre Mitchell and D.J. Wagner each had 22 points for Kentucky, and Antonio Reeves added 20 points on his 23rd birthday in the Kentucky win. It’s the first time that three Wildcats have each scored 20-plus points in the same contest since DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Patrick Patterson in November 2009.

Those significant scoring efforts were needed because of a hot-shooting night from deep for the visitors: Saint Joseph’s went 15-for-37 (40.5%) from 3-point range.

The Hawks became the first team to make 15 or more 3-pointers against Kentucky since VMI in November 2018.

Postgame, UK head coach John Calipari touched on everything from UK’s late-game execution, the continued emergence of Wagner and the timely overtime shots made by Mitchell that helped Kentucky avoid an upset loss at home.

Here’s everything Calipari said in his postgame press conference:

Opening statement:

... So, Saint Joe’s, I knew they could play this way. Last game they were 6-for-30 from the 3 last game. They made 15 3s. And some of them, we were on them. And for us to hold on with a bunch of young guys; you know, the amazing stat, folks, the amazing stat, Reed (Sheppard) doesn’t score a basket and he has a plus-16. How does that happen?

It is incredible. One of my guys on the bench, I went to put him in, ‘No, wait, what are you doing?’ No. You want him taking it out. You know, making those plays.

But they all did well. I mean, D.J. (Wagner) played better, just starting to see who he is. Justin (Edwards) played better, more confidence, more relaxed player. Antonio (Reeves) made shots. Robert Dillingham does what he does. Adou (Thiero) went and banged and rebounded against a big team. Tre (Mitchell) made those shots which are, what I call, those are ‘the moment.’ There was that play, ‘the moment.’ And one team is playing with house money and we’re playing with we’ve got to win. And they never — it never fazed them. And, like I said, I’m probably leaving somebody out. But I thought Jordan (Burks) played well, went in and mixed it up and did some good stuff. And, so...

Q. When you got Tre, were you fully aware that he was capable, as you call ‘the moment,’ making those shots?

That you only get to see when you are coaching them. But I knew how talented he was. He is a skilled basketball player, shooting 3s, passing balls. He will fight. Missing some free throws, which are stunning to me because he is a really good free-throw shooter.

But Justin made a couple of plays. Now, he shoots that 3; you know, we got lucky, Robert fell down, I call a timeout. I mean, again, a little bit of discipline and more organization when you are playing to win. The play where Reed rebounded, bringing it up and someone’s running for a basket. Why? We are up five. We don’t need a basket. Don’t run that way, run the other way.

‘I didn’t have the ball.’

I know, but you ran like you were going to try to get a layup. We don’t need it. We want to finish the game off. But, again, we shot a high percentage. We only had nine turnovers, two of our guys had six of those nine, and we played a good team, a veteran team. And they did not go away. And they outrebounded us.

Q. With young guys, defense, half-court defense, 3-point defense, how much of that is just paying attention throughout the entirety of a possession and just locking in?

In most cases we were in the vicinity, we didn’t have hands up or we didn’t take the 3 away. What happens is, if I go up too close and he’s able to drive around me, it is kind of embarrassing. So I will stop a little short and give him a 3 and have my excuse why I did it. Well, I know why you did it, you didn’t want him to beat you on a dribble. And I’m saying, let him beat you on a dribble. We will recover from behind. If they’re shooting 2s, they can’t beat us shooting 2s. They are going to beat us shooting 3s.

The other one was, and the main reason I put Reed in wasn’t Reed himself, it was Reed’s team defense. That’s why I put him in the last part of the game, it was his team defense. Did a way better job of cutting a man off coming off screenings. But he is talking. He understood what the game plan was.

But, yeah, there’s things we are going to have to get better at. We are going to have to rebound the ball better. But to get out a team makes 15 3s and you figure out how to win, you make free throws, you make plays, you get rebounds down the stretch, you fight to win with a bunch of young guys, it is perfect. You play a game you could have lost but you didn’t. You figured out how to win.

Q. You have spoken a lot about Reed this year and he has some of the best hands that you have seen.

Not just — the hands were not better than Stacey (Reed Sheppard)‘s hands. Stacey led this women’s program in steals and she played a while ago. She had — Jeff just wanted to shoot it.

Q. Fair enough. But with Reed, kind of a two-parter, on the last play where he got the game sealing steal, what did you see there? Is that something you can teach or is it instinct?

I work on that with him every day. No. That’s who he is. That’s why he was in in the end. We need a rebounder. Who rebounded the ball? He did. Do you need that rebounder or does it got to be a bigger guy than him? So you want to play guys in the end so that we’re a good team at the end of the game. It appears as though he has got to be in, at least one of them.

But I was so happy D.J. busted through, Justin busted through. You know, you want guys to feel like their hard work is paying off.

Now, the thing with Justin, which I was — you know, you can’t prepare for a game the way you prepare. The day of the game, right before the game your preparation has to be unbelievable, excellent because you are playing to play great. Not just to play. So he’s learning. He had a great shootaround and he had a great warmup and it led to the game he had. Now, will he understand, you know, that’s important? Yeah.

But, you know, all of them did something different in the game.

But, again, we got beat to balls; you know, they sent five guys to the glass. So their way of playing is 3s, layups, and offensive rebounds. Pretty good. And they got a team that can do that. I will be surprised if they’re not in the hunt to win that league in the last week of the season, I will be stunned, what I saw today.

Q. Cal, there is always a lot of talk about balanced offense, but what about balanced assists? You had five players with three or more tonight.

They all can play. How about, we had all guys in double figures and Adou had seven and even though he didn’t get in double figures, plus minus, as Reed. But the thing I’ve told them, even the last game, we had seven guys have between eight and 10 shots. So you can’t say, well, I don’t get my shots. No, you got them. What are you doing with them? You are one for eight. Don’t come talking to me.

I mean, so, when you play this way, yeah, there’s more weight on a shot because you are not taking 25 shots. You are just not. And the way we play it is a balance and, really, assists. Now, when you have a team like this, and I’ve said this a couple of times, every — you have got different teams you are watching. You won’t believe this, we don’t all play the same. Well, you should play like him.

Well, if I had his guys I would play like him. How about I don’t. The way we play now, there are many teams in the country that can’t play that way and shouldn’t or they will win five games. Well, I’m just going to play the right way, though. Yeah, OK, now you are looking for work.

How do I play with this team? We have got to get one of these bigs back, hopefully two. It changes who we are. Now, you say, well, how are you going to play? You ready for this? They can play basketball. They can bounce it. You can still play five out. You could put Tre at the four or him at the five and those guys on a perimeter because of how they play and how they shoot. So, but, I know what you will have is someone near the rim that is 7-foot-2 that you are not just getting layups, which we are still giving up a lot of layups. What did they shoot for the game? 42 percent. 40 from the 3.

Q. John, I wanted to ask, you guys were up seven with five and a half to play in regulation but you go on to overtime and you win it. So do you just view that your team got more out of this game winning in that fashion, having to make winning plays late as opposed to if you had won by 15 or 20?

I would have liked to have won by 15, 20. But you take advantage of what unfolds. And that’s all I can tell you. You know, again, we missed some shots, some free throws. They bang a couple of 3s, all of a sudden it is anybody’s game. We were kind of lucky to get to OT. We really were.

And, so, I will watch the tape tomorrow on the plane, have an idea of what we are going to have to see on Wednesday, we will probably watch some of this, and then what we have got to work on. You know, there were things that I am doing, I’m still trying to figure out the team.

When do you let Robert go, let him go do a little bit more? We did that at points in this game. I also ran one of our grind-it-out offenses that I have not used this year, and Robert makes a shot out of it. You grind it a little bit. We did some different things bringing both big guys out. I’m just trying to figure out, you know, how do we do this and get what we want to get from it.

Q. And, John, just as a follow-up to what I just asked, you guys had the 14-point lead last week versus Kansas and obviously Saint Joe’s is not at Kansas’ level. But do you view the fact that you guys won this game —

Kansas couldn’t have made 15 3s, so you played them different. But, no, I mean, we’re a team that’s still learning, playing winning basketball. Like Justin came out and just with 20 seconds on the clock shoots a 3. What? Why would you do that? You know, you are not shooting a high enough percentage to take that shot in a winning situation.

You know what? He knew it. I got it. Stuff like that they have got to learn. Like Robert trying to take a baseline. I was seeing if he could get something. When he fell down, we call a timeout, kind of get lucky.

Q. John, D.J. scored 10 in the second half, seven in overtime. Throughout his high school career I thought he had earned the reputation as a closer. Is that something you saw recruiting him?

Yeah. But he played as much off the ball as much as he did on the ball. The point guard ended up going to Saint Louis. So...

But it doesn’t matter if you are on or off the ball when you play basketball the way we are playing. Literally, Reed’s a point guard, D.J.’s a point guard, Robert’s a point guard. You know, we put Antonio in pick-and-roll’s. I mean, we’ve got — and we are playing with three of them at times on the court. And then you say you have got a lot of guys with a lot of assists. Yeah, they are point guards, basketball players. So...

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to his players during Monday’s game against Saint Joseph’s.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to his players during Monday’s game against Saint Joseph’s.

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