John Calipari explains Kentucky’s winning leadership qualities after victory at Ole Miss

Despite yet another change to the starting lineup, the Kentucky Wildcats eventually emerged as convincing winners Tuesday night.

John Calipari’s team overcame being without freshman guard Cason Wallace (knee injury), as well as being tied at halftime, to defeat Ole Miss 75-66.

Despite Wallace’s injury, a brief period near the end of the first half without replacement Sahvir Wheeler and another difficult scoring night for CJ Fredrick, the Cats pulled away in the second half.

Senior transfer guard Antonio Reeves continued his recent form with 27 points, the most he’s ever scored as a Wildcat.

Oscar Tshiebwe posted his 41st double-double in 54 career games at UK, and Wheeler posted nine assists against just one turnover.

It was a win Kentucky absolutely had to have to stay on course for an NCAA Tournament spot against a short-handed Ole Miss team.

Here’s everything Calipari said after the win:

Q. Thank God for Antonio. Other than hitting shots, what did he do that made him so effective?

Well, no, thank goodness we have a next man up mentality. So we were playing with Adou who hadn’t played that much, trying to play him at point, that we got out of the half tied, I was amazed.

But Sahvir, again, here’s a kid that was coming off the bench. We needed him to start. His ankle was busted up, swelled, and he said, I’m playing because I know you guys need me to win this game. And he played. So here is a young man that’s playing for Kentucky, for the state, for the basketball program, not playing for himself or he wouldn’t have played.

Jacob started the half, second half and I just said ‘You’re not doing that. That ain’t who you are now.’ But I like what we did. Oscar did some good stuff. And here’s the crazy thing and I told Kermit after, they’re in every game they play, they just need to bust out of one game and now that we’re done I’m hoping they win the rest.

But they got the shooters, the big guys, they’re right on the cusp, and real coaching gets done when this kind of stuff goes on, and all the noise and all that, this is when coaching gets done and you watch Kermit because he’s one of the best. I told my team I said, ‘Look, I saw the Tennessee game. I saw the Georgia game. You want me to keep going?’

I saw all these games, and I’m like shoot, they could have won just about any of them. But they’re good. I know the record doesn’t speak that. But he’s got them playing, they’re playing zone, they’re trapping, their offense is good. They’re doing good stuff, missed some shots and we made some shots. I can live that, we lived that the last game.

Q. Sahvir’s leadership —

Unbelievable, unbelievable. And that’s why I keep saying (you) just can’t listen to all the clutter, you gotta let it go and just be who you are.

How about Daimion today? I mean, Daimion and Adou have not played in three games and they go in and play well. They’ve got the hardest job, them and Ugonna. The other guys you’re playing, you know to get yourself ready. How about you gotta get yourself ready and you’re not sure whether you’re going to play or not?

Q. John, you talked about landing the airplane in previous years, how close are you and how confident —

It’s way early. What we’re trying to do is alright, one game. Who’s next? Let’s win the next game. That’s all I’m worried about.

You probably know I was talking about Texas A&M. I talked about Vanderbilt, because that’s who I thought we were playing and we were playing Texas A&M. I don’t even know the next game. I’m like staying focused right where I am.

And my thing is these kids... All the stuff that other players never had to deal with, it’s 100 times at Kentucky. I’m just trying to make sure they know I believe in them. I’m here for them.

We got leadership within and that this is going to play out and I told them ‘You’re going to break through,’ and they have. This game, you know, it was one that we could have easily lost because Mississippi was ready to play.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari watches the team warm up before facing Mississippi in Oxford on Tuesday.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari watches the team warm up before facing Mississippi in Oxford on Tuesday.

Q. Question about what was the best thing Kentucky did in the second half.

Thirty-two all at halftime was amazing. And I went in and told them. We got two guards out. We’re playing with all wing players. We’re struggling to get into offense and it’s 32, 32, we’re all right.

And when Sahvir said ‘Coach, I’m playing this half, I know you need me.’ And I said alright, we’re good then.

And now how about Chris Livingston today? I mean, Chris Livingston was an absolute beast. And that’s what we need him to be. I tried to tell him you’re not Antonio, I know people want you to play like Antonio. You’re not him. But guess what, Antonio can’t do any of the things that you do? Be an all-star at what you do.

I thought Oscar was better in pick and roll defense because we demanded it. Because I was going to play Daimion if he wasn’t. We were better. But they made shots... We had it to 13, 14, and all of a sudden they made two threes. It’s like what in the world is going on here?

Q. Cal, you were concerned about the physicality of the team beforehand.

Yeah, we were.

Q. Are you pleased with how you’re responding?


Q. Question about Cason Wallace’s injury.

He had a contusion so there’s nothing structurally... Banged knees. He was good at practice yesterday (Monday), and when we went to the shootaround he kind of stepped funny and I told him just stay out, man... You don’t need to be playing guys that are 80%, you just don’t, or 90%.

Q. Question about watching Daimion Collins play well after his sophomore season so far.

I love seeing him smile. Like you understand what he’s been through. What is it?... His dad passed, his dad was his best friend, would have been his best man in his wedding and he, in Lexington, passed away.

And then all of a sudden he loses 16 pounds. Now, we’re playing other people and now he finally got a chance.

I told him before the game and I told Lance. I said I’m gonna go with (Collins) because I want to see if we get a little more length on the court, and that’s him. And Lance is the greatest leader. He’s one of the great leaders I’ve had. He said ‘Coach, you just do your thing. I’ll do mine.’ Like (if) you play me I’m gonna be ready, and Lance was ready. But he knew what was best.

Today, CJ stepping back and letting those other guys play is what this is. I mean, when you’re playing basketball, one guy gets it going and then you play him and you win through him and that’s why we kept going at Antonio the minute he made a couple shots, I don’t know what his final numbers are... Good, good for him. He’s a good player.

Thanks. We got to stay. Is there a place I can get a pizza tonight?

We got to stay and then we got to drive two hours. This is like I’m back at UMass. In my early years. You get on a bus and you go two hours to get a plane to go home.

And I told the guys tonight, we got a meal at the hotel, the hotel, The Graduate’s, done a great job, they always do. But we’re gonna have a meal. I told them we can’t leave until 10:30 Why is that?

Because I gotta go to an 8:30 mass. And then I want to get a workout in and then we’ll leave after I’m done. When you’re the boss, you can do that stuff. So I told them we’re not leaving until 10:30 and they said why? I’m going to mass and then I’m going to go and work out and then we’ll be fine. Thanks folks.

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