U.K. ready for next "tough" test

cbs sports classicU.K. has defeated all eleven of it’s opponents by at least 10 points and leads the nation with an average margin of victory of 28.2 points. U.K. also ranks at or near the top in several defensive categories. Next up for U.K. is UCLA as part of the CBS SPORTS CLASSIC today in Chicago. UCLA’s depth may be an issue against the vaunted Wildcat “Platoon” system.

Coach Cal’s Pregame Comments –

On how the current team ranks with other teams he has coached … “It’ll be interesting to see how we finish, but the best teams I’ve had, like just unbelievable teams – I’m not saying the most talented teams – but I’m telling you the best basketball teams we had were when I was playing five and six guys.” On Tyler Ulis’ health … “He’s got to make sure he takes care of himself. It’s like when you go in an NBA locker room. Every one of them, I think 75 percent of the NBA has tendonitis so you can figure out how to play with it or don’t play. Get another job.” On if Ulis has tendonitis … “No, but it’s the same idea. There are certain things you have that you have to deal with. You have to learn to play with.” On the common characteristics between players who played for him that are from Chicago … “They were all different. I mean Derrick (Rose) played at one of the best high schools as far as the tradition of the program. Anthony (Davis) played at one of the worst high schools traditionally. Tyler played at a private school so it’s all different. What they all had in common is a desire to improve, a comfort-level in their skin, which made them very good teammates, great guys to be around. It’s funny how they won’t ever change. The injury that Derrick has, his team fully supports him because they know what a great guy he is and that he’s there for them. The same with Anthony. I mean, I’ve watched him play where Tyreke Evans – he played for me too – had like 35, and he (Davis) was fine with it. It never bothered him. He’d just keep feeding him the ball, chesting him. He’s one of those guys. This kid (Ulis) is the same way. I mean he’s cheering for Andrew (Harrison) to do well. And he knows how good Andrew is. And even though they run the different teams and they go at each other, he has great respect and he’s a great teammate.” On how well he knows UCLA head coach Steve Alford … “I’ve known him for years and years. We’ve become close, but I knew him when he was at Southwest Missouri State. I did things for him. My wife grew up an hour and a half from there on a dirt farm. You guys didn’t catch that. That’s what I told her. She grew up on a dirt farm. He and I have been close when he went to Iowa. I think we played. They beat us when I was at Memphis one of my first years, but he’s a terrific coach. Just a great guy. Great family. Tanya (Alford) is a great lady. His kids are great kids. And he now has that opportunity to be there in that job, which is one of the premier jobs.” On the idea of a grace period in a new coaching job … “There are two things. The kids remember the last three years. The families remember the last 30. The kids remember when they were 13 and 14 and before that they don’t have any idea. I think what Steve (Alford) did last year I think they won 30 games or 29 games or whatever it was. Walked right in and developed guys that people did not think would be able to go right to the NBA, and they did. Three of them after one year, one of them the (a high) pick in the draft. He’s also now done it with Kevon Looney. I mean, they’re telling me he’s the fourth or fifth pick in the draft. So he has developed players, but I think in our case we were prepared to lose a bunch of guys. I don’t think they knew that that many guys would leave them. And so that one guy missing has made it so they’re playing five and six guys. They would have played seven and they would have been fine. But I think he’s done a great job. He’s on the West Coast. He’s rebuilding the image of what they want there. We want to tie to programs like that. That’s what we want, both of us. Does that answer it?” On coaches like Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Larry Brown this team to some of the all-time greats … “For a minute there I thought you were going to say all-time coaches. I understand that’s not going to be said. What were we talking about? No, I’m just kidding. What I really like is Willie (Cauley-Stein) has taken on a different persona. I sat him down about a month ago and said, ‘Why don’t you want to be the number one pick in the draft?’ He asked me what I meant. ‘Well it’s obvious you don’t want to be the number one pick. Why wouldn’t you? You have this team around you. All you have to do is perform and improve and improve in a couple areas and you’re on the page.’ He said, ‘I do want to.’ Then do more. Come into practice longer. Come in here at night. Spend more time at this – the sport. He has been. I think when you start talking about the teams that were the great teams, they had hall-of-fame players. We have yet to prove where we are in that regard. I think we’re a terrific team. I think what we’ve been doing to keep reinforcements coming has made us even better and made it easier for each guy to perform at a higher level. Let this season play out before they talk in terms of those teams because again some of them had three hall of famers on their team. In Springfield, their college team had three and to compare us to those teams. Come on. Maybe they’re looking at us compared to the other college teams in the last couple years. I don’t know.” On lessons taken from North Carolina game … “Toughness, rebounding, breakdowns defensively, and not sprinting back. Those are things that will cost you basketball games and we’ve focused on that now this week and for the next three. We’re the 13th best defensive rebounding team out of 14 in our league. Really? The tallest bad defensive rebounding team in the history of the game. There are things that I look at right now and I’m like, ‘Come on.’ We turn it over with just a little bit of pressure like token traps. We threw the ball all over the place. I would say if you watched our game, you have teams licking their chops saying, ‘We’re going to run, press, and trap these dudes. Try to get free baskets early and when we shoot it we’re sending four the glass. Forget about them.’ If you watched that game, then that’s what you’d do. Teams that will push you in the back on shots so they can get and edge and teams that just crash and bang and grab are looking at this and licking their chops.”

On how big the rebounding aspect is with a guy like Kevon Looney on their team … “It’s more than just him. I’m talking about my team. Our guards right now, we may have the worst group of rebounding guards in the country, too. So we’re doing stuff to hold them accountable. We started two days ago. Yesterday was an individual work day because we’re in finals, but we’re going to go back at it today. And I told them, ‘From here and through what we call Camp Cal, we’re doing this stuff every day.’ I said, ‘The stuff we’re not doing – the physical play, we get bumped, we hit the ground, we start throwing balls to a guy next to us, we throw it – well, we’re going to be playing in games where they grab, they hold, they kick, they push, they bite. Can you play in that type of game? If you can’t play in that type of game, you can’t win that game.’ ”

On how Alex Poythress is doing … “He and I met today. He’s doing good. He has a great frame of mind. He and I talked a little bit about Derrick Rose’s mental approach when it happened to him. He’s going to have the surgery after Christmas, so he has time. We talked about what his options could be and some things that we should think about.”

On how Poythress can still make it to the NBA Draft even though he’s going to miss the season and workouts … “He has more time than Nerlens (Noel) had, so he’s going to have an extra two months, really a month and a half. I would tell you that there will be an option for him if he chooses to (go). But we only talked (about it) slightly. We talked a little bit. I said, ‘The other side of it is being mentally tougher. Why? Because you’ll never get through the rehab (if you’re not). Pushing through a comfort level, which you struggle with. Well, you’ll have to through the rehab. You have no choice. Coming back with that increased motor. And then we’ll work on some skills.’ I told him about getting his wrist back on every shot. No more of this (hand straight up and down). Now we have time. Wrist is going to be back. You’re going to be up and off instead of that (straight up and down). I said, ‘We have time now.’ ”

On what it would be like to have him back as a senior … “A young man that they all respect and a young man that’s a straight-A student and a guy that can do things that normal players can’t do, it would be nice. But, if it’s in his best interest to put his name in the draft, I would support it and help it along and do that. He’s going to do what’s right for him. It’s tough. But he was really good today. I mean, I think he’s coming back to the reality of this happened, it’s not a dream, it’s real, now I’ve got to deal with it. He looked like was at ease with what was going forward.”

On if his hip is still bothering him … “I’m fine. The biggest thing is I’m sleeping at night. I’m working out every day. I still need to lose 20 pounds, which I gained – very happily – when I couldn’t do anything last year. But it’s a little harder getting it off. But like I told my team, I’m not supposed to have a six-pack. I’m 55. You’re supposed to have a little belly when you’re 65. Now I don’t want to have a big belly, but a little one.”

On if he was a “root for UCLA” kid when he was growing up a “root against UCLA” kid growing up … “I liked North Carolina growing up. I liked UCLA. I watched more basketball that way. I didn’t have a (team). Pitt, because Pitt wasn’t when I was younger the Pitt is now, but we had some guys from our high-school team play on that team so you followed Pitt and some of that stuff. West Virginia and all that because of where I grew up. UCLA, they were like faraway lands. I mean, I didn’t even go on vacation until I was 19, and that was to Maryland. Maryland. We drove to the Maryland shore. I was not on an airplane until I was 20. So when you start talking UCLA, ‘Where in the world? Is that in our country?’ Yeah. ‘Like, near Youngstown? Where is it?’ It’s just different than it was. So I wasn’t (a huge fan), but I liked them, respected them.”

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