Mississippi State coach Rick Ray got on the phone for today’s SEC coaches teleconference, reviewing last week’s losses to Alabama and Vanderbilt and looking ahead to Wednesday’s game at Kentucky. The Bulldogs (7-19, 2-12 SEC) have lost 12 in a row, and the current state of this team was a big topic of this morning’s conversation.
I’ve got the full transcript below.
“I thought our team did a tremendous job at Alabama by going out and playing with a tremendous competitive spirit. With the situation we’re in right now and having six scholarship guys and now the two walk-ons, for those guys to go out and compete the way they did against Alabama, I was really impressed with that fact. I thought we were in that ball game until we were down by four, and then the next three possessions we turned the basketball over and gave them easy opportunities in transition. I was looking for some carryover from that Alabama game into the Vanderbilt game and obviously that did not happen. I thought we came out and really played well in the first four to six minutes defensively and then they started to set a high-ball screen and we really didn’t get that stopped at all, which led to them getting a lot of offensive rebounds. The biggest thing is I thought we had some decent looks at the basket offensively for the first four to six minutes of the game, that simply couldn’t go down. Our guys kind of lost their spirit because we weren’t playing well offensively, which led to not playing well defensively.”
In a sense, is it almost not a fair fight with the short bench?
“That’s a good question. The thing that we have to realize, and our team knows it, is there’s nobody – there’s nobody – in the country that has went through what we’ve went through. I don’t care what level: NAIA, Division II, junior college. With the numbers that we have. I would wonder if anybody in history of college basketball has gone through what we’ve went through as far as the off-the-court issues and the injuries. It’s been a trying season and to our guys’ credit they’ve really hung in there and tried to be good citizens and do some of the things we want them to do on the court and continue to try to compete. When someone says I understand what you’re going through, no you don’t. You really don’t. You can’t use it as an excuse at the end of the day. You have to go out and try to compete and win ball games because no one is canceling the season.”
How do you get the guys’ spirits back up?
“When you’re dealing with a young and inexperienced team, I don’t think this is just our basketball team, but I think this is deal with any young men that are playing competitive basketball, they kind of live through their offense at times. And when things are going well for them offensively, they really compete and defend for you on the defensive end. When you’re having the offensive struggles that we have, like against Missouri and against Vanderbilt, when you’re constantly coming down and you’re not seeing the ball go through the hoop, it’s hard for you to have that competitive spirit on the defensive end. Ultimately what you would like to do is have a team that can persevere through some offensive struggles, but I think it’s just commonplace in college basketball for guys to live through their offense.”
Your overall observations on Kentucky:
“This is the first time I’ve really had a chance to look at them because it’s the first time we’ve played them. I’ve seen them on tape as an opponent, but I’m really focused in on the other team at that point in time. Things have changed for them obviously, losing (Nerlens) Noel, on the defensive end, because he covered up a lot of mistakes, and you could have some situations where you could pressure more and gamble more, and he would erase those mistakes at the rim. That’s obviously affecting their team. But the thing I’m really impressed with is how coach (John) Calipari has set his guys up to be successful on the offensive end with some of the things that they do. That diamond screening action that they’re doing for Julius Mays, really does a good job of isolating him and getting him cutting and screening and having some opportunities to score the basketball. But it also isolates (Kyle) Wiltjer in the post, and I’m really concerned about him, because he’s so patient when he gets the ball in the post. Most kids when they get it in the post or off the post, they really rush everything, but he’s really patient and can go over either shoulder, can dribble with either hand, obviously has a tremendous shooting touch.
“And then you’ve got (Archie) Goodwin, who’s a terror to stop from getting into the paint. (Alex) Poythress is a big, strong, physical kid, and I’m really concerned they’ll overpower some of our guys in that driving area and in that post. I think coach Calipari has done a really good job of finding some ways to put his guys in position to be successful by scoring the basketball.”