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  • Vanderbilt Commodores - February 28, 2017 - Rupp Arena - 9:00 PM EST - ESPN

Willis, Hawkins, Monk recap Kentucky’s win over Tennessee

Kentucky seniors Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins and freshman Malik Monk spoke with the media Tuesday night following UK’s 83-58 win over Tennessee at Rupp Arena. Willis scored 16 points and knocked down four 3-pointers against the Vols. Hawkins chipped in a season-high 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes. Monk scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. Video is courtesy of Kentucky Wildcats TV.

Derek Willis

On Kentucky’s good start against Tennessee …
“I think with what we’ve been doing in practice with the whole moving the ball, cutting, just being more active on offense has really taken a toll and opened up the game for us. We’re not forcing anything. People, you go down a couple stretches and you don’t get a shot, then you get the ball and you want to hold it and get a shot just to kind of get your rhythm going. It’s just been good for everybody. There were plenty of times people were wide open but then they passed it one more and that dude was even more open and swung it again and that guy drove. It was just how you play basketball. That’s been good for us.

“Defensively, I feel like we were all on the same page with everything. We’re going to have lapses in every game I feel like, but we’ve definitely minimalized them for sure.”

On if this was their most complete performance in a while …
“I think this was a good step in the right direction. It’s definitely been better than how we’ve been playing. I think everybody can agree with that. It was just a good game for us.”

On how the UK fours were able to play so well against Tennessee …
“I think it was the whole thing with the ball movement again. I was open, you hit the shot and get yourself going and it opens up the game for everyone. It opened up the game for (De’Aaron) Fox to get to the rim and Isaiah (Briscoe), and Malik was hitting transition 3s. It was just basketball.”

On what Coach Cal said to the team during the timeout when it looked like Tennessee was beginning to make a run …
“I think it was just a thing of don’t be complacent, step on these guys’ throats, then the game gets easy. You take out a count of the refs in the game. Tonight, I think the whole referring thing, I feel like in the past people have said it’s been an issue, but I don’t really put that as an excuse for a loss or anything. Tonight I feel like there was no foul issue for anything. Just the whole idea of it is you want to increase your lead as much (as you can) and then take the refs out of the game. Then you can just play relaxed, honestly.”

On what Calipari taught the young guys this week about playing with a lead …
“Just don’t do stupid stuff, really. We would get up 15, 16 and have three or four turnovers and then they cut it down to probably like nine or eight, right in there. If we didn’t score or something, they go down, we don’t get a stop and it’s a two-bucket ballgame or something. Just grinding out, really, is what we’ve been doing in practice. We’ve done a bunch of situations where one team will be up 15 or something and then the other team is coming right at the other team trying to drive and get fouls, get to the free-throw line and vice versa.”

On the biggest differences between tonight’s game and the first game against Tennessee …
“We’ve come a long way since January. Definitely learned a lot. I feel like for the most part we’ve all been on the same page collectively with the coaching staff and players. Everyone knows what their role is. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do out on the court. As a team, we know if we’re going to be trapping someone or if we’re going to shade a certain person, play a little more packed in. Tonight, I think we just executed well both offensively and defensively.”

On how they’ve executed in practice …
“Yeah, it’s just what we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on pushing the ball in transition, if nothing’s there you back it out and swing the ball around and then cut. It’s going to open up something. That’s what happened tonight. We had a bunch of open shots and shared the ball. It’s fun to play like that too.”

Dominique Hawkins

On Coach Cal calling him ‘old reliable’ and what he contributes to the team …
“Definitely on the defensive end, my pressure on the ball and getting defensive rebounds and getting steals. And on the offensive end, driving, getting the other people involved, getting to my floater, hitting the open shot.”

On how he stays ready when his playing time is irregular …
“I always just say that my time is coming. Everybody in my family always says, ‘Be patient.’ When you’re a patient person, good things will come for you. And I know every time when I get in I’m going to play my hardest. So I want to stay out on the court.”

On what motivates him to play his hardest …
“Not being on the bench. I don’t want to be on the bench at all. I never was used to it until I came to college, so I just don’t want to be on the bench at all.”

On what it’s like to wait his turn year after year …
“It actually helps me a lot because I’m going against the best. I definitely want to play with the best players because that’s the only way to make it to the national championship. If you have the best team, you’re going to make it far into the NCAA Tournament. And that’s what I want to do.”

On whether he’s ever thought about the possibility of playing more minutes at another school …
“A lot of people tell me that, but Kentucky was always my go-to school and I’m so glad I came here. The four years I’ve been here have been a blessing for me. I wouldn’t want to be at any other school other than here.”

On Willis tonight …
“He was outstanding. He shot the lights out. He was rebounding. He did everything that we needed him to do.”

On Willis off the court …
“He’s a great guy. He’s kind of a little shy guy. You gotta get to know him, but he loves giving back to kids, going to hospitals and visiting them. And that’s a lot to people in Kentucky. I know it is and people don’t realize that Derek, he’s such a great guy.”

On why Monk rebounded so well tonight …
“You’ll have to ask Malik that. I don’t know. I have no idea about that, but it’s great to see him grab eight boards like that. We’ve never seen it before and hopefully he continues to do it.”

On how surprising Monk’s rebounding was …
“It’s actually not surprising because in practice he does it all the time. It’s just been in games that he hasn’t been able to pull them down yet.”

On what he sees for his future in basketball …
“I really haven’t even thought about my future yet, but I know it’s coming up soon. I’m just trying to continue in this season and see what happens for me at the end.”

On what he might do outside of basketball …
“I haven’t thought about that yet. I’m still continuing to play.”

On not letting up tonight …
“We came out with great energy. Everybody played well together. We were moving the ball. I had many open shots and we remembered last game how we played (against Tennessee) and we didn’t want to play that bad again.”

On sustaining effort in the second half …
“That’s something that we needed to work on. We usually give up leads like that and Coach just kept telling us, ‘We don’t need to give up this lead and keep your foot on the gas pedal and continue to strive in this game.’ ”

On the team having more confidence tonight …
“We’re coming out to play. Everybody on the team loves each other. We got a great brotherhood going on. Been going out to eat and watching movies together. I just feel like this team’s become more involved in each other and we’re ready to play whoever we have to play.”

On whether this is the best they’ve played in a long time …
“It felt good. I felt like we played really excellent. We did play really, really good today. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to keep up a lead like this and hopefully it continues in the future.”

On Coach Cal calling him tough and competitive …
“It means a lot. Coach Cal knows what my role is and I know what my role is as well. Being able to play for Coach Cal is an honor. He’s a Hall of Fame coach and for him to say that is just great.”

Malik Monk

On the difference that let him have eight rebounds tonight…
“Me just being around the paint area. I was just roaming around there. My brother told me if I roam around some, a couple, are just going to bounce to me. A couple did, but I had to go get a couple. I was just roaming around.”

On how the Wildcats did not let up tonight…
“That’s what we have been trying to do the whole season. We’ve had spurts, like every game we have spurts of us doing that but I mean we’ve been trying to do this the whole season. We’ve been running a lot too. I think that’s the main reason we did it. We ran a lot if we didn’t do anything right like get under the ball when the ball drew up, stuff like that, we just ran. We ran for the little mistakes but I think we didn’t want to run no more so that’s why we did it.” 

On learning to bury people as a team…
“Yeah, we haven’t been together. We never played with each other that much so we have to learn how to do everything together.”

On hitting five 3s in a span of three minutes …
“We had a lot of energy. The defense started everything I think. I think they shot like 30 percent, something like that. So the defense started everything. The defense, like I said, the defense was just there. It was active energy, a lot of energy and that just carried over to the offensive end.”