Q. Sean, if you can answer this first and then maybe Derrick and Solomon. New York
City has a reputation of putting out aggressive point guards who can sort of spread that to a team. Can you talk about what MoMo has done for this team, his influence on this team?
COACH MILLER: Well, I think first and foremost, MoMo deserves a lot of credit for improving and for getting better. A year ago he didn't play exclusively point guard for us, because I think he can play either position and we had a senior, Nic Wise, but if you followed us a year ago, he hit his stride in the Pac-10 and played some of his best basketball down the home stretch.
There is a huge difference between being a role player and playing two positions than being a starting point guard. He did the same thing this year. He stayed with it, he has great confidence and belief in himself.
There was a time in the Pac-10 where he was playing as well as any player in the Pac-10. A big reason why we won our conference championship, and there are not too many players in my opinion that have more confidence in who they are and the bigger the game the better he wants to play.
That type of confidence especially with your point guard having it can go throughout the ranks of the rest of your team and I think these guys would agree that part of our team success has to do with MoMo's confidence and to me he gives our whole team confidence by his attitude. But his improvement is the one thing that can't be understated.
It's not always that a guy is going to get better at season goes on and he really has.
Solomon Hill: MoMo is the motor to the team. Derrick is the wheels, but he's the motor. He makes us go, every day he is there to compete. He pushes everybody else on the court and he's a verbal leader on our team. He talks to us, every huddle we bring each other together and he tells us it's not over, "let's keep goin'" and I appreciate that, every time I step on the floor I have a verbal general like MoMo and I feel good about the team.
Derrick Williams: I think that MoMo learned a lot from Nic last year and just seeing how he handled losing. Seeing MoMo's face I don't know he doesn't like to lose, and that's what he brings to our whole team. Especially when our general is the court is MoMo and saying he doesn't want to lose, it feeds off offensively us.
That's why we've been so good this year, all the off-season workouts, and it's been payin' off this year. Many of us stayed all summer in Tucson and worked out and went to school and I think that helped us and I think that's why we're win this gone year.
Q. Sean, you did well recruiting the New York area in your previous job, and now it seems like you've got something going on there. Can you talk about the -- why do you have this connection with New York City and what do you think it does to enhance the way that your program performs?
COACH MILLER: Well, New York City kids love to play for a guy who is from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (Chuckles.) No, all the credit there has to go to one of our assistant coaches, Emanuel Richardson who coached Kemba Walker for a significant portion of his high school career.
And so many times New Yorkers identify with people that are from that area, that have walked that walk and drank that water, you know, I played with a lot of guys from New York and MoMo's no different, they always say the same thing, "Hey, you know I'm from New York," as if that gives you a sense of security and a toughness and that's what that city brings out a lot of times in the basketball players and the guards that we talk about.
But, regardless of where our guys are from, we certainly want people that are about winning that want to play hard every day and, you know, Jesse Perry and MoMo represent that quality, those qualities for our team.
Q. Sean, you've talked in the past couple of weeks about your message to these guys being "Enjoy this. 'Cuz you never know when it could come again." In relation to that, what do you tell them prior to tip-off tomorrow?
COACH MILLER: We are enjoying being up here on the podium as late in the game as this is, there are only eight teams that can do this. That in and of itself brings the enjoyment and knowing that you're praying in the game means the Final Four -- every one of these guys have thought about that prior to being at Arizona where you dream about having that opportunity.
The one thing we want to be is very responsible in terms of playing to win. Working hard in today's practice, making sure that from a scouting perspective on a quick turn-around that we know everything we need to know to be successful at 4:00 tomorrow.
The one thing about this tournament, the next game is on you so fast that it really does favor the team that's the most ready. I thought we were ready for last night's game, and we have to have as much readiness for tomorrow's game against a great UCONN team. But play to win. Make sure that we take advantage of this opportunity as best we can.
Q. MoMo, have you had a chance to talk to or text with Kemba in the last 24 hours, and how much are you looking forward to tomorrow?
Lamont Jones: We talked the whole weekend since we been here. It hasn't been much about the game, though. We don't really worry about that stuff. On the court is on the court and off the court is off the court. Like I said before, we'll be on the court together, but we'll both try to will our teams to win.
Q. Are you looking forward to that match-up, going against him?
LAMONT JONES: Of course.
Q. Derrick, a lot has been made of where you were or weren't ranked among the high school stars in California in high school. Was this any kind of motivation or was it simply for you a matter of getting better no matter the number?
DERRICK WILLIAMS: Doesn't matter what number you are, if any case I want to keep betting better every year. I think I made a big jump from that season to this season so far, and I plan on making that from this season to the next season.
That's just how I am. I always want to try to get better. As long as I keep getting better my teammates are going to keep getting better, too. A lot of my teammates feed off what I do. If they see me working hard they're going to work as hard. It's a chain reaction. If I keep workin' then my team is going to keep workin'.
Q. Sean, I read a story from January when you talked about Derrick and the scope of the program. You felt at that time even though so many pros have come out you felt like this season he's had is up there. Fast forward three months and in light of what he did last night. Can you revisit that? What kind of place you feel like he has in the program's history?
COACH MILLER: One of the things that fuels our team's success is Derrick as a person. You have five guys up here and a lot of questions will be pointed toward Derrick and I think you'll see clearly how he handles answering the questions.
When you have a player that's had the success that he's had individually be the person, the humble person, the great teammate that he is, makes life easier for all of us.
The greatest compliment that anybody can pay Derrick right now is that our team is 30-7, we're in the Elite Eight, we've won a Pac-10 regular season championship, and so many times those individual efforts at the end of the season you can't point toward that team's success. Numbers are one thing and he has all of those, the consistency, playing his best in big games. That's all part of what you have to give him credit for.
The thing I'm most proud of is that he's led our team to a terrific season, and hopefully it's not finished yet, and last night was the greatest example, a first half where he carried us and the second half where his teammates rallied around him and with him. That's, to me, looking back over the last six months the thing that stands out.
I talked to Coach Olson about Derrick. He knows way better than me, and I think he would agree with the assessment that this season he's played as well as any Arizona player, minus one or two.
Q. Derrick, I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about your teammates, and what we can expect from them in tomorrow's game.
DERRICK WILLIAMS: Jesse Perry was a big part of us doing well this season. When he came on his visit we needed a guy just like Jesse, somebody that doesn't matter about points, he's going to do the dirty work, get rebounds, going to have put-backs, do anything that Coach asks of you.
Solomon, he doesn't do anything great, but he does everything good. He rebounds the ball, put-backs, shoots the ball really well. He's a great passer as well. That's just something you need on your team. You can compare his game to Lamar Odom, and he does everything well.
MoMo is just a great leader. He can go for 30, and he can have 6, 7, 8 assists and he's just a great person. He's a great leader.
Fogg, if you leave him open, he's going to make every shot. That's the good thing about our team. We have a lot of shooters, Fogg and B. Lav, if you leave Fogg open he's going to make it, and you can't focus on just one person that's the good thing about our team.
Q. You certainly didn't grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth. You had to transfer a couple of times before you found the right high school, and you stayed at Arizona after last year and wouldn't watch the tournament. How much does anger fuel you?
LAMONT JONES: I don't think it's anger, more so disappointment. I think as bad as we were last year, I think somewhere in my heart I still felt like we could make a run for it. I felt that there were games we could have won and we should have won and if we had the togetherness that we had this year we could have won and somehow, someway made it into the tournament, but that didn't happen and it was a disappointing feeling.
Last year, spring break, I didn't go anywhere. I stayed in Tucson in my dorm room in the dark just thinkin'. Saying to myself "I never want to have that feeling again" and here we are today. I'm proud to say I don't have that feeling right now.
Q. Kyle, Jesse, you've been around MoMo and Parrom now, can you tell us how you've experienced the "New York player" having been introduced through them?
Kyle Fogg: This is the first time I've been around people from New York and played with them. I think they're some of the toughest players you can play with and they love to win and hate to lose. Just during practice they go hard every day, especially Mo, he never takes a practice off and as far as you can hate him in the middle of practice, off the court you love him.
That's what I think he does is brings our team together, and on the court he brings that fire to the court that we need to get us hyped up for our games and stuff.
JESSE PERRY: Pretty much the same thing. Being my first year on the team, pretty much the way I am, playing hard, talk and communicating with each other, pickin' each other up and having that hunger in your heart and never want to go lose, those are the two biggest things.
Q. Sean, you played a dynamic guard in Isaiah Thomas from Washington this year, how much an upgrade is Kemba Walker?
COACH MILLER: First of all, if you haven't seen Thomas play at Washington he's one of the best guards in the country. What he means to their team and if you watched Washington play against North Carolina, like so many games in this tournament, Washington very easily could be in this tournament in this round, and he's dynamic, making his teammates better and also being able to score himself.
That experience will help us play against Kemba Walker because we have only about a 40-hour turn-around between games and there is only so much you can do. You rely on your habits and your experience this season. Playing against Washington, watching him create shots for others and have big games and big games against us, I think our guys really understand the focus and the energy that it takes to do the best job you can against a player like him.
Part of the impact of Kemba Walker isn't just his own scoring, it's how many shots and opportunities he creates for the other players on his team, because a lot like our team, they have some really good players other than him and we respect him a great deal.
You watch what Jeremy Lamb is doing, and if you pay attention some of his easiest shots come from Kemba Walker's ability. So it is a tough challenge and in an effort to try to get to the Final Four, we have to meet that challenge as well as we can, or else we won't be in the Final Four because as evidenced by his recent play, when he's playing, Kemba Walker, at that level, it's difficult to beat UCONN.
Q. Sean, what's the difference between playing against a Jim Calhoun team and coaching against him? Does that experience help at all?
COACH MILLER: Yeah, I love Coach Calhoun. I have an interesting perspective. When I played at the University of Pittsburgh, UCONN -- it was a night game and Coach Calhoun was an avid jogger, I think he probably still is. He went out for a run and a car hit him -- this is a true story.
I had heard preparing for the game that he got hit by a car earlier in the day and you wondered what that would be like and I remember going out for warm-ups looking over there at him and he had a big bandage on his face and he's such a warrior, and his team is filled with warriors like him.
Now, here we are coaching against him. It's an honor to coach against him as someone who has that Big East perspective that I have as a player. When I was playing, they were just building UCONN. They were about the seventh best team in the conference. You had Georgetown up and running and so many great teams. Looking at what he's done there, similar to Coach Olson at Arizona, he's built the UCONN brand as one of the elite programs in the country.
Very similar to what we did last night, it's not about the coaches, it's about the players and it's going to be these guys versus UCONN's players that inevitable reply will mean a Final Four or not, but it's great to the play UCONN because we know they're one of the best and it should bring out best in us. If it doesn't, UCONN is going to go to the Final Four.
Q. MoMo, you know that Kemba is going to try to get his shots, no matter what and a lot is going to be made about that match-up, how do you avoid trying to make it personal and match what he does?
LAMONT JONES: It's not personal. That's the bottom line. It's not a personal game, it's not me versus Kemba, it's not Kemba versus MoMo. It's Arizona versus UCONN and it's as simple as that.
If either one of us try to go one-on-one and try to make it a one-on-one match-up, our team would lose.
Q. Unless Kemba's coach gets real mad at him.
Sean, Derrick as a good shooting percentage from the arc but not a whole lot of attempts compared to other players. Just wonder what you think about as far as trying to get him to shoot more 3-pointers, and if you could discuss his versatility as an offensive player.
COACH MILLER: That's a sore subject right there. Derrick is such a gamer. These guys up here on the podium will totally agree if you watch this guy shoot in practice, you would be shocked at the percentage he shoots in games. I know he's threatening Steve Kerr's record and that would be the greatest upset in NCAA statistics, if that happens.
But gotta give credit where credit is due. When he takes them into a game -- when he takes 'em in a game he's incredible and the percentage he shoots doesn't lie at this point. I don't think that it's to our team's best interest or even Derrick's to get caught up in that.
Generally he takes very good wide-open three's and that's a good shot for him and our team, but the physicality of his game to be everywhere inside and out is what makes him special and adding that last element takes him to another level but that's just such a small part of his game. I think if he's ever gotten off track where we want him to do something different it would be that he can stay outside the 3-point line and think about that too much.
When he's in a good place, every three that he took last night were great shots and they went in and I'm confident with his experience now that tomorrow when he takes a three it will be a good shot for our team, but it's a small part of what makes him a good player on offense.
Q. Derrick, can you describe the first half in your mind last night? As he checks go, you kept going and going. Last night they weren't all open looks, everything was falling.
DERRICK WILLIAMS: It was just a great night last night, especially that last 3-pointer I shot. Time was running down and that's actually the first buzzer beater I've made in a while.
Just feeling it and really just taking shots I know I can make, these dudes right here might say differently in practice, but just a whole different player in practice than in a game. Like coach said, I'm a "gamer" and when the lights come on it's a whole different story. When I'm feeling it, I'm feeling it, and when it's not going in, it's not.
I think that's a good thing about it. When I know I'm not going to make a 3, go right to the post and get a foul on somebody, and that's what I do best.
Q. Derrick, speaking of inside the arc, you had 8 minutes left, a highlight film dunk and you faked the guy out who was guarding you and you got in the lane and there was nobody on you. What were you feeling at that point? Were you trying to make it look good or trying to get it in the basket or what?
DERRICK WILLIAMS: I know if I would have tried to windmill and missed it, Coach would have took me right out, so I did what I could do and get the easy 2 points, Kyle Singler didn't want to jump and I don't blame him, I wouldn't have jumped either. That's really it, just trying to make it exciting, getting the crowd going, just like we have been doing the whole time in the second half, especially Jamelle's play when he faked the baseline and dunked, it was the highlight of the night and it got our crowd going and our bench going.
We got a couple of warnings on the bench to sit down and don't jump up, but sometimes we got to get up and cheer and that play really stood out last night.
THE MODERATOR: We'll excuse the student athletes.
Q. Sean, you've gradually been moving east to west in your playing and coaching career. Do you believe there is an east coast bias? I say this media wise because a player of Derrick's stature actually entered this tournament as an unknown to many people who claim to think they know something or like to think they know something about college basketball, is that the simple reason?
COACH MILLER: Yes, Bob, and I didn't know much about east coast bias or taking the west for granted, but I couldn't agree more. I'll go as far as to say that if you look although recent McDonald's High School All-Americans and if you look where they're from and the schools they're attend and go you check back two years later and look at the impact, the new McDonald's All-Americans have in college, the guys from the west coast, it's amazing to me. Some of it I know is the time change in that our games are on later.
But it's something that I hope our conference and Larry Scott, we have a great commissioner, and to me he's full speed ahead at trying to look at us being a more national conference and putting our west coast in a light that we deserve.
I'll give you a great example. You look at this tournament, UCLA beating Michigan State and playing Florida as tough as they did, to me was one of Florida's hardest games that we have played all season. I watched Washington play and had an opportunity to play North Carolina in the State of North Carolina in a great game, and here we are, watching Washington State advance in New York City with Klay Thompson and Oregon is still playing right now.
Our conference, in general, I don't know if it got enough credit for being the conference that we had and some of the players like Derrick Williams, no question, weren't highlighted, but I have great confidence moving forward that that's going to change with our new conference commissioner. But if you're asking me do I think Derrick got as much notoriety at this as he deserved? No, and in particular the team he's on, it's not as if he's a great player on a team that won 15 or 16 games, it's taken to this round of the NCAA Tournament for everybody to acknowledge that he's a special player.
Q. Coach, you mentioned the 3-point is such a small part of Derrick's game, but how difficult does that make it matching up against him?
COACH MILLER: He's shooting the ball with confidence. Clearly, it's not a good feeling if you leave him open and you're the other team. He's selective in his 3-point shooting. He's not "hunting" 3-point shots, for the most part he takes good three's, and we always talk about is it a good shot for our team and a wide-open shot for Derrick has become a great shot for our team. The bigger the game to me the better he's played and shot. It does certainly add some concern if you're guarding him.
Q. What have you seen on tape about UCONN and besides Kemba Walker and a general game plan going in?
COACH MILLER: Typical UCONN teams for probably the last 20 years, they're exceptional rebounding team. What's striking is they're not doing it with as maybe as big of a team that they've had in the past and they're counting on a lot of young players. From that perspective, giving credit where credit is due, it's incredible, the job that Coach Calhoun and his staff have done.
They count on arguably four or five freshmen to play key rolls for them, but at the end of the day rebounding is something they do well.
That's the biggest key to the game for us, it was against Texas and it was against Duke and for us to hold serve at all in that area or get an advantage would be a huge key for us. Kemba Walker, we have to have our game plan in order and not allow him to get great shots. On our end we have to be responsible and not irresponsible and breakdown and make the game easy for him and his teammates and that's all you can do. You can have a great game plan and play hard and well and he will still have a huge night. He's to me the best guard that plays college basketball.
Q. The day your college career ended at Pitt, was there any uncertainty about what you were going to do?
COACH MILLER: No, I mean, I'm just growing up where I grew up, I look back and that was about my only choice, I'm not sure what else I can do. I'm that guy that being the son of a high school coach, playing college basketball, want to go stay involved in the game. It wasn't a plan B for me. I just wanted to coach, whether it was high school or college, and I was lucky to get an early opportunity right out of college at the University of Wisconsin with Stu Jackson and that got my foot in the door and I've been fortunate to be around a lot of good people since then.
Q. With every team you can look at the record at the end of the year and say how did they lose to them? And in your case, Oregon State stands out. My question is what is your variable? When you don't play well what is usually the thing that goes wrong?
COACH MILLER: We've changed. I would say at that point in time is guard play in turnovers. We had a lot of turnovers that night, and Oregon State is good at turning you over, but being able to take care of the ball on offense and make sure that we're efficient in how we run our offense.
We've gotten better in that area as our season has gone on. To me it's our team defense right now. When we're hard playing together, concentrating, we don't have a lot of room for error, in that we're not a big, physical team, we just aren't. We do it with playing 10 players and a lot of interchangeable parts, but being able to hold serve rebound and go being a team that gets back and pressures the ball, if you watch us, we play well together on defense. When we're not at our best, at this point that's what's not in place.
Q. Sean, a month ago, as well as you guys are playing now, a month ago you were in Southern California, struggled offensively in both games, to USC and to UCLA, when you came back, did you change anything schematically, or was it just, hey, it's one of those weekends and let's get our heads back into it and go from there?
COACH MILLER: That was a key moment. We had just came off one of the great games in playing Washington at home, and we had just entered the Top 10 for the first time all season. Derrick Williams was the player of the year playing a nationally televised game against Washington, and sometimes no matter how hard you're working, we missed that message on the trip. We weren't ourselves. We got away from the things that made us a good team. We came fractured, lost to two strong, physical teams in USC and UCLA.
But post that experience, I think everyone got each other's attention and it became that if we're not about togetherness and we don't recognize the things that allow us to be very good, we're very ordinary. We had two games that we could point to as evidence there.
Since that game, and in the next trip we made to L.A. in the Pac-10 tournament, we were completely different in that perspective. We were very much together, and since that point it's remained a constant and hopefully we have more left in us.
Q. Can you recall anyone that you either coached or observed in either the Big 10 or the A-10 who had comparable growth as Derrick, in other words, the skinny kid who got strong and had a recent development in the forward range?
COACH MILLER: David West at Xavier. Took David a little longer. He was a prep school guy, but unheralded, coming out of the state of North Carolina, didn't have a scholarship from the schools that you would think he would have, being that he is in ACC country and came to Xavier under the radar and became the National Player Of The Year, 18th pick in the draft. He's been a multiple-time NBA All-Star, and he plays the same position, give or take, that Derrick plays.
Derrick's progression has happened a little faster, but nonetheless, I think both guys are similar in being unheralded coming into their college programs.
Many people asked me when Derrick came to Arizona if we would consider red-shirting him. He was as unheralded of the five that are now sophomores, and offensively which play for us, it's easy to do the homework and see that he was the least heralded of the five, and it's amazing and it goes to show that once in a while there are misevaluations.
Q. Coach, Steve Fisher said that D.J. was his most important player, not his best player, but his most important player. Where is MoMo Jones in making your team go?
COACH MILLER: It's that position and one of the things you can't lose sight of is we play two point guards, the split isn't 35 minutes to 5, Jordin Mayes has played in all games we've played, and he's averaged in most regards 14, 15 minutes where MoMo is at 25.
Great example is Jordin's play against Texas is one of the reasons we were able to come here to California. He had a career high of 15, 16 points, made nine 3s in a row. So some of what makes us a good team is MoMo and Jordin compliment each other very well.
Some of the strengths that Jordin has on offense are very different than MoMo's, and it's that forty minutes that we try to evaluate our point guards on, and if you look at it from that perspective, I would agree that that position is the most important. When that position plays well for us, that's one of the keys to us winning.
Q. Do you believe you've got more scoring options than UCONN might?
COACH MILLER: I don't know. I think we're similar. I'm into the scouting, we've watched a lot last night, as much as we could this morning, but I'll learn more as we move through the day. They have a lot of good players, they really do. To their future, they've a lot of good freshmen. Watching Jeremy Lamb play, he's playing with great confidence, shooting the ball at a very high level.
When those guys complement Kemba Walker and make 3-point shots and score, you know, their front court is the same there, I think a lot of those guys in their own right are very good players. It's a similar battle in that we both have the one guy that I think is general very consistent and it's sophomore about who plays well with him and on given nights different players on both of our teams seem to have big nights.
Q. The overview of the tournament as its unfolded so far, should web surprised at the way the tournament has gone? It was such a year of parity, we thought. Talk about how the tournament is unfolding.
COACH MILLER: Maybe 10 years ago, if you go 20 years ago you could circle about 8 or 12 teams, sometimes less than that who are capable of winning six games, a national championship, or if you look at it from four games, getting to a Final Four, now you can make the argument that over half the NCAA Tournament field is capable of that.
With that, those first and second round games, it's no surprise that many get to the last possession. The NCAA Tournament is so special for teams and players that many times a bad start, just getting caught up on a big stage -- it's not like we have a seven-game series in front of us, it's who plays well on that given day.
It's a magical time of year for sports in general and this tournament is so special and you're reminded of that being a part of it and then when you have the opportunity to advance it's what it's all about every fall and as you recruit and build your own team and program you always hope that you can be in this position.
At this point with the NCAA Tournament if you look at the Elite Eight I'm sure each of the 8 can win it or certainly make the case that they can, and so many teams can get to the Final Four now than before.
Q. Sean, three years ago you were in the same situation. Other than your foundation has changed, and people, how are you -- not necessarily a better coach but a different coach than you were three years ago in an Elite Eight situation?
COACH MILLER: Like all coaches you hope you grow and get better. We have a great staff. The staff that we had at that moment when we played UCLA in the Elite Eight is here intact, except Chris Mack is doing just a great job at Xavier as a head coach. A lot of the beliefs we had then we have now and I believe that's what fueled our success.
But one of the things, when you're in the tournament in the Elite Eight it's a reminder of the difference between win that go game and losing. On one hand it's magical, you're cutting down the nets, thinking about playing in that big dome and you've done it, and on the other hand it's so abrupt it's like the next question is, Coach, when did you want to leave? It's time for you to leave, you're out of the tournament.
So from that perspective, the happiness of being here is just not quite as great. You want to be prepared and here playing in the state of California, so close to Tucson, our goal is to be the best we can be at 4:00 on Saturday, and that's the one thing we can control and we'll live with the consequences if we establish that.
Q. That said, can you be much better than you were in the second half last night?
COACH MILLER: No, if we could play like that on Saturday, I'm sure on UCONN's end that would be the team that they don't want to see because that's probably the best that we've played. When you consider who we were playing, under the pressure that that game has attached to it, it's really a great feeling looking back that we were able to play at that high of a level.
The question becomes, can we do it here on Saturday, because to beat UCONN with how well they're playing, that's the type of team we have to bring to the game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Arizona Friday Press Conference Transcript
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