Groce Q&A: Pre-Wisconsin

Coach John Groce discusses the Michigan State loss and looks ahead to the Wisconsin matchup.

Opening statement about the Michigan State game…

JG: "Biggest thing was, sometimes you watch the film afterwards and pick up a thing or two. We certainly did that, but sometimes you'll change your mind about what really happened once you get a chance to settle down and really lock in and watch it. But it was exactly what we thought there after the game. I thought the first five minutes of the second half really determined the outcome of the game. I felt we did some really good things, especially on the offensive end. We had 75 points in 74 possessions… against a really good defensive ball club in Michigan State. We did some really good things on offense. I thought our execution was good, our shot selection was good, I thought we moved the ball well. I thought for the most part, other than the first five minutes of the second half, we took really good care of the ball in a big-time environment. We did some good things. Defensively we weren't as good. I thought we struggled to guard the ball screen in the second half. We switched up coverages a couple times and Appling was just too much. He made too many plays. We fouled too much, put them on the foul line and gave them points there. We've got to clean up some things defensively. That was the emphasis in practice (Friday), making more of a commitment on that end of the floor, but I was really encouraged by how we played offensively."

It seemed like Tyler Griffey did a few things that didn't show up in the box score Thursday. Aside from his shooting, do you see him doing other things? And is that something that could continue?

JG: "I hope so. His story all year has been he's played an instrumental role in some big moments for us throughout the season, and he's struggled to maintain a level of consistency. He knows that. We've got to get him to where -- the blocked shot, he deflected two post entry passes that led to steals on the stat sheet for other guys. No question he did some things that didn't show up on the box score. I thought he had more of a physical nature about him. He got on the floor one time. He blocked a shot. I thought he was more active. I thought he ran harder. I thought he cut harder offensively, did a lot to get open a couple times, and he's got to have that edge to him all the time. He's got to be more consistent, you know, we'll continue to beat that drum. When he's more consistent it makes our team better, and he certainly plays better."

Where have you guys improved since the first time you played Wisconsin?

JG: "Well, we didn't play well in that game at all and they were absolutely terrific, so I'd like -- that could be an hour (long) answer. A lot of areas, in terms of relative to how we played that particular day, but I think the execution of our sets has gotten better. I think our shot selection has gotten better. I just think a lot -- our defensive rotations have gotten better. I think guys are more accountable defensively. You know, there's a lot of things that have gotten better. I think individual players have improved. Nnanna's gotten better. I think Tracy's still getting better, so there's a lot."

Despite the losses, it seems as though the team is still positive. The players appear to be resilient, not getting down. Your thoughts?

JG: "Well, I got on them pretty good after the game for not coming out strong to start the second half. Our nature is to be pretty positive and encourage them. You know, (Friday) was a pretty day here also. I wanted to make a statement about our defense. We can't give up -- you know I don't know how many times in my career I've seen an opponent shoot 88 percent in the second half. We put them on the line 32 times. I think the last time an opponent shot 32 free throws in a half against Illinois was 11 years ago. We can't do that. I wasn't very happy about that point, but I did show them some clips of some things we did well, particularly on the offensive end. They have been pretty resilient. You know, guys gotta hold each other more accountable. I think they know that, especially on the defensive end. I don't think by any means, I've said this all along, somebody told me, 'man, your team doesn't look like it's lost three in a row.' I said, 'well, what are we supposed to look like?' You know, we still practice hard, I think we have a good attitude and we give good effort for the most part most of the time and guys have kept their head up, kept plowing away and kept swinging the hammer. That's just kind of what we do. That's how we want to do it. We can't give any of them back at this point. Our focus is on getting better. Can we get better? Can we control the things that are controllable?"

Traevon Jackson stepped in and has played pretty well. What are your thoughts on how he's doing at point guard?

JG: "I think he's really developed. I told his dad that. He's really, really getting better. He's starting to figure our his role, running their team, has a confidence about him, making plays at the end of the clock. He made big shots against us in game one. I think he's good defensively, tough kid. He's really coming along. I'm impressed with his progress from the beginning of the season to where he's at now."

Given the 2-6 conference record and the way the game went last time against Wisconsin, are you putting a special emphasis on Sunday's game?

JG: "No I wouldn't necessarily say a special emphasis. We obviously want to play better defensively. There's no secret. I'd say that'd be the emphasis, obviously. You look at the stat sheet and Michigan State executed well, and I thought really imposed their will when they were playing offense and get the ball where they wanted to get, especially with Appling in the second half. They're a good team. They did a good job. Having said that, we could play better defensively and make it a little more difficult and affect shot percentage. They had too many layups. When you see 88 percent in the second half, the immediate thing I'm thinking as a coach is must have gotten a lot of layups and dunks. Obviously along the baseline we lost vision. I didn't like the way we were rotating on ball screens. We've got to be better there defensively, so that would probably be the main emphasis."

Are you at all worried about distractions against Wisconsin with it being Super Bowl Sunday?

JG: "Nah, not really. These guys are used to it. When you're at Illinois, a place like this, if you want distractions to be a part of what you're going through on a daily basis there's a lot of them out there. We try to lock in on what we can control and keep very focused on what we're doing and the game plan. At the same time I also want them to be loose and be aggressive, have fun and compete. I'm trying to keep all that in perspective. We're constantly hitting them with that, regardless of whether it's Super Bowl Sunday or not."

Has offensive success come down to making shots or not making shots or do you feel like your offense is running pretty good right now?

JG: "I thought it was as good as we've played offensively in a while. We had 75 points in 74 possessions. We shot the ball well from two, we shot it well from three, we shot well from the line, we only turned it over eight times albeit five of them were in a five minute stretch to start the second half which was significant and several of those were unforced. Still, eight turnovers -- a lot of coaches would take that. I thought we played really well offensively. I thought we executed well, thought we screened well, thought we cut hard, moved the ball. Our issues on Thursday weren't on the offensive end. Our issues were on the defensive end."

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