Steve Alford, Opening Statement:
Well, that was a pretty good basketball team that we played tonight. I seen them on tape, just about their last eight or nine games, and they've been playing well. I don't know if they've played any better than that. They clicked at both ends. We didn't shoot the ball very well. Playing a team like that, that makes it very difficult on us. We have to learn to if you're going to have a bad shooting night and still do a good job defensively. Everything we tried they went at and did an awful lot of good things offensively. Their guards were terrific. They controlled tempo. They got the shots that they wanted. And to their credit, they made shots.
Was this the best that you've seen a Big Ten Team play?
Well, I've seen them on tape. Bruce is obviously around them a lot more than I am. So, he may not agree. But I thought they were very, very good tonight. And we weren't very good. So, you end up getting a lopsided score like that. But this was a very good basketball team that we played tonight.
Was their defense just that much better from the first time that you played them?
Well, they've won six in a row. Their mindset is a little bit different. They're extremely confident, for one. They're clicking on all cylinders. They knew with Michigan State's win, if they wanted to stay pace, they had to get a big road win. Both teams were understanding the task at hand. It's just a little bit more difficult for us right now. Our guys gave great effort again. It was just they were frustrated from about right at the end of half on. They just couldn't get over being frustrated because at every turn Illinois had an answer for everything. It was night were a lot of good things happened to them, like board play. The board play was 13 (more by Illinois). I thought we had our hands on a lot of balls. But, we just couldn't get it. They did a good job of not just tipping it, but going and getting it. They had a awful lot of second shots that they converted into points.
That long three (by Illinois' Richard McBride) at the end of the half; very big.
I think McBride was one out of 20 coming into this game. A kid that's 1-for-20 goes 2-for-3 tonight, and one of them was extremely deep. I think...I mean, I don't what to say. The kids that weren't making plays made plays, and guards like Dee Brown and Williams that really make them click had good games. It made it really difficult on us. But anytime you go into a half like that, it's very frustrating. And, we talked about that the whole half of just getting our rhythm back. We've been off six days. We're not going to shoot the ball that poorly again. Unfortunately, we did, and our defense was about the same. We gave up 39 both halves and just about the same shooting percentage. They might even have been a little better in the second half than they were in the first.
Being off six days, was that maybe the reason that you guys were taking quick shots?
That's hard. I'd like to say that, obviously. I've got to give credit to Illinois. They did a very good job defensively. We got some good looks early in the game. We missed some layups. We missed out first four free throws. We were very poor from the free throw line in the first half, maybe 4-10, then go 7-8 in the second half. For whatever reason, it was a very bad first half shooting. But it didn't improve a whole lot in the second half.
How much damage do you think this did to your NCAA Tournament hopes?
Obviously, anytime you lose late in the year, that damages it. We've got to do a good job of bouncing back. We can't look passed anything but tomorrow of getting better; Friday, looking to get better there; and then really trying to get a win on Saturday. You've got a team coming in here on Saturday that's going to be loose; without any pressure. We've got the pressure on us. We've got to deal with it better than we dealt with it tonight and try to perform better to get a win. This team has been resilient all year. We've not lost two games (in a row) in league play all year long. We've got to hope that we can bounce back, get a win on Saturday and go into March knowing you're 8-6 in the league with two to play. Regardless of what happens tonight, we're going to be tied for fourth at worst going into the weekend. We still control things. This was a missed opportunity that just didn't happen. Now, we've got a three-game schedule left. We've got to take it one game at a time.
Is Ben Rand hurt?
He got a mild concussion and was told that he couldn't play tonight.
What were they doing defensively to try to take you out of your game?
Illinois is the type of team that's going to play team defense. They're going to pressure you. They're going to deny everything. They did a great job of playing overall defense. It was justa night where we didn't shoot the ball extremely well. You've got to credit their defense. They did a great job of denying and making us take tough shots.
How big is this in terms of the big picture? How deflating is this?
It's just a little bump in the hill right now. It's something that we can't dwell on too much. We've got to take this loss and hopefully come out Saturday at 3:30 against Minnesota with a lot more passion and enthusiasm than we did tonight.
Was that missing tonight?
A little bit. You'd think it would be there playing a team like Illinois. The crowd was great. We just didn't seem to have that edge that they had. They wanted it more than what we wanted it.
Did they look different than the last time that you played them?
They're on a six-game winning streak. They came in with a lot of confidence, a lot of cockiness to them, and a lot of swagger about their game. They just did a great job of executing everything that they did tonight.
Did the six-day layoff hurt you guys?
I don't think so. If anything, you'd think it would help, especially with all of the minutes that we've been logging.
What went wrong out there?
They took it to us on the inside in the first half. Then, they took it to us from the outside in the second half. Dee Brown and Deron Williams played outstanding all-around games. They're a very good team, and they shot very well tonight. Our defense was absolutely terrible.
Did their athleticism wear you down at all?
They were pretty athletic. They got a lot of offensive rebounds. They outrebounded is big time. We can't have that with how small we are.
How have they improved defensively from the first game?
They still get into you. We shot something like 39 percent tonight, which is way below what we'd like to shoot. They stayed into us the whole game. It really hasn't changed that much. In the first game, we kind of got running and got some easy baskets. This game, we really didn't get down and get some easy baskets. We turned the ball over 11 times. That's good. We can't ask for anything more. But, they just pretty much came out an embarrassed us on our home floor.
Does this kill the at-large hopes?
It definitely hurts it. There's still a chance that we can finish fourth in the league. I'm still going to stay positive about it. I know all of my teammates are. It just makes these next three games that much bigger.
They kind of got you on the boards a little bit.
They got us inside. They went out and did their job of offensive and defensive rebounding. We've got to pick it up if we want to win some games.
Do you feel like you're out of it or do you still think that you have a chance?
I think that we have a very good chance. We've just got to come out the rest of the year and just play hard. We've got to take one game at a time. If we can accomplish that, we're got a great chance in my opinion.
Did the layoff affect you at all?
You can't blame it on that at all. It's part of basketball. Every team goes through a layoff. You can blame a sluggish start, but you can't blame the loss on it. We had both tonight. It showed.
Did it seem like they had more emotion than you guys tonight? You guys seemed flat.
Exactly. Whenever they'd make a run, they'd counter it and make a big play. It's just a credit to them great players. Big players make big plays.
It looked like you guys were getting your hands on rebounds but couldn't quite grabbing them.
Our communication was down a little bit tonight. You'd see two white jerseys go after the ball and knock it away from each other. They'd get a wide open layup out of it. That's just something that you can't do. It's just a lack of communication.
Is that something that's been happening all year?
It's just something that happened tonight. Usually, we communicate very well. We're a close-knit group. Tonight, we just didn't communicate. We didn't help each out. Overall, the team played the most selfish game of the year on the defense end. Everybody was into their guy. Whenever there was anybody that got beat, there was nobody to help. That's everybody on the team, too.
How big was that 3-pointer at the end of the half?
It cut us down. He took a beyond an NBA 3-pointer. He was stuggling before that, and he makes two big threes for them. If a freshman is going to step up and beat you like that, you've just got to take it.
Was their defense that much better this time?
I don't know. I really can't answer that. They have the same defensive presence every single time that they play. They're just going to climb into you and disrupt everything that you do.
Saturday seems like a must win and it's the last home game for the seniors.
Most definitely. It's a big game for them. If they want to some out with a win, we've got to show up.
You still feel like you're alive in the tournament?
I guess it's really not up to us. I sure hope so.