"I like where our team is at. I like where it has positioned itself. I think we are playing about as well as anybody in the SEC right now. As a matter of fact, our numbers can back that up. We have won 5 in a row, 6 of our last 7 and 7 of our last 10. I don't think there is another team in the SEC that has done that. The most important thing is where our RPI is. Our RPI, after winning at South Carolina, is third best in the SEC behind Kentucky and Alabama."
Talk about the improvement of Mario Austin the past few weeks.
"There is no substitute for experience. I said this back at media day prior to the season, I like this team. I said the more we play, the better we were going to get. I think that is what happened with our team. I knew what Timmy Bowers could do for us. I knew that Mario Austin would be better. We saw a glimpse of what he could do in the NIT last season. We also saw a glimpse of Derrick Zimmerman in the NIT. All three of those guys have taken their games to a higher level. The solid play of Derrick Zimmerman has been a key for us. If you said before the season that he would lead the SEC in assists, there is no question that we would have taken that. He is second in steals. His assist ratio is 10 times better. He is scoring better. There is no question that Mario Austin's conditioning and confidence level is much greater."
What is the mind set of this team going into the SEC Tournament compared to your teams of the past?
"This team has been different all year long. If there was ever an opportunity for this team to have a let down, the South Carolina game was that time. But this team doesn't do that. This team has found ways to separate things. It has found ways to only worry about things that we can control, those things between the lines. They have done a tremendous job of staying focus. I think that speaks highly of the kind of kids that we have. They are great people."
How much more important is your bench during tournament play?
"I think your bench is important in every game. I think it becomes even more important if you go into a second or third day (in tournament play). We have had very good bench play all year long. We have had different people stepping up in different games at different times. Just like at South Carolina, we went with Ontario Harper for the last 10 minutes of the game not because Marckell (Patterson) wasn't play well, but because our rhythm was pretty good with Harper. Mario got in foul trouble and Campbell gave us some very productive minutes."
You have been here 12 years, 8 as an assistant and 4 as the head coach, does this team have the best bench you have seen in those 12 years?
"No question, when you include Timmy Bowers as part of the bench, we have gotten a lot of productivity from our bench. We have guys who can come in and give us 20 and 25 minutes. I don't know if our basketball team loses very much when we play Ontario Harper. There is no question we are a better basketball team with Timmy Bowers out there."
How about comparing this team to the 1995-1996 Final Four team.
"There was one big difference, we had one of those high-flyers, Dontae Jones, a guy who was capable of going out and getting 25 to 30 points as he did in New Orleans (in the SEC Tournament). That team was also a very experienced team, a more seasoned team with the likes of Darryl Wilson and Erick Dampier. Erick Dampier was a great defender and rebounder, but offensively was kind of raw. Plus, that team had been to the Sweet 16 the year before. They had experienced a lot of success.
"This team is different in several ways. This team has more depth and the skill level is better. I think this team can score in more ways than that Final Four team. The Final Four team was a very good offensive team that had one guy who could take over a game. We don't have a guy like that on this team, but we have a group of guys who can score in so many different ways. We have a point guard who scores differently than the Final Four team. We didn't have anyone on that team who could take the ball to the hole and create like Derrick Zimmerman can. Another thing about this team is the fact that it leads the SEC in three-point field goal defense. That fact was very evident in our last two road games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. That is a credit to the Zimmerman's and the Bowers' and the Harper's."
What do you want to accomplish from here on out?
"Basically, we just want to continue the momentum that we currently have. We also want to win the SEC Tournament. We are just going to try and take it one game at a time."
Talk about Mario Austin's play the last few games.
"This is the time that big-time players are supposed to step up and take control of what is going on. Austin has been a big factor for us all year, but the last few games he has been an animal under the basket. We are feeding off of that."
This team is now becoming known for its defense. How proud are you of that fact?
"That is something that Coach Stans stresses with us: Defense wins ballgames. That is something that we work at everytime that we practice. Coach Stans always gets on us about playing defense. When the individual defense breaks down, that is when the team defense has to kick in. That is something we work hard on."
How important is the momentum that you guys carry into the SEC Tournament?
"It is big for us. Our confidence level is very high right now. We have a lot of guys coming off the bench who are playing well. And Mario is playing well."
This team seems to be a very hungry team. What has caused that?
"We are just more together. Everybody has set aside their own personal egos and it is all about the team. We are sharing the ball out there. I think we may have set a (school) record for most assists in a season this year."