"I was disappointed we didn't win, but I couldn't be prouder of our team, they played with great effort."
"It was a one-point game and we had a chance to go up one with two free throws. I think the possession before that, we missed a layup."
Going into tournaments across the nation, a lot of teams in contention for good seeds didn't even get past the first day of their conference tournaments. By going to the finals, do you come out of this a better team in every aspect?
"There is no question about it. I think if there was any doubt about our basketball team, how good we are, I think everybody saw that over the past three days. There is no doubt after today that this basketball team has an opportunity. Despite all those shots that rolled around the rim, we were still in a position to win the basketball game against the best team in the country who is playing better than anybody else."
It seems like Kentucky has that extra little bit of confidence, that extra bit of something special that gets them over the top in games. Is that how you see it with Kentucky?
"The more you win, the more confidence you get. They have players who believe they will make plays down the stretch. They have players who can pass and handle it. They have great size and can rebound the basketball. They are a great team. There is no question that they have a legitimate shot to win the national championship."
Did you feel that the style of officiating was different in the second half?
"I'm not going to say anything about the officiating. I know you want to get that out of me. I'm not going to make that as an excuse. We got the ball to the hole. You guys saw the game. Good calls, bad calls are part of a basketball game."
How much confidence does this game give your basketball team? Make a shot here or a couple of free throws in the last two minutes of the basketball game and your team has the lead.
"First off, I don't think our team had to win to gain confidence. We are a very confident team. This team believes they could win this game today. We were right there. It was a three-game season and our kids fought, fought and fought against the best team in the country. We didn't get it accomplished. Now, it is a new season. Like I said earlier, I think this team has a legit opportunity on any given day against anybody in the country on a neutral court to win. That is going to be our goal through these next two-game series. This team has an opportunity to get back to (the Final Four) in New Orleans."
It has happened before where teams in the same conference have played each other in the NCAA national tournament. Would you like to get another shot at the Wildcats?
"If we get another shot at them and it is the national championship game, we would love it. I wouldn't want to open up with them in NCAA play, but if we were to play against them in a national championship game, we would be happy to just be there. Kentucky is the team to beat in this thing. Look at what they did in our league (went undefeated). I think it is very obvious that they are going to be back down here in New Orleans. I think we are just trying to find out who those other three teams are going to be. I'm sure (Kentucky) is going to keep those hotel rooms reserved."
Obviously, Mario Austin struggled. Would you say it was fatigue, he never got into the flow, what was it?
"Probably a combination of all those things. It could have been fatigue because I played him a bunch of minutes today and didn't take him out in the second half. Kentucky, give them credit. Then again, you all saw the game, how many of those shots could have rolled in that rolled out? One more rolls in, it is a different basketball game. That was what a fine line it was out there. So, when you write about the best team in the country, remember our team was one play here or there from being right there. That is the positive thing we are taking from this game. I couldn't be more proud of what our team just went through. We are going to carry that over to next week."
Talk about how much fatigue factored into the game today.
"Yesterday's game probably took a little more out of my team than did (Tubby's). Fatigue was a factor. Mario played 38 minutes today. You are going to miss some shots. Derrick Zimmerman rolled two or three around that hole that these first two days he had finished everyone of them. Fatigue is a part of it and they are great athletes closing in on you has a little to do with. But, as far as the effort of my kids..to ask my team to put forth the effort they did again today, the third day, against the best team in the country, we had an opportunity to go toe-to-toe against them. I am proud of my kids for that."
Confidence-wise, you said you are proud of the way your team played. Are you not worried about these guys hanging their heads going into the NCAA Tournament?
"How could you take anything negative from this game? We are disappointed that we didn't win the game, but how prouder could you be of that effort? You go toe-to-toe with the best team in the country and had an opportunity at the end to win. That's what we are going to take from it, just positive things."
You showed that you could run with Kentucky. Many people thought there wasn't a team that could do that.
"We tried to force the tempo. We think that we are quicker than Kentucky. Our perimeter guys are quicker. That is where we have an advantage. Derrick Zimmerman, Timmy Bowers and Ontario Harper are quicker. We have an advantage in transition. We wanted to make it an up-temp game. I think we are even quicker at the four spot and probably at the five, at least as quick. We didn't always move that way because fatigue had something to do with it today. Our team is a tough team. We are going to fight and battle."
"Give credit to Kentucky, great teams make plays and they made them."
Talk about the plays you guys did inside the paint against them.
"Coach always tells us to drive against pressure. Z got some good drives in. He threw it up there and it just rolled off the rim. Mario had a couple down there and the ball just rolled off the rim. It was just that kind of night for us."
Did coach tell you guys to really push the basketball game at the beginning of the game?
"Yeah, it was important for us. We wanted to get out and run, try to see if they would get tired. Kentucky is a depth team, so they had a lot of guys come off the bench and rest the starters. Obviously, they didn't get tired."
How difficult was this loss knowing you guys were trying to defend your title and couldn't get it done today?
"It is difficult knowing that you were right there, one point or two points away, and lose the basketball game. You just have to learn from it and keep your heads high. Nobody probably expected us to be in this game but us. We are just going it as a positive motivation and try and go in the tournament and kick some butt."
What was the difference in this game compared to your first game against Kentucky?
"I think the biggest thing (at Lexington) was our team was probably a little nervous up there. We came out sluggish and they were making everything and we weren't hitting any shots. Toward the end of the game, we started to come back. We knew coming into the game today that we could play with Kentucky. We were going to come out and play hard and try to get the ball down to Mario and let him establish himself."
Talk about Winsome Frazier's play on defense.
"He came in and I believe got two steals right off the bat. Frazier came in and played hard. He got two steals and hit a big shot."
The way you guys played against Auburn and then the way you played in the SEC Tournament, that has to make you feel good going into the NCAA Tournament.
"It makes us feel good. Playing against a team like Kentucky, taking them down to the wire, playing against LSU yesterday, a team that is capable of doing anything in the NCAA Tournament, we still have our confidence."
What do you think makes your team click and will allow your team to go far in the NCAA Tournament?
"I think it is chemistry. Last year, we had tremendous chemistry on our team. It is there a little bit but I don't think it is there as much as it was last year."
Talk about the plays you guys did inside the paint against them.
"Who would have thought that Mario would go 3-for-14 or that I would go 3-for-13. That determined the outcome of the ballgame, really."
What makes Kentucky so good?
"They have great depth, great defensive pressure. Anytime Kentucky shoots over 50%, they are hard to beat."
Do you think there are any things that you have to work on either mentally or physically going into the NCAA Tournament?
"I really don't think there is anything physical. I think it is everything is mental because it is going to be hard to let this one go. We felt we should have won the game. Deep down inside we feel like we were the better team. Come Thursday or Friday, whenever we play, we will be ready to play."
What does this NCAA Tournament mean to you being a senior?
"It means a lot. For one thing, (the Final Four) is in my home state. I just want to get another chance to come back down here because I have some unfinished business."
How did your's and Mario's play factor into the game today?
"I have never been 3-for-13 in a game and Mario hasn't ever been 3-for-14 shooting the ball in the post. That is a combined 7-for-27 and we still could have easily won. A lot of times when I drove to the basket I felt like I got hit or bumped. As you probably saw in the first half, I was trying to go in and dunk the ball but the guy grabbed me on my arm from behind and the ref called the foul on the other guy. He didn't call the foul on the guy who fouled me but on Mario's guy. I don't really think I was getting the calls. I think a lot of times Mario got beat up down in the post, but that is just one of those things."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com