COACH GOTTFRIED: First of all, I'd like to say I'm really proud of our team. I think we're a team that has improved as the year has gone on. We've gotten better.
I thought today inside around the basket we were able to get a lot done. And I thought Richard in the first half was just sensational.
And it wasn't just him. There's a lot of guys. But Richard really set the tone for us offensively. I thought in the second half he got in a little foul trouble, and Lorenzo stepped up. Calvin stepped up offensively. Scott Wood had a couple of big baskets at key moments.
But the bigger picture was I thought defensively today we were very, very good against a really good team. It's a hard to play against. It's a matchup nightmare with the whole game with how they play. You're always trying to solve the problem from a matchup standpoint.
So our guys did a nice job there.
Richard, have you ever had a game like this? You doubled your average and really played well. Certainly at this stage, have you ever had a game like this?
RICHARD HOWELL: No, I haven't. I done it all because of Coach Gottfried. The way he's got confidence in me. That's what started it. I kept the confidence up. I wanted to win. I didn't want it to be our last game.
Richard, you made it through the first half, no fouls. Second half, things changed a little bit. Can you talk about what it was like for you playing with no fouls and looked it like you were having a good time with that, kind of how you had to adjust in the second half?
RICHARD HOWELL: I felt free in the first half. I felt I could do anything because I didn't have any fouls. And then the second half came and it switched up. I didn't want to lose focus just because I was in foul trouble. I loved the way DeShawn Painter came in, picked me up when I was in foul trouble. I think that was huge for us.
Lorenzo, it looks like you guys were playing with a certain kind of confidence and swagger. Where is that coming from?
LORENZO BROWN: Just the confidence in each other, plus our coaches have a lot of confidence in us.
I mean, we get distracted sometimes by taking bad shots and turning the ball over, but we just keep each other balanced and work hard.
Seemed like every time San Diego State was about to make a run. One of you guys hit a really clutch shot. What does that say about you guys as a team moving forward?
LORENZO BROWN: I think we've been through a lot this year, playing a lot of great teams. I think that just comes from like playing teams like Syracuse and UNC and teams like that. And, I mean, coming down the stretch, just try to focus on making big shots.
So they got it within three in the second half, you guys called timeout, came out of that timeout on an 8-2 run. What was the mood in the timeout? What did you talk about in there?
LORENZO BROWN: Just staying balanced really. We knew we needed runs. Coach told us it's always an up-and-down basketball game and don't get frustrated by what the teams are doing, just focus on ourselves, and we'll just run our sets. And we got great shots at the moment.
For both of you, could you talk about were there nerves? There was a lot of talk about the spotlight of the tournament and not being used to it and feeling tight at game time, but did you guys feel that at all? How did you just respond to the moment?
RICHARD HOWELL: I would say there was a little nerves, but I feel like at times when we needed to step up we definitely stepped up, especially in a tournament like this. I don't think anybody on our team has ever been. Definitely huge momentum and confidence booster for us to come out and play like this.
LORENZO BROWN: Just the same thing he said. We were watching the ESPN this morning, and they were talking about us. And he told me to turn the channel because he didn't want to hear about it anymore.
So, I mean, that's where it came from. Just trying to not focus on like the hype that people are giving us this year.
Did that make you guys nervous at all to-- the fact that so many people were picking you as their upset and picking you to go a long way?
LORENZO BROWN: I guess not really. I mean, we try to stay away from all the talk right now. That's what Coach tells us to. You're going to have people like jumping on bandwagons and stuff like that.
So it's tough, but we try to stay focused.
Richard, how much easier was it for you to get to spots that you wanted on the floor compared to, say, like an ACC game where you're playing bigger teams?
RICHARD HOWELL: I wouldn't say it was a lot easier. I guess I was just feeling that my teammates were just hitting me at the right spots, and I was knocking down open jump shots. Like I said, confidence is a huge thing in the game, and I felt my confidence was there so I was able to hit the shots that was open.
Lorenzo, what were you guys thinking when Richard's knocking all those shots down, especially when he would turn around from up there past the foul line a couple times?
LORENZO BROWN: He does it all the time in practice. We weren't too hyped about it. We see him do it all the time. He was hitting good shots and he was just feeling it, I guess.
Mark, both at the ACC Tournament and just now, both players talked about confidence Coach has given us confidence, we have confidence. This program has not had a lot of that over the years, not had a lot of success to build confidence. But how have you done that and how have you seen that grow in your players over the last six weeks, month, that that's happened?
First of all, whenever you win, that builds confidence. Success always helps you to believe that you're doing things right. I think our coaching staff has done a nice job of teaching and also praising our guys at the right times.
And obviously there are times when you get after somebody pretty hard. But I think our coaching staff as a whole just-- I think of the word "teaching" more than anything. Reprimand, yes, followed by praise. That's another one of John Wooden. You guys have been around our program. That's something we always talk about.
I believe in these guys, I really do. I have believed that if in fact they could do things the right way, defend the right way, execute offense at key times, that they had a chance. So it's nice to see all that come together right now.
Mark, your fan base has kind of gotten criticized for having unrealistic expectations or maybe overestimating what success actually is. What's been your sense of that as you've gone through a year where you've actually kind of exceeded the expectations on a micro level?
I don't view it as a negative that our fans have great passion about their program. You have to remember now I was at UCLA for seven years, and I'm familiar with expectations that are somewhat through the roof every year.
I used to say at UCLA your season really never began until the middle of March. Those other 30 games you play were all exhibition games. I don't know if our fans are there, but we have great fans. They love their team. They have great passion, support. And it's our job to give them something to be excited about.
So I view that as a positive thing for our program and our fan base. We've got great, great Wolf Pack fans. Not everyone has what we have, and I'm appreciative of it.
You've been around this tournament quite a few times. What do you say about what Howell was able to bring to this, and is that what you need to make a run in this thing?
In today's game, we felt like we could have success around the basket. First couple of plays of the game we went with Calvin and tried to go at Franklin and get him some foul trouble.
And then we made the decision to go towards Richard. And Richard just-- he lit up like a Christmas tree. The nice thing about his shots today, that they were coming out of the flow of our offense.
We got it to him on the block. We set down screens for him where he could come to the foul line, made those shots. And it was a big boost for us confidence-wise to have him step up like that. I thought that was big today.
Coach, did you see any nerves from your kids? There was a lot of talk about how they might respond to the moment. And also they talked about seeing on ESPN this morning that they were being picked as an upset favorite. I was wondering did you try to shelter them from that at all?
First thing, I don't think our team was nervous. They were anxious, and they were actually a little bit giddy today. They were excited about playing, which I wasn't going to curb that. I wanted them to be excited. They should be excited. I've always said this is the greatest show on earth.
So I didn't feel like that was going to be a negative for us. As far as all the people picking us as an 11 seed to beat a 6 seed, one thing we always talk about with our team-- and, again, you gotta remember I was two years in that business. I was on TV last year. And what you learn is none of us knew much about anything anyway. We were just saying that.
But we've talked to our team about that. Had fun with all that stuff. But we know that the game is about what happens on the floor. They know that. And so they did a nice job of that today.
You said after the game in Atlanta that Lorenzo-- that was one of his better games. Almost had a triple-double today. Is there a ceiling for him at this point?
He was good today, outside of his turnovers, which we just talked about, he and I, and he was frustrated at a few of them, but outside of his turnovers, I thought he was good. He rebounded the ball today more than he has. And I thought his shots, they were all timely. It was a big shot at the right time. The 3-pointer across from our bench late in the game was pivotal. He got into the paint a couple times at key times when we needed a basket and made them.
So and obviously he's had a lot of assists this year. But he was good today. And I think he can still be a lot better. I'm always his hardest critic, but he was awfully good today.
For those who haven't seen Richard a whole lot this year, can you just tell us a little bit about his development and what you saw from him today that might have been different, or some of the things that we're seeing that you've seen from him?
I'm really proud of Richard. I took the job on April4th; he weighed 275pounds at 6'7", and he got himself down in the 240s. Made himself much more agile, quicker. And I think he's really done well in our offense this year. He's typically smaller from a height position and everybody he plays against. He's always going against taller guys, bigger guys. And he's played pretty good this year.
Now, today he had that stretch in the first half where he was probably his best half, obviously, offensively this year.
I was wondering, you took timeouts around the nine-minute mark in both halves when they were kind of making runs at you. Did you do that just to stop their momentum or did you have particular adjustments that you made during those timeouts?
I think, I can't remember them exactly, I know one of them I was frustrated with us defensively. I thought we had a couple of lapses defensively and we just needed to get their attention.
And today it wasn't necessarily building a timeout around a media timeout. Sometimes we like to do that where you basically give a group a long period of rest, you call one you know media's coming.
But I can't specifically remember each one. But defensively was more than anything today.
You mentioned earlier about the passion of your fans. You've certainly come from a passionate basketball area. But is there a downside when you have Duke on one side and North Carolina on the other and they get such tremendous attention?
You know, in the short time I've been there-- and I believe this, too, this isn't spin that I'm going to give you: It's a positive for our program.
It raises the bar for everything. Our neighbors have been very good. They have been very good. And for us it's a challenge for us to raise it higher. It's Tobacco Road, recruiting-wise, is there a better place in America to play than Tobacco Road? And so we're there.
So all those things that can be viewed as negatives. I want them to be positives, and I believe they are. We can turn them into positives for us, for our recruiting, for our fan base. We've got a hungry fan base. And some of it is because of our neighbors' success, some is because of our success. Three Final Fours and two national championships here with the Wolf Pack.
So I think all those things are things that work in our favor.
The second-half timeout it was down to 3 at that point, and they were really pushing you. You came out of it with an 8-2 run on it. What was the message? You got things turned around.
For us, and I truly believe this, in the NCAA Tournament, everybody's pretty good. They wouldn't be here. And your ability to defend and get stops at key points in the game is what helps you win and advance.
And, again, I thought for the most part we were pretty good defensively. And then I thought we had some lapses. We lost concentration. We had a couple of fouls that I thought we weren't moving our feet as well as we should have.
And so I think more than anything we just needed to convince our guys: You're going to do it today with defense. Your defense will win the game for you. And that's what you've gotta do. And I thought after that we really defended much better.
C.J. Williams, I know he got back in the game. What was his issue?
He rolled his ankle just a little bit. And so we'll get him iced up tonight. I'm sure he's got a little bit of time. Hopefully there's not a lot of swelling. We'll see. It's a little bit of a concern for me. But we'll see how he is tonight and in the morning. But he had a little sprained ankle there.