I’m excited for our guys. That was a great second half, and it ended up being a good win for our team. I thought the difference was, in the second half, we tried to force the tempo. We wanted to pick them up full court, and we wanted to push the ball up the floor. I didn’t want them to walk the ball up the floor.
I thought in the first half the game was so slow, and there was not a lot happening either way. We just needed to open it up, so our guys did a much better job. We got out, guarded full court and loosened up offensively. Ralston got going, making some shots. Cat used his speed and quickness.
And defensively, [Syracuse] shot 31 percent. I thought our defense was pretty good, even inside. They made it hard for Christmas to get going, and he didn’t have very many easy opportunities around the rim. I thought that was very important as well, so it ends up being a good day for us.
On hot streak:
I think we’re playing well, and as a coach, what you hope to have is your team playing its best basketball in February and March. We talk about that all the team, being at your best here at the end of the year. I think we’ve stepped up, and I think we’ve gotten better. That’s important.
I think we still can get a lot better. But I think probably the difference during this stretch is defensively we’ve been pretty good and making it hard for teams to score. Some of that is our play inside. Some of that is our perimeter guys. I think our rotation and how we’re playing and the roles that the guys have been more defined right now. If we can continue to defend like we have, I think we have a chance to keep getting better and make something happen.
On having a more together team:
Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Every team is different. Every team has a little bit of a different personality because of the people.
Every team, when you figure out how a team needs to play to become really good, is always different. Last year, we relied heavily on TJ [Warren]. We had to, and our guys understood it, and they accepted it. They were good with it. Even the first year I was here when we went to the Sweet Sixteen, that team had great chemistry. It was amazing.
We have so many young guys. I don’t even know if they know what’s coming. They just kind of play. That’s kind of fun with this group. Hopefully, we can continue to get better.
On improved shooting percentage and higher tempo:
I thought at the start of the second half, we moved the ball better than we did in the first half. I thought in the first half, the ball stuck in our hands a little too long. Every guy had it, held it, looked over the floor, passed it, and held it. We just didn’t move it very sharply.
I thought in the second half, part of that was because we wanted to push the ball up the floor and get into our offense quicker and get the ball moving and really see if we can zip it around the floor and see if we can find some guys that were open and penetrate more. We were much more aggressive, and that opened things up for us. Ralston hit the big shot early in the second half in the corner, and it seemed like the speed and the tempo played into our hands much better. I thought that helped our shooting percentages.
On postseason chances:
I feel better, but I’m not the guy that wants to count his chickens before they hatch. I’m not that guy at all, so we’ll see what happens. I think our league this year, when you look at the quality of the conference, and you look at the quality of the teams at the top, and we have so many of them, and if you’re a middle-of-the-pack kind of team, which we’ve become, it’s hard to have a great record because you’re playing so many teams that are up there. Then you look around the country, and you see that there’s one team that’s ranked or one really dominant team.
So I wish we had won more games in the league, there’s no question about that, but I think the quality depth of our league, especially at the top, what makes it really hard, is what makes it really hard.
This is a great basketball league. Miami won today, and I think they’re very deserving. I think we’re deserving. I look at Pittsburgh, and I know they’ve lost a little bit late, but I look at who they’ve beaten throughout the year. I look at who they’ve had to play and how many times they’ve had to play them, and I hope teams in our league don’t get penalized because of the quality of our league. You can take some of us teams and slide us into a different league, and there’s only one great team. All of a sudden, you can be 12-6 or 13-5, but in this league, that’s a ton to get there. We’ll see what happens on Sunday, but I hope our league is very, very well represented.
On defeating four Hall of Fame coaches:
Honestly, I’ve never thought of it like I’ve done anything, and I’m not just saying that just to say the right thing. I haven’t scored a basket this year.
Our players have done a great job. I’m not sure how many times that’s happened because most of the time, there’s not any opportunities for that to happen. That kind of reflects on how strong this league is. That’s not ever a part of my vocabulary. I’ve never been a coach that walks around saying, ‘I beat that guy.’ I hear other coaches say it, and I’m not knocking them, but it’s just never part of what I’ve done. What we do is hard, and to get a team to play and to play well like today, our players are the ones that play. I don’t play, and they do a great job of it.
On Senior Day:
It’s hard. Obviously, Ralston was going to play a lot. You’re hoping maybe Staats could get in there at the end, but the guy I feel bad for as the coach is Desmond.
Probably what’s happened with the team is that the group that’s playing right now is playing really well and is playing the best we’ve played all year long. When you’re in a game like today, you’re focused on having your team play its best basketball, so I wished I got him in more.
I wasn’t going to stick him in there in the end because I thought that would have been disrespectful to him. He’s done a lot for our team, and he still needs to stay ready and be there and be a good player for us.
I was happy for Staats today when he got in there. When his first shot left his hands, there was no doubt in my mind somehow he was going to make that thing. Ralston today, senior day, second half, big shots. They cut the lead down to about ten or so, and he just drilled two straight and kind of loosened it back up, so it was a great day for all those guys.
On Cat Barber’s speed and comparisons to Tyus Edney from UCLA:
Very similar. Tyus was that way. Cat was going in the second half, and I thought he was going pretty fast, and then I saw him go to a whole other gear. It’s like he downshifted one more time, and he’s moving a little faster. I want him to use his speed.
We’ve talked about that and trying to find ways in the game to utilize it. I thought the first half, the tempo of the game was not in our favor mostly because of Cat. Let’s get this thing going a little bit if we can and open it up for Cat, and I thought he did a great job.
On guarding Christmas and BeeJay’s ability:
We had two different guys guard him. When Malik guarded him, I wanted Malik to full front him and let’s give him weak side help as much as we can. It made it difficult for him to catch the ball and not give him as many opportunities, especially deep around the basket. When he catches it and is nestled in there deep, he’s really hard to guard.
With BeeJay, it’s harder for BeeJay to full front him. BeeJay’s not as nimble, so BeeJay would play behind him a little more but still try to discourage it in there, but when he starts to put his hand up, it keeps going up one more level. He changes it and blocks him. BeeJay’s really helped our team, and he knows this.
I’m on him hard now, and I’m not excited at all about where his weight is right now. I think if he ever gets serious, truly serious about becoming a great player and knocking another 20 or 30 pounds off his body, he’s going to become one of the best players in the country. He hasn’t gotten there yet. We’ve got to get him there, and that’s the next step for him. He can become really something special.