First thing is we're excited about our matchup with Villanova, and I think Jay's done an amazing job with this team. He's got them playing at a high level. Yesterday, they were maybe as impressive as anybody so far in the entire tournament when you watched them. We know we've got a great challenge against a deserving No. 1 seeded team and we're looking forward to the opportunity.
Hi, Mark. I guess to be fair, you all have been up and down this year. What have the ups been characterized by and what have the downs been characterized by?
I think with our team, we rely on a lot of young guys, and the one thing that's probably been the most difficult thing for our team is just being consistent every night. When we've played well, a lot of different guys have stepped up and contributed. We've had some nights where we haven't shot the ball well. We've had some nights where we've only got some scoring from a couple guys. Then on some other nights, seems like everybody's contributing a lot more, especially offensively.
I think that's probably been the biggest difference. If you look at the Louisville win, the North Carolina win on the road, both those on the road, we weren't just relying on Trevor or Ralston to make a basket, we were getting production from a lot of different places. I think that's probably been the biggest difference.
Mark, Jay was saying earlier today that he was admire ing the play of your big guys last night. In the past, it might have been guards doing all the scoring, big guys doing the dirty work. Last night your big guys scored. What's that like and how much better does it make you guys when there's a little more balance there?
I think it makes a difference.
Early in the season, we were not getting very much scoring at all from our interior guys. There's three sophomores and a freshman make up our four interior guys. But they've come along. They've developed. They're getting better. They're getting more confident. Each one of our guys brings something different to the table. They're all different in what they do. We're a much better team when we get some consistent scoring from some guys around the basket.
Last night, in the second half, I thought Malik gave us some scoring. Then Kyle Washington, Lennard had a couple of baskets. Then Beejay had two at the end. If you think about that just last night in the second half, that was kind of a snapshot really of when our team plays offensively as good as it can, when we're getting scoring from those guys inside.
Also wanted to ask you about Villanova. They have six guys who can hit the three pretty consistently. What kind of concern is that for you in stretching out your defense like that?
It's hard, especially because we like to play two post players throughout the game. So that becomes a difficult thing for us to match up against. We've got to do a great job of eliminating some of the open looks. I think a lot of it starts with their dribble penetration. They create penetration off of ball screens and just using their quickness.
And one thing too that I think goes unnoticed with Jay's team is how well they move the ball. They find the next shooter pretty well. They trust that next pass is going to find a good shooter that can make a shot. So we have to be aware of that. There's no question about it and somehow eliminate the number of three point baskets they get.
Mark, just talk about Pinkston, the problem he presents. How do you deal with that?
We've played against some pretty good interior guys all year long. You look at guys like Okafor and then North Carolina's guys and Montrezl Harrell at Louisville and Rakeem Christmas and the list goes on and on and on. He's very good, obviously, very good player. We'll have to do a great job on him.
I think our guys have seen some good players this year and hopefully they'll be ready to play against him.
Coach, where has Abu made the greatest strides and how much has he improved since the first day he walked on campus?
I think he's improved a great deal. He's really developed in his confidence, his ability to score.
I thought last night there was a play there right down there in front of our bench where he took his time and backed his guy in and used his strength and his body and kind of used the drop step and went right to the rim and scored it. I think a lot of times early in the year, he'd get in such a hurry. He's had five or six times this year where he's made a move and just fell down on the ground, he's going so fast.
So he's just getting more comfortable with the pace of the game and the speed, and I think he can become a very, very good offensive player and a defensive player. He had a big block last night too, I thought, at crunch time there. He's just getting more comfortable, and he's learning how to be an effective offensive player at this level.
Coach, the No. 1 seed doesn't lose a lot before the Sweet 16. In 2004, your Alabama team beat Stanford, who was a 1. What do you remember in terms of is it more the mental, believing you can beat a number one? Is that how you go about winning those types of games?
I think you have to believe that you have a chance to win. There's no question about that. Our team this year believes that, as did that team in 2004. You know that comes from playing against great teams. We've played good teams. We've beaten really good teams.
So you have to believe that you're going to win and you have a chance to win. I tell our guys all the time that you respect everybody that you play, but you fear nobody. Our guys will have the right mindset. And then, you know, the thing about the seeds and when the game starts, I'm not sure there's anybody too concerned about whose seed is what.
You just go play. Just like it's any other game throughout the year, you go play the game and play the game the very best possible way you can play it. So that's going to be our approach. We're not going to talk much about them being a 1 seed and all that kind of stuff. They're a really good team. We've proven at times we're a really good team too, and so we're going to go from there.
Mark, these two programs were fortunate enough to win championships in two of the most iconic games that people remember, always replayed, the ends of them. How much do you all reference that game in your program? Villanova uses it fairly regularly. How much do you think kids, it was ten years before they were born, how much can they relate to it and what does it mean to them? Just your thoughts about those two games and what they meant for the game of basketball too.
First of all, in '85 when Villanova won it, I remember watching every second of the game. I was like everybody, as the game got going and they couldn't hardly miss a shot. You know, you're excited watching those guys play. You remember all of them. I remember all of them, Harold Jensen and Pinckney and McClain and all those guys. So that was fun. For our program, we do talk about it sometimes.
I like to -- I like for our players to understand what's happened in the past at NC State. I think it's important for them to appreciate the history and the tradition and what's gone on there. I've got Derek Whittenburg with me on my staff, which is a daily reminder, and he always reminds the guys. So we hear it from him. That doesn't go unnoticed.
But I think it's important for them. It's important. I coached in a program at Alabama for ten years that had never made it past a Sweet 16 in the history of the program. So sometimes you begin to believe there's kind of a ceiling there. That's kind of, that's kind of about as much as you can do. Then we pushed through that and we got to an Elite Eight. But at NC State, we've won it before. Our school has won it. We've stood on the top box. We've been number one. So I think that that's important for your players to know it's possible. It's capable. It's happened here before. So we do talk about it. We talk about it in recruiting. I think it's important. And hopefully, it gives our guys some confidence as well.
Mark, you mentioned the 3-point shooters that Villanova has. They have a small lineup. Boston College, Duke in Greensboro kind of gave you some problems. Can you use that as a reference and how do you deal with that?
Well, we've got to play better in this game than we did in those two. Notre Dame is similar, the way they play and shoot the ball and move the ball. They've got a number of 3-point shooters on the floor. We just have to do a good job eliminating the open looks.
I think it starts with how we guard each individual guy, how we've got to understand and know their personnel really well. We've got to have great energy tomorrow. We've got to be good defensively on the perimeter. That's where everything starts. I think with Villanova, if they're blowing by you left and right and they're getting past guys and you've got to come help and they're moving the ball and finding shooters, you're going to be in for a long night.
When he's got his stroke going, Ralston Turner, his range, where does it rank with the great shooters that you've had?
Well, I think he's comfortable three or four steps behind the college three-point line. I don't think that's a hard shot for him. I think when he's got his legs underneath him and he really gets up off the floor and shoots it strong with his legs, lower body, we've seen him make a number of shots that are four, five feet, maybe, behind the line. He never really got going last night.
He made a couple big ones we needed him to make, but he had some good looks too. So I'm hoping he kind of got that one out of his way last night. Kind of a tricky, emotional game for him because it was LSU. He'll be a little bit more effective here tomorrow. When he's open, we want him to shoot it. There's no doubt about it.
Coach, if you could just talk big picture a little bit about your style. Start off, talk about the style of offense that you guys have played this year and then defensively a little bit about in terms of man-to-man, zone, and pressure as well, your philosophy defensively.
Well, I think offensively, guys in our business know I'm a product of the UCLA system when I was there for seven years. The old UCLA, John Wooden high post. Now what's happened over the years is everybody's kind of varied and tinkered and changed and, you know, you always have some small things you change with all that.
But that's kind of everything starts with us from there. But we'll adapt to our personnel and who we have and try to get the guys the shots that fit them the best as well.
Defensively, I think this has been a year where we've been probably, in my four years, I think probably the best defensive team we've had at times with our quickness and we've got some depth and we've got guys inside. We've got a shot blocker in Beejay. So I think that's been something for our team this year that's certainly helped us win, maybe more than it has in the past.
Mark, good teams obviously go on runs. Villanova is a good team, they get a lot of runs. What's in a coach's in-game arsenal other than a time-out that can try to slow things down a little bit?
Well, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes you need more than one time-out. You need a couple, two or three times if they're really on a run and you've got to slow them down. You try to break their rhythm. It may be one guy that's on fire, and you may make some adjustments and change personnel or change the defensive assignment or switch your defenses if a team really gets in a groove.
So it's different. It's different depending upon who you're playing and those type of things. But they are a team -- as a matter of fact, as we watch them, they have some spurts here and there that are pretty impressive. And I think that's one thing with our team that we've got to make sure we try not to let happen.
Coach, of the schools in the ACC, excluding Louisville who just joined the league, State, Carolina and Duke are the only three who have reached the tournament four straight seasons. Do you feel like your program is getting the respect nationally? Are you building it to where you want it to go?
I don't think about that too much like that really. I think we have a job to do. We know what it is. You guys have heard me say this many times. We live in a tough neighborhood, and it's a neighborhood where there's some really good teams and really good coaches. So for us, we're just trying to swing away every day and compete.
Whether it's in recruiting, whether it's on the court, whether it's getting to the tournament, we've got to have the attitude that we're not going to back away. We're going to fight as hard as we can and do what we can do to become a better team. So I like the fact that we've had some success. I've said it the other day. We're hungry, though. I'm hungrier for more. We've got to find a way to break through that a little bit and make a little deeper run. So it's hard sometimes when you start off in the 8/9 slot. But it doesn't matter. We still have to figure that out.
So I don't really think of it too much nationally more than just trying to go to work every day and compete and specifically compete with the guys in my neighborhood.
Coach, people talk so much about your outstanding three guards. But if you would dive in a little more and talk about maybe the two or three biggest strengths of your ball club and then maybe a couple things you struggle with the most when you guys have not played well this year. Sort of collectively big picture on both ends there.
I think with our team, the guys that have been the most consistent are those three guys on the perimeter.
For us, when Cat Barber took his game somewhat to another level here about a month, month and a half ago, it changed everything for our team. I thought he became, at times, as good as anybody in the country. Trevor Lacey's been pretty consistent. Ralston Turner's been fairly consistent. Those guys have been there. Our big guys are coming along. I like that. I don't know that there's maybe one thing we've been vulnerable to.
I don't know that I can even answer that. I'm not sure anything would come to my mind. I just think with our team, if I could roll the clock back and figure it out better, figure out how to be more consistent, because that's the one thing for our team. We've been -- we look like the Dow Jones. We're up and down and all over the place at times. But the good news is when our ups have been up, they've been up there pretty high. So we just got to figure out how to get to that place.