Starting Five (9:11)
"We feel very comfortable, very confident, yet we know we've got a tremendous challenge in front of us. We're excited about still playing. Last night was a very frustrating game at times, there's no question about that. We felt like we were trying things like you're standing on the sideline drawing plays up in the dirt a couple times. But the kids really did a nice job of changing some things.
"We came out early, we made a bunch of shots, a bunch of threes. Everybody thought it was going to be easy. Kept saying that they were going to come back at us because they're a competitive bunch of kids. Jay Wright's clubs do that, we felt that way.
"They did, they got more aggressive. Made a great run right before the half, start of the second half. Everybody that has seen me coach before knows that I've taken five guys out at one time several times in my life and most of the time when I'm really mad at them.
"I was a little discouraged with them, but it wasn't just that. We took them out because I wanted to change how we were playing the post. Felt like they were hurting us inside, wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding about how we wanted them.
"I took those five guys out. Down in front, I didn't see two plays during the game because I was talking to those guys. Then we went back out there. Later in the game we went back to our big lineup and tried to keep Reggie and P.J. in at the same time because we felt like we were going to need some outside shots. Fortunately for us, the kids stepped up and made some plays. Marcus made two big plays. P.J. and Reggie made some threes for us. We got better on the defensive end. Fortunately for us, we're still here playing and know we have a big-time challenge in front of us."
The game yesterday, you got hot from three early, then didn't hit one for 16 minutes. What changed during that stretch?
"It's a combination. I mean, defensively we weren't very good, so they were scoring. We weren't getting it out on our break as well. We've had great teams in the past that could run the break after a miss and also run the break after a make. We're not as good after a make this year.
"Their defense got stronger themselves. They got more physical with us. I'm not implying at all it was dirty basketball, they just got more physical with us. We shied away from the challenge.
"We always say you have to face the fire. I think we backed up away from the fire for a long, long time. Some of our threes were not very good shots. I remember jumping on P.J. and Leslie in a four-possession swing when both of them shot a shot when they didn't have a grip on them. We took some bad shots, turned it over, tried to penetrate when their defense was strong. You add all that together, they make a big run, we don't do much of anything."
Last year 2-17 against Kansas. What is it about a Bill Self defense that make them so difficult to score against sometimes?
"Well, I think they're leading the nation this year in defensive field goal percentage. They're really good defensively. They're athletic. They're long. They have a shot-blocker at the goal. Last year they just dominated the last four or five minutes of the game. We didn't make very many plays. I thought Jeff Withey was really strong in that time period when we did go inside.
"But I think if you have a shot-blocker around the basket, you take away the other team's second-shot opportunities. If they get an offensive rebound, he has a chance to block it. You have people on the perimeter like Elijah and Travis who do a good job defensively and keep the ball in front of them. They have length. They can steal the ball, but they don't think that's necessarily their number one objective. Their number one objective is to give you a bad shot.
"Bill and his staff do a great job of working on it. They emphasize those characteristics when they're recruiting and they get the kids to buy into it."
Coach Harper yesterday said he told his team, Don't drive in there to score, drive in there to pitch because Withey is down there. Is that a message you'll send?
"Well, the culture out there tells them they're a man when they're six years old. They can go and dunk over a 7-footer. You have to understand that part.
"I've never used that terminology. Coach does use that with his Western Kentucky team, and they've used it all year long. We're going to try to do the same thing, try to play the way we've been playing for 15 years at Kansas. And the first nine years at North Carolina I wanted to take right between the eyes of the shot-blocker, but we had Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller, Sean May, Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Wayne Simien, we could do those kind of things. We don't have that kind of team now. We have to spread their team a little bit which gives us good spacing, which we want against everybody, not be silly. If one of our 6-foot-3 guards gets an offensive rebound and tries to shoot it over Jeff, the next thing you'll see is we'll have another 6-foot-3 assistant."
From an historical standpoint, that '57 title game, triple overtime, being a native of North Carolina, played there, coached there, coaching now, what do you remember about that game growing up and how important it was to Carolina and Kansas?
"Not one iota. I was seven years old. I was playing cowboys and Indians, never thought of basketball in my life when I was seven years old. I didn't know anything about that game until I was a high school coach. When I went to North Carolina, it was Coach Smith going to three straight Final Fours, when you had to win the conference tournament.
"We lost to Kareem Abdul Jabar, who was Lew Alcindor at that time. Now I know a lot about the '57 national championship game. I learned more about it when I was at Kansas. I got to know the players when I was an assistant at North Carolina and become much closer since I've been back as the head coach. I'm serious, seven years old, I never played a game of basketball in my life, so I didn't know anything about it. Lennie Rosenbluth was here. He was the National Player of the Year in '57. Dick Harp was a great mentor to me, a great coach at Kansas, a mentor to some fantastic youngsters. I know he was coaching that team. He and I had several conversations about it when I was at Kansas.
"Tommy Kearns, I played some golf with, starting guard on the North Carolina side at that time. Joe Quigg's son played with me on the JV team when I coached at North Carolina as an assistant. I had ties, but I didn't know anything about it. Guys, I'm old. We didn't even have a daggum television. We walked to school uphill five miles both ways."
One of the things about Kansas, I'm not sure you have seen a team since you went to the lineup that has that kind of length on the perimeter, Reggie and P.J. tend to have an advantage. Does that change the way you do anything?
"Well, there's no question they led the nation in defense field goal percentage for a reason. It's not just Jeff Withey blocking shots. Releford, Young, all those guys, McLemore, even though it's his first year playing in the games, he's been there two years, they do have tremendous length.
"We've had some teams like that ourselves in the past. Even when we had Ty, he was so fast, quick, he made problems for everybody. We had Wayne, Danny, Marcus on the perimeter. I think length always helps you. I think the size enables you to close out better. The size enables you to deflect more passes. The size enables you to bother more people's shot. I've always said that Jimmy Boeheim's zone at Syracuse was effective because he had the long athletic player who could close on people. People talk about defensive backs, how quickly they close on you.
"They recruit a style of player that they really like that fits in and then they're able to sell that youngster on what's best for the team. The way they defend is a huge, huge part of their success."
The change that you made with the lineup, have you ever had a season like that where you've had to make that kind of change? Is it that big a difference of what you were trying to do at the start of the season?
I've changed a starter several times. Usually I'm one of those guys that likes to pick after three or five weeks of practice, You won it by playing in practice, keep it that way.
"There's been three, four, five, maybe more times that I've changed a lineup in one spot, but not necessarily a style of play. This was the first time that I've done that. It was scary. I was not comfortable with it. I'm still not comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with Greg Ostertag, Scott Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Wayne Simien, with those kind of post players that you play two at the same time and maybe even put a third one in there. Sean May, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller, that's what I'm more comfortable with.
"As a basketball coach, you need to try to get your five best players on the floor if you're not successful, and we weren't being as successful as we wanted to be. In saying that, I've said this, people just think I'm poo-pooing it, but the players had to buy in. They're the ones that should get the credit.
"I said in October, November, I thought our team would get better and better as the season went along, and I think they really have."
I think for some of us in North Carolina, being out here, maybe 50 miles away, we get a greater appreciation for the pride and roots of basketball. What was it like to live that? Do you get a sense when you're in the middle of that, the pride involved?
"You know, I'm a whacko, so understand this. I used to sprint, then I jogged, now I just walk. Every game day at Kansas, I went up to the graves, cemetery, pat the tombstone for Dr.Naismith and Dr. Allen. Now I would always ask them for some Divine Intervention. Now I don't know if they gave me any, but it always made me feel better.
"I love the passion of the Kansas fans. It's just off the charts. People would see you and say, Coach, got a 700-mile drive back to Dodge City, but what a great game. It was something that they really took a great deal of pride in. Coach Dean Smith and myself are probably the only two people in the world that know what actually goes on. The people at North Carolina think, Kansas can't be that good, they can't have the same feelings for basketball as we do.
"The people at Kansas say, Those North Carolina people are okay, but they can't have the same passion and feelings for basketball that we do. Coach Smith and I used to talk about it. We were the only two people that understood what was going on at both places.
"I've loved both places. At Kansas for 15 years, it was 15 great years. I loved every single day. At North Carolina, I was 10 years as an assistant, I got my degree in four, but I stayed and got a masters. Then back 10 years as a head coach, I've loved it. James Moeser was our chancellor. He said it's not immoral to love two institutions. I think that's the best way to describe what I feel.
"When you walk into Allen Fieldhouse, I said this before I left, the day I ever walked in Allen Fieldhouse and I didn't get cold chills, I'd know it was time to stop. I feel the same in the Smith Center. If I walk out on game night, don't have cold chills, I'll quit. Someone asked me the other day if I would ever consider coming and playing a home and home against Kansas, I said no. My athletic director would understand, the Pope will understand, because I will never walk out of that far tunnel, that will never happen."
Yesterday it appeared you had another one of those things where you had to go down to a knee. Can you describe what happened? Has anybody told you whether it's dangerous or whatever?
"I really don't worry about it. It started happening when I was 13 years old. It's just a blood rush. Yesterday I was screaming because we need-- I said, Just give me one rebound. They kept getting every rebound and scoring.
"It's usually when I go a little whacko, start screaming, get up and down. It's never worried me. The doctors at Kansas checked me out every way you can. The doctors at North Carolina. The only unsettling thing is I'm not sure they care that much about me, they just don't want me to die on their watch.
"It's not vertigo. Vertigo I have some significant problems with sometimes. Again, I was 13 years old, I started doing that when I was catching in Babe Ruth baseball league."
You've gotten a pretty good reception here. Do you think after 10 years folks have finally gotten past the whole Roy, Kansas, North Carolina thing and are moving on? With the impending snowstorm coming up, is that any kind of a distraction?
No, it's no distraction, unless the roof goes off. We'll still be able to play. But that part so far hasn't been a distraction. Time heals all wounds. People told me that. It's taken me a long time to realize that. But I've had some wonderful friends at Kansas that will always be extremely important to me. Those people have been fantastic. But I had some people that were very disappointed when I left. I knew about that. I had some people at North Carolina were very disappointed when I didn't go back in 2000, and they let me know about that. But I do believe that time heals all wounds. I'll tell the story, I've told it a hundred times.
"Had a guy in an airport came up to me, 'Coach, nice to see you, but I'm a Kansas fan.' I said, 'So am I.'
"He looked at me weird, walked away. Went down a couple gates, came back. He said, You surprised me with that answer. You shouldn't have, 15 years heart, body and soul. I said, When I was coaching at Kansas, Kansas was my favorite school, and North Carolina was my second. Coaching at North Carolina, that's my favorite school and Kansas is second. The people have been really nice. They've been people driving by on the streets when we're out walking in the morning that have been yelling, saying nice things. I only had one yell something that wasn't quite as nice. But that's part of it. This is a special place. Basketball out here is extremely important, and I love those places."
You mentioned the team having to buy-in to what you're wanting them to do. You talked about a lack of a sense of urgency. Does that apply, as well, that they had to buy into that aspect of it?
"You grow up nowadays and you're the greatest thing since sliced bread as a seven-year-old, 12-year-old. We had Kendall Marshall, he was the number one basketball player in America as a sixth grader. Jesus, what the dickens does that mean? They buy in, but there's another level. You have to be all in. I believe the kids believe in everything we say, but you have to be all in. It can't be 90 percent, it has to be 100 percent. We went through a stretch with Villanova where we were not all in. It's still a work in progress, but it's natural. Greg Gurley was a speedster when he played for us. Doesn't look like it right now, but he was a speedster. I could get him to run from one end of the court to the other a heck of a lot faster than he could by himself."
Talk a little bit about their freshman McLemore and your guard Paige.
"McLemore is really a fantastic scorer. Hubie Brown said one time the shooter is one who makes up for a multitude of sins. He can really shoot. You have to understand that part of it. He's a little more mature than Marcus because he was at the program last year, gone through some things. He's just an unbelievable scorer who does other things well. But you have to understand, he is a scorer.
"Marcus right now is a distributor who is going to be a better scorer. He's a tough little nut that I think is going to be one of the best point guards in college basketball. I think McLemore is one of the best wing players that there is in all of college basketball."
Dexter, I don't know if it will be you on McLemore. What makes him such a dangerous defensive guy?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: "I think you have to ask Reggie. He'll be guarding him tomorrow."
REGGIE BULLOCK: "I'm just up for the challenge. I mean, I drew that assignment for the defense. I'm just up for the challenge to be able to contain him. We have a similar game. I just got to limit his touches from getting wide-open jumpers. Just going to be my challenge tomorrow on the defensive end. I'm just ready for it."
Last year against Kansas you really struggled from three. I think you were 2-17. Do you remember why it was you struggled?
REGGIE BULLOCK: "I felt like last year we was missing open shots we usually make. Like you said, we went 2-17 from the three-point arc. We had a lot of open looks we missed. Hopefully this year it will just be better when we out there shooting the three."
P.J. HAIRSTON: "From what I remember last year, Kansas did make it an ugly game for us. Like Reggie said, we did miss some shots down the stretch. That's when Kansas went on their little run and expanded the lead for them, hit some big shots. That's pretty much what I remember."
Considering some of the places you've played this year, the reception you usually get when you go on the road, is playing Kansas in Kansas City that big of a deal?
P.J. HAIRSTON: "Well, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with it 'cause that's most of their fan base. I don't know how far Lawrence is from here, but I'm pretty sure it's closer for everyone to get here. I feel like their crowd will be a big part of their game. That will be like the sixth man on the court."
MARCUS PAIGE: "Yeah, we've played in some hostile environments this year. We got to go to Indiana, that was a crazy game. At NC State was crazy this year. Even Cameron, like it always is. We're used to hostile environments largely against us. It hopefully won't have much effect on the game. We just have to worry about what's happening on the court."