WILLIAMS: “That was a big-time game for about 30, 32 minutes, and then after that it was a big game if you were a Notre Dame fan. It wasn't for us. We have a nine-point lead, and all of a sudden, they started making a bunch of threes, and we called timeout after they had gone ahead by three, and we turn it over three straight times after that timeout. They're still making shots. They were really, really hard for us to guard their dribble penetration. They kept getting us inside, and then we'd have to help, and then they'd throw it out and somebody would make a three. As I said, the first time we played them, it's a tough match-up for us. We tried to go small the last part of the game to see if we could do a better job of guarding them, but they made some really good plays. You just have to congratulate them. That is the bottom line. It wasn't anything about being tired from playing four days. That was not a factor in the game. That would just be an excuse.
“They played better than we did. We panicked a little bit more than we have at any time this year, and their defense got stronger with every basket and our movement got worse. I tried to stay out on the court for a couple of seconds because I was going to congratulate Grant and Connaughton, because I think when you have seniors in this league, and both those guys are seniors and winning an ACC Championship it has to be a great, great moment for them to remember the rest of their lives, and I was just going to congratulate them. Look at the two seniors, Grant had 24, and Connaughton had 20. Grant had 10 assists and two turnovers. Connaughton was 7 for 9, so you're not going to beat too many people when they shoot 32 free throws and you shoot 7. But at the end we had 10 or 12 times we fouled them intentionally, trying to see if they'd miss some free throws and they didn't miss very many of them. They shot 87%, 28 out of 32.
“But we've got to be more aggressive and get more things going to the basket so we can get fouled more often ourselves. But it's a tough day, and a very good three days. We did some good things for three days. Did some good things for 32 minutes today. That's about it, guys.”
Marcus or Brice, just the sheer quickness with which the run that they had. I think it was 11-0 in 68 seconds. What kind of impact does that have on your psyche as a player when it happens so fast?
“When you sense a team going on a run and making a couple of shots, we always talk about that is the extra important time to value the basketball and run some offense and make them guard for a little bit because that takes them out of their rhythm offensively. But I think during that time I took a quick shot and we had a couple turnovers back-to-back right out of half court, and that is going to lead to run-outs and easy baskets or open three pointers for them. So we did the exact opposite of what we talked about in that situation. We want to be disciplined on offense and make them work to try to stifle that run, and that just didn't happen.”
“In that situation, like he said, you can't turn it over because we turned it over three times in a row and that really hurt us in the long run. They end up with a bigger lead and we couldn't recover from that. That is the biggest difference in the game.”
You go on the run coming out of halftime, Marcus hits a couple threes and then right then Notre Dame seems to kind of leap into action. With things going so well for you this week, was there any sense of a false sense of security there that you had turned things around coming out of halftime and that's the way things have been going for you guys that you get caught off guard a little bit by Notre Dame there?
“As a coach, I didn't feel that way. I don't know what the players would feel like. But I feel like when you get on a little run like that, you need to play tougher defense. You need to make sure you keep getting better shots.
But I was just looking at it. At 8:45 we had a turnover. At 8:22 we had a turnover. At 7:27 we had a turnover. 6:27 we had a turnover. 6:25 we had a turnover. 4:00 we had a turnover. So that's six turnovers from 8:45 mark to the 4:00 mark, and we only had 13 for the game. So I think what happens when you're feeling good, you should keep playing exactly the way that you were playing. I think their sense of urgency at that point was a dramatic change, and it was dramatically better than our sense of urgency was. I don't know if it would be complacency. I forget what word you used-- that things are going well and you think you've got it made, because I know as a coach I never feel that way. I've always felt like if I get you down six, I want to get you down nine. If I get you down 12, I want to get you down 15.
“You guys know what I feel like about Coach Smith. He called me my second or third year at Kansas. He said, "You're not running four corners at all." And I said, "Coach, I don't have Phil Ford, but if I've got somebody 8, I want to beat them 15. If I've got them 10, I want to beat them 18." That's just the way I've always been. I didn't do a very good job of coaching today during that stretch. We had already had to use one of our timeouts to get the basketball inbounds, and I eventually did call one. I didn't want to call one, but as I said from that stretch in there, that was between the 8:00 and the 4:00 TV timeout. Then when I called that one, I only had two left and it was a three-point game at that time. Our first three possessions after the timeout we turned it over, so that is the most long-winded answer you've ever gotten to a very simple question. I apologize.”
Brice, you guys had a lot of success getting the ball inside. During that run a couple of those turnovers were on entry passes. Did they do anything differently to change up things to take that away or was it just rush things a little bit?
“Just we didn't really do a good job of holding off whether the big guys took it or guards didn't get a great angle for it. It's just the little things that we need to work on because we've been working on it all year. We've got to execute it in a crucial time like that because those turnovers did hurt us in the long run.”
I want to ask Brice and Marcus, you guys get a lot of criticism about the heart of this team. Could you just speak on that really briefly and what your perspective is in that regard?
“I think we showed a lot of heart this week. We battled four straight times. Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to today. A lot of that was execution. But you can't really say that the five guys on the court didn't want to win. You know, we were going after 50-50 balls with everything we had. And for three games before this one we won the 50-50 balls, competed on the backboard and showed as much heart as we have all year. So people can say what they want, but the proof is in the fact that we competed at the highest level this past week.”
“Yeah, I agree with that. People probably counted us out at the beginning of the tournament. They didn't think we'd make it this far. We really showed a lot of toughness and a lot of heart being able to go four days in a row and being able to get to the championship. We were the fifth seed, and people were probably looking past us when Louisville was up ten, and they said Louisville is probably going to beat them. But we showed a lot of toughness to come back and win that game. And yesterday people probably looked past us just because it's Virginia. They're the number 3 team in the country, and we showed a lot of toughness. You can't say we didn't show toughness, because, I mean, we beat two top-10 teams in two days, and we should have beaten another one, but they made a lot more plays than we did today.”
“You know, I say some things a lot of time about a sense of urgency, but our kids have got tremendous heart. I mean, come on. Other teams have pretty doggone good players and they want to win, too. It's not just about North Carolina. I've had some really, really good teams that may not have a sense of urgency on every possession, but that didn't mean that they didn't want to win just as much as anybody else. Everybody is not built like Tyler Hansbrough. Everybody's not built like Raymond Felton. But people want to criticize our kids. That's okay. They don't have anything better to do.”
Marcus, Coach said that the four days, four games wasn't really a factor. Is there anything you can pinpoint that led to those turnovers and led to that snowballing on the run in terms of what you guys were doing?
“Yeah, I mean, it's hard to explain because we had gotten into a rhythm and we were playing so well. That got us up nine and we were getting every shot we wanted. We were getting the ball inside, we were moving, cutting, getting open shots. I think having one turnover probably led to the next, and then we got a little tight when they started making threes. But it's hard to point to a specific reason why because we really were kind of in a groove offensively. We were starting to find out what worked. We were getting the ball to Brice inside and working high-low and getting shots. The fatigue didn't have anything to do with it. It was more mental. It's not because they pressured us and we couldn't attack the basket or we were too tired to do anything. It was just a couple mental lapses back-to-back that really hurt. I don't really know why we had them.”
For either of the players or coach, how much better do you feel about where you guys are and how you're now getting ready to go into the next tournament than you did four days ago?
“I feel great, even though we didn't get this win today because we did grow on all levels as a team. We just have to cut down a little more of the mistakes and we'll be right there because we are a great team. We're starting to gel together and starting to play a little bit more to our potential as days go on.”
“Yeah, I think we have grown in the four days that we've been here. I think we've shown some toughness during those four days. We've played better defensively during those four days. Sometimes, and I talk about this all the time, you've got to give the other team some credit. I mean, yes, we turned it over six times in whatever it was, 4:45 there, but Notre Dame had to make some plays, too. I think that is the one thing that gets lost. It's not just about what we did that was bad or what we failed to do. To answer a little bit of the question about the tiredness, and I'm not picking on these players. I'm just using it as an example. At the 8:45, the turnover from Joel Berry. He hadn't played 30 minutes in the games like these guys had. At 8:22 it was Isaiah. At 7:27 it was Jackson. At 6:47 it was Kennedy and he hasn't even played but two games. 6:25 it was Brice, and at 4:00 it was Isaiah again. So I don't want anybody to think that we're up here begging off saying that we had to play four days in a row and Notre Dame only had to play three. They beat our butts. That is the bottom line. They played better than we did and they had a tremendous stretch there that they should be congratulated for.”
Coach, a second ago Brice mentioned that the team is starting to gel. A couple years ago you guys switched to a smaller lineup and things started to click. Last season slow start to the ACC but then you win ten games in a row and things are starting to click. Do you feel you're at the point right now where you guys are starting to gel where things are starting to click?
“Yes, I do. I really do. I mean, again, I think it was Brice that said it. I think he said two top-10s. I think it's two top-15, but we did beat some pretty doggone good teams, and Notre Dame is a top 15 team. And we had a bad stretch for four minutes. If you were here the other day, guys, my teams have taken me to seven Final Fours. Only one time did we ever win the conference tournament and that was in 2008. Every other team we lost. Even in '05 and in '09 when we won the National Championship we lost in the conference tournament. This team has a chance to make a really good run. We've got some things we've got to improve on, there is no question.”
Coach, it almost seems a little strange to say Notre Dame is the ACC Tournament champion. I'm wondering if it just feels different with the new characters in this league and this sort of cements that this is a different conference than it used to be?
“It does feel different, but it is a new conference. I'm the oldest guy in here, close. But when there were eight teams, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Wake, Clemson, Virginia, all that kind of stuff, that's not the landscape we have right now. I think it's exciting. What we have is the most unbelievable regular season I've ever been involved with; not even close any other time. The marathon I referred to it, and then I said it's a marathon running 26 miles uphill, because it was really a bear. But it is different to say Notre Dame won the ACC Championship. I think it's just a change in culture. I mean, my gosh, we have Texas A&M in the southeast. We have West Virginia in the Big 12 or whatever it is. I mean, the landscape of college athletics. We've got Colorado in the Pac-10, we've got Notre Dame in the ACC. That's Atlantic Coast. Damn Atlantic Coast is a lot more prevalent out there nowadays than it used to be, but that's just what it is. And I think it's been a fantastic league, fantastic league.”
Coach, when we look at the stat sheet we have Notre Dame has five guys in double figures, whereas Marcus and Brice accounted for more than half of Carolina's points. How big of a concern is that for you as you prepare for the Tournament?
“Well, that's always a concern for me. I'm one of those guys that always likes five guys averaging in double figures. I think that's always been the way I've always coached. But the best players always scored the most points. Tyler Hansbrough led us in scoring for three straight years and that didn't bother me a bit because we won. But today I think it was just-- you know, we got one, two, three, four, we've got five guys that could be potentially one basket away from it. There is a guy with seven, three guys with seven, one with eight, one with nine. So it's not like these two guys are scoring 75 and the other guys are scoring two apiece. But, yeah, I always like it when we have more balanced scoring because I think that kind of team is harder to guard. Like Notre Dame today, we couldn't leave one guy alone. They had everybody that could shoot the ball in there. We couldn't foul. In 2009 we had everybody shooting 80%, they couldn't foul us. That is a comfortable feeling as a coach. These guys, the question about heart sort of bothers me a little bit. These guys played their tails off. Are they perfect? No, not by any means, but they've really given a lot here.”
I think you just started to answer the question I was about to ask. You were giving credit to Notre Dame and rightly so. Just help us understand the difficulty of dealing with a team that has five guys that can hurt you? Because I saw when you had big guys on Connaughton, he hurt you. You switch, then other guys hurt you. And there was one possession, Coach, where I think you closed out exactly the way you wanted to and the ball moved all the way around-- it was unbelievable. You did probably exactly what you wanted to do defensively, three or four legs in a row, and it still ended with a converted three in the corner. Just elaborate on that challenge.
“Yeah, it really is a challenge. They had great spacing. We were split-second late, split-second late every time and we got there. Then we were a little more than a split-second late and they made the shot. It is, again, I refer all times to past experiences. We were a load for people to guard in '82 because we had Tyler inside, and Danny, and Wayne, and Tyler on the perimeter, and Deon to pick up the trash. When you have that kind of team, it really is difficult to guard. It's what I've always tried to look for. I've run away from prospects in the past if I thought they felt like they had to have 50 shots a game.
“I had one guy say one time when I was recruiting. He said, I want to play as much as Tyler Hansbrough played. I said, good, if you're as good as he is, you will, but you're not. We didn't get the kid, but that's all right, too. I do think that what you just described is really hard. And if you think about it, Notre Dame is probably, as I said, when we played them the first time and this time too, Notre Dame is probably the toughest match-up for us in the league because we try to play two big guys and Notre Dame is playing one medium sized guy as their biggest guy. He played well too. I think Auguste, yeah, 16 points-- yeah, 16 points, 13 rebounds. They had five guys that played really well.”
Coach, does the new look ACC and the challenge that this season presented to you, does that necessarily prepare you for the NCAA Tournament?
“Oh, I think it does. You know, you're playing every night. It really is. I don't know how you guys felt as writers covering it, but as a coach, it was phenomenal the stress and the expectation, the competition that we had. We had a lot of stuff going on. It's the only team I've ever had where we went three weeks basically without practicing for more than 15 or 20 minutes a day, and that was hard on our kids. You know, sometimes the ball bounces your way for you. I was astounded when I started looking at the stats for Notre Dame, and you can do it again today. They played 34 games. They started the same four kids 34 of those games, and Auguste didn't start two games. So they haven't lost anybody. I mean, that's a phenomenal kind of year that you want to take advantage of. Mike has done a great job. Today they played 36, 37, 35, 38, 35. They've been fortunate that nobody's gotten hurt, and those kids are tough kids that do what they need to do to take care of their body, and you need to take advantage of those kind of times. But this league, it's been a bear. They did a great job. I think I read it somewhere. I don't read a lot. I think it's in Steve's thing or maybe a Notre Dame thing. They had six wins last year and 14 wins in the regular season this year, and that is the second biggest improvement one year in the ACC forever. I mean, those are big-time accomplishments. I do believe-- I really did want to sit out there and just congratulate Jerian and Pat, because I do think there is something about seniors staying in college and enjoying moments, and I think those kids enjoyed these moments today.”
Roy, given how different the season was and just how difficult it was with such good competition, did the opportunity today feel like a different level of reward? Or did it have a different feel for what was at stake today?
“It's been a tough year. I've had some personal things that have been really tough. Coach Smith, my best friend in town, all those kind of things, all the injuries, not knowing when you went to practice every day who you were going to have. The stuff that we've got going on around campus. You get tired of dealing with all of that. I never allowed myself to think about what I was going to feel like if we had won, but I did try to explain to the kids that this could be a great, great time out on the court at the end of the game because I wanted them to experience that feeling. I've been fortunate. I've coached a long time and I've been able to cut down some nets a few times, but this team has really faced quite a bit of challenges and I really wanted it for the kids. Thanks.”
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