ROY WILLIAMS: “We're ecstatic about surviving here. Playing Virginia, we knew it was going to be a battle all the way down to the end. I was even dumb enough to tell them about Ali and Frazier when I was a college student going to see that, how they fought and fought and fought, and we thought it would be that kind of game because we have the greatest respect for Virginia's program. Tony is one of the giants. Getting bigger and bigger in the coaching profession. And what he's done with the Virginia program is just off the charts.
“These guys right up here, I think they played their tails off today. They were down four, held them scoreless for 4:15. The most impressive thing for me was we didn't have a single turnover in the last 17 minutes and 53 seconds. We did a nice job of getting the shots we wanted. We ended up shooting 51% for the game. Against their defense, that's pretty doggone good.”
Marcus, your defense on Malcolm. He's a strong guy. What were you thinking about the assignment of guarding him?
MARCUS PAIGE: Yeah, well, he does so many things so well. He's such a complete player. He's ACC Player of the Year. He doesn't just rely on jump shots. He can get to the basket, come off screens. Probably the best player in the country at reading off the ball screens.
I knew I had my hands full. I wanted to make everything tough and contested. I did a pretty good job of using my quickness. Other than one time he got me with a pump fake, I think I was there for everything else he did.
When they started missing all of those shots, it seemed like your defense got tighter. Did you get a boost by seeing them struggle a little bit
JOEL BERRY: I think so. We had them to where they were taking shots they didn't want to take. Malcolm was going in and shooting fade-away shots. That's what we wanted.
Also I think we just picked up the intensity and got them out of what they wanted to do and limited them to one shot.
Joel, after listening to all those amazing names of the First and Second Team All Tournament , what does it mean for you to be the MVP?
JOEL BERRY: It means a lot. I put in the time and work staying after practice, shooting a lot of shots. It started over the summer where I dedicated my time to just shooting.
Like I told all the reporters, this isn't about me. It's about our team. We compete and practice together every day. This is what we compete for. We were able to come out here together and get this win, so...
Joel, there were a couple times tonight when you needed a basket and you sort of came up with it. Is that a role you've grown into this year or have you always been the guy that wants to hit that big shot?
JOEL BERRY: I think everyone would like to hit a big shot. But I just try to shoot it with confidence if I got the ball in my hand. That's the reason I just hit those shots, just because it was all about confidence, just using my instinct. When the ball was in my hand, I was able to knock it down.
Coach tells us all the time, If you're going to shoot the ball, put it in the basket (laughter).
Marcus and Brice, have you ever cut down nets before? As emotional as you were at Duke when you won the regular-season championship, how much better is this?
BRICE JOHNSON: This definitely feels a lot better to be able to cut the nets down here, just be able to win it. We've been in this situation three times, we finally won on the third try.
It does feel a lot better winning here than it did at Cameron. I like this win better.
MARCUS PAIGE: I agree. You can't cut the nets down on the road. Also just to kind of silence the critics about the unbalanced ACC schedule, not getting a chance to play everyone twice. Some teams having more difficult ACC road than others.
To win outright the ACC regular-season championship and back it up by coming here and winning the tournament kind of validates the season we've had.
Have you ever cut the nets down before?
MARCUS PAIGE: Maybe in the state championship.
BRICE JOHNSON: First one. I'm keeping this (laughing).
Speak generally about playing Virginia's style but still grinding it out.
MARCUS PAIGE: I got it (laughter).
Virginia, they play pretty much the opposite style of us. They're last in tempo and they're pretty good offensively, too. They don't just slow the game down to make it ugly, they slow it down because they're really effective at doing that.
To win playing their game, in the 50s and 60s, we talk about being able to win in the 90s, and being able to win in the 50s. We were able to do that today by gritting it out, being tough defensively.
Like coach said, when we stopped turning the ball over, we started getting a lot more chances at the rim. Our offense was better. In a low-possession game, if you turn the ball over, you're not giving yourself a chance.
Joel, you were actually a two-way star tonight. London Perrantes blitzed Miami last night with five three-pointers. Tonight he was 3-14. How did you do it?
JOEL BERRY: I just tried to stay connected to him. He tried to pass the ball and fade off. They set a screen. I was just trying to get over there.
I kind of found myself getting caught looking down when Gill got the ball. I realized I got a three-point shooter, so I tried to find him. When he shot it, I just tried to get a hand up and tried to bother it.
Joel, you had a lot of open threes two weeks ago in the game. Did you anticipate seeing the same kind of open shots tonight? Were you prepared for that?
JOEL BERRY: Yes, because they were doubling down on the post. They would have to rotate. That would help the guys out on the wing. If we moved to the right spot, that gave an opening for our big man to see us.
I just tried to get to the right spot. I was able to knock 'em down.
Brice, they came at you in the paint early on. What did you do to back them away?
BRICE JOHNSON: You got to give these guys credit. Those guys are knocking down some big-time shots for us, kind of opening it up for us. We tried to run in transition. I got a layup on a transition, outlet from Theo. Really got to give those guys the credit because they were knocking down some big-time shots for us.
Marcus, you've talked about your four-year journey. Describe your mindset knowing that this was your last shot and you weren't even shooting well, yet you did a whole bunch of other things to make sure you got this net on your way out the door.
MARCUS PAIGE: Yeah, it's been a long ride, but it's been fun though. This is what makes it all worth it, to have a team come together in my last year and work through a lot of adversity, become outright champions, win the tournament, which we've had chances to do in the past couple years when I've been here.
But to finally get over that hump and win it, get a chance to celebrate, be with my team, has been fantastic.
It's not about me at this point. It's never been about me. I've always been a guy that just tries to lose myself in the game and do whatever I can to help the team.
I needed to stop shooting threes earlier today, I was 0-7. When I got inside the arc, I was pretty effective. I tried to play great defense. Our coaches challenged somebody to step up to guarding Brogdon.
I just try to lose myself in the game and try to help these guys. That's what makes it all worth it.
Talk about playing a game where there's only 20 combined fouls.
BRICE JOHNSON: It was a very up-and-down game. In the first half I think we missed a media timeout. I thought I was going down there (laughter). Was a little winded there.
It's great to play a game like that. You would rather have a game that's going up and down. Not have a bunch of fouls, a bunch of stoppage of time. It's an ugly game when it gets like that. That's the way Virginia wants to play, we tried to not foul. We wanted to play defense with our feet and did a great job of doing that tonight.
Virginia is known for leading the nation in defense. It was your team defense that was the story this week. What was the difference defensively this week?
“Well, we've got good kids. I've been harping on, pushing them, cursing them, kicking them, pleading with them, begging with them all year long to understand how important the defensive end the floor is. We've gotten better defensively throughout the second half of the season. You can even go back to the first day we were here, we played Thursday, the last six possessions of the first half against Pitt, we were down, we got six straight stops and took the lead and moved on from there.
“Against Miami did a similar thing the last six or seven minutes of the first half, went on an 18-0 run. I told them today it gave me confidence more than I hope it gave them confidence. When you're playing Virginia, no one can have any more respect for a team and a coach than I do for their bunch. I love the way they play. I love to go up and down the court, but that doesn't mean that's the only way to play basketball. They're so efficient offensively, we said we have to try to cut down their easy ones, really make them work for it.
“I was really sad the last couple years because Marcus Paige is one of the five best defensive players in the league. Everybody wants to talk about him missing threes. He's been a sensational defensive player for us. He took Malcolm today and did a nice job. Malcolm was exceptionally hard to cover. I think the biggest thing is we kept getting better all season. We saw the fruits of the labor immediately here and that sort of gave us a little more confidence, too.”
How do you think this sets you up going into the NCAA tournament momentum-wise?
“Coach Smith said a long time ago you build your momentum once you get into the tournament. He talked about each tournament individually. We played pretty well five of the last six years we've been in this tournament but haven't been able to finish it off. I'm hoping this will even give us some more confidence.
“We're going to go back, take a couple days off, rest, relax, talk a little bit about what we're going to do, what we need to do, then try to start everything over again. But I've been very fortunate to coach these kids and see what they've been able to accomplish, wow, the last seven days. You win at Cameron, you come down here and win three games against all four teams were ranked teams, very good teams. I'm really pleased for them and with them, too.”
Joel Berry has been such a key for you. He held all three-point guards to under 10 points, made big shots. Is his development really one of the keys that is driving this team?
“His development, and also the makeup of the rest of our guys. I mean, you guys have heard it, all the naysayers, all the specialists, all the predictors, the people that know everything that goes on in the world. What have they been talking about for the last two months? Marcus needs to play the point.
“Well, Marcus handled that because Joel Berry was doing a pretty doggone good job of it. It didn't bother Marcus like it did everybody else, so-called experts. They're at practice every day, I'm at practice every day. Joel Berry was our most improved player and maybe in some ways our most consistent player all year long, and Marcus could do other things than shoot the basketball.
“I'll say it again. He's one of the best five defensive guards I've ever coached. He considered that important to the club and did it for us all year long. He knew he would have some chances to have the ball in his hands. There was never any conflict because Marcus and Joel are great teammates.
“Joel Berry, I would probably say he has been our most consistent player all year long. Just with each and every game I thought he got more confidence and more confidence and more confidence. He can play the total game.
“I think first game at Duke, the two of them were 4-22. The next game at Duke they were 6-23. I think that's 10-43 in their two games at Duke. But they keep playing in other ways. It's not like what the so-called experts want. They know how to play the game of basketball. More importantly, they know how to be great teammates.”
Coach you said two weeks ago this might be your favorite team you've ever coached. What does it mean to you to know this senior class wins the ACC title, regular-season title?
“That means a lot. No question about that. You have to understand the situation that's been going on at our place. There's been some negative stuff for three years. We've been having negative recruiting against us. These kids believed, that we're going to be able to play in tournaments, we're okay. We're okay. We're okay. Just trust and believe in us.
“I think if somebody does that on a scale they did when there was so much criticism, it makes things extremely special. You get stronger with adversity. I think I've had enough, I'll tell you that (smiling). Four years, I was really emotional at the end of the Duke game 'cause I've been very fortunate. I've coached for 28 years and never had a team to go four years without winning a regular-season championship. That was extremely important to me. I've been very fortunate for 28 years.
“Oh, gosh, is it 9-7 or 9-6 conference regular seasons? How many regular season championships at North Carolina? We've been 16 in 28 years, but this was going on the only group that hadn't done that, so it was special (tearing up).”
In conference-only games, you lead the league in field goal percentage defense, ranked second in steals, third in blocked shots. People focus on points. The observation was made that North Carolina does not get enough credit for its defense.
“I may have said it last night. I think we are the most criticized really good basketball game I've ever coached and least appreciated. That's a pretty doggone good basketball team I've got out there. There's 21 categories that the ACC has. I think in 15 of those 21, we're in the top five. There's three of them that we're at the very bottom: three-point field goal percentage, number of three-pointers made per game, and defense of the three-pointers. Our conference percentage was better in that.
“We're a well-rounded basketball game. We pass the ball, can defend, we rebound the ball, pretty good on the backboard. It's a basketball team that we as coaches have appreciated and pushed and pushed and pushed. That's what we're going to try to do this week, too.”
You told us stories about Tyler Hansbrough, walking the streets at night when you couldn't sleep because you couldn't bear, even though it's about the team, you didn't want to see him leave without a title. Take us through a little of that journey. Choked you up when you talked about Marcus. Did you feel a similar burden because here he is next to you wearing that net?
“Yes, there's no question. But I'm a guy that's dumb enough, corny enough, crazy enough, whatever you want to call it. 2007 I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I got emotional talking about my mom and my family 'cause all three of them were dead and I wish they had been there to see that. But also got very emotional because of the 1997 team at Kansas, I wasn't able to get those guys to a Final Four. One of my buddies said, Gosh, you're getting in the Hall of Fame, why are you talking about that?
“It was. It was a big void in my life, the professional part of my life. I was really stressing before that game at Duke last week. That was something that was lifted. This makes it better. I want all of our kids to realize it's not just about points and rebounds and wins. Yes, I hope if I'm only good enough for points and rebounds or how to shoot the ball, when I leave I haven't done a very good job as a coach. It's been a stressful time. There's no question. But, heck, some people have to work for a living. That's not me. I've got it made pretty good.”
Had you known going into the game you would have only three three-pointers, only five offensive rebounds, six fastbreak points, get out-rebounded by eight, what would you have thought of your chances of winning this game?
“Zero. It's so crazy. We played Notre Dame at Notre Dame. They were 3-18. We shot 50%, out-rebounded them. Lost that game. I said at a press conference this week or one of the last two weeks, the game of basketball is pretty simple. Put the ball in the basket more. But it's extremely complex how you get to that, how you stop people from doing it. Do you play the screen on the ball this way or that way? Do you rebound this way or that way? Do you front the low post, double the post? So many little intricate things that are involved in a philosophy and style of play that helps you win. It's hard for people to understand if you haven't really spent a lot of time in the game either coaching or playing because people tend to simplify the game even more. But there's a lot of things that go in. You know, the guy that talks last makes the statistics win. I think that's something we always have to understand.”
Two plays by Justin Jackson. He gets an offensive rebound, makes a reverse layup. Virginia only allowed five offensive rebounds all night. He makes the dunk. They don't allow a truckload of transition. How much larger was his role in this game than six points?
“I think he was 0-fer in the first half. We challenged him one time to do a better job defensively. I think Theo was in the game. I took Theo out and put Justin in. At the timeout I said one of the reasons I took Theo out is you have to get to the offensive boards, Justin. During that time period we had gone small. Theo and Justin were playing the four spot. Marcus shot the ball, looked like it was going in, but it came out. Justin was there.
“Was the score tied then or we were up two? Then getting the steal, going down, making that one. Two of the biggest plays you can have for a guy that only scores six in the entire game.”
Talk about playing in a game where there's only 20 fouls called.
“I like it swiftly played. By the end of this press conference, I want to know everybody's frickin' name in here because of all these questions. If we could speed this up, I'd like it too. I like a game that goes up and down. Not a lot of fouls called. I think I disagreed with maybe two calls the whole day. I tried to focus on how we were playing.
“To me, I love the game being played that way. Virginia's really good defensively. They're really tough. But when they're physical, it's not physical in a dirty way, cutting off any cuts or anything like that. That's the way we try to play, too. I enjoyed the tempo of the game. I would have liked for it to have gone up and down a little bit more. I tell our guys all the time I like to win in the 80s and 90s, but we have to be able to win in the 50s and 60s.”
Does it mean anything to you and to this team, how important is it that you are probably going to get a No. 1 seed tomorrow? Do you think Virginia deserves one as well?
“Well, I do think Virginia deserves one as well. I really do. They've had a big-time run this entire season. I think we're one of the top four teams in college basketball, I do believe that. If we get a No. 1 seed, my guys will be happy about it. We'll have some brownies and strawberry shortcake and banana pudding, Wicked Wanda will do some cooking. It will be good. The team will be over there and we'll enjoy that moment.
“I've been fortunate, we've won the NCAA in '5 and '9. I guess both those times we were No. 1. My teams have taken me to five other Final Fours and we were not No. 1 seeds. No question, it makes you feel good about what you accomplished.”