Opening Comments -
I'm surprised so many people are still here, it's so late. But I'm ecstatic that I'm here still, and my players, we're very happy and pleased that we're still playing. I think we caught Providence on a day where their shots did not go in nearly as much as they normally do.
Ed Cooley is one of the great guys in the coaching profession. I started to walk down to him, and he's a guy I really enjoy. He's done a great job with Providence. So when I looked down and started walking down, it's not a great feeling, because I've been there and I'll be there again probably a lot of times. I hope a lot of times because that means we're in the Tournament.
I was really pleased with our guys in the first half. We were just out of sync a little bit. Didn't do what we wanted to do. Yet we had a little run before the half and got the lead. I didn't think Brice, Kennedy and Isaiah were moving very much inside for us to get the ball to them. I told the perimeter players I wanted them to focus on getting it in there. I thought it was our big guys' problems to not get moving enough to give us an open target. Right before the half, as I said, we made a couple stops and got some baskets. Was disappointed in Brice fouling a guy shooting a three-point shot, but he made only two of them and we still had the lead. I challenged everybody to do all the little things that we talked to them about all year long.
In the second half they scored the first six points in the half and then we were really good. Brice scoring inside, rebounding, blocked some shots. I know he didn't have eight (blocks) only had two, but I thought he was effective. But what it was in the second half, got on Isaiah at half, because he had zero rebounds; second half, he got seven. He was 5-for-5. Brice was big for us. Joel, Justin, Marcus, five guys in double figures.
Another thing I'll say, Justin Jackson was really good defensively, really good, yet you have to congratulate Kris. Kris Dunn had 29 and I thought we did a really good job on them. That's how good they are. These guys sitting up here were tough-minded the last 18 minutes of the second half. They were really good.
Coach, you said you guys were really good in the last 18 minutes. If there a belief that you have in this group that toughness, the maturation, that you're going to see it in a game that was tough in the first 25 minutes?
Yes, but I started appreciating this team even more at the end of the season, because you think we got beat up at Virginia, we had our chances and didn't play. Everybody starts abandoning ship because we lost to Duke at home. We turned around and won a Syracuse game, which is very tough game for us, Senior Night, and then we went to Duke and beat Duke at Duke. That gave us a little more confidence. We were better defensively at Duke and were sensational in the rebounding part of it, which are the things that I probably preach more than anything else.
Then we go to Washington for the ACC Tournament and Pittsburgh, sort of meandering and we got six straight stops. We were good defensively in the second half. We were really good defensively against Notre Dame. We were really good against Virginia. Two nights ago got some stops before the half again. That's probably not even right. Oh, start of the second half, we came out, started the second half, not only did we score, we got a bunch of defensive stops.
So I've become even closer myself to having a greater appreciation for this team. I mean, after the first night here, everybody said, well, which North Carolina is going to show up? Hey, we were pretty good the second half of that game, and the guys we were playing weren't chopped liver.
So I'm getting more and more confident with my team every day. I always write three things every day on the board. Today this is what I wrote down: 'Make our defense the biggest factor in the game.' And we were pretty good.
Coach, you had an extended chat with Kris Dunn at the end of the game. Do you mind sharing what you told him?
You know, I'm sure every coach would say the same thing, but I just told him he's had a great, great career. I've enjoyed watching him when I watch their games. I watched their games because I like Ed so much. He's been an unbelievable performer. I said, 'Don't let this one game dictate how you feel about what you've accomplished.'
I know that it shouldn't matter, but do you feel like as you've begun to appreciate your team more and national people haven't, you said yourself you felt this team was underappreciated, has the team gained an edge or played with something more to prove it in your mind?
No, I think they've played with an edge because I'm on their case all of the time. My guys are really good students. They can read the newspaper, but most of them don't, because why read it to get upset kind of thing. But everyone has their opinions.
We've had 91 practices, I think - 90 or 91. We've harped every day about getting better, getting better. If we do get better, we'll be playing our best basketball at the end of the year. I think we've played our best basketball of the season these last couple weeks.
Is that going to transfer how we play next weekend? I have no idea. They're 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds. I have no idea. The appreciation I have is because they've earned it. I've pushed, criticized and kicked and everything else all year long.
Coach, looking at Brice Johnson, his intensity, his personality that he has on the court, how much is that helping drive this team with the way that he's playing?
I'm sure it's helping. His play is helping. Not just his intensity, because if you were to ask our guys on the team who is the most intense guy, Brice would not get a vote. Okay? He's really intense when he blocks the shot and it goes into the 12th row. He's really intense when he dunks and that usually comes because he's growling so hard.
He's gotten better defensively himself. I think his play is particularly on the offensive end and his play on the defensive end of two things, blocking shots and defensive rebounding have been huge for our basketball team.
You know, he's a comedian half the time, but he's accomplished some big-time things, and he's, like I said the other day, maybe more from start to finish, more improvement than any player I've ever coached.
Hey, Coach, it's a rarity for programs as elite as yours to get a chance to have guys play for four years. Discuss the value of having the odd couple now in times when you need to lean on them in the second half when they really started to take over?
We've played pretty doggone well the last three years. We won 75 games their freshman, sophomore year and junior year. That's not bad. But the NBA didn't tell any of those kids they would be a lottery pick or didn't tell any of those kids they'd be first-round pick. They came back because it was the smartest thing to do. They didn't have somebody say, come to the prom and I'll take you to the first dance.
That being said, it never hurt Tim Duncan to go to college for four years. Tim was a Wake Forest guy. I probably got as much respect for him than anybody that ever played at an ACC school. He said, why should I do today what I can be more prepared to do tomorrow. So there's nothing wrong. Also nothing wrong with a kid leaving early. J.P. Tokoto, I didn't think he should have left early. I tried to help him. I tried to support him. I'm still supporting him. I think every coach will tell you they want talent and the second choice would be experience. Okay. If they had their choice of anything, it would be experienced talent and I think with Brice and Marcus, we're getting some of that level of play for them right now.
Even though Marcus had those two turnovers early in the first half. I said, come on, you're a big-time player. He said, I know I was just dumb for a couple minutes. That's what you appreciate about him. He never points the finger at anybody else. He plays and helps his team win.
So, Roy, can you identify what characteristic is different about this team than the last year viewers is it the experience?
Both. More experience but Brice is a better player. Anybody that watches basketball, he wasn't as good as a freshman or sophomore or junior. He's gotten better and better. Joel Berry has came a long way from his freshman to his sophomore year. Justin Jackson's numbers don't look that better shooting the ball but is a million times better defensively. Isaiah is better. I think it is a little bit of both.
We have some talent. I didn't say I love them. I had to love them, why did I offer them a scholarship? I said last year the NBA wasn't beating their door down trying to get them to go. But those guys are pretty doggone good players. They are more experienced and more focused than they've been the last couple years, too.
Last year, we had Wisconsin by 7 in the second half and turned it over three out of four possessions. Wisconsin is pretty good. They played for the national championship. We had Duke and both games we played them last year, we led in the second half but we didn't finish it off. We weren't chopped liver last year, but everybody's gotten better.
Roy, again, tonight, in the key stretch to the second half, you go with the small lineup. How has that made you guys more versatile and just a better team?
I'll use that word there, it does make us more versatile. You think of Providence's lineup. They didn't really have a low-post player and I wanted to play our low-post guys because that gives us an advantage to scoring inside. Early in the game we weren't doing that. And they're harder to guard. 0 is outside, 25 is outside, Bentil, Bullock, Kris I mean, they're hard to guard out there.
So, we went small because of two things: A little bit of foul trouble and because it gave us better matchups. I told the big guys before the game. I said, if you want to play more, you better produce because if you're not producing offensively, you are not as good a matchup on the defensive end. We went small a little bit because of foul trouble but more because we weren't scoring as much as we wanted, and it does make us more versatile.
Roy, dating back to the Duke game, really, you guys seem to have one or two big spurts to give you control of the game. Has it gotten to the point this team almost expects that to happen? When you're on the bench do you feel something like that building?
I hope they don't expect it. What I want to do is work as hard as they possibly can every time to make every possession. I'm not sitting over there trying to decide what will happen the next few minutes. I tried to decide what are our best matchups and what we need to do to emphasize it.
You've been around me a long time, Brett. I very seldom look at clock because I don't want the score to tell me how we're playing I look at the clock on the board because that tells me how much time is left in the game but today I did look up. I told Steve we went up 50-41 and then we get the rebound and lose it and they score and that's one of the times I looked at the clock.
I think if you work at it all of the time -- I'll give you an example, Coach Wooden used to say the reason they pressed is because they're going to get a couple of spurts during the game and it would win the game. If you win 8-2 or 10-0 a couple of times that's going to determine the game. We don't press to do that, but we do play and try to keep attacking. That's on the board, the third thing I put was "rebound, rebound, rebound, attack, attack, attack," and I put two lines and I say, "attack, attack, attack under control." We have a mentality we want to keep coming, keep coming. The guys on the bench say, let's keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. Fortunately for us, we've been able to get a couple good runs.
Earlier this year, you were saying that the 2005 and 2009 teams had all of these lottery picks. This team wasn't like that, but are you starting to get a sense that this team compares anyway, or are you not sure yet?
If you got to do it the next two weeks, you know, if you do it the next two weeks then you can compare. But they're much different teams, much different teams. But it's a different game, and both of those teams were extremely talented. '05 had four guys in the lottery, and '09 had three guys in the first round and one in the second round, and the one in the second round is having a better career than the rest of them. They were extremely gifted. They were focused. Both of those teams were focused on one goal, winning the national championship. This team right now is focused on being the best team they can possibly be, and we had some big-time dreams and goals, and we've got an opportunity to see what's going to happen over the next couple weeks.
Roy, it seemed like in the first few seconds of the first half you had to yell at your team to wake up. What is it about this team that it's taken a little bit of time to shake those jitters off?
I have no idea. They're basketball players and sometimes they just screw it up. You know, we came out in the second half, somebody told me, they said boy, whatever you told them at the half two nights ago, I hope you told them again. I did. The other night we started out great and had 6-0. That's how well my pep talks are going.
What you have to do is give the other team credit. You're playing against North Carolina that's a pretty good deal with a lot of guys. They're going to come out fired up. Sometimes we've matched it, sometimes we haven't.