Brice, I think it was you at the ACC Tournament who said that you thought that the turning point really was the second half of the Notre Dame game in South Bend. What did you guys learn from that, and what have you taken now to get on this roll?
BRICE JOHNSON: “First thing we've learned is that defense wins championships. We've really played well defensively especially at the end of the first half and beginning of the second. And that's basically what we learned mostly out of that game. We can't let up on them because they're a very good team and they will make runs during the game. And that's pretty much it.”
Kennedy and Joel, can you guys please discuss your matchups with Auguste and Jackson from the last game, and also the nature of that blowout and the level of confidence that you can take from that going into this game?
JOEL BERRY II: “I just know Jackson is a great player. He's very explosive. So we're just going to try our best just to keep him out of the lane so he won't attack and either get all the way to the hole or try to kick out for the 3-pointer. That's what we want to do. That's what I'm going to try to do is just try to stay in front of him.”
KENNEDY MEEKS: “Zach is a great player. He's very aggressive. Coach McGrath mentioned this morning that he's averaging more rebounds than Brice, and Brice has been playing better than anybody else I think. So that's big for their team. My goal going into that game is really to lock down defensively and really focus on that for the entire game and however long our play is, it is what it is, I'm just going to try to go out and give it my best effort.”
Marcus and Brice, I think for a while people questioned the defensive fortitude of this team. I'm wondering how you guys kind of responded to that, and just sort of how you grew into the defensive team we're seeing these days?
BRICE JOHNSON: “That's just the one thing Coach has been emphasizing all year. We haven't really been playing well defensively. We've just been outscoring a lot of teams. There was the one game we played against Maryland, we really played very well defensively and Coach has always been emphasizing we need to play every game like that. That's the biggest thing, we've been trying to get better every game. I mean, the last couple of games we've been doing pretty well.”
MARCUS PAIGE: “We learned through some of our losses this year that a lot of times we go back and review the tape and it's the lack of concentration and effort on defense that caused the other team to get the win. It was never us not shooting the ball well or anything, because we usually get a lot of our points from the paint and do well in transition and stuff like that.
“And then Coach, like I've been saying the past several weeks, Coach has reminded us several times he's never had a championship team that hasn't been great defensively. He said the '05 team was great defensively, and the '09 team kind of turned it up the end of the year and was terrific on that end of the floor. And I think that hit home with us because that's where wasn't to be, that's where we want to get to. If that's what we need to do to get there, then I think that's why we've seen the change in our defense.”
Justin, when Marcus gets started the way he did yesterday, how much did the rest of you guys feed off of that? Because I think you made, as a team, the first six or seven 3-pointers, and is there a contagious effect to that?
JUSTIN JACKSON: “Yeah, whenever somebody comes out like that on your team, you've got to pick up your game even more. The amount of confidence he had, I think he hit his first four and then hit a jump shot at the free-throw line. Whenever you see that, you just kind of -- you feel like you have to pick it up. So it was great to see him play like that. I mean, it's what we're used to him doing. And then at the end of the day we need him to do that.”
ROY WILLIAMS QUOTES
Playing a team for the third time in the season happens fairly often for you. Are there things in common across the time or is it just a matter of each team presents its own challenges?
“Each team does present its own challenges. And each team changes from one week, one game, one month to the next. We go up to South Bend and they kicked our tails. And they were more aggressive, greater intensity, greater effort. More concentration.
“And we get them in the tournament and it flipped. And both teams are familiar with each other. I don't think there's any advantage either way because it's the same for both teams. If I had a spy inside the Notre Dame office that told me what they did in practice every day that would be an advantage. But we played two games out in the middle of God and everybody. So it's the same thing.
“What's going to happen the biggest factor in tomorrow's game is who is going to play the best tomorrow. And who is going to have the concentration and the focus.”
Brice is closing in on the single season rebound record at Carolina. What has allowed him to just have that success on the glass this year?
“He's always been a good rebounder. At times he's been a great rebounder. He rebounds in his area really well. And sometimes he can go and get it outside of his area. It's times that he can get a guy that's fairly close and get a body on him and box him out he gets to the unbelievable stage. That's where he falls down sometimes, because he doesn't put a body on them and get it.
“But one of the top two or three rebounders I've ever coached in 28 years -- the quick jump, the being willing to go after the ball and the pride he takes in rebounding the basketball, I think those are all important to him. And not just how quick he jumps but how high he jumps, too.”
How much have you watched the tape from the ACC Tournament against Notre Dame? What have you taken out of it? Is there a psychological challenge to get your players to take out without sort of having them take for granted a similar outcome, because it was such a big --
“The second part of your question is a really good question. The first part, how much have I done, hell, I got home at 2:00 in the morning. So we haven't done a lot of tape-watching today. I watched a tape of their game last night is the only thing I've watched. I haven't watched our tape against them yet.
“No, it is a challenge. You try to watch the tape. You try to pick out some things that you say, hey, we've got to do that better because it's really important. If it's not important, don't worry with it. If it's out of your control, don't worry with it. I set up in some kind of room like this in 1991 before half of you guys were even born and they said do you think it's your lack of free-throw shooting is going to catch up with you, because at that time there were 64 teams in the tournament, and University of Kansas was 64th. I said, well, you know, there's only two teams left playing so we've got those other 62 suckers without shooting free throws very well.
“But what you do is figure out what's important and what has a major factor in the outcome of the game. So when I'm looking at that tape I'm going to say, well, that was because things were going really for us. That's because it was really going bad for them. And that's not going to be part of the game tomorrow. And then I'll try and look and see, okay, now we've got to be careful because that's going to be a big factor in the game.
“And I'm sure that Mike will be doing the same kind of thing. We'll look at the tape, look at all the stats, frontwards, backwards, upside down, and everything you possibly can because you don't want to leave any stones left unturned as I said earlier. But the game is going to be played and won, not just played, it's going to be won tomorrow.”
Have you had a chance to talk to Jerod since he got hired at Stanford? And much like you were talking about how Coach Smith and Guthridge were influences and mentors, do you have a sense some younger coaches like Jerod looked that way at you?
“I've talked to Jerod several times this week. And he's sensational. I'm extremely happy for him. And yes he's been one of those kind of youngsters that says great things, and says that I mean more to him that it really does. He knows I'm getting old, makes me feel better, that kind of thing. But we've had some great conversations. I talked to the athletic director of Stanford. We had some great conversations. And I'm really, really pleased for him. But I feel fortunate. I'm watching Mark Turgeon play, or his team play, and I get fired up just watching him. Turg sent me a note one time said, "This is hard. You always made it look so easy." I said, "You know that's not true." But I feel very fortunate to have had some great youngsters, some not as young anymore. But guys I played with and coached with are doing well.”
With the '09 championship team, there was a refuse-to-lose mentality that Tyler had that really was contagious to his teammates on this floor. Through this tournament, especially last night, do you see a similar quality in Marcus?
“Marcus has those great leadership qualities that he can say it verbally and do it. Tyler Hansbrough just led by example. When he said something, everybody shut up and listened. But he didn't do that very often. He just played. But that team Tyler carried us for a couple of years. But that year itself, Tyler carried us and he had a little bit less, a little bit less. And at the tournament, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, Danny Green, all those guys jumped right in. Regardless of what people say, we were a great 3-point shooting team. And they carried the load for us.
“Tyler scored 17 points in the national championship game. And Wayne scored 17 in the first half, I think it was. But those guys, Tyler, particularly, and to a lesser degree Wayne and Danny and Ty, they sort of adopted Tyler's thing, he came back just to win a national championship. That's the only reason he came back. He loved college, but he wanted to have one more chance to win a national championship. So those guys sort of fell in line.
“But we got so much better during the course of the season. And then at the end of the year we really locked down people defensively. So that was just an extremely talented team, much less the motivation that they had.”
Some of the players have mentioned -- not the Virginia loss, but really the film session after the Virginia loss as the kind of wake-up call for them. Do you remember going in there and kind of going through that film session? Was there anything unusual you remember about that or their reaction to it?
“I remember it. There's no question. There's been three or four times this year that we've set them down and had everybody watch every single play the entire game. And I think the effort, the intensity that Virginia played with and the precision, the execution, not just the effort, the execution of what they did, I can still remember, gosh, I think it was Wilkins, the sprint-back he did, when Malcolm made this great play and knocked a pass away that we had thrown about three-quarters of the court. And Malcolm made a great play, who can't be a bigger fan of Malcolm Brogdon than me, but I showed him the Wilkins kid who sprinted from under the goal and he was right there if Malcolm hadn't knocked it away.
“We talked about that a great deal, said this is the team that won the last two ACC championships, regular season championship two years in a row, that's what you have to do. You have to do it not just at home, but have to do it on the road as well. And with each and every loss this year, I think our team's learned a lot. But I think the way that we came back after the Virginia game, and as I said the other day, playing Syracuse in a very emotional Senior Day and play Duke at Duke, I think that we did gain a lot from that film session that day.”
You referenced the 2012 team that came close and had the injuries and didn't make it. And obviously it's been a difficult time for you and your program the past several years. Would a win tomorrow provide some sense of vindication for you or would it mean for more you?
“Not vindication. Attacks have not been not, oh, that Roy can't coach a lick, the attacks have been in other areas kind of thing. I think coaching is getting your kids to do what you want them to do, to know how to do it more than the other coach does, gets his players to get his players, what he wants them to do. But vindication, I'm never going to get over this junk. But it's been my salvation at times that I've been able to go out on the basketball court and moments like in the locker room last night, I can assure you I didn't think about any of that other stuff in the locker room last night. So it's just great feelings and great times.”
You've been putting numbers on the whiteboard again this season. What's the significance or symbolism behind the numbers you put in the white box after games and why did you start doing it?
“I started doing it in 1991 when we made it all the way to the national championship game. I've done it ever since. I'm corny, but the significance is pretty easy: If you write a 32, maybe there's 32 teams playing and you're one of them.
“If you write 16 up, there's 16 teams still playing and you're one of them. I guess that means we should keep your all's butts out of the locker room so I didn't have to answer these questions, because that's something that we should be able to keep to ourselves. It's one of the things I despise about what's going on now, you can't have anything personal or private to your team, but we'll go behind the shed and do some different things just to see if we can keep something away from you guys.”