We invited Theo because we knew he was going to invite himself. So we might as well make it legit and let him come. But can't be any happier for those guys than I am now. It was a sensational basketball game. It was frustrating for us in the first half. We weren't doing a very good job of winning the tempo battle or guarding them. And I think that was more frustrating than anything else.
Brice kept us in the game with his jump shots. I wanted him to get inside more to see if we could get them in foul trouble. But we still, at the half, we were up five. And then in the second half we got going a little bit and all of a sudden they made a huge run. And it started by just -- Kennedy is not even up here -- we got the ball and we're going down and it's going to be 3-on-0, and Kennedy doesn't pass it soon enough and all of a sudden it's a turnover going in the other direction and they score 10 or 11 or 12 in a row.
I didn't call a timeout because I've always coached every day to handle things. Theo used the timeout when he made the great steal to end their run. And I thought that was fine. But I had confidence in my guys, and Marcus took the words right out of my mouth before I could even say it in the timeout. He said, "guys, they made runs. It's a game of runs. We're going to make a run."
I was going to tell them a thing I already told them before the game and at halftime: It's not supposed to be easy to get to the Final Four. We can handle this. But I'm certainly proud of our guys and everybody up here and all the ones in the locker room.
Q. It was pointed out back on Thursday the guys hadn't been to a Final Four since 2009. For the school, with a lot of expectations and so forth and you didn't pay too much attention to that now, but to get back to a Final Four, you've done this, like, five times as a coach for yourself, how special was it for you and for your school to get back there?
ROY WILLIAMS: It is really special. And that's the reason I even know how many times we've done it. This is my eighth time in 28 years as a head coach. I've had great players that have taken me. The thing I'm really proud of is I've taken my high school coach with me to eight Final Fours and he'll be going this weekend.
Marcus, the things he said there were really nice. And I've said this to some of you folks out there on the court. I've never wanted anything in my life for someone else as much as I wanted to get this bunch to the Final Four. I'm corny, I'm old-fashioned. I'm anything you want to say, but fortunately for me I was very lucky I've had some big-time players.
In 2007 I was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame, and the worst feeling I've ever had is I started thinking about my '97 team at Kansas, because I felt like I hadn't done anything because I didn't get those guys to the Final Four. And that was something I'll never get over. And this one would have been even tougher.
And so what those kids -- I wanted it so much for them but I guess in the back of my head I didn't want to have those regrets, too. But never in my life have I ever wanted anything as much for somebody else as I wanted these guys to go to Houston.
Q. Coach, with the Final Four set, just your thoughts on all four teams being impacted and led by juniors and seniors?
ROY WILLIAMS: I appreciate you -- we're going to do media stuff for 14 hours this week and we're going to practice seven minutes. So I'll answer that question -- I really do want to enjoy the heck out of this one right now.
And Oklahoma, Lon Kruger is one of my best friends. Jay Wright is a guy I admire and what he's done with his club. Jimmy Boeheim has been around since the rocks cooled. So I look at coaches first. But they've done great jobs with their teams.
And Buddy Hield has put on a show all year long. Jay Wright's club has just been sensational and Jimmy is one of those guys that doesn't say much, but he's probably laughing himself crazy right now because people asked him why he made the tournament. And he not only made the tournament but he's going to Houston.
So it says a lot about our league, too, because I don't even remember like Syracuse was like 9 and 9 -- does anybody know what Syracuse was in our league? That's a pretty doggone good indication of how good our league was, too. But I'm happy for all those guys.
And, like I say, we're going to get to practice seven minutes in Houston and have you guys asking us all these dadgum questions for four hours. You're giggling, too, so you know what the hell I'm talking about.
Q. Kennedy really started out in the second half, I think he had all eight of your points to start off. What kind of halftime adjustments was he making that made him be more effective to start that half?
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, it was strange, because we were having such a difficult time guarding their offense in the first half. And we tried to go small.
And I told them at halftime: I don't want to stay small, because we have an advantage with size. And the inside game should be an advantage. So I told those guys: I'm going to put you guys back in the game, but you better get back and play some defense.
I said to Kennedy and Isaiah -- and Brice -- three of our four turnovers in the first half were our big guys and being silly. Kennedy just lost the ball. Brice just lost the ball and Isaiah charges a guy. That's three of our four turnovers. I said I want to play you guys but you've got to be effective. I thought Kennedy really was around the basket. Scared me at one time because it looked like Demetrius rolled his ankle badly, but he bounced right back. Kennedy was a big force during that time period.
Q. You talk about how much you wanted to get this group to the Final Four, but what makes this group so fun for you to coach?
ROY WILLIAMS: It's not anything that hadn't been talked about for a few years. But my salvation and the time I've enjoyed my life the most has been on the court coaching these kids.
It hasn't always been smooth. And even this year -- I don't think Luke's in here, but Luke DeCock asked me yesterday because until three weeks ago this was the least appreciated team really good team I've ever coached and most criticized really good team I've ever coached. I got tired of listening to all that stuff. That made me want some things even more for them. Everybody had a solution what our problems were. We're pretty doggone good.
Q. Coach, is there any common thread or maybe any similarity that stands out between the '05, '09 and this team?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yeah, really good players. Other than that, this team's gotten better defensively. And I think particularly the '09 -- '05 got better throughout the whole year. We had some good defensive stances at several points. '09 didn't really do much defensively until we got to this stage in the season.
This team started getting better and better. And probably the guy that started working more intensely and harder than anybody was probably Brice, because I've been after him about his defensive play all year long. And Kennedy would be second. I think those guys really picked up their play on the defensive end and everybody else continued to improve.
So I'd say that would be the biggest thing. We don't score the ball quite as easily as the '09 team did. In '09 we just scored the ball so easily.
Q. We've both seen a lot of Carolina basketball over the years. I was thinking: Was this as good of a total team effort with everybody contributing when things started going a little rough than you can ever remember?
ROY WILLIAMS: I'd probably say so. I'd have to think about it. But '77, when everybody got hurt, you know, and everybody -- John Kuester picked his game up and other guys, why, Phil, Walter and everybody was hurt, I think remember back to that point some of these people here now weren't alive in '77.
But I do think that it really was a total team thing. And Theo made three huge plays. The steal, the dive on the floor, the loose ball, to call the timeout and two offensive rebounds for baskets. And Kennedy I've been on so hard and did some really good things for us in there. I think Nate in the first half was a really big force. I think Nate had three field goals or two of his -- his only two field goals, excuse me, were in the first half. And so I think you look down there and I think we did get a lot of contributions from a lot of guys.
Q. You mentioned the runs that Notre Dame would make and then your team would come back make another run right away. Could you speak about the nature of the game and how it seemed like you were trading blows one after the other until the end when you finally pulled away?
ROY WILLIAMS: Most teams have their peaks and valleys. Most times you have good runs. The other teams will are going to have some runs too. If you're significantly better, you know they don't usually have one that lasts as long.
Coach Wooden used to say that he full court pressed because he'd have a run of 8-0, 12-2 during a game. And if you have one or two of those, they usually win the game for you. That was 50, 60 years ago.
But I'm always confident in my team not folding. I really am. And when they made the run, we started with Kennedy, the steal, a turnover, then we went behind on the ball screen. And Demetrius checks up and knocks a 3. Pull in there, wouldn't get a hand on his two-pointer from about eight feet. And so we made some mistakes.
We talked about during that timeout, I'm serious, I was going to tell them the same thing I said to our team in 2005 in the national championship game, we had a 16-point lead on Illinois. They came back and tied it. I called a timeout. And I said, God, we're in great shape, because did you think that team was going to give in; they won 37 games.
So I told this team about that before this week, I think, and so we always try to get them to understand nothing's going to change unless you keep playing. You keep playing, you can change some things. If you give in, you have no hope. So I was really proud of my team.
Q. Coach, you talked a little bit about the scrutiny you faced after the Indiana win and then tonight.
ROY WILLIAMS: I'm not sure I understand. What scrutiny are you talking about?
Q. You talked about a couple seconds ago, from critics --
ROY WILLIAMS: I was saying that -- that was what was going on three, four weeks ago, not since the Indiana game.
Q. No, I'm sorry, you just talked about it after the Indiana game. That's my fault. Did that make this trip especially validating or vindicating for you?
ROY WILLIAMS: I don't think it validates anything. We had a problem. We're embarrassed. We're mad. We're ticked off about what happened. But we know that men's basketball had nothing to do with it and we're very proud of that. But as I said the other day, my integrity and credibility has never been questioned. And some people, particularly some media people, took their chances. And I didn't like that at all.
And I'll never get over that. But the bottom line is I was able to go to practice every day. And my team made it a heck of a lot of fun. I'd like that to be the story instead of the other junk. The other junk's gotten about a million times more publicity than I care to think about.
Q. Was it your game plan to pound the ball inside from the get-go? Was it more a product of how things transpired over the course of the game?
ROY WILLIAMS: It's our game plan all the time. We've got to try to get the ball inside. We have good players inside. We have scorers and sizing -- we have -- inside. We have a size advantage over Notre Dame.
But Coach Smith, you heard me say this the other night, your game plan is good for the first six minutes. And then you gotta go by the seat of your pants. They went to the slow-down kind of thing to try to milk the clock and go late.
We weren't doing a very good job of covering when it did get in the late clock. We tried to go 1-3-1 trap, tried to double the ball screen on the ball and changed the way we were playing screen the whole second half and all of a sudden that worked a lot better for us.
But for us we were just trying to find something that would work, because at halftime we're shooting 64 percent and they're shooting 58 percent. So I wasn't real pleased with their defense at halftime, to say the least.
Q. I know there's always a lot of talk about the one-and-done and the value of having a player that talented. When you look at your team with Marcus and Brice and you look at this Final Four, which is going to be a senior-dominated Final Four, can you just talk about the value of having experience and maybe doing it a little different, like recruiting guys who are going to be around a while so you can build the continuity, build a team?
ROY WILLIAMS: I've always said I want a little bit of both. I want some of those great players like a Marvin Williams or a Brandan Wright who came and played for us one year and he left. But I also want some guys that are going to be staying around for a long time.
I think the value of college basketball is pretty impressive. I think guys appreciate that and appreciate what happens.
Brice came in, was not a McDonald's All-American -- but I guess that's 25 players -- he's one of the best 25 players in college basketball right now. Marcus, he's a great student-athlete. And he's gained a great deal. And I think he's enjoying himself right now. Tim Duncan was not a North Carolina guy, but he's a guy I have as much respect for and still have as anybody I've ever been around.
And I even asked him, with his Olympic qualifications in 2003, I said: Tim, are you one of those ABC guys, anybody but Carolina? And he said: No, I'm not, Coach. I said good. He said: I'm ABCD, anybody but Carolina or Duke. He let me know where he stood right there. Because I wanted to ask him, ask him what his statement was, because I had been told that he said: Why should I go do now what I'll be much more prepared to do later on in my life? And he did say that. And I told him how proud I was because it's okay. Every individual gets to make their own decision.
It's okay for Marvin Williams to go to the NBA after one year, or Brandan Wright. But it's also okay for Brice Johnson to hang around and get better and better and better and go through some experiences that will be good for him.
There's no one rule that's perfect for everybody. But I like a mix. I like some of those guys that hang around. But if there's a 7'10" guy out there that could shoot 3s and block every shot in the world, if he wants to come and be one of my partners for one year, I'll take him. But I do like a mix of some kids and the relationships that you can build with kids over four years I don't think you can put a value on.