“We're bigger. We're more gifted. We were really challenged by them early, but over the course of the game our size inside was probably the biggest factor. We outrebounded them 52 to 23. Kennedy and Isaiah had 20 and 22, and Tony coming off the bench had 14. We were just too big for them. They really fought like crazy. They cause you a lot of problems on the offensive end trying to get out and get your big guys to chase the 3-point shooters. I felt like they were making 50 percent of the threes, and I look down and it's 10- for-28. Felt like a lot more to me. We got one game under our belt. We did play better than we did Friday night and had a better practice yesterday. Now we've got a big-time challenge. I told them it's the big leagues tomorrow because Oklahoma State was really, really impressive tonight.”
How do you think they responded from kind of the roughest game to date so far in Hawaii?
“Well, we didn't play well Friday night. And that's not to try to take anything away from Hawaii. We just didn't play well. We didn't defend. They shot 56 percent in the second half. So we focused a great deal of our practice yesterday on doing -- yesterday and Saturday of doing a better job defensively. I didn't try to kill them or anything like that. We had a full practice, but it wasn't a murderous practice. I've had some of those.
“But I think that they were much better defensively tonight, and it was a hard game. And to answer your question, I thought Isaiah did a great job because I told him we have an advantage inside. If you don't take advantage of that, why should I play you? Because it's going to be harder for you to guard somebody out on the court. So Kennedy was 7-for-7. Excuse me, Isaiah, 8-for-13, and Tony, 5-for-6. So we did take advantage, and they did an okay job guarding on the perimeter. But if we weren't going to have a great advantage inside, then I should have gone small.
“And they took that challenge, did some good things, but defensively Friday it was hard to watch the tape. I was very agitated, to say the least. But I think we had two good practices, did some things to get ready, but we'll find out tomorrow night, because this is a whole different ballgame tomorrow night.”
In talking with Brandon Robinson, what exactly happened on that play? Did he take an elbow to the mouth?
“He was trying to play defense and the guy came right into his face. And I think he more or less got him with his head than he did anything else. But he cut his lip, I think inside and out, but I'm not positive. I told him not to worry. The needle was only about that long. And he didn't laugh at that. So I didn't think I should talk to him anymore. But he came back in and I told him I said I'm going to -- they say it's okay physically for you to play, and I wanted him to play because he's going to have the stitches in tomorrow night also. So I wanted him to go in, but I wanted to make sure he felt like that. And he wanted to play, he wanted to get back in there so that part was good.”
You played Stilman White there for about four minutes I think there in the first half. I think Nate was in foul trouble he had some guys that were limited but what was the thought process?
“Nate was in foul trouble and Brandon didn't do what I wanted him to do defensively at all that one possession. So I said I'll put Stilman in because I know he'll try really, really hard. He's not as gifted as those other two. And he gave us a couple of good, made a basket, assists did the right thing defensively. We're getting really thin. We were pretty doggone thin to start with. But you lose Theo and Luke and Brandon's out of the game and Nate's in foul trouble. We had some lineups out there tonight, that's what Curtis is talking about, that they may have played together some in practice, but I don't remember when it was. So it was some unusual lineups out there. But everybody who is wearing a North Carolina uniform has to do the things we practice every day.”
Just to follow up, in a game that's becoming kind of position-less, with your bigs playing the way that they did, what does that mean going forward? Because you guys can be a really dangerous team if they play like they did going forward?
“If they play like that, if you look at 7-of-7, 8-of-13, and 5-for-6, if our big guys play like that offensively, shooting the ball, it's going to be hard for other people to handle. There's so many different ways to win in basketball and I've always stressed I want to have good balance. I want to be able to score inside first, because I believe that the best way to get an advantage is to get you in foul trouble, because at the end of the game your best five players may not be on the court because they may have fouled out. So we always emphasized go outside first.
“Now against a team we played tonight, they really didn't have very much size, not a true post player. So it was emphasized even more. But what I said on the board was get the ball inside by pass or dribble. Have good spacing so the guards can penetrate inside as well. But some guys really emphasize the 3-point shot more than others. What we emphasize is running the ball, number one, and getting the best shot, whoever it comes from.”
Seemed like they were throwing a double team at you pretty much every possession, sometimes even a triple team. What's the challenge in trying to work against that?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I think the biggest thing is, like Coach always tells us, to go through our moves quick. I think when we do that then we won't have to worry about the triple and double teams. But I know it was one time where I didn't do that and it caused problems but luckily we got the ball back.”
ISAIAH HICKS: “To go off that, also if we don't make a quick move, they were double teaming from the baseline, so as Coach said look for your partner. A lot of times Kennedy or me or Tony, he was right there open. It was just making quick decisions instead of just holding the ball.”
What was just the mood like after the other night? I know it was kind of sloppy and Coach was upset. What was practice like these past couple of days?
ISAIAH HICKS: “I say it feels good to finally play -- I know it's not perfect, but showing the potential of what we're capable of. And having the better practice really focusing, shows how it affects us in the game. That practice last time at Hawaii was slack, like sluggish, and wasn't that good. And scouting report, people reading off weren't that good. This time everybody's focused, ready. It really shows.”
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I think the preparation was a lot different. I think that we definitely mentally and physically prepared, whether it was during recovery last night, to try to get our bodies back. But the mood the other day wasn't good. I think Coach always said during the film session that we should have been embarrassed for the way we played. I don't think we did a good job at all playing defense to the best of our ability, because that would take care of the offensive end. But I think we definitely prepared ourselves last night for today. And we continue to do that throughout the tournament.”
Kennedy, following up on that, given the amount of experience on this team, so many veterans that have played a lot, does Coach have to say a lot to you guys after a game like Friday night?
WILLIAMS: “I don't have to.”
KENNEDY MEEKS: “(laughing) But he does. He does a good job of getting on us and getting to us. I think we definitely felt where he was coming from, because he was really upset, and it showed. And I think, like I said, we took advantage of practice yesterday and did a tremendous job of doing what we were asked to do, hustling, even if we do what he asks us to do and we mess it up, as long as we did what we did. So I think, me, Isaiah, Nate, Joel, Justin, those guys definitely are doing a better job of trying to take the lead. So he won't have to say as many things, but it is what it is.”
You two had a big night tonight, 42 points combined. Talk about what that means, how you guys feel about clicking like you did and how you take that forward?
ISAIAH HICKS: “You know, from the jump, Coach said get the ball inside, bypass and dribble. That means Coach had faith in us to come out here and really take advantage. He threatened us by saying, you know, we can't outguard them or score in the post. Being 6'8" and somebody 180, I'm 230, like not being able to score, he would go small. No point of having us in the game if we can't provide anything. So just being able to show him, like, he can rely on us sometimes.”
Kennedy, you're obviously off to a great start this year, another strong game, you're averaging a double-double. What's different for you right now as opposed to maybe the way you left off last year? Is it a matter of health or some sort of mental state? What's clicking for you?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I wouldn't use health as an excuse. I just think certain opportunities. I know that Brice did a tremendous job for us, and he did everything he could to get the points and get those rebounds. And I think that I'm just more assertive, I think. I think I'm going for the rebounds a lot more, I'm hustling more. I feel stronger, faster, all those things. It's something that I worked on over the summer and it's definitely showing on the court.”