“Okay, you've heard me say this a few times. I don't like it, but it was a heck of a college basketball game, if you don't care who won, but I do care who wins. I'm really proud of these two guys up here beside me, because I thought they really did some big-time things for us. It looked like we were out of it, and we kept playing and kept playing and got a chance and got back in it, but you don't get points for that. You don't get wins for that.
“I'm proud of the way they competed down the stretch. We made a bunch of mistakes that hurt us, and yet at the same time, you have to congratulate Kentucky. I mean, Malik was off the charts. He made three of his last four shots, two of them from three. Didn't have to make those, but he did. It was big-time shots for them.
“Again, Joel and Justin, they both played their tails off. Joel coming back after being out for two weeks and made some big-time shots. Both these guys did, Luke did. I've got to do a better job of not making mistakes that hurt us, but it was a heck of a college game.”
Monk's been shooting well from the perimeter all along. How does he keep doing that when teams know to try to make him drive?
“Well, he's really good. I saw him put on a show at Augusta when he was a high school player. I thought he was a heck of a player. Loved him, tried to recruit him, and didn't feel like we were going to get him, but he put on a show. We had a chance. I thought Joel got hit a little bit when he drove through there, and all of a sudden, Joel's on the ground and they're running up at us, and Malik's got the ball. Kenny picked up -- and just trying to play it again in my mind. Kenny picked up Joel's man, that left Isaiah on Malik, and Isaiah as a post player is not real comfortable out there, got to the three-point line. But Malik, it didn't bother him. He just jumped up and made the three. But he's really good. Thought we made him work for it, but it's hard to say. You feel good about your defense when the guy gets 47. You have to congratulate him. That's pretty doggone good.”
You were down by 10 with seven minutes to play. Rally, come back to take the lead, and just weren't able to execute enough to get the win. What do you take away from this game from a learning perspective?
“One thing about it, too, is that we did -- at the end we got some good shots because guys stepped up and made some big-time shots. The last play, I always said I'd rather go against the defense that's not set. I thought the stars and moons were aligned for Isaiah, I saw Wenyen Gabriel guarding him, and I thought we could get Isaiah on the block, and it didn't work out. The kid did a great job defensively.
“But Justin saying something about missing free throws, that's part of the game. I can look back, shoot, I got a technical foul, and that gave them two points also. So it's every play is important, but, again, Justin and Joel, and Luke, some of those guys that made those big- time plays down the stretch for us, they'll benefit from it, but we do have some mistakes.
“Like I said, we can't give them that many offensive chances by giving them offensive rebounds. They got five chances at it one time. So it's a game of basketball. You learn and live and hope you live while you're still learning and at the end be able to do something about it.”
What happened with that technical foul?
“It affected the game because it was two points, but that was my fault. I shouldn't have done that. I didn't understand. I mean, our guys lay it on the floor, that's all they were doing is laying it on the floor. But the referee called it, the referee called a technical on me, and that's what he should have done. But I didn't understand that and didn't understand what I was told. It's part of the game as well.
“I've never heard if a guy's laying on the floor it's not a defensive position and the foul's got to be on him. But I was more mad because it felt like it just wasn't fair to Isaiah. I think he gets some of the worst breaks of any player I've ever seen on foul calls, but we had three of the best officials in the entire country calling the game today.
“John was mad sometimes; John was happy sometimes. Roy was mad sometimes; Roy was happy sometimes. I was more frustrated because it was Isaiah than I would have been if it had been any other player. Because I just think his reputation makes me feel like the guy's -- well, four's involved, so the foul has to be on him.
“Give me a break, we had three of the best officials in the country over there. They should have called a technical on Roy Williams. Don't think I've had one in a couple of years, so it was probably time.”
Kentucky's freshmen obviously played well. How much have freshmen grown just generally over the years to be able to do something like that on a big stage?
Yeah, and you said it. The freshmen are no longer freshmen. I can remember 100 years ago I recruited a kid and said once every four years we'll take you to Hawaii, and now high school teams go to Hawaii. I mean, geez, they've got more exposure and play against better competition. I recruited one kid who played 61 games in the summer. We used to never see that. So freshmen are freshmen because of their age and how many classes they've gone to with their basketball years. It's much higher than it used to be in the old days. For us, Tony Bradley steps up and makes two big free throws, and I was almost laughing because I could see his heartbeat through his chest. His jersey was in motion at that time.
“But, no, I think they're more worldly and more competitive. They've had more opportunities. They've had USA Basketball competitions and played in great competitions.”
John said the thing that surprised him the most about the game was the rebounding differential; that they outrebounded you by four. How would you assess your team's effort on the boards?
“I didn't think it was very good. The first half they had 40 possessions, we had 35. What that means is that we should give them the ball five straight times and see how many points they can score, and then we'll alternate the rest of the game. You can't give people that kind of advantage. If you look down and the second-chance points, it's big in our advantage. 18-8. But I felt like the work on the boards was really a negative for us.”
“The other thing is we had one of Joel's fouls was boxing out. Or the fact that he didn't box out and he decided to push. We'd like to have had Joel in the game the whole game.”
Can you talk about that last play after Monk made that three and you guys had an opportunity to take the lead? Was there a set play? I know you elected not to take a timeout.
“Our rule is if it's less than seven seconds, we'll call a timeout. But if it's more than seven, I want to push it so we can attack the defense before it gets set. Their defense was aggressive the whole game. We turned it over in the first half. Second half we did a little better job at it. But, yeah, Joel had the ball, he was right in front of me, and we had Isaiah on the low post against a freshman who is very gifted, very talented.
“But I wanted the ball to go into him, and at the same time, if he had doubled down, that would have been okay with me, too, because we had Joel that would have been the guy that got the shot outside. Isaiah went in and made a move, made a nice defensive play on him, and they got the stop.”
On Malik's winning shot, he hesitated before he shot. He said that John was yelling at him to drive it, drive it and try to draw a foul.
“That shows how smart John is. Tell him I said so.”
How often does something like that happen?
“If I'm not mistaken, they were down two at that point; is that correct? Yeah, you always would like to attack and be aggressive. But if I was 7-for-11 at that point in the game, I'd shoot the sucker from three as well. I know John was a player, but he wasn't as good as Malik. He's a lot better coach than Malik, but I probably would have been yelling drive the ball to the basket as well. I think when he shot the ball and it went in, John was glad he didn't listen to him.”
Obviously the result not what you expect or what you'd like, but it was an atmosphere that was electric, two of the premier programs in America going at it. What are your thoughts playing here in Las Vegas and at the brand-new T-Mobile Arena?
“As I said in the first comment. It was a great college game, a great atmosphere. It was a bunch of kids out there rising to the occasion and making special plays under pressure. I mean, Tony Bradley goes to the free-throw line one-on-one and makes both free throws, Malik makes two threes when they had to have both of them. He misses either one of those shots, we'd probably win the game. But he didn't. Berry drove in, yeah, I thought he was probably fouled at the same time, but that's part of the game. He's laying on the ground so we don't get picked up on the other end, but Malik made us pay for it. It's a great game, great atmosphere, and a very nice arena.”
How exhausting is it to coach a game with this kind of pace and frenetic and tension and...
“That's an easy question because John's not exhausted at all, so the guy that wins, he feels great. I love up-and-down basketball. I've always felt like that's the way I wanted to play 100 years ago, and I want to coach that way. I think fans enjoy that. You let players make plays. But it was a very competitive game down the stretch. They were probably too comfortable for my being until that last eight minutes. But then you think about kids making plays like that. You have to enjoy that part of it as a coach.
“But John right now could run a marathon, and I can barely get up out of the daggum chair, but that's what happens when one guy wins and one guy loses.”