“We had a nice lead and then I thought they became much more aggressive than we were. They started attacking the basket. They started attacking off the screens on the ball and we had a difficult time keeping them in front of us. And then all of a sudden they started making threes. It was a big-time breakdown for us defensively... They got it to one, and then we took it back a little bit and then they got it to two at the end. A big play was when we had a nine-point lead and Kenny [Williams] goes down and misses a layup and then misses two free throws and then all of a sudden they make a three and we screw up and they make another three. Just have to credit our guys for being able to make enough plays. I thought Kennedy was really big on the backboards. He had a couple of blocks inside. I think a big part of the game, too, was when [John] Collins got in foul trouble. I thought that really helped us. He made two field goals in their first three baskets, or two of their first four, when it was 8-0. Getting him out of the game helped. Five guys in double figures and only 11 turnovers. We did pass the ball pretty well and got some really good shots down the stretch, too.”
You’ve won the last three games in very different ways. Are you seeing the progress you need to see with this team?
“You need to win games in different ways. If you have to play the same way all of the time and they take that away from you, then you lose confidence in the whole thing… I was extremely disappointed with our defense in the second half. We haven’t played defense like that in 10 days. I think they shot 22 free throws in the second half and 28 for the game. Georgia Tech shot 28 and we shot 12 or something crazy like that. We like to get to the line more than the other team and we do that from the inside out. But Clemson, North Carolina State and Wake Forest were three really different games… I thought Joel Berry’s three from the top of the key was a big play. They were coming back and we were standing around trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing and he made a big shot for us.”
With your big guys in foul trouble, how important was it to have Theo Pinson back to play the four spot?
“Well, I was disappointed because I wanted him, when they were playing zone, I wanted him down inside and Justin outside and it took us three possessions to figure out where they were supposed to be. But having Theo back, I’ve said all along, is really going to help us because he can do so many things and he does give us some variety.”
Did you get a sense that your players let up a bit when the lead grew to 19?
“No. I didn’t sense that. I just thought that they got much more aggressive attacking us harder and we did a poor job on the defensive end.”
How thin is the line between being good and being great?
“It is a thin line. You’ve got to have some confidence and you’ve also got to have some discipline and some focus and toughness on the defensive end of the floor. I’ve never seen a team that’s really good that didn’t play great defense. I told my guys last year that I had never seen a team that made it to the Final Four that wasn’t a really good defensive team… We’ve got to get better defensively. They shot 50 percent in the second half.”
What changed for Kennedy Meeks in the second half?
“His brain. I’m serious. Why should you take a fadeaway jump shot when John Collins is really, really good and gets in foul trouble? Part of our deal was to take it at him. Why should we do that? He got his brain in gear and really started playing better.”
Did you have any issue with the contact when Tony Bradley fell?
“No. I didn’t really see it clearly, but I didn’t have any conflict with Danny [Manning]. What Danny said was, ‘Coach, he hit his head.’ … Danny Manning is one of the greatest players and people I’ve ever been around in my life. He helped me a great deal when I was at Kansas when he’d come back in the summer and play pickup with our guys. I really didn’t have any qualm around the call. It looked like he did hit the back of his head.”
You had four players that scored over 16 points. How important is that type of balance?
“I’ve always felt that if you have everybody on your club that can score, it’s harder to guard you. The other team’s defense can’t just focus on one guy. I think one of the things that was big for us, too, was 22 assists and 11 turnovers. Kenny, Justin, Joel and Nate, they kept finding Isaiah and Kennedy down low for baskets.”