ROY WILLIAMS: “Okay. The thing that's easy to say and easy to understand, we're relieved. We feel very lucky. Feel very fortunate we're still playing but the fact of the matter is we're still playing. These two guys up here, Kennedy, I thought was awesome. I thought he controlled everything inside -- 25 points, 14 rebounds, 11 of 13. I thought he was just sensational.
“Justin made, I think, three big 3s in the second half when the tempo got going up and down a little bit more. It was a little weird there at the end because I'm standing on almost on line with that 3 that I think it was Dorsey that shot it. And there was no way that ball was going to go in the basket. And it bounced around, bounced around, went below the rim and crawled back over the top and went back in. So that was pretty weird.
“And then we missed a bunch of free throws. We talk and work on little things all the time. I tell them if you line up on the rebound spot, when your teammate is shooting the free throw, you're trying to rebound. You're either trying to tip it out or get a rebound. Kennedy went there. Joel, I think, first went there and missed. And then Kennedy went there and missed or vice versa. And then Kennedy got the second rebound. So we do work on those things. We do talk about those things. But feel very lucky but that's okay. Doesn't make any difference; we're still one of the two teams playing on Monday night.”
Kennedy, could you go through that last sequence with the four free throws missed and your rebound and how strange was it? Have you ever been involved in a game that ended like that?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I'm sure I have through my career of basketball, of course. But the main thing is my teammates kept me involved. I got down on myself when I missed the two free throws, because it definitely could have been good for us. But my main focus was if Joel missed the second free throw, hit the offensive glass hard because I know earlier in the game I didn't hit the glass, and I looked over at Coach and he kind of gave me the motion that -- hit the offensive glass. So I just tried to do that to the best of my ability. Jordan Bell kind of went in a little more than I thought he would, so I just got behind him and the ball fell in my hand.”
Kennedy, yesterday you'd mentioned that you do whatever it takes to help the team win. And against Kentucky that meant taking four shots. But tonight at what point did you realize you're going to have to score buckets to help the team win?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I kind of had it in the back of my mind. I just knew that we had to be aggressive in the paint. Coach told us it was going to be a man's game, and us four big men had to do a great job on the inside. And Isaiah wasn't making any shots. Luke kind of got it going a little bit, and then kind of took it away. So I took it upon myself to try to do the best I could to call for the ball, especially when my teammates got in trouble.”
You've been to two final championship games now in a row without a single one-and-done player on your team. What does that kind of say about the recruiting approach and the approach to North Carolina recruiting? And did either of you think you might be one-and-done when you came in?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “Well, I think education is important. My family always preaches that to me. So to answer your question, no, I never thought being one-and-done. I knew that this was going to be a great program for me. Had a great coaching staff that will teach me how to become a man over the course of the four years. And it's a great outcome, I think. I think I'm a great product from what Coach Williams has started off.”
JUSTIN JACKSON: “You know, there's nothing bad about schools that might have a lot of one-and-dones. But coming to a place like this, with a coach like Coach, and brothers that you can call family for the rest of your life, you know, there's nothing better than that. At the end of the day, this is the second Final Four that I've been to in my three years, and it's the second that he's been to.
“And so there's nothing better than winning. And coming to a place like this where you have family, education, you know, the best of the best when it comes to basketball, I don't think it can really get much better.”
Kennedy, you said that you kind of felt you needed to take it upon yourself. What does that feel like when you know that this could be the last game, that if you don't take it upon yourself, you guys are going home?
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I think I kind of -- I know it might have been too late, but I kind of realized that during the Butler game when Coach got on me for not boxing out, and I sat out for a couple of minutes. And I just knew that it's important for me to do so, just to help my team out in any way I can.
“And it takes you a long time to really get over that you don't have to score to be effective, you don't have to shoot all the shots to be effective. You can do other things, rebounding. I told Isaiah that before the game. I know he's been in a slump, but he can rebound the ball, he can get assists, he can get steals and all those things above. So I just took it upon myself to do the best job I could, whether that was me having a great defensive game, scoring the ball when I can, or getting all the rebounds.”
Both players, how do you think the experience of last year's title game will impact how you head into this game?
JUSTIN JACKSON: “I think this is maybe like the 50th time that we've kind of answered a question about that. (Laughter). But at the end of the day it's a different team. It's a different -- I guess a different year. But, I mean, we've got to go into it -- Gonzaga is a totally different team than Villanova was. And so we've got to get, whoever has the scout, we've got to get used to the scout a little bit. And at the end of the day it's just playing as hard as we possibly can when we get out there.
“I don't know how much we're really going to be thinking about, okay, we saw this last year so maybe we can change it this year. So I think it's just going out there and playing as hard as we possibly can.”
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I think you're always going to have that in the back of your mind because it was a heartbreaking experience for us. We came so far last year. But like Justin said, it's a different team. We have different dynamics. We don't really rely on just one person to score the ball, two people to score the ball and Brice and Marcus, they did a great job leading us last year.
“I think it's more of a collective effort where everybody has to do a tremendous job of doing the things we do best, which is running the ball up the court, rebounding and posting up inside.”
Kennedy or Justin, you seemed out of sync the first couple of minutes of the first half. What made everything click for you guys to pull out this win?
JUSTIN JACKSON: “Yeah, I mean that defense that they play, it's totally different than anything we've seen. I mean, teams like Louisville, they try to play a matchup zone. But with Oregon, it just looked different. And so we weren't as aggressive, but I think once we kind of found the spots that we could attack, and we had better movement, spacing, I think that's where we kind of got into it.
“And then once we started getting stops, we didn't have to play against a set defense the whole time. And I think that was the biggest part of it was we were able to get out in transition and get better shots out of things we wanted to do.”
KENNEDY MEEKS: “I think our main objective every game is to hit teams early in the mouth, whether that's attacking them on the offensive end or playing great defense. They did a tremendous job of getting up in us. I think we kind of got rattled a little bit. But once we settled down we recognized they were switching those defenses and we had to adjust and move as fast as we can on the offensive end, everything opened up for us.”
Your last game against Kentucky, Kennedy had 17 rebounds, four blocks. Tonight, one of the best games of his career. Do you think that's just a senior not wanting to see it end? Anything specific from what you've seen the last two games from him?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I think -- I'm hoping that's what it was, too, because I want the guys to have that kind of focus, but I think it's two completely different games. I thought we had a big advantage inside. But we weren't showing that, particularly Isaiah early was really struggling. And Kennedy was having some success. It bothered me when he got his third foul and fourth foul because they're both little reach-in fouls. And big guys, I've always said, should never make fouls with their hands below their waist kind of thing.
“But it was two completely different games, but he was our only guy inside that was scoring. I mean, I looked down there and I see that Isaiah's 1-for-12, Joel 2-for-14. So we needed more offense from Kennedy tonight than we have a lot of games. And I think he stepped up and did that. I just thought he was just sensational around the basket, not only on the offensive boards but on the defensive boards both. I'm sure he's got tremendous focus as a senior and he wants to keep playing. But so do the other guys and so do the other teams. A lot of times it's just are you playing well and that was one specific night.”
What goes through your mind when you're in the last five seconds and you watch your players miss four straight free throws?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Oh, jump off the building, something like that. (Laughter). Something's going on. You know, if you go back and look at it, on our defense, we were playing pretty well defensively except we were fouling them. They made 15 free throws in the second half. They're 15-of-16. And in the stretch where we had it to 10, it got down to four or five, every one on foul shots.
“I was frustrated with that. I was frustrated when that ball seemed to crawl in the hole, but you've got to have that kind of toughness that the kid had to make it. I still thought we were all right, and I felt we would finish the game better than we did, to say the least.
“But it is something that we do stress on the free throws. We don't just line up there and turn around and start to go back. We do try to rebound those free throws. And I think it was -- Joel missed four out of five and Theo missed one and then he made two in a row. And then Kennedy missed those two, Joel missed those two.
“Yeah, I didn't like it. There's no question about it. They didn't have any timeouts left. I was hoping we'd get up three so we could be able to foul them and not allow them to take a 3-point shot. But they struggled shooting the ball. We caught them on a night they didn't shoot the ball very well, too. The second half they're 3-of-18 from 3. But they make free throws, because there's a reason they call them that -- you can't guard them then.”
What does it feel like, obviously there have been a lot of questions about last year, but what does it feel like to get back to the point that you all wanted to get back to have that shot?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Two or three emotions. I really don't think about it a lot. I really don't. It's this team. I'm coaching a new group of kids. And making it back to the national championship game is amazing. Oh, you did it that last year? Well, that still makes it even more amazing kind of thing.
“But we really don't talk about that all the time. Like I've told you guys ever since I got here and even in the regionals, the only thing I've said about it is when was you guys had the most fun in your life playing basketball? They said, last year. I said, let's remember that. Let's do the work. Let's put in the time, the work, the sacrifices to make sure we get there. But no, it's an amazing thing. And 351 teams start playing and this is the second year in a row we were one of two left.”
How much does your prior experience with your team in the championship matter going up against Gonzaga, which has never been here before?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, on game night kids gotta play. That's the bottom line. I've never won a game from the bench. I may have lost some, but I know I've never won one. We've gotta go out and play and do the best we can and try to do the best we can on offense and then the best we can on defense, and the best we can on offense and the best we can on defense.
“I looked at the score at halftime as I was walking off the court for the first time, because I was trying to focus on the way we were playing. The question over here was how we struggled offensively. Their defense was better than our offense early. But what helped us later because we started defending a little better ourselves, and then we could run out and play against their defense before they got set. Their defense was hard to find the openings that we usually find a lot easier than we did today. But it's very fortunate for us that we're still here playing.”
On Thursday you said that practice wasn't as good. Was that a reflection of today? Was it like the same thing, or do you see a whole new set of issues?
ROY WILLIAMS: “No, it was a whole new set of issues today. Practice, we stunk it up on Thursday. We really did. But we've had 100 practices. Tomorrow will be practice number 101, and that doesn't include five to 10 during the break where we just had them come in and shoot.
“But we want to enjoy the dickens out of this one until midnight tonight and that's not very far off, I think. And then we'll start focusing on Gonzaga. But Thursday's practice wasn't very good. I'm really thrilled. Joel didn't play very well, but I'm really thrilled he was able to get through the game and not hurt his ankle anymore and hopefully he'll play better.
“Isaiah needs to play better. Joel -- if you look at it, two of our guys who started almost every game are 3-for-26. That usually means you get beat. But Kennedy and Justin, those guys really made some big plays.”
You hinted at it a little bit earlier, but do you guys specifically practice tipping the ball out on those free throw plays in the closing seconds of games or in general?
ROY WILLIAMS: “We practice tipping out on the free throws unless you can get the hand on the ball. If you get one hand on it and try to rebound it and don't come up with it, I'm really mad because you gotta make a decision: Can you get the ball.
“Theo was able to get it. And Kennedy, of course, was able to get his. But he had it pretty easy -- he had his big grip on it completely. But, yes, we work on both of them.”
With going through the academic investigation, it certainly hurt you guys recruiting-wise. How do you feel like it may have actually been a blessing in terms of getting three and four-year players?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I know I'm damned sure not the dumbest. I don't think there's one second of that thing that's been a blessing, not one second. People have tested my credibility, and I haven't appreciated that. It's been used against us in recruiting. There's not one second that I've thought that that was a blessing. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, and I don't have too many enemies, I think.”
You've had an opportunity to play in quite a few Final Fours in the football stadiums. When you're out on the court, is it disorienting at all or do you forget where you are and it's just another basketball game?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You lose yourself in the game. The only thing I don't like is I like to sit on the bench. But it's terrible, you can't see down there. So that's -- I mean during the course of a regular game I sit down and I stand up, sit down, stand up. But I'd rather sit most of the game. I can have more conversations with my staff. And see if anybody's got any different ideas. But we played on a raised floor in 2009. I think it was a level floor in 2005. And, frankly, my dear, you could put me anywhere -- in a hangar somewhere. If it's for a national championship I'd be happy about it.”
How do you judge how far your team comes from the beginning of your first practice to right now?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, this team this year has been a stop and start -- one step forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. But they've really played pretty darned well on game day. I've been frustrated with them. Last year we got better and better and better. And we lost three or four conference games, four, I guess. But we lost at Louisville, at Notre Dame and lost to somebody else, and lost to Duke at home.
“But we kept getting better and better. I've been begging and pleading and cajoling and kicking and stomping and screaming, trying to get them better defensively. And I thought in the second half today we were better defensively than we have been in quite a while. So after 100 practices, I hope you get better a little bit or it means the coach is not doing a very good job.”