NCAA Thurs.: USC Press Conference (w/audio)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --- Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd and players Taj Gibson and Gabe Pruitt spoke to the national media at the Continental Airlines Arena on Thursday. Read & listen to what they had to say...

TIM FLOYD

Part I (8:28)
Part II (8:35)

Opening remarks -

We're happy to be here. We have everybody healthy. The trip was a long trip, about a four-and-a-half-hour flight. Got in here about 10:30 last night, tried to get our guys some sleep but it was 7:30 back in L.A., and let them sleep in a little bit today. Our kids are healthy and ready to go. Excited to be in this setting, and we understand that we have got a pretty difficult opponent. Watched a lot of tape on them. They present a lot of issues and problems for us that we're going to have to deal with. I just hope we can continue to play at the same level that we played at last weekend and we have been a team that has guarded exceptionally well in this tournament. We have shot the ball well. It's been a real key with our team, our ability to make shots, we're sharing the ball right now. And the kids are excited to be here.

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Earlier this week Coach Williams identified you guys as a different animal, says you play defense in a different way. How do you describe how your team approaches defense?

Well, I am sure it's not any different than what he's seeing in his league. We haven't invented anything. We play screen and rolls like other people play screen and rolls. I don't know. I have never looked at us as an animal at all.

I see a lot of holes in our team, you know, that we still have to address day in day out, but our kids do play hard. They run the floor and they get back on defense and when we rebound it we got a chance to defend at a high level. When we don't, we become pretty ordinary.

There's a lot of talk about you guys being the second team in L.A.; how do you keep the guys from playing with a chip or do they play with a chip; is that a motivating factor?

I think that that talk is -- there's a reason why there's that talk; we are right now, let's face it.

UCLA has been around for a long time and have played at a high level for many, many years. They have got a great history and a great tradition, and we're not trying to take a piece of that at all. All we're attempting to do is play at a high national level and build a national level program. What we're trying to do is take it to where Duke and Carolina are. They are nine miles apart. They are already established. There's 5 million people in that area to recruit from. We have got 18 million people. Our kids forever have been leaving and going to the east coast and play, kids that should be at USC.

We are the beneficiaries of walking in with great timing, unlike my days of walking into the Chicago Bulls, my timing wasn't very good there. But we got a brand new facility that's most expensive basketball arena in the country, $147 million. Mike Garrett got tired of hearing that we -- that they had no commitment to basketball and he said, 'We're going to show them.' He went out and built this incredible facility and with that comes expectations, and you know, 20 years ago when they were building all the new arenas, you'd hear the old coaches talking and start bragging, say he has got a new arena, and the old coaches would go tell him go find another job because the expectations just changed, they went straight to get every recruit and sell it out. In our case I guess at this stage in my career, I am thrilled that we have it because these kids in Southern California are wanting to stay now. I am hoping that one day we can have a Duke, Carolina right there in L.A. with our program and UCLA.

I think with the level of recruits that we have coming in and with what UCLA is adding with Kevin Love and us bringing in O.J. Mayo, that there's going to be a lot of eyes on our part of the world next year, and just so great that we're having some success this year.

Apropos the Oregon game, what happened?

Looked like we swam across the Channel to go play the game. We just literally couldn't get back on defense. We played at midnight the night before. I don't know how other leagues do it, but it was very difficult for us. We walked out of the building at midnight, got to bed at 1:30, then had to play a noon game the next day and that midnight game was an emotional game with Washington State, team that had beaten us in two close ones and we won the game. I don't know that Oregon, you know, they had about three extra hours sleep maybe, but they are terrific now. You got to understand that's a great basketball team. First two times we beat Oregon they were 13 and 0 and 19 and 3.

We watched it happen in our tournament. UCLA had beaten Cal twice they got beat by Cal. We got beat by Washington State twice and we beat Washington State. We had beaten Oregon twice and these kids had a lot of pride they came out and just put it to us. I don't know that we were as bad, or we're as bad as we were that night or they were that good, they shot the ball exceptionally well and they are a great basketball team.

Obviously on paper North Carolina presents some size issues for you down low. Talk about your team in previous games has dealt with a size disadvantage?

In different ways. We tried to match their size at times and the at other times we have gone small and hoping they have gone small and hoping they would have to match down to us. I am sure we'll do a combination of both those things in tomorrow night's game.

You guys the last couple of games have been able to maintain and extend big leads, you've out-rebounded opponents, shot more free throws. Why is this team playing so well at this time?

I think our team is finally getting it. We have had three freshman that we have had to play tremendous amount of minutes and Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson, two sophomores that are playing an awful lot and RouSean Cromwell and Keith Wilkinson. It takes time. It's something that we have been preaching forever is trying to get to the line and make more free throws than the other team attempts. They are understanding that that doesn't mean just driving the ball or throwing the ball inside, it also means not fouling. We have done a great job of not fouling and staying between our guy and the basket these last two games, and I think we're playing at a higher level. I never subscribed to the theory that losing can help you, like losing to Oregon but I do think it bothered our guys. I think they responded to the films that we showed them about how poorly they played against Oregon in terms of defensive transition and they've done a much better job in that area.

Have you had a chance to speak with Coach Haskins recently and what was his advice on North Carolina?

I talked to him five times a week. Some of the talks are better than others. It wasn't very good after Oregon. I got chewed out very good. He watches, he observes. He has got a keen eye. We haven't departed and don't play a whole lot different than he played it at UTEP. He knows our kids. He obviously has great respect for Carolina and the talent in Roy, and he has thoughts that, you know, that we have shared with our team.

You talked about the freshman before, specifically asking about Taj [Gibson]. He and the other freshman, how have they been able to assimilate themselves so quickly in the system and do so well in their first year?

Freshman don't struggle if they play hard. That's the biggest adjustment that most freshman have to make. Taj, I think, he had something like eight double-doubles in his first 11 games with us this year. He's an exceptional player. He's 210 right now. He's going to put on 20 pounds this summer. Never been around a strength program, but he's instinctive to the glass. Plays hard enough to go defend. We can throw it to him on the block. And if he gets doubled he's an exceptional passer which forces teams to go play him one-on-one. And when they do, he has got a variety of moves down there, either facing up or playing with his back to the basket. He can run the floor. I think his passing is very underrated. He's a terrific passer. Hackett, should be a senior in high school. He graduated early after Ryan Francis died last year. Never played the point guard position. We didn't have a point guard going into this season. As you know tournament play is about guards and he was able to start 13 games while Gabe Pruitt was ineligible, and I think that confidence really helped him and he knows that he can play at this level.

Dwight Lewis is another freshman who was a fourth team, played All-American out of New Orleans. He started 14 games for us, really scored it. He has gotten better defensively.

The lineup you used against Texas, isn't a lineup you started a lot. Are you taking a similar approach against Carolina?

I mentioned how young we are. As a result, we felt like we needed to develop the bench and develop some depth and the best way to do that, we felt like was to start a different kid at that fifth spot every night. We have started the same four, but if you look at the starts, we have rotated that just to let the kids know that we have confidence in them. At this point of the season it's not about altering it for anything as far as confidence. It's been match-ups, and we'll start a lineup tomorrow that will give us the best match-up opportunities.

When did you start believing that this team with these guys could make it this far in the tournament?

Early it was very ugly with our team. We averaged about 20 turnovers a game through 12 or 13 games this season. And like George Washington had us down 20 at half, and we came back and won in the second half, I was hopeful after that game, I think I was thinking that we had some kind of chance when we went to Kansas and down 4 with a minute and a half without Pruitt early in the season. We played really hard over there in defeat, and when we saw USC -- -- Washington, people out here don't know a lot about Washington, but they may have been the most talented team in our league. They are young and they are not in either tournament, but they are outstanding. We beat them in double An overtime game to start Pac 10 play action and I started getting a little hopeful at that point.

Michigan State very good defensive team. Is there any way to run with them; how do approach controlling the tempo and their ability to get out and run?

I don't think you can hold those guys down. We played Roy's team a bunch when I was at Iowa State and he was at Kansas. Some great teams that he had at Kansas. They are going to run it at us, we know that. They are going to offensive rebound it back in. I think the biggest key for us is to keep them off the foul line. They get points at the foul line but so do we. This has been one of the best scoring teams that we have had I think you can approach it defensively but you also have to have a balanced offense. We're going to have to score some points in this game. And we have been able to score in this tournament. And hopefully we'll be able to in this game as well.

When you were in other places did you ever look at SC or was there talk among your colleagues that you can recall saying, hey, that's a sleeping giant kind of program, everybody knew they needed the facility? Part B, as a football school we have seen, we got Florida winning the National Championship, Oklahoma has had a run, Alabama....what kind of support do you feel from Coach Pete Carroll other forces that you feel you need to get it going here?

L.A. is the most heavily recruited city in the country. The potential has always been the talent in the area. There were no facilities, the facility has changed us, Bob. It's changed us. It showed commitment. This staff has not had to go into home visits and start the home visit by apologizing, or explaining because of what other recruiters have put into kids's heads. There were some great coaches there before us; Bob Boyd, and George Raveling, (Henry) Bibby, were all very good coaches.

This whole thing gets down to talent, and having talent and being able to keep talent. The commitment is there for everybody to see right now. They have invested in this program. There's no reason why it can't be a Top 5 program. I am glad you brought up Florida and Oklahoma, because that's why I took the job. I looked at it and said, if you can sign 75 football players and build a national league football program you ought to be able to get 12 or 13 in basketball, it just means that there's talent in those areas. I think my experience have been at places where there was not talent, Idaho, Iowa State where you had to think national, it was also starting to swell because we're supplementing it elsewhere. Getting the talent that we can in L.A. and going out and supplementing it with contacts in other parts of the country.

As far as football goes, Pete's been an ally, and if you have a cannon you shoot it. That football program has more mistakes than any athletic program in the United States in college sports. Football, basketball or baseball.

Pete is a basketball guy. He's over watching practice on occasion, but he's at the games. I have had him come by and speak to our team before a couple of big games this year. Every recruit that we have on campus sits down and visits with him. He pulls like heck for us. They have a Trojan tour that they do every summer where it's always been football guys going out and talking around the State of California and San Diego and San Francisco, et cetera, and Pete insisted that I go along with him. He thought it would be great for our program. He's a team guy and a great guy.


TAJ GIBSON & GABE PRUITT

(9:35)

You are here, nobody expected you to be; does it make you more hungry because you guys want to prove your point?

PRUITT: I think it makes us more hungry because we weren't expecting to be here. We come in as underdogs. I think we kind of feed off of that, being the underdogs. There's no pressure on us, because no one expects us to win and we have proved people wrong.

How much does Coach refer back to Coach Haskins if at all and what are your impressions of what -- I don't know if you have met Coach Haskins -- what are your impressions of what he was like a coach?

GIBSON: I don't know. I don't know who Coach Haskins is.

PRUITT: I have heard the name but I don't know too much about him.

Have you seen the movie?

PRUITT: I think we have seen the movie but I can't really say too much about him.

Gabe, in terms of where you are right now, how important for you was it to have played significant minutes when you were a freshman?

PRUITT: I thought pretty important, prepared for many years with Coach Floyd. At the time Coach told me he was going to groom me and Nick for this moment because he knew we were talented enough to make the tournament. We just didn't know when. But I thought the minutes I played as a freshman, really playing the point guard position, I thought it helped me for this year and at this point in the season.

Gabe, last year you guys handed Tar Heels the worst loss they had under Coach Williams in his four years. What if anything can you take -- I know personnel is a little bit different, but what did you take away from that that might help you tomorrow?

PRUITT: After that game, seeing it now to this point, it really -- we really defended them pretty well, rebounded the ball, all five guys really contributing to that victory. Stay focused with our assignments, individually. Our guys, you know, they have pretty much the same time they have added some good freshman. I think we're up to the challenge. Take the defense that we did in that game and try to present it in tomorrow night's game.

As a local kid from Brooklyn, what is it like to be back here in a game like this?

GIBSON: Wonderful feeling, back home, Brooklyn is right across the water, a lot of friends and family hoping to come see the game. Just wonderful feeling to come out of Brooklyn finally get a chance to play Division One basketball. See it all the time growing up, Sweet 16, miracle shots teams make, I am just happy to be here.

Main focal points that Coach Floyd stresses the defense and how often does he change game plans?

PRUITT: He doesn't change too much. It's just our main focus is rebounding and getting back. That's what he constantly tells us day in day out. Guards get back, guys rebound, all five guys rebound defensively. Each game, he will change according to personnel, but overall we have like the same concept, defense, rebounding get back, limit guys to -- don't give them too many second chance shots. Pretty much stick to our same game plan all year-round.

Coach talked about UCLA, USC, you may be nationally becoming a Duke/Carolina rivalry, getting that kind of attention. Is it fun the fact that you guys are kind of creating your own identity now?

GIBSON: Yeah. Hopefully one day it can be just as well as North Carolina and Duke, but only time will tell. We just taking it one day and one game at a time with UCLA, even though we dislike them, it's nothing like Duke/Carolina with the fighting, probably one day.

PRUITT: I think it's slowly becoming that type of rivalry, given what we have done this year and what UCLA has been doing last year and this year. I think, like he says, time will tell. Guys coming in for both programs. I think eventually it will live up to that type of rivalry.

Taj, what have you seen from Tyler Hansbrough, how does he look on film?

GIBSON: He looks awesome. Phenomenal player, see him all the time on TV, since last year. It's going to be a tough game. I know he's overcome a lot with hurt nose and has the mask off. Just going to have to play as a team.

Again Taj, how were you able to assimilate as a freshman so quickly this year? How were you able to do it and how have your teammates helped you?

GIBSON: Key to that one is on recruiting trips just taking into the coach, see how much the coach is going to help you and how much he is going to help you develop as a player. Coach Floyd believed in me, where no one else would, just having a lot of love for the guy.

Talk about how much the new facility played a part in your decision to go to USC?

PRUITT: I think it's played a really important role for our program because I have been here for three years now; last two years we haven't had an arena. Played a the sports arena. I think having the new arena it's close to our campus. We get the support that we need. Students really excited to come to the games, I think just feeding off their energy, got a lot of support. It's good for us to see the support and the big change. I think that's really played a big part for us this season.

GIBSON: It was big for us because students like to see something new, like growing up you always want to see something, brand new fresh smell, everything, that's why the students took to it. The Galen Center is open, big student section, just wonderful feeling coming in and playing in the arena and the fans like it just as much as we do.

Address the fact that you are playing a team like North Carolina, top seeds here in the region, and the challenge of all that, coming in as underdogs, what that's all about what that means to you guys.

PRUITT: It's a big challenge. I have been watching them all year, they play really good basketball. I think I believe we haven't been getting the notoriety that they have been getting. It means a lot to come here in the Sweet 16, playing against the number one seeded team in the division. Just giving us the opportunity to prove how we can play. I think it means a lot to our program, to give us this opportunity.

GIBSON: It's just a big opportunity. We know that they are a wonderful team. We're going to have to come out and play our A-game. You know the Carolina Blue, everybody across the country knows the Carolina Blue. We know what we're up against.


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