What does it do for the team when Jackie Manuel plays like that?
It just shows us how good we can be. He's a great scorer. Most of all, he's a great defender. A lot of times he doesn't look good if he looks to shoot too much. He started off the game and hit two straight three's. He got on a roll--it was one of those nights. He's a great player. Most importantly, he loves defense and he was out on defense. He doesn't look for offense. When we are all rolling like that, we can be a scary team to play against.
What was the 12-day break like with exams, the injuries, and after the two losses?
It was tough, especially with exams. Once we go,t those out of the way, it was all right. Practice, exams, run and shoot. I had a concussion, Ray and Dave were out with concussions. It just made it tough. I didn't know if I was going to play tonight. I wasn't cleared until yesterday. For our first exam period and then having to play, it was different than what I expected, but it was good for us. It was a learning process. Everything we do is a learning process.
After two losses, were there any changes in practice?
The intensity level was a little higher. No one likes to lose, especially these 14 guys. It's not in our nature. We just went out and went after each other in practice. One time, Jackie came in and tried to dunk on me and Jawad and we laid him on his back. He got up and just came back again the next play. There's just that type of urgency, that passion for the game. It's great. I love these guys.
Coach Doherty has said how he hates to lose. Did you notice a change in him in practice after the two losses?
Oh, yeah. When we go to practice, something that he might have let slide two weeks ago--a bounce pass going out of bounds; we're 56 practices into the season--there's no way he was going to let that go. He was jumping on us all week, getting on us, and I think it helps. We get out with his intensity and Coach Mac's intensity, it just brings our level of intensity higher.
You played one of your first real road games in a hostile environment at Illinois. What lessons did you learn?
More focus. We have to focus more on our surroundings and how we have to be ready to play at all times.
Having followed you some in high school, you were one of the most energetic guys on the team. You seem all business now and more serious. You've been more matter-of-fact with answers. Why is that?
I've always been business, whether you see it or not. Every night we've got to come out and play with energy and stay focused. This is a business like we are at work. We have to play hard every night.
You don't seem to be smiling as much. Is it not as fun?
It's definitely fun. You have to keep smiles inside sometimes. You can't give too much off to the other team, like you are embarrassing them or anything. You just have to be focused enough to get the job done.
Is that why we don't see the "X" anymore?
You see the "X" sometimes, but I think Coach Doherty thinks that's too much of a show. I do too. It's just something I saw as a symbol to get my teammates up and put some energy back on the court.
After two losses and a 12-day break, was this 21-5 start because you were so hungry to get back out there to win?
Definitely. We had to bring the big-time energy. We've been off so long and practicing so hard, it's a payoff to get out there and play.
Was the 12-day break wearing on you at all with the exams, injuries, and all the practices?
Definitely not. It's just a building process for us.
What's it like to get back out on the court, especially after the losses?
I think we were all really hungry to get back after it. With 12 days off and practicing a lot, it almost seemed like preseason practice because we were practicing for such an extended time without any games. Guys were chomping at the bit to get out there. We've been going against each other, battling injuries and fatigue, for a couple of weeks. It was great to be out there. We had a great crowd, almost 17,000 was great.
What did you think of Jackie's performance?
Jackie had a great game. He really set the tone, knocking down those first two three's and getting us going. Defensively, he was magnificent. He's a beast on defense in practice. He got in passing lanes, denying, putting pressure on the ball, and that makes us that much better. The point guard sets the tone. To see Jackie and those guys flying through the passing lanes makes it contagious. It makes the defensive energy that much better.
How have things been in practice the past two weeks? There have been rumors circulating that things haven't been so well.
Things are great. We had a great two weeks of practice. Obviously, after you lose a game or two, you are going to hear stuff like that, but we don't let that affect us. We are a very tight-knit group, and we keep things close in the family. Chemistry is great, we are working hard. Things couldn't be better right now. We are moving forward. The two weeks we had to prepare for Vermont were great because we got to learn from our mistakes in the Illinois and Kentucky game. Things are great.
Were you feeling any effects from the car accident tonight?
I had a minor concussion, but other than that I was OK. I was OK tonight.
What was it like to get back out there after the long layoff?
I definitely wanted to play because I missed three or four days in practice with a concussion, but I was ready to get back out there and play.
Matt has said how he hates to lose. What has he been like through the break in practice?
He's been great. He's been sticking beside us, just coaching us and loving us like we are his own sons, being there for us and helping us out in practice. He's a great coach.