Q. Vernon, obviously with Smith there's a load inside for you guys tomorrow. Could you talk about the physical nature and how physical you guys are going to have to be? Is this going to be another game where you guys have to prove you're tough enough?
Vernon Macklin: Yeah, I think they're very physical up front. Just like Coach Donovan said, we've got to do a great job of trying to wall those guys and play physical because they're a great, physical front line team. So we've got to play hard and be ready and meet their expectations.
Q. Chandler, why does the term "Sweet 16" have so much magic attached to it? The perception of your team has totally changed if you make the Sweet 16 or even if you just came one game short when in essence it's really just one game?
Chandler Parsons: I think just getting to the Sweet 16, you know, people think that's a great big deal, being one of those final games. That would be a great accomplishment. The most important thing in the tournament is you can't look ahead, because basically the national championship game for us is tomorrow night because without winning that we can't advance. We always want to keep advancing no matter what round it is.
Q. Alex, after starting something like 100 straight games, how does it feel to have won an NCAA game and be going on here?
Alex Tyus: It means a lot. I've been around for a long time, and basically just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win and go forward.
Q. This is for Chandler. What were you thinking when you watched UCLA build that lead last night and what were you also thinking then watched that lead disappear?
CHANDLER PARSONS: Honestly, I wasn't able to watch the game, so I didn't see. I saw the highlights and we watched film on them. That just shows in the tournament, no game is ever over and no team is just going to lay down no matter how many points they're down. And Michigan State, they're a resilient team down 20. They weren't just going to lay down just because they went down 20. It definitely just shows that the game is really not over until the horn goes off and you've got to play for 40 minutes because no one is going to stop playing or let teams come back in like that. You've just got to keep playing.
Q. Vernon, UCLA has had problems with small big guards. Can you talk about your guards and what they bring and whether you think that gives you an advantage in this game?
VERNON MACKLIN: I think we have some of the fastest guards in the country, Erving, KB, and I'll also throw Chandler in there because he plays point also.
So I think UCLA is going to have a good job on their hands guarding our guards and guarding our offense, our pick-and-roll offense because we have some great guards that play for us.
Q. I know you've gone against a lot of big, physical guys, but have you ever seen anything like Smith, who they list at 305 and is probably more like 340?
VERNON MACKLIN: I don't think I have but I've played against very strong guys like Festus from Vanderbilt, he's a very physical guy. And also the guy from last night was very physical. It's going to be a different look. He's 6'10" and also 300 some pounds, but I know my teammates will help me out guarding the guy and I know I've got to keep him off the glass.
Q. On that line, what do you think of his mobility given his size?
VERNON MACKLIN: I've never seen him play. We seen film of him, but Pat has watched and seen him play. And Pat told me he's fast for his size. Rob Lanier told me -- he did a little scouting for the team, and he told me the guy can move for his size. So I've got to be able to be physical and battle up front.
Q. Chandler, if we can go back to the guards for a minute, can you talk about Kenny, the job he's done all year long?
CHANDLER PARSONS: He's been real special for us all year long. Like you just said, coach usually puts him on the other team's primary scoring guard, so I think he's done a really good job because he's gone up against some great players, and he really limits their good looks and really is physical with them and stays with them and doesn't give them a lot of open looks. And then on the offensive end, it's just important for the guys to keep playing the way they're playing and keep shooting the ball with confidence?
Q. Chandler, you mentioned that tomorrow is in essence a national championship game is how you're approaching it, but do you ever in your own thoughts or anything like that allow yourself to drift to what it would be like to be in the Final Four?
CHANDLER PARSONS: Of course. You know, we have dreams. We want to definitely be in the Final Four. We definitely want to compete for a national championship. But at the same time, we understand that we can't get there without going through UCLA. You know, we're on a mission and we're looking at it like they're in our way of getting to where we want to be at.
Q. Have you seen any videotape of the UCLA tapes against Florida in '06 and '07? And where were you when you watched those games and was there any impact?
ALEX TYUS: No, I feel like that was in the past and right now we're just kind of straight on the game tomorrow. Those were great games, but we're just focused on right now.
Q. Chandler, do you look at this as a home game?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I mean, in essence it's in Florida, it's an hour and a half away, but I guess you could say that. But really it's neutral. They're going to have fans; we're going to have fans. But I think the more fans that we have obviously the better, and I think that would be great for us and definitely couldn't hurt us.
But regardless of whether we're playing at home or away, we've still got to compete.
Q. There's a little bit of backlash when you guys got the No. 2 seed. Do you feel like you justified that last night?
VERNON MACKLIN: I wouldn't say that, I just think a lot of people think that we shouldn't have gotten the No. 2 seed. But as a whole we think we should have because we had a tough schedule on our hands, and we played well through our schedule. So I don't think last night had anything to do with it, we just want to keep playing our baseball and keep playing physical and keep playing hard.
Q. What's the biggest concern about UCLA? I know we've talked a little bit about Josh Smith already. Is there anyone else just in passing even if you haven't looked at tape, names that you're concerned about as we sit here right now?
CHANDLER PARSONS: The thing about them is they're very similar to us if you look at their stats sheet. There's not one guy going off every game. They're very balanced so it's not like we can just shut down Josh Smith or Honeycutt. It's not just a couple guys. Any of their starting five are capable of going off at any time, so when you scout them, you're really just trying to limit their looks. And you know who the play is going through when the see the action, but you don't necessarily know who's going to get the ball or who's going to score because they're all very good players and they can all contribute in different ways.
Q. Alex, from your standpoint can you guys win if you're not as physical as UCLA is?
ALEX TYUS: I think it would be very difficult, but I think the front court really does need to do a great job of being physical and rebounding. Just making the game tough and harder for them.
Q. Vernon, I know you're a basketball player but I'm sure you're also a basketball fan, a college basketball fan. To see the four coaches that are left, just kind of walking through these halls, is that kind of crazy to realize how much coaching talent is still left in this one region?
VERNON MACKLIN: It's very crazy. I still feel that way even when I hear Coach Donovan talk sometimes. You've got to think about all the great things he did for Florida and then when you play against a great team like Tom Izzo and Calipari, those are great coaches and I'm glad they're still around because they add great aspects to the game.
Q. Chandler, I know Alex was asked this question, but I'm wondering if you watched the '06 or the '07 games against UCLA? And I know we'll make a big deal out of them, but I'm sure to you guys they're no big deal.
CHANDLER PARSONS: I mean, yeah, I was a Florida fan growing up so I watched all the games. But like Alex said, no one on our team and no one on their team were playing in those games, so it's really irrelevant to what's happened before because we have a whole new roster, they have a whole new roster. Yeah, there's some past between the two schools, but we still have to match up and play tomorrow with two new teams that have never played each other.
Q. Chandler, I think anybody who saw you guys last night was pretty stunned to see that you lost to UCF and Jacksonville. How much has this team grown since then?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I think those losses really hurt, and I think they brought us together as a team. I think they humbled us, and I think it was a good lesson for us that anything can happen in college basketball. Jacksonville was on our home floor, UCF was neutral, so it's not like it was a road game or anything. It just shows that anything can happen. I think our teams became a lot better from that and a lot closer, just how much we've gotten along and how much we've bonded since then, just came together and started buying into the right things what we can do to win.
Q. Chandler, you have talked a lot and Billy has talked a lot about how you've grown over four years. Was there a moment, game, season, time where it really just started to click for you and you realized I've got to change, I've got to do something different, something harder, something better to be what I should be?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I think just my first two years, you know, I came in with the wrong mindset and Coach Donovan really put my back against the wall and really challenged me, and I think that really made me mature and just made me realize that I need to buy into the system. And I want to do whatever it takes to win and become the best player I can become, and I think him pushing me that much and putting my back against the wall really helped me. I don't think there was an exact moment where the light went on; I think it was just over time I realized what I had to do.
Q. Alex, Chandler addressed this a little bit. Is it a little bit special playing in the home state?
ALEX TYUS: Yeah, definitely, shorter travel and just being more comfortable and relaxed and a little closer to home. I feel like that doesn't mean everything as far as going out and having to play the game and win the game.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think it's always a great thrill and a great opportunity when you get a chance to advance in this tournament. I think the teams that are here in the tournament, that's what everybody is excited about and hoping for. We certainly realize we've got a team with a lot of tradition who's had a very, very good year, very, very good coach, and it will be a challenge.
I think that this is the time in the tournament where you make -- you advance where you're playing against only better and better competition, better and better opponents, and we have great respect for UCLA and great respect for what they've done this year.
Q. How do you view the chemistry between Erving and Kenny and how it's evolved over two years starting together in the backcourt?
COACH DONOVAN: I think those two guys have really become a lot closer over the last year or so. You know, two totally different backgrounds, one from Pompano Beach, Florida, and the other guy from Brooklyn. But both have become like the best of friends, both are connected at the hip. I think both are great competitors, both want to win. You know, it's been -- I love coaching both of them. I think any time you have backcourt players -- never mind backcourt players, but when you have good chemistry inside your team, that's always a positive. But certainly in the backcourt with the way those guys get along, because they both can shoot and they both can score and sometimes there can be animosity amongst teammates or players. That's never happened with those two guys; they really feed and play off each other which has been a positive for us.
Q. Last night Tom Izzo said that Howland had brought smash-mouth basketball to the West Coast. Can you talk about your toughness inside, what a challenge it'll be for you, and are you guys tough enough to bang with them inside?
COACH DONOVAN: We're going to find that out. That's certainly a huge strength of their team, and it's not even so much -- there are guys that can be slight physically and can be tough, but they've got great size. You know, I think the only two guys that we've probably played against that have Smith's size would be Ezeli from Vanderbilt or Renardo Sidney from Mississippi State, and I would say he's drastically bigger than those two guys. And I've got a lot of respect for Reeves Nelson just the way he plays the game, just a tough, hard-nosed kid, he's physical.
So not only are they tough kids but they have great bodies, great size, and certainly there's a tremendous presence around the basket with those guys. So that's certainly a big challenge for our team.
Q. What's unique about Josh Smith as far as his size and his mobility?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think the one thing is just how big he is and the way he moves. He's a real, real deceptive mover. You see him on the floor and you would not expect a guy to move the way he moves. I mean, it's really impressive. And then I think the other thing, too, is he has really, really good lift off the floor around the basket. I mean, he can play above the rim. He had a block last night against I think it was Payne. And Payne I saw play a lot in high school for Michigan State, 6'10", great athlete, and he went straight up off the floor with him and he was well above the rim and Payne couldn't get the ball to the rim.
So I think when you see somebody that big physically and that strong, the feeling is maybe they don't move quite as well or they can't jump as well, but he really does a terrific job moving his feet for a guy that size.
I also think the other thing that makes him a special player is he's got great hands. I think when balls are up on the glass, he's going to grab it. With all the contact he plays with, he can catch, but he's got terrific hands, he's a good passer, and he's got a great touch. And you add those ingredients with a guy that big, you know, it's very, very difficult to handle him.
Q. How big of an equalizer is the three-point line?
COACH DONOVAN: I definitely think it is. I think it's a major, major key. I think if you look at the game last night, there was twice that Michigan State made runs in the game, and the times they made the runs where they cut it to whatever it was, 18 into 8 or 10 and they did that twice, they made nine threes in the second half. That was my concern going into halftime with the lead we had against Santa Barbara is because when you've got Orlando Johnson or you've got Nunnally, those guys make three or four threes before and you give up eight or nine threes in a half, it can get you back in the game quickly. And I think that Michigan State with Summers and Lucas and even Appling and Draymond Green, they have good enough shooting that you're missing some free throws, teams start knocking down three-point shots, a lead can evaporate pretty quickly.
I think when you look at the three-point line, it's a different entity to the game. I've said this before. It would be like in football giving a team eight points instead of six if they threw for a touchdown instead of run for a touchdown. You'd have everybody bombing the ball in the end zone.
When you play against some of these teams that maybe the talent level isn't quite up to who they're playing against, you can equalize that talent by really spacing the floor and shooting threes and trying to get lay-ups. I think that's what makes the tournament so interesting is the three-point line really can negate someone's size or athleticism or speed. And that's when you see different upsets and different things happen, and I think that was the case with such a big lead for UCLA last night is that Michigan State made nine threes in the second half.
Q. Patrick says that he'd really like to add about 15 pounds for next year, but at the weight he is now, is there any concern on your part that he could in any way get pushed around by Smith or do you feel like he's got enough other elements to his game to compensate for it?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, he's a mountain, sure. He's a freight train. I mean, he's -- yeah, I would say every game that Josh Smith goes into, he has a physical advantage. I don't think there's any question about that. He has a physical advantage against everybody he plays against.
And I saw him play a lot in high school in the AAU circuit and he's bigger and stronger today than he was back in high school. But I don't think that necessarily any of our front court players are just going to line up and move him around. I think the same thing can be said about Festus Ezeli or even Renardo Sidney; those two guys are large individuals. And on most nights they're going to have an advantage physically. I think Smith most nights has advantages physically because of how big he is. I think if we're going to rely on Vernon and/or Patrick just too lock up and bang back and forth with him, I don't know if our team is going to win that battle just relying on those two guys. I think we've got to be able to provide help to our post.
Q. Different teams, different settings, but how hard is it to beat a coach three times on this national stage? You and Howland, you haven't really changed that much, I don't think, in the last five years. You know each other well. How do you view that kind of battle?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I really don't view it that way at all. To me this is like the first time we're playing UCLA. I think every year, every season is a new, separate entity and new, separate challenges.
There's probably a lot of similarities for both teams in the respect that in '06 and '07, we lost a lot of really, really good players. And I think Ben has done a great job because he really did a terrific job recruiting and lost a lot of players. And we're probably both a year or two ago were somewhat starting over. Although maybe there's some similarities in terms of -- when you coach against different coaches just certain philosophies or systems or beliefs that are instilled there. But I really look at it like Ben is getting his team prepared to play, I'm getting our team prepared to play, and what happened two, three, four, five years ago, really to me has nothing to do with this game. This is a new, separate challenge for our team to go out and to play against a very talented and athletic UCLA team. And I would say the UCLA teams personnel-wise today are totally different than the ones we played four and five years ago.
Q. You've been grinding away for four years with a lot of your core players to get to this point. Is there anything that you don't know about guys like Alex and Chandler, Vernon now? And how does that impact how you coach a game in tight spots?
COACH DONOVAN: No. I think that those guys have been in a lot of situations. We've had different experiences and different things together, and I think when you're young as a player and as a coach who's playing a young guy a lot of minutes, sometimes you go into some of these new situations and you don't know what to expect. I feel like with those three guys being seniors and Vernon a fifth-year senior, I have a pretty good idea of how they're going to respond in certain situations, and certain things that maybe upset them, certain things that excite them, what they feed off of, what they don't like, because you've been through enough with them. I mean, it's probably been over 100 games we've had together.
Could something surprise me as a coach? I'm sure it probably could. Nothing doesn't surprise me sometimes. But I think with these guys, they're good kids, they're about the right things and they've worked hard and they really have progressed over a three- and four-year period.
Q. The difference between Sweet 16 second round of the NCAA Tournament is just one game, but why is the perception of a team so much different just by getting to the Sweet 16? Why does it have that magic?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think what happens sometimes is there's a lot of things that get created inside the NCAA Tournament, and I understand it because it creates fan interest. You know, when you start looking at seeding and who's this seed and who's that seed and who should win and who shouldn't win, it's like the same thing with the Final Four. I think it's something that you really even have to guard against. I know we're talking about the Sweet 16 because that's what this game is for. But I can remember some Final Four teams where it's almost like, okay, you get to the Final Four and everything after this is just gravy. It really doesn't matter if you win or lose; you've made it to the pinnacle of college basketball and now it's over with.
I think when you're coaching, whether you lose in the first round or the second round or the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight or the Final Four, I think it's all disappointing to come that far. But I think that there's sometimes a perception, well, if you make it to this point, you've done a good job, but if you get knocked out before that time maybe your team hasn't done a good job or you haven't done a good job. I never really have bought into that or believed that.
If we're fortunate enough to move on and advance in the tournament and we get knocked out, I'm going to be disappointed at that point. I'm not going to sit there and say, wow, we made it to the Sweet 16 or, wow, we won one game. I don't look at it that way.
I think the goal is can you win the next game that's in front of you. And the one thing that makes this tournament is exciting is anything can happen in a one-game situation with your team.
But there's going to be one team in this tournament that's going to walk away really, really happy, and everybody else is going to probably be some level of disappointment. And then there's probably some time that passes by that you reflect back on your season.
Q. With Erving and Kenny rooming together this year, how much have you seen them -- how much have you seen that help them enhance each other's game and just growing together and being comfortable together out on the court? How much has their off court impacted that?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that there was probably a time last year because they were both in new roles, Erving played a lot of two guard for us as a freshman, and then as a sophomore he moved to the point. And Boynton came in as a prolific offensive player. I think they had to learn how to play with each other. And the one thing that I really appreciated about Erving, Boynton didn't know as a freshman what's a good shot and what's a bad shot because in high school they went up and they went up in a hurry and put up numbers. But coming to college, he had to learn how to adjust, and I think that Erving always was great with him in terms of understanding his aggressiveness and trying to balance that with his game. And I think they both have played off each other and helped each other pretty well.
Q. UCLA has had some problems with small, quick, super athletic guards. You seem to have that. Does that give you an advantage match-up wise in this game?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I think there's going to be some different unique match-ups, so to speak, in the game. Someone was talking a little bit earlier about Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson, their size and how strong they are. On the perimeter with Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee, certainly bigger, maybe outside of Parsons than our guys; Jones is a little bit bigger than Walker. So it's going to be one of those games where there's some significant contrasting things there inside of both teams personnel-wise.
I think Ben's teams have always done a great job guarding. What kind of advantage those guys will have remains to be seen. I think we have good players. I think they have good players. And there'll be a lot to get prepared for in a short period of time.
Q. Did you stay for the whole game last night, or did you leave a little early thinking it was decided?
COACH DONOVAN: I watched the whole game. Before the players were going to get off the court, I kind of stood in the entranceway going into the locker rooms, but I watched the whole game. You know, nothing -- anything is possible in this tournament there, and that was amazing that Michigan State got the ball back with a chance to win the game on the last possession. But it was a great game.
And Michigan State, this time of year when you're playing against Michigan State, UCLA, kids got a lot of pride in what the jersey says on the front of their uniform. UCLA played a great game, and you knew Michigan State was going to try to battle their way back into it.
Q. You talked about Michigan State's ability to shoot the three to rally, but UCLA also missed a lot of free throws there down the stretch. Do you think you'd chalk that up to nerves? They are a younger team. I don't think they have any seniors on the team.
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I don't know, they're a pretty decent free throw shooting team. A couple of their guys got there to shoot it pretty well and missed some free throws, and that happens sometimes. You know, you make some free throws, you'll probably win the game, I don't want to say going away, but certainly you're in a much, much better position. When you're missing free throws and they're making threes, that can change the game pretty quickly.
But you know, I don't know enough to sit there and say whether it was nerves or not just because I don't know their personnel that well. I think they've been a pretty good free throw shooting team all year long. They play a great schedule, they play in the PAC-10 in a tough environment, so I'm sure they're used to that.
Q. As it gets further in the tournament, you kind of expect to see the coaching elite all together. You get to the Final Four and usually it's four great coaches. Here in the third round or second round, to have these four caliber coaches, guys who have taken teams to the Final Four pretty consistently, what does that say about this region and what's it like playing these kind of teams and these kind of coaches so quickly?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, there's a lot of good coaches, not only in this region but in the tournament, and even good coaches not in the tournament. I'd say there's a lot of good players. I think when it comes to different teams, you're getting ready for different styles, and I think part of the reason why coaches are good coaches is because they get their guys to buy in how they want to play, and I think Ben has done a great job of getting his guys bought into how he wants to play.
And I think Tom Izzo can be the same case, John Calipari, Bob Huggins. All the styles are a little bit different. It is a lot of different ways, style of play wise, to have that kind of success.
But getting your guys to believe in it and buy into it is important. And I think the coaches that are here have done a great job with many different teams of being able to do that.
Q. Some of your players we were asking about Josh Smith and referred to Festus Ezeli and to Renardo Sidney. He seems to be wider than either of those guys. Could you talk about the comparisons and what you think of his game?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, he's nothing like Festus Ezeli and/or Renardo Sidney. And I don't say that negatively or positively. Festus Ezeli is huge. I mean, this guy is at a different level physically just in terms of his height and just how thick and strong and physical he is. He would be the only two guys that I could probably compare him to in our league that I could sit there and say, okay, he's somewhat cut out of this mold. But I think his game is a lot different than Ezeli's and a lot different than Renardo Sidney's. But that's kind of the comparison that we used with our guys.
But he is a big, strong, physical guy and probably a player that we've not seen anything like him this year. We've maybe seen some resemblances, but we've not seen anything like it.
Q. Do you sense any home court advantage playing last night in state and could that factor play into Saturday especially with UCLA being across the country?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I don't know. Sometimes you're in there and you get to these tournament settings and there's people cheering for both sides there. Certainly travel-wise for us going two hours on a bus compared to UCLA having to come across the country, you know, is a little bit different. What kind of turnaround we have tomorrow, what kind of crowd, we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully it's all Gators.
But UCLA travels pretty well and their fans have done a good job of supporting them, and I'm sure they'll have their fair share of fans here, as well.
Q. With all the variables aside that it takes to survive and advance in this tournament, what parallels can you see between your Gator team now and your teams that went to the Final Four?
COACH DONOVAN: There's a lot of things that I think go in there, but I think you've got to be able to -- you've got to have something you can really hang your hat on, and generally a lot of times it's not offense because that will come and go in a tournament and guys can get hot and then not get hot. And I think you've got to be able to rebound, you've got to be able to guard the low post and you've got to be able to guard the three-point line. And then the defensive side of it I think is very important.
I remember in 2007 Purdue did a great job defensively against us, and we had a hard time scoring. But we were able to defend and get some stops and get out on the break and kind of find a way to manufacture points.
And I think in this tournament you've got to have some things defensively where you can guard, you can rebound the ball, and you can try to stop actions or things that have put the team you're playing against in this position because they're probably hard to guard. And then if you're having a tough night shooting, you've got to find ways to manufacture points, whether it's going inside, getting in transition, getting fouled. You know, those things can -- I think you have to have those things. You're going to have to be able to offset a very, very difficult shooting night or a team just playing great defense against you.
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