ARIZONA TALKS WISCONSIN
March 29, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
NCAA MEN'S REGIONALS SEMIFINALS & FINALS: ANAHEIM
THE MODERATOR: We will start with an opening statement from Coach Miller.
COACH MILLER: Well, the obvious statement is we're really excited to be here in the Elite Eight. After the game we played last night, not that we needed a reminder, but I think it real really is fresh in our minds of how difficult these games are, how hard you have to play, how so many times it comes down to individual players stepping up, making big plays, not just on offense, but on defense, and how rewarding it feels to advance in a tournament, but especially moving from the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight.
We know we're playing a great team in Wisconsin. I think all teams that are here in the tournament at this level have had great seasons, and there is a reason that they're here. We recognize that they're one of the best offensive teams in the country. Their ability to shoot the three?point shot speaks for itself. Very disciplined team, both on offense and defense, extremely well?coached by Bo Ryan, and it should be a great game. We're going to have to play on our end as well as we can to have the opportunity to advance.
Q. T.J., I know Coach Miller has said that you're very tough on yourself and he understands why as a coach's son. Do you think he's harder on you because of it, or do you think he's a little easier on you because he knows what you've gone through?
T.J. McCONNELL: I would definitely say he's harder on me because he knows how my dad coached me. I wouldn't want it to change how he coaches me. I like the way he coaches me and how hard he is on me. It only makes me play better.
Q. T.J., can you describe your defensive principles and your defensive game plan and why you guys are able to be so successful this year? Because I'm guessing it's going to be a culture shock for Wisconsin after going against the zone like they did to facing the way you guys play man?
T.J. McCONNELL: We're kind of just trying to do what we've done all year on defense. Kind of pest guys into taking bad shots, and you know, when they drive to kind of being in the pack line. When they kick it out, they're all shooters, so we're all going to have to contest. It's pretty much kind of the game plan we've had all year.
Q. Coach Miller, the assumption is that you've had conversations with members of your immediate family since the game ended yesterday. Can you describe a little bit about what the tenor of those conversations was like, and if you're willing to share what some of the content of it was?
COACH MILLER: It's so fast moving. I have not really talked to my brother on the phone. We both texted each other congratulations, and the things that you exchange both with two coaches preparing their team and also just to bring some levity to it all. I think we both recognize it's very special for our families.
I'll also tell you in no way do I want to dim the light on our team, and I know he feels the same way. As great of a story as it is for us, neither of us would be here unless we had teams that were capable of getting to this level. So I think we're all kind of cautious.
I did talk to my dad, and it was great to hear the tone in his voice. I think he's really excited. He's in Memphis watching them get ready to play Florida, and he watches us on TV. So we'll see where it goes from here. But we've had a remarkable couple of weeks, and it's no question a special time.
Q. My question for you is you brand your program a players' program, and you very much want to make it about the players, but after you, yourself, getting here twice and now the third time, what would it mean to you to get to the Final Four?
COACH MILLER: Well, it would mean a lot. Probably it would mean no more or no less for me than any coach who is coaching in this round. Everybody knows the two words Final Four mean a great deal to programs, universities. I follow like everybody does, the reaction of our fans and fans of other programs, and it's just amazing to see the outpour on campuses when you see a team get closer and closer to a Final Four.
But the way we'll advance tomorrow is for all of us to do the things that we've done that got us to this point. I know that's not the answer that makes everybody excited, but the reality of it is if we all make tomorrow bigger than all the games we've played, that's not going to help us be victorious, especially against a team as good as Wisconsin.
Q. Just piggybacking off that question, you were in the same situation a few years ago and it came down to the final minute and you lost to UCONN. As a young coach trying to get to your first Final Four, how difficult was that to get over?
COACH MILLER: You know, I can remember watching that shot miss and really just saying to myself that we gave everything we had. That year I think we caught fire at the right time. For us to be in the Elite Eight was somewhat unexpected, and we really rode, especially the play of one player, Derrick Williams. This year is much different because we've been highly expected almost from the onset of the season. We've played pivotal games in November. We've been ranked really high. Ranked No. 1 in the country for eight weeks in a row. We won 21 games in a row.
So we've always been on that side of it. We hoped that we could get it here or we expected to get here. So with that, I think we have a confidence about our team that is a healthy confidence. Respecting who we're playing, and at the same time knowing that we're a good basketball team.
Q. Aaron and Kaleb, I'm curious what you think you need to do to prevent Kaminsky, number 44, and Hayes, number 10, from having a significant effect on the game on Saturday?
KALEB TARCZEWSKI: Kaminsky's a great player. We've watched a little film on him before. He's one of those rare players that's a 5 that pops out and shoots threes. Like Coach always says, we're going to do what we do. We're going to lock down on our defensive principles. We still have a little game planning to figure out. We're going to do what we do, play our defense and we'll be fine.
AARON GORDON: Yeah, what's different about them is they're very solid shooters. So our on?ball defense isn't going to be any different. We're just going to need to find them and get out to them quickly. Another thing that we need to do is we need to make them defend. If we can get them out of a rhythm on defense, maybe it will throw them off rhythm on offense as well.
Q. Coach Miller, can you talk a little bit about that Wisconsin style of basketball that kind of Dick Bennett made famous back at Stevens Point, Bo Ryan at Platteville, and now Bo at Wisconsin? What makes that style of basketball, even Tony Bennett at Virginia now, what makes that style of basketball so difficult to play against and beat?
COACH MILLER: Well, number one is they don't beat themselves. Historically, Wisconsin, under Bo Ryan, leads the nation or is at the top or close to the top in terms of turnovers. Even us last night, one of the reasons that we're here today is we turned the ball over seven times against a team that's known for turning you over in San Diego State.
Wisconsin historically they can play the game, a 5 or fewer, always seem to be under 10. They don't beat themselves. You listen to these guys talk about the three?point line. To me, the best part of Wisconsin's offense is their ability to shot fake. They get you up. That leads to drives. Drives lead to threes and fouls, and easy twos. As much as anything, the discipline of our defense staying down on fakes, staying down on shot fakes, not being so caught up in challenging the three?point line that we give that up.
But it's equal discipline on defense and offense. I think the other unbelievable stat for Wisconsin is they never foul, historically each year low turnovers. They foul the fewest of any team in the country sometimes. So they don't beat themselves. They're very disciplined. They really understand their culture, and I think their system. You hear Kaleb say we want to do what we do. Wisconsin is the same. They believe in their style and they do it well.
Q. Aaron and Coach, you guys are the last Pac?12 team standing. Just wanted to get your thoughts on where you think the conference is and what the national perception is?
AARON GORDON: I think we had six teams that got into the NCAA tournament, which is outstanding. I think that was probably more than any other conference. So from that standpoint, second most, but that's still outstanding. I think from that standpoint, respect should be earned. UCLA was right there in the Sweet Sixteen as well as Stanford. Oregon actually gave Wisconsin a real tough game. It's a really deep, talented conference.
COACH MILLER: This was my fifth year coaching, in first the Pac?10 and now the Pac?12. It was by far the deepest. We have coaches in our conference that inherited programs a few years ago. Larry Krystkowiak from Utah comes to mind. And just thinking about where he's brought that program in a short period of time. One of the keys from our conference isn't just who is at the top, but how solid the middle and bottom have become.
Like Aaron mentioned, to have six teams in postseason in the NCAA tournament and then you have a few more in the NIT, you have a deep conference and I think one that is only going to get better as we move forward.
Q. Nick and Sean, Traevon Jackson is playing particularly well this tournament. Can you talk about the match?up and maybe the unique set of problems he presents?
NICK JOHNSON: He's a top player. It seems he does everything for their team. When they need a big shot, he steps up and hits it. He's been playing great throughout the whole season, especially these last few games. I mean, T.J. did a great job on Thames yesterday.
So he'll start on him and probably myself and Gabe and Jordin will all find some time on him. So just try to make his job hard. He's a big guard. Likes to play bully ball a little bit, so just staying in front of him and making his job hard.
COACH MILLER: Yeah, Traevon, to me, in way he's kind of Wisconsin's heart and soul, just kind of watching him. He makes big shots. Any player that you start saying makes big shots, I think it says a lot about his own personal confidence. He's a physical, strong guy. I think that helps their team both on offense and on defense. He's kind of that prototypical Wisconsin point guard that wasn't as highly recruited, but develops, it seems like, each year that they're in the system. But they have a way of really growing under Coach Ryan's leadership. It seems they come in the door one person, and when they leave, they're among the best in the game or the best in the Big Ten. We certainly think that he's one of those types of point guards. Which respect him a great deal.
Q. Coach, you called last night's game the most physical, toughest game you've played all season. You have a short turnaround. How concerned are you about just the toll that game might have taken in getting your guys ready to play again?
COACH MILLER: Not at all. Our guys have had quick turnarounds. If you watched our championship game in the Pac?12 tournament against UCLA, to me that was one of the great games of the season, high level of talent, lot of scoring, a fast?paced, players on both teams making big plays. It wasn't as physical rebounding as last night's game, but I would put it in that category.
Because of that, our guys are battle tested. They're used to it. They're young. I think all of them would say if you have a hard time getting up for this game to play for the Final Four, there is probably something wrong with you. I don't look at us as having any problem on a turnaround. We're healthy right now and looking forward to today and tomorrow.
Q. Nick and T.J., so much focus in college basketball on freshmen coming in. What did you guys expect of your freshman class before the season and specifically with Aaron, how did he establish himself with your team? What did he do to make an impact quickly?
T.J. McCONNELL: You know, I knew that our freshmen were going to make a huge impact this season, but the thing we love most about them is they came in highly touted. They kind of just threw their ranking out the door and said, I have to work for my minutes. I have to work for my spot. That's what we respect most about Aaron, Rondae and Elliott. All three of them did it. They've worked extremely hard this season and deserve everything they've done.
NICK JOHNSON: Yeah, just same thing. They came in with a mindset that not a lot of freshmen have, especially as highly touted as Aaron was, just coming in ready to work, willing to listen to us. I mean, it showed throughout the season. I mean, he's had a great year. Been playing great as of late. Same with Rondae. He's really been a huge part of our team over these past five, six games. He's really picked up his play.
Q. Gabe and Nick, is Wisconsin a team that's on your radar screen at all during the season, or are you just being introduced to them now?
NICK JOHNSON: I actually have been watching them for a while. One of my family friends, Ryan Evans actually played there. So I've known them. Ryan had come to Tucson a few times. I mean, he's a Badger at heart, so he always talks about them and stuff like that. So I've seen them throughout the season. I'm very familiar with their game, so, yeah.
GABE YORK: I mean, pretty much the same thing. I watch a lot of college basketball, and I've seen them whenever they play on TV and also in the NCAA tournament. I've seen them play really well. Like Coach Miller said, they don't deviate from what they do well, and that's what makes them such a great team.
Q. On McConnell's steal from Polee, what was your route to the basket? Where were you? Did you see it happen?
NICK JOHNSON: Yeah, T.J. knocked it away from Winston, and he dove on the ground. I saw Gabe kind of running, I think T.J. bounced it to him. I mean, we've had that play happen many times this season. Gabe kind of dropped it back to me. I mean, I had a nice little lay?up down the middle of the lane. It was a great play by T.J., great hustle play to get his hand in there, dive on the floor and get the ball. Just a great presence of mind by Gabe just to give me an easy basket.
Q. Kaleb, you had some foul trouble in the game last night, and Coach talked about how they like to shot fake it all. Are you going to approach this game a little differently?
KALEB TARCZEWSKI: You know, last night I definitely was in foul trouble. It's just about being smart and playing our defense, sticking to our defensive principles. We watched a little film on them, and we had a little edit about their shot fakes. It seemed like they make everyone jump for them, really just staying down. Like I said, playing our defense and we should be fine.
Q. Coach Miller and T.J., this is the only one?two match?up we'll see in the Elite Eight. Are you happy in some sense that you're going to take the number 2 seed to get into the lead into the Final Four?
T.J. McCONNELL: You know, any team we play in the Elite Eight is going to be tough. But a team like Wisconsin is going to be very hard. It doesn't matter what seed we play, it's going to be a tough game so we're going to have to be ready.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now take questions for Coach Miller.
COACH MILLER: I think in many ways the seed is thrown out in the tournament. I really felt that when we played Weber State. I watched more games of Weber State than maybe any team we played all year. The more I watched them the worse it got for me in terms of really looking and saying not only are they very well?coached, they had two really good post players. They had Big Sky Player of the Year as a perimeter player. They had a number of players on the perimeter that could shoot threes. So you have to play well yourself. The more you get caught up in who you're playing, the worse it is. No question, we know Wisconsin is one of the teams a long time ago that established themselves as a team that could be a Final Four team and here they are. But for us, it's so much about doing the things that got us here in tomorrow's game and doing them as well as we have all year. If we do that, we'll have a chance. If we don't, they're disciplined. They're good, and the game is going to be a great game.
Q. You talk about playing your pack line defense, did that come straight from Dick, or did you have other influences?
COACH MILLER: It came from my dad who played it, but my dad's influence, no question was Dick Bennett. And I think all coaches that study man?to?man defense have to look at what he's done. You watch Tony Bennett, and I know that Bo Ryan has a lot of those types of qualities as a defensive team. But we have a lot of those principles.
Then like everything you do, you put your own personality on it. Sometimes we have maybe more athleticism or not as big of size, so we tried to adjust. But a lot of our basic fundamental principles started with how Dick Bennett taught defense a while back.
Q. Coach, just looking at your coaching staff, Damon Stoudamire is your longest tenured assistant. What would it mean to not only get to a Final Four yourself, but do it with him? Also, do you remember when that relationship started?
COACH MILLER: Well, I think Emanuel Richardson came on board after, I believe, our second year at Xavier. His first year with us we went to the Elite Eight against UCLA. They're a great team of Kevin Love. We lost in Phoenix, and together, we've had a good run, no question about it.
As a head coach, sometimes you get too much credit and too much blame. We have an outstanding coaching staff. Nothing makes you prouder than when those guys leave and become head coaches on their own. As you know, you have my brother at Dayton, Chris Mack at Xavier, James Whitford who just finished his first year at Ball State, and I think I have a number of guys on my staff right now who will one day be head coaches. Joe Pasternack, Avery Stoudamire.
But we all work together. A night like last night with the quick turnaround, you don't get much sleep. You're all in it working together, and I feel like we've been doing that almost for six consecutive months. So it's always rewarding when you win, because we all benefit. In a way we're our own family.
Q. Could you see T.J. 15, 20 years from now sitting there, coaching his own team?
COACH MILLER: No doubt about it. I also believe that T.J. has a chance to play in the NBA. I don't think that he'll be an NBA starting point guard, but there's not a doubt in my mind that if he adds this off?season to what he's already done, that he's going to be in the mix to be that player who is a career back?up. But he's going to make some money playing this game first. That's what I always tell him, and that's why we try to set the bar high for him, because as evidenced by in last night's game, think about what he did defensively, how much he meant to our team offensively. He's the engine that makes us go.
But when it all stops, I think there will be a fight to add him to coaching staffs. He has all the qualities that you want on the other side. His family, the McConnell family, Kathy, Suzy, his dad Tim, they're a basketball family, and T.J. really embodies that.
Q. Apologize if you've been asked something about Bo a little bit before. But I was just kind of curious what is your level of respect for how enduring he has been? There have been stories about how guys or fellow coaches are watching some of his practices to pick up some principles and stuff like that, and how old school he is. Can you talk a little about him?
COACH MILLER: I would use the word admiration. I admire him. He can tell you my relationship with him is somewhat different. He was a college coach and I was a young kid and that's when we were first introduced from my dad as a high school coach. But just the consistency that Wisconsin wins at, faces changing, but that style year?in and year?out being the same. You have to admire their program. They're among college basketball's elite. For myself, our program to be facing them, knowing that one of us will win, it's always bitter when you lose. But if it happens, it will be nice to see him take that next step because he's one of the great coaches in our game, for sure.
Q. It was almost weird looking at his?? if you didn't know a lot about Wisconsin, you'd almost assume he's been to a Final Four before because of how successful he's been. Is it surprising to you that that he still hasn't been there yet and he has a chance to go here now, not that he has a chance?? but he hasn't had one yet.
COACH MILLER: It's hard to get to a Final Four. Lute Olson has told me time and time again in and one of the things I try to do is look at the history of our program. But our program under Coach Olson has been to four Final Fours. That translated into one National Championship. But the more pivotal and I think the more respectful thing to think about when you think about Coach Olson's time at Arizona, is you could make the argument that he competed for a National Championship or a Final Four maybe 15 times, 12 times. Where the seed they had, how deep they got into the tournament, and yet the one National Championship team wasn't nearly as talented as some others, wasn't as expected to get there as others. The ball has to bounce a certain way. We've seen it in this tournament all the time.
You can be really good and not make it, both as a coach, a team and a player. All of us, I think, as coaches take more of a big picture. When you look at the success in the Big Ten, the numbers of wins, all the things that are maybe more meaningful, he's certainly one of the best coaches in our game.
Q. Coach, when you're scouting Wisconsin, is there a player that you begin with? Does it start with Kaminsky? Who does it begin with?
COACH MILLER: I think you have to start with Kaminsky because he's so unique. He's such a skilled player facing the basket as a center. He's not like a 6'7" undersized center. He's a 7?foot skilled center. First Team All Big Ten player. No matter what team you watch him play against, he's a tough match?up. He's going to be a tough match?up for us tomorrow.
I think for us, we can't lose our mind. If he makes a couple threes. We can win the game and he could have a good game. Our objective isn't to shut him out. I think that would be asking too much. But you have to have a game plan in place to know that he's on the perimeter and he can really hurt you. He's in the low post and he can really hurt you.
Obviously, you have to make him play defense as well. They have a lot of other very good players. Dekker is very athletic, very versatile at the forward. We've already talked about Jackson. Brust, I don't know if there is a better shooter that we've faced all year. But Kaminsky is that really hard match?up.
Q. Kind of a memory lane question here for you. In the year you were on the Wisconsin staff with Stu, Jackson, and Stan, were there things about the profession that you learned in that year that's helped and do you still keep in touch with guys like Stu and Stan today?
COACH MILLER: Yes, all of us are a product of that initial opportunity. Wisconsin with Stu Jackson was my initial opportunity, but Ray McCallum and Stan Van Gundy were part of that staff with Stu. The amount of time I spent withstand Van Gundy I laugh to this day. Him and I didn't share a room in the Howard Johnson, but it felt like we did. We probably worked 16 hours a day, 12 hours a day for four or five months doing everything. That was my introduction to the other side of college basketball. But that and then being in the Big Ten at a time when Bob Knight was at Indiana, the fab five was at Michigan.
You know, it was a great conference then, and to be a young coach watching the different styles and the way each program did things was a really good launching pad for me and an opportunity that I'll never forget.
I'll also never forget the first time I was driving into work about 7:30 in the morning. Born and raised in Pittsburgh and I looked out on the lake and I saw a bunch of fires, camp fires on the lake. I had to pull over and say is that really a fire on the lake. I guess I was welcome to a Wisconsin winter that you could burn a million fires on that lake, but it was frozen so thick, it was ice fishing. They were camping out, going on vacations.
But the cold of that winter, wow, I can still remember it. It's a little bit like the opposite in Tucson. You have the beauty of the winter. We certainly have four months or five months that are much different, that's for sure.
Q. Do you still come up and ice fish a little?
COACH MILLER: No, no, that lake has always scared me since that point. Both of them. Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. I can remember.
Q. How much have you changed the culture there? We all remember the Arizona teams that had great athletes and ran up and down the floor. You still have the great athletes, but you're more defensive?oriented and you've kind of added defense. Do you think you've changed the culture there? Did you feel you had to do that?
COACH MILLER: I don't know if I've changed the culture. One of the thing that's we're grateful for is the unbelievable tradition that was already in place. Part of why we've risen back in college basketball is the brand of Arizona basketball. When you think of Arizona basketball, you think of the great teams. You think of Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott. You think of Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, and I could go on and on and on. Jason Terry and Damon Stoudamire. So, so many great things were in place. So I think you'll see it tomorrow, the following that we have is second to none. With that when you're the coach, it's not about doing things new, as much as doing things excellent through your own personality and making sure first and foremost that we always honor the past.
I believe that's been a big part of it where we're really connected to everything that's happened before moving forward. When I came here, that was one of our goals as a staff, and I believe we've done that as much as anything well. I love it when former players are in the stand. Jason Terry was in the stands watching us and Stoudamire and Joseph Blair was part of our coaching staff. So I think it's that connection from the past to the future that makes us powerful.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Coach.