UCONN TALKS ABOUT VICTORY OVER MSU
March 31, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
Connecticut – 60
Michigan State – 54
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from Coach, and then take questions for the student?athletes.
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: It was just a great game plan. Our players, our student?athletes executed the game plan perfectly. My coaching staff came up with a great design out there and the defense was amazing. It was great to get off to a great start, and we wanted to fight. We wanted to throw the first punch and I think we did that. At the end of the first half we had a lull, and then in the second half we turned it on.
It started with ball pressure with Ryan Boatright picking up, then everybody denying Harris, because Harris got off on us the second half. And we started having our attention there. Shabazz did a great job, and then our bigs did an exceptional job. Phil Nolan came in and give us huge minutes. DeAndre was on the string and then didn't let Dawson go off any.
It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift. And we're going to unwrap it again and we're going down to Texas.
We're going to see where it takes us. We play a great Florida team and we're going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys' heart, and that's what got us through, it was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion and I love these guys.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the student?athletes.
Q. Shabazz, Michigan State was up nine, they got off to a quick start in the second half. You then hit that three and it just seemed like you got a lot more aggressive there. You got to the line and started that 12?0 run. Was that your mindset when after Coach called that timeout with Michigan State up nine?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Coach told to us keep our composure. They made their run and it was time for us to make ours. And when Coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I got to be more aggressive, and I got to open shots when my teammates got me the ball and we just kept running. And guys were just making shots. Guys were just feeling the intensity that the fans were bringing, and we just were fortunate enough to get the W.
Q. Shabazz, you guys have won a lot of games in this building, what does it mean to your program to win a game like this here at the Garden, which pretty much turned into a home game for you guys today?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, it's kind unfair. We come here and we plant a lot of seeds here. And our fans come here and as we always say, it's like our third home. So we feel real comfortable here, and I'm glad we were not too far away from Madison Square Garden, the mecca of basketball. It's exciting to play here. We feel the intensity from our crowd. We feel the intensity just from the overwhelming sensation when you first walk in here. It's just a special feeling to continue to create our history and win games here.
Q. For Shabazz and Boat, what are your recollections of that Florida game? They have only lost two games all year, one was to you guys. What do you remember about that game and what are your thoughts playing them again?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: From that game I just remember a lot of scrambling on defense. We were helping each other. Coach showed us the tape before we started winning these games, we got back together and that tape is crazy. We were everywhere, we were helping each other, we were closing out right and we were rebounding the basketball. So when we got to go out there and play them, we got to play great defense.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Same, it was great defense on our part. It was a dogfight, a tough game, and it came down to one last shot. And I expect it to be the same, a dogfight. And Coach is going to get us prepared for this game and let's get down there and do our thing.
Q. Talk about the foul late foul on Appling and how hard of a foul was it. And were you thinking that you could draw that foul?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, he was kind of thinking I was going to go to the basket, and I just felt comfortable. I hit a shot before and I felt comfortable shooting it. When I shot the ball, he hit my wrist and which made me air ball it. So at the end of the day I thought it was a great call.
He thought I was going to penetrate, but I felt like it was an open shot, and I was fortunate enough to take the shot and he fouled me. So I just stepped to the free throw line and just knocked the free throws down.
Q. Shabazz, I believe you Niels and Tyler are the first UCONN players to go to two Final Fours. Did you think something like that was possible after what happened last couple of years?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: It was quite funny because Tyler always pulled me and Niels to the side and always said, he wants to be the?? he want us to be the first players in the University to get to the Final Four. And at the time when he said it, I just meant like that's going to be real hard. It's going to be definitely difficult. And for it to be right here, for us to have the opportunity to play in the Final Four, it's a special feeling.
Of course we didn't want to think too far ahead. Like I always say, I want to stay focused on what's in front of me. And we're fortunate enough to play at Madison Square Garden and win, and we're just going to keep moving on.
Q. DeAndre, I wanted to ask you a little bit about how meaningful is it to go back to Texas, where you guys have won National Championships before. The last two that you won have come in the State of Texas. Now you get to go back to Dallas to do it where you guys haven't won there before.
DeANDRE DANIELS: It means a lot. First of all, it just means a lot just to win here in Madison Square Garden in front of all our fans. But just going back to Dallas, we definitely have a great feeling, because we took the trip, when we were in Dallas, we went to the stadium and looked around, and we told ourselves we're going to get here. We just got to keep working. That's what we did.
Q. Follow?up with DeAndre, you were talking yesterday, you kind of played off the whole matchup with Dawson. Can you just talk about how things went in the paint today and how you guys were able to shut down Branden Dawson.
DeANDRE DANIELS: I just wanted to limit his post?up touches, and it was just a great game plan that we had from our coaching staff. And I just wanted to keep him off the offensive rebounds, and that was our main focus.
Q. For Shabazz, you got hit with that foul in the second half where you went out of the game. It looked like it was a blood rule situation. Talk about what happened. And what was your sense of urgency with the training staff to get you back out on the court?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, I was trying to go for the steal. He wasn't looking and I kind of tipped it, and he was going to the ball and then he went to go push me away, and just so happened to hit me in my face, in my nose. It just started bleeding. It's part of the game, I didn't think he did it on purpose.
And I just told, like I always tell you guys we have one of the best athletic trainers there is, James Doran, he always gets things done the right way. And he felt like I didn't need to have a little tube in my nose, and I didn't want the tube in my nose either. So I just went back out there. He just told me if I was ready to go back out there, and I said, yeah.
Q. For Ryan, what was the scouting report going in in terms of what they wanted you to do on the defensive end, especially in terms of just being so aggressive? How hard is that sometimes knowing that you might give up some shots but you're going to ultimately force so many turnovers?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: They tell me all the time that I'm the defensive stopper for the point guards. So I take pride in my defense, picking them up 94 feet, the entire length of the floor. Even if I can't pick a steal, just turning them and turning them and getting them uncomfortable so they can't run the offense so smoothly, it just helps the team.
So even though my shots weren't falling today, I was just trying to do ?? as long as I was on the floor, I was going to do something to impact the game and today it was the defense.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll excuse you to the locker room and take questions for Coach.
Q. I asked a listener about you last Sunday, I said what about Kevin Ollie? He said, well, he stepped into a basketball powerhouse situation. And I said, no, you got to give him credit, I think. Because you can't just step into anything and take it for granted. Can you respond to that.
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: You can't take it for granted. I thank Coach for giving me this opportunity. I knew what I had, though. I had faith in my players, I had a great coaching staff, two of my coaches coached me and got head coach experience, and my belief in God. I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way. And I thank Him for this opportunity. I thank Coach for always being there. I thank my AD and my president, that gave me an opportunity and signed me for that one?year deal and then extended me during the season and their faith in me.
I just want to make these kids better people. If we can do that and win a National Championship on the way, that's good.
Q. Kevin, what did you say to Jim after the game? And was there ever any time when you were first taking over that you had any self doubts about your ability to come through like you have.
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: It's always in the back of your mind and thinking about certain things, is this the right job? Should I stay in the NBA? You have those thoughts going on in your mind. But at the end of the day I wanted to be close to my family and I wanted to come back to my second family, which is my UCONN family. And just to be around Coach all the time and him believing in me, even before this coaching thing, even as a 17 year old and believing in me that I could be a point guard. And passing up on a lot of guards to have me come way from Los Angeles to Connecticut is like unbelievable. And he always believed in me from day one. And I thank him to death for it. And that's what I told him in his ear. "Thank you for believing in me."
And you know what, I can do this job, but I need a lot of help. It's not just a one?man show. That's why I got a great coaching staff, that's why I got great players, and that's why I want to just keep forging on and keep building. Don't lay on your success. Keep building on your success. I think we're doing that and we are going to enjoy a trip to Texas again.
Q. Curious, what was going through your mind when you reached the top of the ladder? It looked like were you having a great time with the fans there. What was that like for you?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: That was just a great experience. It's a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time. One step at a time. And that's what you got to do to get up top of the ladder. You can't skip no steps. And the last two years we didn't skip no steps. We took one step at a time. I he keep telling you that and that's what it's all about.
Guys believe. They didn't get out of their roles and they believe in each other, and we call it something called Level Five and that's a championship mentality, and if we can have Level Five all the time, and not only on the basketball court, in the classroom, too, we're going to be fine.
That's what we try to strive for each and every day to have that Level Five and play for one another and play this game the right way. The right way is believing in what's on your chest, on your chest and not what's on your back. We don't play for what's on the back of our jersey, we play for what's on the front. And it's a great, great school that's on the front.
We got a lot of great fans out there and we got a lot of great student?athletes that came through UCONN. You can see everybody come back Andre Drummond, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Richard Hamilton, even players that you don't even know in the NBA. It's a big family. And that's what Coach created and I'm glad he passed me the baton, and I'm just trying to run on it and try to still create that environment, because it's all about family with UCONN.
Q. Talk about the physicality of the game. Coach Izzo was up here earlier, Big?10 is known to be a physical conference, so was the Big East. Talk about two guys that are hardly ever up there on the stage but knowing the job they did down low in asserting their physicality.
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: They did a wonderful job. Yes, Big?10 is known for that, but American Conference is known for it, too. And we got our American flag waving out our window going down to Texas. And we're going to keep it up high, and we're going to keep playing the right basketball.
We're physical, too. Don't get it mixed up. We are predators out there. And we're going to go in and we're going to do a great job. We're going to not only use our physicality with our muscle, we're going to use our physicality with our mind. I think that's what we did tonight. When they were physical, we played the right type of game. We made hard cuts, we were going downhill, we shared the basketball. And then when we get up to the free?throw line, that's our toughness.
It don't have to be a wrestling match. We use our toughness mentally. I think we put on the board "concentration and mental toughness", and that's what we had today. Because concentration, if you go 18?for?18 in the second half, you got to be mentally tough. And that's what we have been doing if you've been watching us. And we get up to that free?throw line, we knock them down.
Q. You stressed the importance of shutting down State in the paint. Your players alluded to a plan. Can you talk about what the plan was? And also if you could comment on the advantage that Madison Square Garden seemed to be for your players in terms of keeping their energy level going.
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: Madison Square Garden is a great place. I don't care if you ?? now from here whenever I walked in here in the NBA, and it was a great place to play. To come in here and have all our fans here. And don't discredit Michigan State; their fans were here, too. So they had some loud fans, too.
It was a great opportunity for us to get a win, but at the end of the day we are playing against Michigan State. The fans can't come down and stick Adreian Payne. Fans can't box out Branden Dawson. Our players have to do that. But they do give us the energy when we get down, we got back up. We got down by 10 or 11 or something in the second half, and in unison they stood up and you can feed off that energy.
Our game plan was simple: We wanted to hit first. Everybody was kind of picturing them as the giant, and we didn't want to wait for the giant. We wanted to go meet our giant. And that's what we did the first half, we met our giant and we played basketball.
Q. I was just curious, Ryan said something about you showing them the tape of the Florida game. Where did that happen, like was that by design you wanted to show them something or was that of before the Tournament started?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: It was by design. We did that after the Louisville game, when we lost by I think 31. I don't even want to remember that. But it was a great transition for us. It was a down time. In down times what you do is you bond together as brothers. And you hold that fist up. And that FIST always for us is “Fight”. It's our “Identity”, that's the I. And the S is “State” and then the T is “Together”. And that's what we always hold that fist in every time we bring it in. That's what we did.
I just wanted to show them, you know, Florida was No. 1 and we can beat No. 1. We have already proved it. And I wanted to show them their intensity on the defensive end. The offensive end we were sharing the ball, and that's what it is. Life is filled with ups and downs, and Louisville was a down for us. Actually, it promoted us. That's what the down times do if you don't give up, it is your promotion. And we had a great destiny and this is our destiny. And it's not stopped yet and we're going to love this journey down to Texas. And we're going to see what happens against them.
But I love Billy Donovan, what he does with his program and he's just an amazing coach. And their team is amazing and it's going to take 40 full again. And that's kind of been our mantra throughout this tournament.
Q. Going into this game it looked like Michigan State had a couple of matchup problems that they might be able to exploit with Payne and Dawson inside, but that turned out not to be the case. What was your game plan for those two and how you made it work?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: We were going to do our work early. If Payne got the ball in the paint, we were going to double with Dawson, off of Dawson, go big to big. That's what we did a couple times, but most of the time Phillip Nolan did a great job fronting him, making his job easy. DeAndre did a great job and then we rebounded with them.
Our biggest key was getting back in transition. We didn't do that once they made their run, and Harris started hitting some trey balls in the corner, but we started getting back, started covering the threes, and then our second key was limiting them to no second?chance points. And to hold a great offensive rebounding team like that, a big, stout team I believe to seven offensive rebounds, six offensive rebounds, was great for us.
That was our game plan. We were just wanted to play with effort, enthusiasm and energy. And the team that plays with that and the team that's the toughest is going to win the game. And that's what we put on the board, the team that's toughest is going to win the game. And I'm glad we won.
Q. Quickly, a couple of things: One, is could you elaborate a little bit more on Level Five. And then secondly, is there a flip side to playing in front of a home crowd like today in the respect that guys getting too up, too energetic? And do you have to contain that at all?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: I talk about the Madison Square Garden person. That's the exactly right. I had to make sure we understood that we just left Memphis, and them Memphis had almost 17,000, we maybe had 2,000 or something like that. And we beat them twice there, one in the regular season and one in the conference championship. So we had to understand it's not about home?court advantage, it's about you winning your individual battle and then collectively as a group winning it as a team. I thought we did that.
I told them it was just a basketball game, which I truly believe. We got to go out and beat Michigan State. It's not about me and Izzo; we're not playing. It's about those players, not just running plays, making plays. That's what we tried to do and it's a great journey and we're on this journey, and I have so much pride in my university. And I'm glad to see UCONN going to the Final Four again.
Q. As a young coach could you just talk about how much respect you have for that senior streak at Michigan State that ended tonight, where every senior class had been to at least one Final Four. It ended tonight. And how much respect do you have for? That and does it take a little extra toughness to beat a Michigan State team?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: It definitely takes toughness to beat them. That's what their identity is. That's what our identity is. They get more physical and they get more battle tested in the Tournament. Izzo teams always turn up the intensity in the Tournament and they did it tonight. They did it today. We just matched them and then we upped them one. And I keep telling our guys, we're a part of the One More Club. We want to do one more thing than our opponent. If that's one more rebound, that's one more 50/50 ball. If you win the game, you just have to score one more point than Michigan State. That's it. And we did it tonight and I'm so proud of our guys.
With their streak of the four seniors, being there as seniors, every senior's been to a Final Four, that's a great streak. Streaks are made to be broken sometimes. I'm glad UCONN broke that streak tonight, but today I have an utmost respect for Michigan State and Tom Izzo, the job he's doing and what he continues to do. That school personifies what a student?athlete is supposed to be, and that coach personifies what a coach is supposed to do for his players. And I could learn a lot from Coach Izzo, like I can learn a lot from Coach Calhoun and Rick Pitino, all these coaches, Larry Brown, that I get a chance to coach against, just see how they do it on a day?to?day basis.
I'm a young coach, but I believe in myself and I believe in my team and my coaching staff. And we can get through this.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.