Kentucky Advances to Second Straight Elite 8
March 26, 2011
For the second time in three games, Brandon Knight saved his best for last, knocking down the game-winning bucket with five seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 62-60 upset of top-ranked Ohio State. The victory sent Kentucky to its second-straight Elite 8.
Josh Harrellson continued his postseason mastery, notching his third double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) in postseason play and his eighth this season. He also blocked three shots.
DeAndre Liggins was the only other Wildcat in double-figures, posting an NCAA Tournament careerbest 15 points. Liggins also added six rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Terrence Jones finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Kentucky Press Conference
MODERATOR: Joined right now by Head Coach John Calipari. The University of Kentucky student-athletes Josh Harrellson, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. We'll ask Coach Calipari for the opening statement.
COACH John Calipari: First we are sitting here, DeAndre (Liggins) should be up here. I don't even know who I will start this next game, so I guess these are five starters from last game. Obviously DeAndre has been as big a player for what's happened for our team, but he will be in the locker room for anybody to talk to.
Q. Josh, do you remember any particular problems that Tyler Zeller and John Henson created for you in the first game in Chapel Hill? And if so, did you learn anything that you feel could be effective in this rematch?
Josh Harrellson: Yeah, they create a lot of problems for me. You know, Tyler Zeller, he scored a lot on me. He got me in foul trouble. So hopefully I am going to just try to stay out of foul trouble, play big and play like I did last night. Just play strong and just try to outwork him.
Q. For Coach Calipari: Can you speak about the level of trust and communication a coach needs to have in his point guard in general, and then how you have achieved so much to that end with Brandon in such a short amount of time relatively?
COACH John Calipari: Well, the trust has to be two ways, you know. I really have to trust their mentality, which is team first, and they have to trust that I'm going to put them in a good position for our team and them as an individual player.
And then there's just a lot of coaching, a lot of talking. I mean, of these players right now, if I said, who have I been the hardest on this year, raise your hand. They would all raise their hand (laughter). And I would tell you, and if they said that I am not hard on one, they probably would say Brandon, and I'd think I am harder on him than these other guys.
But you have to be fair with them. And you have respect one another. Respect their work, what they're trying to do, and then you just do a whole lot of coaching to try to get them to where you are trying to get them to go. Trust is two ways, you have to trust them and they have to trust you.
Q. Brandon, can you give me an idea of how often Coach fills your mind with thoughts of Derrick (Rose) and Tyreke (Evans) and John Wall and what those conversations might entail, and whether you think you have to reach a certain standard to satisfy a guy who's coached a lot of good players --
Brandon Knight: He doesn't talk much about those guys. Once in a while he might mention something they did to help themselves, but he really talks about all of his past players, how they listened to him, how they got better just to show each and every one of us that if we listen, if we buy into the team aspect and buy in our roles, that we can win games, win a lot of games together.
Q. This question is for Coach Calipari, and if I could adjust it for you, Brandon: Coach, what kind of mentality does Brandon have? Is he a gamer, I guess, looking at when he struggles in a game, he still has the confidence to hit that shot? And I guess for Brandon after Coach answers, is that something, is that a quality that you have always had? Or have you built or grown into it having that confidence even when you are struggling to know that you can make that shot?
COACH John Calipari: First of all, he is one of the most conscientious, hard-working players that I have been around. Will be in the gym at 11:00 at night. Will be in the training room icing his knees or his legs at 6:00 in the morning. Academically, got mad, a 91, what class did you get a test, a 91?
Brandon Knight: Sociology.
COACH John Calipari: Still got an A but he is mad. Conscientious. So he feels that he will make that shot. And more importantly, why I put the ball in his hands, he is not afraid to miss it. If you really want to be that guy, you have no fear if I miss this shot, I miss it. I am not afraid to miss this shot. Life will not end. And so I feel comfortable putting it in his hands because I know of his work ethic. I know how much time he spends, so do his teammates. They know the time he spends.
Brandon Knight: It is kind of something that has been kind of built up with hard work. Just building confidence, being in the gym a lot. Like Coach said, I have a problem missing the shots, but once you work a ton and you are put in that situation a lot it kind of builds up. Early in this season I had a chance to win the game against Florida; I missed it. I had a chance to win the game against Arkansas and I missed it. So it is just something that you kind of you live and die with. Sometimes.
COACH John Calipari: Alabama, too. (Laughter.)
Q. John, can you compare the challenges North Carolina presents tomorrow with the challenges they presented when you played them in the regular season?
COACH John Calipari: Roy's just done a fabulous job. I mean, they're flying up and down that court. They're throwing that thing ahead. Their bigs are flying. Marshall is finding everything. Barnes is way better. McDonald now is now making open shots and threes. Strickland is getting to the rim like he is. Knox is better, Henson is better, Zeller is scoring 28 a game and 12 rebounds in the Tournament. Think about that. They are playing great basketball and it's going to be a very difficult game for us. It will be a hard game.
Q. For Terrence and Brandon and Doron: Jared Sullinger announced he will come back next year for his sophomore year. I wonder what you guys think of that. Is that good for college basketball to have the top freshmen say they will come back? And does that influence you at all to maybe all want to come back next year or depend on how this year ends?
Terrence Jones: Really I am just having fun in this. I don't know about what he said. That's his decision and that's a good decision since he felt he could take his team farther. And it's just a decision he made.
Brandon Knight: Right now, you know, I know all of us are student-athletes. We are focused on being student-athletes first. So we are just -- I am enjoying the time that I'm having here, and you know loving the college experience.
Doron Lamb: I am just having fun playing with these teammates and playing with Coach. I just want to have fun. I'll be back next year, so I can't be worried about leaving.
Q. For Brandon and Terrence: What do you guys remember about the last couple of minutes against North Carolina, the execution, sort of just the sense of -- that was a really tight game obviously, you struggled with it early. And compared to last night, are you more relaxed in those situations now? Why do you think you are just more effective those situations than were you the first time?
Brandon Knight: If I can remember correctly, we didn't execute that great towards the end of the game with North Carolina, and that was early in the season. I think with a lot of repetition, with being placed in that situation a lot of times through SEC play, we got a lot better at it. And I feel that right now we're a better executing team when it comes down to ending games.
Q. For John and Darius: You guys have won your last nine games against teams that have played in some sort of postseason tournament, allowed 61 points a game. What has been the key of that defense change? And how effective do you have to be against a Carolina team that is very reliant on tempo?
COACH John Calipari: One of the things that's happened, and I told them before yesterday's game, I've always believed in this team. I liked this team from the beginning. And there was a time where I believed in guys more than they believed in themselves. And there was a time that I believed more about this team, in this team more than they believed in themselves. What happened the last nine games, they are starting to believe in themselves, and they are starting to believe in each other. Now you are seeing a swarming team that is covering for each other. We had 11 blocks. Are you kidding me? We had 11 blocks. Well, that's coming from the weak side. It was perimeter players blocking shots.
And again, we're doing what we have to defensively. Sometimes we're doubling down, sometimes we are scrambling from the guard, sometimes we are rotating. And sometimes we are switching. But I just believe they're buying into defense first. Can we, you know, guard North Carolina? I'm telling you, North Carolina is going to be hard. That may be a game we're trying to outscore them and they are trying to outscore us. Again, they haven't seen any tape. I have watched a little bit of tape to this point, and we still haven't totally decided on how we're playing some of the stuff, but they are good.
Q. Josh, you mentioned you wanted to play big and strong. Exactly what does that entail? And how might that apply against North Carolina with Zeller and Henson?
Josh Harrellson: Zeller is a seven-footer so I have to just try to play big. Like keep my hands high without fouling. Keep him away from the basket. Make it hard catches. Don't let him get easy looks. So I am just going to try to contain him the best I can. I know he's a great player, and that's going to be a hard match-up. But with a team effort, I think we'll be all right.
Q. John, how can North Carolina's length impact any game? And how much is that a factor?
COACH John Calipari: Well one, they can throw it inside and still get shots off. Zeller can really shoot the hook, the right jump hook that he shoots. It also affects some of our dribble-drive because you are driving into big guys. And last game they got a bunch of their transition came on us taking tough shots and they blocked them. Terrence had a tough night. I think were you 3-for-18? No?
Terrence Jones: 17.
COACH John Calipari: 17. And they had trouble getting those shots off, and that led to breakouts. So we have to figure out what we're going to do. But I will say it again, we're playing this time of the year, they are an outstanding club. We're playing as well as we played all year. I wish the game were today. Let's throw it up and start.
Q. Brandon, in the first game Larry Drew guarded you, he was in the game for 30 minutes, mostly on you. He is no longer with UNC. Is that a plus for you?
Brandon Knight: I am not sure if that is a plus or a minus. I am not sure who will be guarding me. But I don't really think it matters. My job is just to run the team and see what happens from there.
Q. For Coach, obviously when you guys met Carolina they had a different point guard. From what you have been able to see, can you speak to how Kendall Marshall has changed, if at all, the way that Carolina's offense runs? And whether he presents a different sort of challenge?
COACH John Calipari: I haven't watched a bunch of their games. The tapes that I've seen, they get the ball up the court in a hurry and he'll throw it ahead. He'll snake his way to the rim if you space out. On his drives, he can find people next to the goal. He can find three-point shooters. So he makes the game easy for his teammates. That's what he does. I didn't watch Larry enough to tell you if he was doing the same, he probably was. And I don't know that situation at all. But I saw Marshall in the summers and liked him. I thought man, this kid is really good. He is a really good player, a really good playmaker.
Q. Coach, would you comment on Josh's development from your first year at Kentucky. And then Josh, would you respond to what Coach says about your development.
COACH John Calipari: Josh went from the jokester, the prankster in practice to a guy that comes early and trains for 30 minutes before we start. And then works his butt off and encourages his team to work, versus pull back the practice. He has totally changed his body. He totally changed his approach to practice. He's totally changed his skill level. And what's happened is you see a different result. You see a player that's had as big an impact on college basketball as anybody right now. He has. And he has done it. It is not what I have done. It is not me coaching him up. He's changed. He did it. And what I am saying to our other players, only way you get a different result in the way you are playing, it's not me playing you different, me giving you more shots, make you different, it is you changing your habits, changing your mentality, changing your skill level that will change the result of how you're playing, and that's work. And there is nothing I can do for you. I can put you on the stage, but I am not out there acting, you have to do it.
Josh Harrellson: It is like Coach said. I just tried to change the approach. I changed my confidence level, changed my skill set. Like he said, changed my body. A totally different player. And I never thought that I would be the player that I am today. You know, it is a lot of hard work and a lot of determination to push through what I have been through, and I am just thankful. I thank God every day for what He has done for me and the places that He has put me in. And I am just so thankful for where I am and my teammates that were there to help me out in the running process and the conditioning I had to do, they helped me through it. They have been supportive since day one. And they had more confidence in me than I had in myself. And finally I am playing like I am capable of playing these last three weeks and hopefully can continue.
Q. I just want to talk about the history of these two programs. The fact that you have 105 wins for Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, you have 104. Can you talk about that and the match-up and the size of this.
COACH John Calipari: Most of us up here weren't there for many of those. (Laughter.) This is kind of like we got to 2,000 first and I think we were there for nine of them of the 2,000. So this, at this point, yes, the name's on the front, Kentucky-North Carolina, wow. The history of both of these programs, wow. But I don't think they are worried about that and I am certainly not. I know they are going against terrific players and I am going against a Hall of Famer. That's what I know. And I know the challenge of this.
But I am going to say this, I believe in my team. I really like my team. No disrespect for any other team in the country, I'm take my team. And so I don't think these guys are worried about, you know, whether it was Ohio State or North Carolina or Duke or Kansas, whoever it is. I mean, it's not past history. These guys only remember two or three years max.
Q. For John and Josh: Could you talk about how this team has become a tougher team mentally and physically? And John, do you think they now totally understand what you were telling them early in the season that they weren't as tough as you wanted?
COACH John Calipari: Well, we had to go to the punching bags. We had to go to toughness drills. What else did I do? We did all kinds of stuff. We put on boxing gloves, heavy bag. We had guys hurt their wrist hitting a heavy bag with a glove on. But what toughened us up is going on the road and losing and it meant something to these players. They didn't want to lose. Part of what happened is me trying to figure out this team. They're looking at me saying, you have got to give us a little bit more. It is a one-point game with 30 seconds to go, help us. And so as much as we needed to make a shot or make a play, it was me coming up with schemes and things that would make them more comfortable on the floor.
And to be honest, we've been together six months. You have got freshmen who are playing with three vets who weren't, quote, the guys a year ago. It is a new team. So I was trying to figure these guys out. And I will be honest with you, there are even times now where I am saying, is there a better way to do this, for them, to make it easier for them. I think losing those games, I think we lost six games on the road by 11 points. And, you know, people were writing us off. You know, they may not even make the NCAA Tournament. I thought what are you talking about? I have a heck of a team.
Josh Harrellson: Like what Coach said, we weren't tougher in the season, we let a lot of games slip away from us in the late-game situation. And we kind of turned that around. Won a couple of games at home and then went on the road to finish our road regular season off with a win at Tennessee. And from there we have just been playing the best basketball all of us can play. We all stepped our games up tremendously as I remember in the season and we are a terrific ballclub. And a lot of people were doubting us and I think we are proving a lot of people wrong.
Q. You guys were in this position last year with a different group of guys. What lessons can you take from that in terms of getting freshman ready to play a game of that magnitude besides not just missing the first 20 three-pointers.
COACH John Calipari: And the last 12 of the game before, which meant 32 straight threes, which has never happened in this tournament before.
You know, the experience that I have of coaching in this specific game, I talked to them about what this practice will be like and what it means to the game tomorrow. And how with the quick turn there's not a whole lot of things we can be doing here, except we have to zero in and really be focused and have sharp attention, so that we get something done in a short order. Don't want to use their legs out there, but we have to get stuff done.
As far as last year's team, it was totally different. Last year's team was not an execution team. We would bowl you over, we would outrun you. Get it up the court and get a basket and if we missed it, we'd tip it in or someone would kick to another guy and they'd drive it and try to dunk it. This is a different team. Yet obviously just as effective, but just different.
So we are in a great frame of mind. Last year's team was, too. But I think this team has a little different bounce to it. But we're again playing against an unbelievably talented, well-coached opponent with great size, great guard skills, that shoots the ball. I mean, they just don't have a whole lot of weaknesses.
Q. John, when you look at this team this year, looking back on it now, what was the biggest challenge you faced? Was it the same challenge you thought it would be when the year started?
COACH John Calipari: You know, I had to look back. I am just kind of looking forward here. But if you ask me what it was, it would be how quickly can we get these freshman ready to compete on the level that we are going to compete on. To get them to understand when we go on the road, kind of like when we went to North Carolina and the atmosphere was electric in that building, it was crazy. How quickly can we get them to understand? Can we get these veterans to understand it's their team? We cannot count on these freshmen. If they play well, great. This is your team. We went on the road one game and our veterans scored no points in the second half. We can't win. From that point on, from that game on, our veterans have been unbelievable. So those three guys have carried us. And the freshman have played well, and at times played really well. But when they haven't played well, we're still good enough to win because of our veterans. That's kind of what we had to get to. And it took time.
Q. John, you guys have been very good about not turning the ball over. What do you attribute that to? And how important is that against Carolina, keeping them out of going up and down?
COACH John Calipari: Well, one, our point guard, you know, doesn't turn it over that much. Well, sometimes he does. (Laughter.) But he is not turning it over that much, and he has control of the game. So it starts right there.
And then the other side of it is, we have a lot of skilled guys. I mean, you're talking from Darius to DeAndre to Deron and Terrence. And Josh, we are throwing Josh the ball a lot now and he's making passes. He's starting our offense. So we have a lot of skilled guys. And, you know, we are one of those teams where it's low turnovers.
Now, North Carolina on the other hand, is going to run gaps, will try to deny passes, will get up in you to get you out of control, drive you into their big people, make a wing pass hard. You are not going to come down and just pass it around, they will not let you. You have to work to get it open. Because what you said is they want to steal and go, that's how they play. So we have to be as strong as we have ever been. We have to work to get free. We're going to have to bust through and play through bumps because they do bump you on drives and post-ups, you are going to have to play through it, and get that ball to the rim.
Q. John, what is the process and how hard is it, especially with a young team, to convince them that defense is the most important, defense can be fun? And how much did DeAndre Liggins play in making that an easier task?
COACH John Calipari: Obviously he's the passion behind our defense, but somebody told me yesterday those last couple of stops, every guy on our team was down in the stance clapping. Terrence Jones you can see him getting down saying, we will make a stop here. They are taking pride in it. They know it works. It will make us win. One of the things we say is "defense first." That's what we are about, defense first. Because of our skill level, shooting ability, the offense will take care of itself. Defense first, rebound the ball, swarm and help each other. But it takes time. You know why? It is harder to get in there and be physical and stay in a stance and bounce the whole time throughout a whole possession. And especially for freshmen. Freshmen when their man doesn't have the ball normally just stop. The minute he passes it, I'm done. And to get these guys to the point now where they're playing off the ball and bouncing, it's, you know, a tribute to them.
Q. What has to happen for a veteran group of players to take control of a team, in particular Josh and DeAndre?
Josh Harrellson: I just lead by example. Just play hard on your opponent, show the other guys just to come out and compete and play hard. You know, DeAndre is the best at that. He comes out and locks down every great player, and you know, hold him to minimal touches, minimal points. He's great at that. And when he does that, it boosts our team and it boosts the confidence of everybody out there. And just being able to play with him, you know, it is a great honor for all of us because he is such a great defender and he adds a different element to our team.
Darius Miller: Like he said, DeAndre does a great job of leading by example. He picks up the intensity and plays extremely physical and it seems to rub off on all of us. Josh is the same thing as well. So when you see them playing like that and see how they contribute to the team, how much better it makes them, it kind of rubs off on all of them.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll have the student-athletes head to the breakout room and we'll continue to take questions for John Calipari.
Q. The last 30 games, the last 30 seconds last night were played in 30 seconds, no time-outs. Can you talk about your philosophy and not calling a time-out in that situation.
COACH John Calipari: Well, if I don't like what I'm seeing, I'll call a time-out. Now, the play before there was 46 seconds and 11 seconds on the shot clock. And I did not like what it looked like and I called a time-out. Very rarely do I do that because we practice 120 practices, and during that time we spend a lot of time on late-game situations and here's what we're going to do. So instead of calling a time-out, giving the other coach a chance to make it hard on us to get it in, try to steal the inbound, changing his defense, putting a different player on the player that I'm trying to go to, all those things that I can't predict what he's going to do, you do it right on the run.
You call your play, do you it in practice, you do it, that's just me. 11 seconds to go, I didn't like it. Terrence had it 25 feet from the goal, not anything good was going to come out of that. I called a time-out. We took it on the side-out and got it to hand-off to DeAndre, drove left and made a good basket. That last play, there was no way I was calling a time-out. I knew what we were going to do. My team knew what we were going to do, how we were going to play it, and they weren't going to change us up or talk about how they were going to play pick-and-roll, they were going to have to figure it out on the run.
Coming back the other way I know people question why didn't Thad call a time-out? They got a great look. Now the only thing you could say would be, well, if he called a time-out with three seconds to go he could have got it to Lighty. Do you honestly think we would have let Lighty catch the ball? I mean, he got a great look from one of his juniors, who's one of his best three-point shooters, and the kid missed it, and I am very happy he missed it, but he missed it.
I mean -- now let me say how this profession is. If that shot goes in, Thad is a genius, and it doesn't, why didn't he? Our guy made the shot, so Cal, boy, what a smart move. If he didn't, all the people in Kentucky, the 25,000 coaches that come to our game, would have said, he should have called a time-out. That's coaching. If you win you did it right, if you lose you did it wrong.
Q. John, back to Brandon a little bit. I just wanted to ask you, he seems like a pretty thoughtful kid. Did you have to guard against him putting too much pressure on himself? I Know in the past Tyreke had what crisis of confidence right there, did you worry about that at all with Brandon?
COACH John Calipari: No, we just had to get him to really zone in on running the team. That was the whole challenge, just you have got to run this team. You have got to get people involved. You have got to know how to get everybody touches. And yet, he has to score for this team to be good. So, you know, the other point guards, it was always something different. You know, having a player do different things. With him it was just run this team. We'll get you shots, you're going to get your plays.
And then the other part of it was defense. In high school he never really had to be here, you have to stop somebody. Now he is learning to play pick-and-rolls. He's learning how to play when is he screened, learning to rotate down and help his teammates. He is doing a much better job of talking on defense and really verbalizing overall. When he came in that was probably the thing because I watched him play a bunch in high school, he never spoke. Well, you can't be that way as a point guard. You have to be in huddles talking, you have to be on the court talking, you have to talk. And he is doing a much better job of that.
Q. Cal, you talked today and you talked a lot about the time it took to find out what this team was. Has it ever taken you that long? And could you talk about the process, what you went through to figure that out?
COACH John Calipari: This is probably as long, I mean our -- my last team at Memphis when I had Tyreke at two-guard and we were 6-3 and ready to fall off the face of the Earth and I put him at point guard and we won 33 straight games. And you're like, who was the dummy that had him at two-guard? That was me. But this just took more of about how does the team play? Not personnel, where do I play him. And how do we get into offense? How do we create space? Where do we put Josh where he is most comfortable? How do we play Terrence? What to we do with Deron and DeAndre -- how do we play where everybody is playing to their strengths and that's taking time. That is not their fault, that is on us. On me personally. A lot of the close games we lost, we had a one-point lead with 30 seconds to go and the ball. Or we're down one with the ball 40 seconds to go. We have the last shot.
And you know the Florida game, I mean I could have called a time-out there. And we went into it, he got a good look but he missed. But we're still, even now, I mean, like this game, stuff will be different this game because Henson and Zeller and they create different problems. So what you're going to do defensively and offensively will change a little bit this game.
Q. John, you referred earlier to Roy as a Hall of Famer, and yet amazingly he is probably the second most famous coach in his own state.
COACH John Calipari: Who is the most famous?
Q. The guy who has 900 wins.
COACH John Calipari: Oh, I forgot about him.
COACH John Calipari: And I think Roy would argue that by the way.
Q. Would you argue that? What is the perception of Roy in the coaching profession? He will be coaching for the seventh possible Final Four tomorrow. People, when you follow a school like this, might take it for granted. How hard of an accomplishment is that?
COACH John Calipari: Well, he's as good as it gets. On top of being an unbelievable coach who gets players better, whose programs at the end of the season are much better than they are at the beginning of the season, who has a way he likes his teams to play -- fast, wide open, running big men, trapping at times, you know, showing hard on pick-and-rolls, doing things to mess up the game to make it faster. And he accomplishes that and he does it with good players.
But aside from that, he is a good guy. He is a good man. I mean, I have enjoyed being around him. A heck of a golfer too, by the way. He hurt his shoulder and I know it made him mad because he had to stay off the golf course a little bit, but he is a good guy aside from being a heck of a coach.
Q. Defense doesn't get as much attention out in the public realm or whatever. Do you think DeAndre understands how much he's appreciated for what he does on the team?
COACH John Calipari: Yeah, I think what's happened for him, the way he plays with the passion, with the intensity, how hard he plays, how hard he works, that is a skill. That's a skill. Not every player could do it or every player would do it. Not every player can do that. Every coach at every level is looking for players like him.
Now what he has added to his game is, if you leave me open, I'm making shots. You are seeing a skill level, him bouncing that ball, you're saying wait, we have a 6'5", 6'6" guy that can really handle it, shoot and guard a 1, 2 or 3? Wait a minute. I think the game before he had nine rebounds against West Virginia or something. He obviously is helping our team, but he is creating his own niche which will help him reach his dreams, too.
Q. Coach, you mentioned some of the key things that -- well, briefly some of the key things that are important in coaching in a game like this, you bring in with experience, can you tell us some of those things, go into a little detail on how you will prep your team on such a quick turnaround?
COACH John Calipari: The one thing is we will not change anything on how we prepare for a team. Our players will not watch tape of North Carolina until the pregame meal. They will not get a scouting report. There will be a meeting in my room tonight which will last about 15, 20 minutes. We'll have an hour on the basketball court where I will go through some of their stuff. I want them worrying about us. Let's play our best. If that's not good enough, it's been a heck of a year. And that's how I prepare them for every game they play. The board that they will see prior to the game is exactly like the board when we played -- I can't remember who would he played this year early in the year, but when we played Mississippi Valley State early in the year, the board is exactly the same in our approach. You want them to understand that.
I also want them to think in terms of just think of it as practice. We are out there in practice. Go play. You know, I want them to see me excited, and I am. I wish we were playing it today. Let's play. Not because I think it's an easy opponent, because I am excited about our team being here. So those are the kind of things. I don't want them to make this bigger than it is.
Q. A couple of things about John Wall, A, have you heard from him during this run? And B, what sort of, if any, lasting impact could a guy like that make in just one season?
COACH John Calipari: Well, first of all, he'll text me four to five days a week. And at the end of every text he says "I love you, Coach." The impact he had was I got to spend a year with a wonderful young man who is a terrific talent, who grew as a person, grew as a player, benefitted by the experience of Kentucky for one year, and we benefitted by him being there. Would I have rather coached him for four years? Oh, man would that have been fun. If this was the '70s I would have had him for four years. But it is not the '70s. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He should have put his name in the draft. If the kid doesn't get hurt, if he's in L.A., he'd probably be rookie of the year.
So it was an experience for me. It's like Jim Boeheim who had Carmelo for a year. If he had to do it over again, I think he would say I'd like Carmelo for that year as they won the national title. So I'd rather -- I don't like the rule one-and-done, I don't like it at all. Yet it's a rule that we have to live with right now.
And the option is recruiting players who aren't good enough. Or you recruit talented players who may grow into professionals after a year. Eric Bledsoe, no one knew that Eric Bledsoe would be a pro after a year. No one knew. Daniel Orton, didn't play his senior year in high school. No one knew after one year of playing 16 minutes a game at the University of Kentucky that he could be drafted 29th in the draft. Even DeMarcus Cousins, we didn't know if he would be ready to move on and do the things he's doing. But you know what, for those kids they were able to.
And for John, and he grew now. He grew as a player, and he still has a lot of growing to do. I talked to Sam Cassell probably once every two weeks about him, and talking about how he can help him get better. But he'll text me. But they all do that. Derrick will text or Tyreke or DeMarcus or Marcus Camby texted me after this last game, "love you, Coach." I have been so blessed with the kids. My best players have been wonderful people. My best players. And for a coach to be able to go through a career, and I could tell you just about every one of my best players has been the nicest -- the kids I have here.
And so I don't know, did I kind of answer your question or just keep talking ?
Q. Coach, I don't know how much you have seen of Dexter Strickland?
COACH John Calipari: I saw him in high school.
Q. What makes him such a good defender? Is it different going up against a guy with a dribble-drive that's always going to have the ball in his hands opposed to limiting catching from the wing players?
COACH John Calipari: The one thing that the advantage that the dribble-drive has is when a guy comes up and plays you, you can drive left or right. There no man going to be standing. If you are driving in an area, he'll move out of that area. He will either cut hard or slide under the goal. So it is an advantage. When they deny wings, that opens up lanes for lay-ups. The issue becomes the big guys are standing under there. For Dexter, he is long, he is athletic, he is tough, he's quick, he gets a wide stance and he holds his ground. I watched him in high school a bunch. He's a terrific player and he is a great young man on top of that.
Q. Roy Williams came close a few times before he won the whole thing. You've come close several times. Do you think that there's still the view out there that the coach has to win it all to, you know, validate his career or whatever?
COACH John Calipari: Maybe, but I don't -- it's not in my mind, but maybe. There are coaches that I have unbelievable respect for who have not been in situations like I'm in now with Kentucky, who have taken programs to an Elite 8 that shouldn't have been in an Elite 8, that have gone to a Final Four. That, how could he get that program to a Final Four? That I think in the realm of what we do you look at and say that's like a national title for that coach.
And so, you know, I look at coaches there, that the respect I have for what they do, and mainly how they treat their players. I love it when a coach is tough on his kids and everybody thinks he's really hard, and then you get around him and he and his players are hugging each other and they say "I love you, Coach." And I mean that's what this is about. And if that guy hasn't won a national title at the end of the year, maybe he says not at a school that gives him that opportunity to win a national title.
So, you know, I am at Kentucky. Obviously our goal is always to try to win and be at that level and win that national title. But you know what? At the end of the day our kids are getting better. Guys like Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, what's happening for them, I don't know if I have ever been prouder or will be prouder, or even these freshmen what they have been able to do on this stage. And you put that "Kentucky" on the front it changes things. It makes it a little bit harder, a little more pressure-packed. Buildings are a little fuller. The kids are playing harder, jumping higher, making more shots than they normally make and you better be ready to ball. Coming to Kentucky is a man's decision. You can't be a boy here. This stuff is on. And this game tomorrow should be two teams flying up and down the court going at each other. And it should be a lot of fun.
Q. John, along those same lines, awhile ago you mentioned 25,000 coaches, amateur coaches come to your game. This year early in the season Roy really got upset, they lost by 20 points to Georgia Tech. He got worked over on his radio show and sort of blew up and told the fans keep their opinions to themselves. Is it tough to not do that at Kentucky or North Carolina?
COACH John Calipari: You know what, I would tell you, I would say 99.8% of the fans at North Carolina love what Roy's doing. And those 2% are calling his radio show (laughing). I say 2%, .2% are calling his radio show. And the same thing happens for all of us coaches.
It's funny, whatever you do as a coach, if you win it was right, if you lose it was wrong. If you can't get by that, you can't be in this profession. The second part of it is, if you are worrying about all the people in the seats are saying about you, you're going to be up there with them shortly. So I can see Roy, who takes great pride in the university, and I think it was more, we don't do that here. This is the University of North Carolina. We don't do that to our players. That's not our history. We don't win every game. We struggle some, but we are behind these kids. Without knowing it, that's probably what he was saying, just knowing him. And so I don't think it was him saying, don't yell at me, he is saying leave these kids alone. I think if I am not mistaken they were on Mr. Barnes early a little bit. The kid is as good as there is in the country right now, and Roy knew that. We are all in that mode.
Now with bloggers, you know, I mean, this is -- I don't -- I don't have a computer, I do the Twitter stuff, but a guy does it with me and does it. And my blog I do it, but it is voicing it. I don't get into a computer, so I wouldn't know what a guy is blogging, saying, I don't have -- I am supposed to be one of those -- he's a Twitter guy, I don't even have a computer, so I don't even know. But if you looked at it I would probably go nuts. There are probably people in Kentucky right now wanting me out. So that's the profession we're in. I think it's just getting a little crazy. So Roy got a little angry, huh?
Q. He said an ugly word.
COACH John Calipari: It wasn't a swear word, that isn't Roy. He'd give them a "darn."
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
North Carolina Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Head Coach Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina. And Tar Heel student-athletes, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland and Tyler Zeller. Coach, please make an opening statement.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, needless to say, I say it all the time, if you are fortunate to be in this situation, you are very happy to be here. It is a wonderful game for us last night, and the first half particularly. The second half it was sort of surviving out there and trying to do enough to make sure it didn't go crazy. But I was really pleased with my team and their preparation and how we were ready to play when we started out. I am thrilled with where we are now. But at the same time we hope that we can do a heck of a lot more. I know we are facing a fantastic Kentucky team that's been in some tight games here and has made big plays down the stretch. So we're looking forward to playing.
Q. This is for Kendall: Can you talk about the similarities or differences with your counterpart in Brandon Knight and what you have seen so far?
KENDALL MARSHALL: Brandon, he is a talented special player. He made a lot of big-time plays. I think he showed throughout his career what kind of player he is. He's the anchor of the team, the point guard, keeping them going. Two big shots in this tournament to keep the season alive, and I am looking forward to going up against him.
Q. Roy, the first time you guys played can you take anything out of that game? You were so different, they are so dramatically different or that's very much in the past now?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: A little bit of both. Both teams are drastically different. I think both teams improved greatly since that time. Personnel changed for us. I think that both teams were very young and still very young, but I think the experiences that we've gained have made both of us a much better team. I think you have to look at it as a coach because you don't want to overlook something, but I do think that the teams are really different right now. And there might be some adjustments made during the course of the game, but I don't think we'll make drastic adjustments just because of what happened in that game.
Q. Coach, can you talk about what makes the big three, I guess, so effective in Henson, Zeller and Barnes? Do they all bring a little something different? And if I can get one of those guys to talk about that as well.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, our front line of Harrison, John and Tyler have been very productive scoring-wise, rebounding-wise and got better and better as the season has gone along defensively. I think Kendall, Dexter and Leslie and the other guys that come in, add something to the mix, also. We do have length. Z at 7 feet and John 6'10" and Harrison 6'8", we can bother some shots around the basket and also score around the basket.
But to me the best thing is the versatility because they can run. Harrison can stretch the defense. We do have some offensive weapons there, but they also guard you and do a good job on the defensive end of the floor. But I think Dexter and Kendall particularly do a really great job of getting them the basketball where they want it. I thought the first half last night may have been our best passing game of the year, I think we had three turnovers at halftime. So it is those three guys do a great job, but it is about all five of them.
JOHN HENSON: I was talking to Z, probably about seven feet. (Laughter.)
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He has grown since the season started October 15th when we measured him.
JOHN HENSON: I kind of walk besides Z and we are pretty close. But as a unit I think we play well together. We kind of feed off each other and, you know, I kind of just I want to get the ball to Z, just like everyone else on the team. And Harrison is the outside guy and I kind of pick up what's left. And I think it's just working out for the best.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: $10 billion contract and two microphones and no cookies for the players in their holding room.
Q. This is for Tyler and Coach, Tyler first: Ever since about, I don't know, six or seven weeks ago when Tyler Hansbrough was back in town for a game, it seems like your play is more physical, getting more and-ones and you get fouled and the ball gets to the rim a little more. Is that a signal point when things started to change? Coach, how did you notice Tyler's game within that respect improving the last two months?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: First of all, if I thought it had something to do with Tyler Hansbrough coming back, I would have his ass here tomorrow. Okay. But secondly I don't think it has anything to do with it at all. I think Tyler Zeller has played better, gotten better and more physical and has been able to understand that he has played a whole season this year. Now, if you tell me it has been because the big fella is back here, I will fly him in and I will let him answer the rest of that.
TYLER ZELLER: Tyler, he's always been somebody I played against and learned from. But I don't think it had anything with him coming back. I think it was just kind of going through the season and I think I just started to become more assertive towards the end of the season and progressed from there.
Q. Coach, could you speak a bit about the level of trust and communication you need to have in your starting point guard and vice versa. And then explain a bit how you and Kendall seem to have achieved this in such a short time.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: It's easier for me because he is such a bright young man and he understands how to play the game of basketball. It's been an easier transformation maybe than any point guard I coached. Jacque Vaughn was sensational at the 2, academic All American those things, but Kendall played a lot of basketball. He played a lot with very good players and that's who he is up here on the table with, is talented individuals. And he understands their play and where they want the ball and what they can do.
The best thing I have with Kendall is that most of the time, I just have to say something to him once and he understand what we're talking about. Whether it's, you know, if we want to run B3, which side you go to, or B1 hold which side you go to or away and he understands that and he keeps it and puts it into play on the court. For me, he is so intelligent a player, he is not very intelligent off the court, okay, but he has been a very intelligent (smiling) player on the court and did some really good things. I am on a roll. No, but it has been easy because he is such a fantastic young man and fantastic player.
Did you want Kendall to answer?
Q. I feel like he deserves a rebuttal. Do you have anything to add, Kendall?
KENDALL MARSHALL: I was about to say "thank you". I am second-guessing that (Laughter). I think me and Coach's relationship has definitely went to the next level. He put a lot of trust in me that I can lead this team and hopefully take us to the next level. And again, it is not just me and Coach, it's our whole team and how we have all bought into the fact that we want to win and we're going to do what it takes to win. So I think a little bit of it is the relationship with me and Coach, how it has grown, but ultimately I think it is our whole team's relationship.
Q. Dexter, in the first game were there any possessions you can recall where you ended up on Knight? If so, what do you remember about it?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: All I can say he is a special player. And I remember he likes to drive. I played him before and I think the adidas Nations Camp and I pretty much knew what type of player he was. And like I said, he's a great player. And there was some plays down the stretch where he drove to the basket and got and-ones and stuff like that. But I think we just got to go out there tomorrow and just play supportive defense and play the way we have been playing.
Q. Are there any possessions where you actually ended up with him?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: Off the screens and guard-to-guard screens. And Larry Drew pretty much played defense on him the whole game, but throughout the game there has been a little bit of switching and stuff like that.
Q. Dexter, given what's happened to this team in the last 17 months, are you surprised you're one win away from the Final Four? And if not, why?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I am, especially the season we had last year. And just to have the season we had this year, it is a great feeling. We had some losses throughout the season. You know, with Larry and Will and stuff like that, but I just think that brought this team together even more. And the team chemistry I think is at an all-time high and I think it is key to our success.
Q. If you would, compare the challenges Kentucky presents tomorrow as opposed tomorrow to in early December. What kind of cookies would you like?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Peanut butter, snicker doodles, sugar, we like all kinds of cookies. We used to like brownies a lot more but Danny Green told everybody about it.
I think I have seen Harrellson grow and grow into even more of a scorer opposed to a screener and rebounder and defensive player. He does a great job of setting the screen, rolling to the basket and getting the basketball and finishing the play. And I think he developed so much defensively. For the huge part of the game last night he guarded Sullinger without any double-teams, so that allows the other players to stay out on the floor and not jam down. I think Brandon is always been a really good scorer, but I think he has developed even more to a true point guard, a leader out there. And an even better defensive player, and I don't know if in high school he was asked to be a great defensive player, but I think John pushed him in that role. I think Doron has developed as a scorer even more so than I ever thought he would, and I thought he was going to be a very, very good player. But he had 24 against us, and has continued making big shots throughout the course of the season. I was trying to go down their line-up. I think Terrence got off to a great start and perhaps might have hit a lull but some of the games lately have been like what he was before. Liggins last night may have been as impressive a player as there was in the entire game.
I think to me the first thing I see is how much each individual player has developed. But the other thing, you know, John is going to go a little wacko on the sidelines because he is John, but I don't think the players drive him to that as much as they did earlier. It speaks well for those kids being able to buy into those things and do it. I think everybody has grown.
Q. This is for the three players that were here last year. I was wondering, and Dexter --
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: We don't have anybody that was here last year.
Q. I was wondering if you can talk about it, the three players and Tyler touched on it, what you learned last year you might have been able to take over to this year?
TYLER ZELLER: I think the basic thing we learned is how bad a season can go. Before the ACC we did all right. But the ACC play started and we plummeted. And then the NIT we were able to turn it around. But you can learn a lot based on how focused you have to be in every game, how prepared you have to be. And then the consequences of not doing that. I think there were times we didn't prepare for games as well as we needed to, or we didn't take our scouting report and put it into the game. And you could tell in the game that we weren't prepared for the game. And they had advantages, which they shouldn't have had. So you learn a lot of things, and then I think we have done a great job of staying away from making those mistakes this year. And then just trying to do as much as possible.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I would same the same thing.
JOHN HENSON: Same thing.
Q. This is for Harrison and Tyler: Coach has twice said Kendall gets the ball to you in the right position. Can you talk about the right position and what that entails?
TYLER ZELLER: The right position is when he throws me the ball and there is nobody within five feet of me (Laughter). No, when you are posting up you always have a certain frame of which you have an advantage against your defense, or just a place that, I mean, a difficult pass to make in which you can get the ball on the post and make a move. So it entails a lot of things and it is a very complicating thing. I can't really put a sentence on the right time, but it makes our jobs so much easier when we get the ball and we catch the ball cleanly in a position where we can score.
HARRISON BARNES: As a perimeter player Kendall does a great job of getting me the ball close to the three-point line opposed to earlier in the season. They were close to half court or 10 feet off the top of the key. So it makes it difficult to attack and difficult to get into a good shot. What Kendall's penetration does as a shooter, he allows me to get into a rhythm which allows me to make a lot more.
Q. Roy, everybody points to the game where you inserted Kendall into the starting line-up as the game where everything clicked and changed. Was it really that simple?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I don't think it was that simple. Kendall had been very important to us prior to that, but we still had Larry at that time. And when I put Kendall in the starting line-up I felt as a coach I needed to do something because I wasn't pleased with what we were doing, particularly the way we played at Georgia Tech. And we put Kendall in there, put Larry coming off the bench and for four of the first four games, Larry played very well for us coming off the bench. Even the last game at Boston College before he left the team he had either nine assists, zero turnovers, or nine assists and one turnover.
It was not just that day, because those four games and then I think it was major that when Larry decided to leave that it was Kendall's team then. And we have talked about trust here a moment ago, and I think that I have tremendous amount of trust for these guys up here. Every single one of them. They have a tremendous amount of trust in Kendall and vice versa. I think it was more of a gradual thing with the exception of when Larry left, it was Kendall's team as a point guard to run and everyone knew that. And still to me one of the highlights of my year was when he did set the freshman record for an ACC game. And I told him and said it in front of the team in the locker room, the happiest guy was Dexter. And very emotional and showed him, how enthusiastic he was. And it says a special person to enjoy other people's successes other than just your own. And Dexter had been starting and the whole bit. But he was genuinely very happy for Kendall and I think it says a lot about the kind of kids that I am sitting up here with. And also Mark told me, I apologize, I said Doron, but it is Doron Lamb and I should remember how to pronounce his name since he got 24 against us last time.
Q. What is so difficult about trying to keep up with the tempo of you guys? I mean LIU tried to do it and it backfired. Washington tried and didn't work and Marquette tried to an extent. And it doesn't seem they figured out should they run with you, slow you down?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: It is a good question. It is a hard question to answer quickly. In coaching, this is my opinion and I'm not the best by any means, but in my opinion there are certain things that every coach really emphasizes more and hopefully they do that better because you emphasize it more. We emphasize running. I really want it to be in the 80s and 90s all the time and wouldn't mind it higher. One of the greatest games I coached we beat Texas at Texas 110-103 and some other coaches are not comfortable with that but I am. We work on it like this. It is hard, I use this example, Vince Lombardi, the Packer Sweep, we are going to run the sweep. Everybody knew they would run it but they still had to have personnel to stop it and worked on it every day. When John Robinson at Southern Cal and people knew what they were going to do but they practiced it and did it every day. The team that were trying to get prepared for them only had two or three days to work on it. I think that is the most difficult thing.
There are things that John does with Kentucky and things that Buzz does with Marquette that they do a lot better than we do because they work on it every single day. And that's their emphasis. And I think that's the best answer right there, is that we emphasize it more than anything. We practice it every single day. And yet we do have some teams that have made it difficult for us to run, and it's the reason that my job as a coach is I have got to be able to figure out how to win. As I always said we have to figure out how to win in the 50s and 60s also. This year we won one when we scored 48, which is beyond any belief I could have. We emphasize it more and the other teams don't have enough time to prepare just for that.
Q. Roy, we go through this exercise every year of asking players what they're going to do? Are they going to the draft? Are they going to stay? School? Sullinger last night is up here and everybody makes a big deal about what he says. As a coach who deals with these guys on their futures every year, how do you view this kind of interplay during the Tournament where it seems like guys are more focused on saying the right thing than saying what they are really doing.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I will go back farther than that, a lot of times the kids don't know what they are doing. And the kids, tremendous number of them, a huge majority of them try to emphasize and concentrate on what they are doing right now, you know, and that's not just thinking about what might be done. And I have no idea what Jared said last night, I have no idea, I haven't seen it. But I think that it's a difficult question to ask. And I know it's going to be asked every year. I hope it is, because it means I have very good players.
But it's almost, you know, it is an impossible question to answer. You know, you are not thinking about that. You know, the big snafu or the thing that I said in 2003, I really didn't care anything about North Carolina at that point, I cared about those kids in the locker room and I thought it was the worst question somebody could ever ask after I told them, don't ask me that question of the air. And if you don't know what I am talking about, okay.
But it is a hard question to answer because -- Marvin Williams, Marvin Williams left us after we won the national championship in 2005. If you asked him after the national championship game if he was coming back, he would have said yes, and he would have meant it 100%. 2000 I said I hope if I have another press conference it will be when I am retiring or dying and I believed it right then. Regardless of what you ask, you should know that you will not get the complete full answer because most of the kids don't know. They haven't had the research done by their coach. They haven't had the research done by their parents. They're just getting over a great win or just getting over a horrific loss. I think that's the part that is difficult for you guys to understand, and from our viewpoint it is hard to understand because we think, why would you ask that?
In 2003 I had one of the greatest teams I had and the kids were in the locker room crying and somebody wants to ask me that kind of question and I did not appreciate it. Never will appreciate it and never will forget it. There is a human factor that everybody has to understand, too. In your job, I guess, you have to ask it but you also have to understand it is also not going to be a very good answer.
Q. Roy, you can answer this question because Calipari does not operate a computer, do you have a match-up situation tomorrow night with Knight? Now that Larry is not around, do you have to put Dexter on him?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, we have done that in other games that we played in the Tournament. If the point guard was quicker, more of a penetrating point guard, you know we have made some switches and put Dexter on him, and put Kendall on the two-man. And we have done that several times during the course of the season. That game was over with last night close to midnight. We met as a staff this morning, met with the team. I've watched one entire game and a half of another game today. So the truth of the matter is, we don't know who we're going to match-up with. I am not any better with a computer than John is but I have the laptop that tells me to press this button, the game shows up and that's what I watch. But we have done that several times during the course of the season. And last night Cadougan kept driving Kendall to the basket and so the last four minutes of the game I got Dexter and Kendall to switch last night. It is something we are comfortable with, yes.
Q. Coach, I asked about Tyler earlier. The reference point when Hansbrough was in town it seemed that's when he started playing with more physicality. Are there series of conversations you had with him about using more of his full body, his strength and did the light go on at some point in the last couple of months?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, there is no magic day. I mean, I talked to him about that since the first day he stepped on campus three years ago. Every day that he goes in the weight room that's one of the things he's trying to work on, is to get bigger and stronger and more physical and be able to handle the blow and still finish the play. I have never had a player like Tyler Hansbrough that would make the play and then realize the referee blew the whistle and oh, you called a foul and I get to shoot a free throw, too. Most guys go up and are thinking of drawing the foul or screaming "oh!" when they hit him.
What we are doing with Z, we have been doing for three years. I don't think it's a light switch, gradually he has gotten better and better and he played more games this year than he had in either one of the first two years. And so the more experience of playing, I think, is the answer to the whole thing. But that was about as big a reach for me because I have seen Tyler and I can't tell you what game he came in or anything. I think it had zero or less to do with Tyler Zeller's game. The restaurants in town liked it a lot better when he came back.
Q. Roy, I know as coach you never want to go through a season like you did last year, but has it made you appreciate getting back in this position maybe more than past seasons?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, I guess you can say that. And you can turn it around and say it made me appreciate what we had done previous to that more. I said several times in 2005 we were presented our national championship ring September 19th in that fall, the first time we ever took time or I ever took the time to say, my gosh, we won a national championship. In 2009 I tried to consciously to make sure that we, as a staff, took some time to realize it and enjoy it, and you can't. So many things to do, it is hard to sit back in a rocker chair and look up at the stars and say how great it was because you are still trying to work and get ready for the next season or finish the recruiting, whatever it is.
Last year was a horrible year, in my opinion, for my career, for my basketball livelihood. It was a wonderful year because we had our first grandchild but that is the only daggone thing that happened that I am that proud of. But I think what it did is it made me realize the things we had done previous to that were pretty doggone good. And I think it really made me appreciate how this team handled a lot of adversity. Last year we had a lot of adversity. The top eight guys missed 48 games. Last year's team weren't able to handle did as well and be as successful. So it made me appreciate that group of kids just in a wonderful, wonderful manner.
And you know, the way we were laughing with and at each other up here, it is just a marvelous group of kids to be around.
Q. Coach Williams, going off of that, we were just in the back with half of your team and they are playing Catch Phrase. It was an intense game and they are having a lot of fun. Can you talk to the fact how loose this team is going to a big stage.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I don't know if they are that loose or just that immature and don't know what the heck is going on. It is a little bit of both. But they are kids. And that's the reason I get upset with the media or fans fact like they are supposed to be perfect. They are not perfect, they are kids. (Loud noise off to the side).
I'll tell you something funny. Last night in the coach's room beside the locker room and I said, guys, guys. Got everybody to be quiet because I could hear this ticking. I looked down and on the wall there is a hole and there are some wires coming out and then I realized it was the game time clock ticking off. So you know buildings we are evacuating the building, things are falling, I am a little on edge, you have to understand that.
But it is just a group of kids. And sometimes people expect too much of them. They expect them to be perfect. And what you see is what I see every day. And what I see was you guys should have had your cameras on outside, we actually thought we were getting to leave. And they were sprinting. You talk about tempo, if we had run that frickin fast yesterday against Kentucky tomorrow against Kentucky we would be better off. They are kids and that's what they are. On game day they did nice things with focus and toughness and it's whatever happens tomorrow, nobody can enjoy their team more than I enjoy mine.
Q. Roy, Harrison Barnes game in with incredible expectations on him and got off to a slow start. I wonder what your observations were during this time when he was struggling. What was your counsel to him during this time and how satisfying was it to see him snap out of it?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, all of it has been extremely satisfying to see him because it wasn't easy for him. The expectations were off the charts and they weren't very realistic and you can use any phrases you want to. But he was under more of a microscope than any player I ever remember at North Carolina. We brought in Tyler Hansbrough and he wasn't in that type of microscope. I was there when Michael Jordan, James Worthy, nothing like it was for Harrison. So he is human. It bothered him some, but he is so focused and driven and disciplined, he kept at the task at hand. He is a task-oriented kid. And he went through his workouts, and went through practice and listened to what we were trying to get him to do. And every week, and I really mean this, I saw him getting better every week and it just didn't transfer to the games quite as quickly. You know, he played at Ames, Iowa winning a state championship two straight years, undefeated two straight years and pretty much had his way. And now he is playing against guys that are big and quick and athletic like he is.
So for me it is extremely satisfying, but it is really got to be satisfying for him. And he made the reference last night, someone said about his cold start. He said, "I went 0-for-12 in the game, you think that was a cold start? That didn't bother me." It is really satisfying and it has to be satisfying for him, too.
Q. Roy, from what you have watched of Kentucky, what makes them so effective defensively?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: They have size on the perimeter. You know 6'4" to 6'7", 6'8" guys that can really slide their feet. Long arms who can stay in front of you, they can stop you from penetrating the ball to the basket. They can close-out on you, if I can use a football term there, that you think you have a gap and you are going to be able to get an open shot and they close on you so quickly. They have the guy Harrellson, who may not be a great shot blocker but really clogs it when you do drive in there, so the perimeter players feel even if I make a mistake he will take a charge or make it not easy. And Terrence, and the other perimeter players are big enough they can block shots, too. I think it is their athleticism. John and his staff and their attention to detail, and they want to guard you. They realize how important it is.
Q. Roy, I was curious, you look at the other three regions and at least one team in there where you sort of, you know, raise your eyebrow as little bit. People will look at this and say sincerely Carolina, Kentucky and 4,000 combined wins and 31 Final Four appearances or whatever, but when you met in December, did you see potential for either team to kind of get to this point? Or were you so raw at that point you had no idea what you had?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I can't evaluate Kentucky because I prepared for them in playing that game, but I didn't really look and try to decide where they could be later on. But you can talk to the local guys and girls around our place. In November I said, our team will get better and better and better as the season goes along. I said that in November and December when we were 4-3. I said, guys, I am not ready to panic. There were a lot of people jumping off the ship. And abandoning ship as fast as they could. And "old Roy's lost it. He didn't do anything last year, he's not going to do anything with this group." And I kept telling everybody this team will get better and better. And it wasn't because that I am a great seer in the future but I believed it. And I think the kids believed it and we went to practice every single day.
So did I look upon it that we would be sitting up here having a press conference in the Elite 8? I don't think in those terms. But I thought we had a chance to be a big-time basketball team and I think our team has done that.
Q. Coach Calipari has talked about his pregame routine and his experience he brings into an Elite 8, especially with the competition that he is facing with you. Can you talk about your pregame routine, getting your team just to on this quick turnaround focused and ready to play tomorrow?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, John has been around it a long time. I mean, this is my 38th year as a coach. 23rd as a head coach. Most of the time if you do some things and they don't work, you stop doing them. And most of the things that you find that does work or it doesn't harm your team, you keep doing them. That's the way I do. We've tried to prepare our team throughout the course of the season the same way we did in 2005 and the same way we did in 2009. But you never know. I'm telling you, and I know you probably don't remember and you shouldn't, 2008, I walked out of the locker room before our game against Kansas in the Final Four and I was convinced that we were going to continue playing great. And we had played great in those four games prior to the semifinal at the Final Four and we laid a rotten egg. So you don't really know. But I was convinced we had done everything the same way, everybody was positive, I was positive, very confident. I was trying to be extremely positive with my team, just like we had been the four previous games of the NCAA and the three games in the ACC Tournament. So we're going to do those same kind of things.
We had some quick turnarounds in our own league we play and had one game off and play again. I think we had two of those. And at this time you have to also be concerned about the legs of your team and not take their legs away from them, you have to play tomorrow. My whole idea is to give them as much information as I can today that they can comprehend that they can remember, but I'm not trying to win tomorrow's game today. And so that's the way I look at it.
Q. Coach, Tyler Zeller was just saying that the Kentucky game, the first one this year, was really important to him because it showed him what he was capable of doing. How important was that to this team, especially early on? And how did you see him change, if at all, after that game?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, I think it was important to Tyler, and his next few games weren't, if I am not mistaken, he had 27 I think that game but his next few games weren't anything like that. But I do believe it gave him a great deal of confidence that on a big stage against a big-time team he can score. He has always been a scorer. He was an unbelievable scorer in high school. So I think it gave him some confidence.
And it was a game that we needed. You know, we needed to win one of those. And we had played Minnesota when they were ranked in the top 25 and lost. Vanderbilt ranked in the 25 and lost. At Illinois in the top 25 and lost. Texas, Texas may have come after Kentucky but the other thing I know came before. We needed to win one of those and I think it did give us some confidence. And I think it showed Tyler what he can do. But he didn't drastically change the next day, but that was probably the foundation of his confidence.
Q. Coach, just curious if Rupp and Dean Smith could be sitting upstairs and having an HD TV and having maybe a pop and a big bag of popcorn and get to catch both teams tomorrow, what do you think they would say of the style of ball, the quality of ball, how the game has changed and by golly, how each guy would want to beat the other guy because of the love of each school?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I would be a little better off than John because Coach Smith would be pulling like crazy for North Carolina. And Coach Rupp would understand the Kansas ties a little bit. It may only be 1% or 2% and I would have a little more than John. I would have a little more support there.
I think they would be, they would be pleased with the athleticism and the team play of the two teams that they are going to see tomorrow. I think that would please them. I think they would be pleased with the defense that both teams would try to play tomorrow. I think that during Coach Rupp's time at Kansas, you know, with Dr. Naismith and Dr.(Phog) Allen and those people it was a much different game from what he played and he was a big-time player, too. But I think it would be something that would please him with what he saw at the end of his coaching career.
You know for me, thinking of that, I sort of feel, you know, very special to be somewhere down the line. I've had some connection with those kind of people, so I think it would be something that I would hope they would be very pleased with to say the least.
Q. Coach, you came close a few times before your team's won the whole thing. Coach Calipari's come close a few times. Do you still think there is a perception out there in the world of college basketball fans that a coach has to win to validate?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I can't answer what the typical fan, but there probably is. Or maybe I should say there may be. I don't think there is in coaches. You know, amongst us the peer group. I said in 2005 and the same thing in 2009 that Coach Smith said in 1982 that three hours before, you know, what happened in the last three hours didn't make me a better coach and I truly believed that. And in the coaching profession we realize there are big-time coaches. I coached against a couple of guys that I thought were great coaches. Norm Stewart at Missouri, never even made a Final Four, and I thought he was a great coach. Gene Keady at Purdue a great coach, never made a Final Four. And you can't put that label on somebody in my opinion. Now what the fans do or say or even some people in the media, I don't necessarily think it's fair because that would be like you guys saying you weren't a success at all unless you wrote for paper A or were on TV on a certain night and I don't think that is the way anybody's life should be qualified or graded whether it was a success or not.
Q. Coach, you were asked earlier about the match-up with Brandon Knight. And in general terms, is that what this tournament boils down to, just the match-ups?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: There is a lot of it. When we played Duke we put Dexter on Nolan and Kendall on Seth and we have done those things in the past. I do believe it gets down to a match-up a lot of times. But last night's match-up of Harrellson and Sullinger. You look at the stats and you say Sullinger may have gotten him a little bit, but it didn't make any difference because Kentucky's team won. You can do some things, go down and look at some of the things that happened in the Duke game when we played them anytime. Well, this part of North Carolina's team outplayed that part of Duke's team or vice versa. But it didn't make any difference. At the end it either Duke won or North Carolina won or Duke winning again. And the match-ups have a tremendous influence during the course of that game.
But I'll say this, too. I don't think that's the biggest thing in this game because you have two teams that really are teams. It's not one guy scoring 30 and getting -- and this isn't nothing reflecting against anybody else in the Tournament. It is just that I love it when we have five guys in double figures. And John probably likes it that way himself. It is not just one guy, so perhaps a little less in this game than some of them.
Q. Coach, you've had a lot of highly touted freshman in your coaching career and there are a lot here this weekend. What factors determine if a freshman succeeds or falls into a hole they want get out of?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I don't think I can answer that because I don't think there is a formula. And I am not the smartest coach but I am not the dumbest guy either. I don't think anybody figured it out better than I could. You have to have that will power, you have to have the confidence, you have to have the hunger, the passion. You have to have the understanding of how good the other people are and sometimes it may not be as easy as it was in high school. And if you do that, then you can keep going. If you go and you think it's going to be just as easy as it was in high school and you don't have the work ethic, that is the two things I guess that I can say will lead to failure.
Other than that, you know, I had freshmen come in, the expectations may not even be realistic at all. A guy in high school may have just been bigger and stronger than everybody in high school and faster and drove it to the basket all the time and scored and couldn't shoot a lick. And guys 6'6", 230 in high school scored like crazy but in college he has to play on the court. So many factors there.
Q. Coach, to me it seems like Dexter is a very confident player. What can you say about that? And how does it show in his defense?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He is a very confident young man. He was a defensive player of the game for us last night. He had their leading scorer, did a nice job. Got help from his teammates, too. Sometimes he's too confident because he tries to do things and split the gaps when it's not there or outrun people and it is a one-on-three situation. But I would rather have it that way opposed to not being confident. And I think that I'd like Dexter to get a little more confident, even in his shot. He has some things he needs to work on because he has a couple of flaws in there. If he can do that and be a confident shooter, then we really have something.
Q. When the time comes to talk with the NBA guys, and give them information and talk to the families and the kids, how are you going to deal with the lockout thing? What are you going to do there? April 22nd will be here pretty fast.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I am going to look at it realistically. Everybody tells me there is going to be a lockout but I will also do one thing, that I have always done -- here is the information, what do you want to do? And then I'm going to support what that individual wants to do. I had strong feelings with some kids what they should be and I have told them that. I've not had strong feelings in most cases and told them that. Saying whatever you want to do I'm going to support. And I'm going to have feelings and opinions as the time comes closer on all of our kids. And I'll tell them that. But then I step back and say, hey, tell me what you want to do and I'm with you. And I just think that it's a rule made by the NBA for the NBA for their better purpose. And we've got to understand that part of it and we have to emphasize the college game as much as we can, too.
Q. Coach, what's your perception of the Blue Steel on and off the court?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Great group of kids that have been very, very helpful to us. The kind of kids that you like to be with. And they have accepted their role in trying to do it as best they possibly could.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much.