Kentucky Advances to Sweet 16
March 23, 2011
The Wildcats got a little payback on West Virginia, posting a 71-63 win over the Mountaineers to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 22nd time in program history, the second-most appearances in the country.
Last season when WVU bounced UK in the Elite 8, the Wildcats were only able to manage 34 percent from the field. This year, the Cats shot 48 percent (24 of 50) from the field and 70.8 percent (17 of 24) from the line.
Kentucky Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the University of Kentucky head coach, John Calipari. Coach Calipari will make an opening statement and then take questions.
COACH John Calipari: We're excited to be here and happy we're still playing. And knowing we're playing against a really good opponent. No. 1 team in the country, so we know we have a challenge ahead of us.
THE MODERATOR: If have you a question for Coach Calipari.
Q. John, would you talk about Brandon Knight and the way he progressed through this season? And what are you most happy with in facets of his game that improved as the year has gone on?
COACH John Calipari: Probably the best thing that happened to Brandon was Hawaii. Where we played top-notch opponents and he -- at that time we all know and he realized that he had a ways to go. Since that time it has been a steady climb. And he's such a hard worker and so conscientious he has just gotten better and better.
The way we play, where you have the ability to create and do things, you've got to also balance that with running a team. So the point guards that I've had, that's been the challenge. And they all catch it at different parts of the year, whether it was Derrick or Tyreke or John and now Brandon. And good for us, that they have been playing their best, all of those guys played their best toward the end of the season.
Q. Coach, you've had a lot of success recruiting this area, Doron Lamb, Michael Gilchrist. Talk you talk about the talent, St. Anthony, St. Pat's, St. Benedicts, does playing here helping you facilitate recruiting do you think?
COACH John Calipari: Well the second thing is not really. We're on television so much, I don't think it really plays that big of a factor.
But I will tell you that there are talented players here and the competition is so strong. And the notoriety and exposure they get, you're getting kids that are ready for the spotlight so to speak.
Q. John, six years ago, when you interviewed at N.C. State, A, did you come close to taking that job? B, what about it made you interested enough to interview?
COACH John Calipari: Yes, I was close to taking the job. And what had me saying I want to do that, I just wanted to be on the same footing with the Dukes and the North Carolinas. Now let's go. We're in the same league, let's go have at it. That's what interested me. But it's obviously a terrific job and someone will go in there and do well.
Q. Cal, you look at Ohio State and the shooters around Sullinger, do you see any similarities to the team that you thought you could have if you had Enes (Kanter)?
COACH John Calipari: Boy, I am getting some questions off the wall here. Yeah, but I haven't thought about that. You know, we're going about our business and I'm just trying to get us to play well. I've watched a ton of Ohio State tape. There are times I watch the tape and I go, oh, my goodness. And they are really talented. They play to their strengths. They are very skilled. They shoot, they bounce. They have got great strength, they have got size. I mean, they're really a terrific basketball team. And we've gotten better, too. I mean, we're playing as well as we've anticipated all year right now.
But, you know, it is funny in these situations, everybody handles this different. And I think, you know, we're with freshmen starting and with, you know, our veteran players not being as experienced, this is an interesting thing. Someone will know you know how you play, I have no idea. I think we will be prepared. I like my team. I have liked them from day one. But, you know, we'll see.
Q. John, one of the few times since have you been here you are actually an underdog going into it. Do you approach it differently with your team from the motivational side?
COACH John Calipari: Well, at this point it's just two teams going at each other and obviously they've had a wonderful year and they are the No. 1 team in the country. But we're a Top 10 team, also. And we're not -- our players have watched -- other than if they watched Ohio State on TV we have showed them no Ohio State tape yet, which is typical for us. This is no different than any other game. They have seen no scouting report, which they won't see. We are worried about us. We are worried about us playing well. We'll give them what they need to play this game. But to this point we have been focused on us and I am not worried about who is favored, who is not favored, who is the underdog or who is the favorite. None of that matters in this stuff.
There is so much more that goes into it and players dealing with all this other stuff. And an inexperienced team like mine, it is hard to predict how they will come out and do that with the lights on the way they are.
Q. John, when you look at around the country this year I think the criticism has been there has not been a, quote, complete team anywhere in the country. Is it Ohio State close to it?
COACH John Calipari: There have been a couple. Kansas, there are times I have seen those two teams play and I am like, man, I hope we don't have to play them. And I think those two teams have separated a little bit. But there's another grouping of about seven or eight teams that are right there. And, you know, I think over years there was really a clear-cut two or three teams, and I think these two separated from the rest and I think they are that good. And they deserve the accolades that both of the teams are getting. The way they are playing, they deserve.
Q. John, before the season you said one of the things you wanted to do was look for the two or three things your team had to do as a freshman-oriented team to get over the hump, deeper into the NCAA Tournament. I'm wondering what you came you with.
COACH John Calipari: I don't know yet, we're still trying to figure it out. I mean, we're a young team. And the thing that I can tell you that I am proud of, each of these guys are playing as well as they have ever played in their career. And that's all I can ask for as a coach. And they are working to prepare. And to get ready to play a terrific team.
Q. Over the last few years you've had to rely on a lot of elite freshman and obviously next year could be a similar thing. Did you ever think about what it would be like if some of these freshmen could stay an extra year and, you know, mix with the freshmen you have coming in, what type of team you could have?
COACH John Calipari: Well, during the season it is about our team. And when the season ends, it is about individual players and what's right for them and their families. So all I can tell you is we've encouraged young people to chase their dreams, especially if they're in that lottery area. And it's never really hurt our programs. Our programs have just kept going. And I think this collective bargaining may bring that about two years. That may happen. It may not. But it may happen. And it would be interesting to figure that this would maybe in the '70s when you have the same guys for four years, boy, we would have some fun. But it is not the '70s and we're playing in a situation where these young people have a chance to put their names in the draft and reach their dreams.
And they're not all coming to us where oh, he's definitely going. No, no one knew Eric Bledsoe would be a pick and play as well as he is in the NBA and no one knew that Daniel Orton would be a first-round draft pick; he didn't play his senior year. Guys on this team -- that was hanging out there. So if they have worked hard to develop, and our programs promoted them that way and they have an opportunity, we roll with it and we will figure out who is next year's team and get that thing going.
Q. John, as much as you probably knew as an outsider the phenomenon of Kentucky basketball, once have you been there, what have you discovered about just what a phenomenon it is in the sport?
COACH John Calipari: It's different. It's different than any other program. And I don't know -- I know there are programs that are connected to their state, but none like this. And they breathe with every shot. Inhale, exhale. You make it, exhale. You miss it (gasping). That's just how they are and they are everywhere. Everywhere we go they figure out how to get tickets. I don't know how they do it. A lot of them are taking every penny they have to go on a vacation or whatever else to just go to the SEC Tournament or follow the team in the NCAA Tournament because they can't get tickets in Rupp. We play whoever, it doesn't matter. There are 25,000 people in that building. And the upper deck they there an hour before because they drove from eastern Kentucky. It is just a unique thing. There is such a connection to the people of the state and the program.
And there's high expectations. It doesn't matter whether we lose this guys or this guy, you win. If you don't win by 25, why aren't you winning by 25? So it is a unique place and I am humbled to be able to coach there and have this opportunity to be a part of it.
Q. Thad Matta was complimentary of your help and you gave him help for like, for example, getting the Xavier job. Can you talk about your relationship with him and where it started?
COACH John Calipari: Well, Thad was real close with Sean Miller and Sean Miller is like family. That's where I got to know Thad. In the Xavier situation I did make the call. And Mike (Bobinski) and I talked and I don't know if it did any good or not, but we did talk. And even Ohio State, Tommy Huf was the assistant A.D. and he and I talked about that. And what I said was, you will get a guy that will recruit players, will coach players, get the players to play hard and help you get the program to that level that you are competing and trying to win and winning national titles. And I believe that. I think he is a terrific coach and a terrific recruiter. And, you know, I'm happy that I made a call. I don't know how much it did, but, you know, we did, he and I did talk about it and I talked for him.
Q. I have two questions on Liggins if I may: First one, I know he's made a real name for himself as a defensive player. How has he evolved to this point, especially coming out of high school as a pretty good scorer. And the second thing is I read a quote by you saying something like he is the player that tried to please you more than any other, and I am wondering what you mean by that.
COACH John Calipari: Here is what we forget sometimes and I had another player on the team, because you're not playing well because you're doing this and this and this. And he said, "Coach, I am just telling you, I'm trying to please you." We get away from that sometimes as coaches. We think they are doing this because of this or this and we think we are in their minds. And at the end of the day, the guys I have on my team are really trying to please me, including DeAndre Liggins. "How do you want me to play? I want you to be happy with me."
Here's a young man -- for me it's, you know, I have recruited players from all kinds of different backgrounds. Because of my own background, first college educated in my family, an opportunity to give a young man who has come from where DeAndre has come from, to have the chance to do the things that he's doing right now, terrific. Here's a young man that yeah, he scored in high school but didn't shoot the ball. You watch him now, and I will tell you tomorrow he will make shots. He will make shots. But you will also see a fabulous defender. And the team needs it, but also he is making his own way now. He's creating an opportunity for himself. There isn't a coach at any level that doesn't want a defender who will go after balls and play with unbelievable energy. That is a skill. Just as bouncing that ball and passing. Shooting is a skill.
So how far -- when I first took the job, the first thing out of everybody -- you have to get rid of DeAndre. That's what they said. And I had recruited him a little bit in high school and I said you know what? I will get him for awhile before I make any kind of decision. And I am so happy that he is on my team. And he's somebody going to war with us.
THE MODERATOR: Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for coach Calipari. Thank you very much, end.
COACH John Calipari: Thank you.
Q. This is for Josh: I know you have been asked this before the last few weeks, but the stuff you have gone through and how things weren't looking good for you, could you ever have imagined being in this position personally? What does it mean to be on a stage like this, facing a guy like Sullinger?
Josh Harrellson: Me personally, no, I never thought I would be where I am and doing the things that I am capable of doing now. And going against Jared Sullinger will be a tough task. One of the best big men in the country, if not the best big man. He has a lot of skills. He can do a lot of things to beat you. So it will be a tough match-up for me. Hopefully we contain him as a team.
Q. And how did you keep yourself going mentally, emotionally? How is that for you? How are you able to come through it?
Josh Harrellson: A lot of credit to my teammates. They were there for me when I had to do a lot of punishment running. Darius started doing it with me, DeAndre did it sometimes and some of the young guys would come in and help me through it; it was real hard. Just having my teammates and how close we are now, we are like brothers. And having them there for me, it meant a lot.
Q. I guess this would be for Josh or Darius, whoever wants to chime in: You are facing Ohio State and they have a core of seniors with John, David Lighty, Dallas. How difficult is it to face a core like that who they know this is their last run at college basketball?
Darius Miller: It is going to be very tough, especially with the talent that they have. I am sure they will be determined to win the game. Like you said, it is their last year. And just how good they are, I mean what they have been through. They definitely have been on this stage before. It is going to be a tough game. We just have to be prepared and play the best game we can.
Josh Harrellson: Like Darius said, they are here multiple times. The veterans guys have a lot of experience. Me being a senior, this is my first time being on this stage, playing significant minutes. I am still new to it. DeAndre and Darius are the only ones on the team who actually have significant minutes playing in a game like this. We will look for them for stuff. But they are talented group of guys and hopefully we can come out and play hard.
Q. As veteran guys, can you quickly comment on how much you think Brandon has improved as the season has gone on? A young guy leading this team with the pressure on him.
Darius Miller: He did a great job. He has really done a great job of leading the team on the court. He has made a lot of big shots for us, played really good defensively and offensively. And he just has grown the whole time. He does a great job of listening to Coach and listening to other players, also. And like I say, he has grown and developed so much since the beginning of the season.
Josh Harrellson: It reminds me of John Wall last season. Early in the season he wasn't running the team, doing what a point guard should be doing for a team. And Coach Cal worked with him and got him going to run our team. The same with Brandon, he didn't do it at first. He didn't know how to do it and Coach Cal worked with him. And he got him to where he is today. And you know he is a team leader. He goes up there and he gets us in position to go play if we are not in the right spot at the right time, he corrects it in the game. So it's good for us.
DeAndre Liggins: The thing with Brandon is, he is a workaholic. At the beginning of the season he struggled and as the season progressed he got better and better and now playing his best basketball.
Q. How much did Ohio State recruit you? How seriously did you come to going to Ohio State?
Josh Harrellson: They recruited me a little bit. And I never really never looked into it. I didn't really look into too many schools besides Kentucky and St. Louis U at home. I should have looked into more schools but I am happy with the decision I made. I have a great family here with my teammates and a great coach I play for. I think I made the right decision. But Ohio State is a great school and it was tough to kind of just push them away like that. Q. This is for DeAndre: Coach talked about some of the kind of negative things people told him before he took the job with you. I am wondering how far do you feel you have come from that point and what is different now?
DeAndre Liggins: I came a long way. I mean, I made mistakes in my past as a freshman year, but I just grew up. And college, everybody makes mistakes. It is about growing up and learning from your mistakes.
Q. DeAndre, did you ever think you would be known as a defensive stopper? How much have you embraced that role now that that has been one of the things that you have been asked to do?
DeAndre Liggins: My high school I wasn't a scorer. I was always the guy that did all the tangibles. I knew I wasn't a big-time scorer, I was a defender and a player who did all the dirty work.
Q. For Josh, there's a possibility tomorrow night that Terrence could have a match-up against David Lighty, which he would have several inches' height advantage. As you have watched him this season maybe play against a smaller four man, what does he like to do to try to take advantage of that situation?
Josh Harrellson: David Lighty, he's a great player. You know, a great athlete. A good shooter. He can beat you multiple ways. So it is going to be a tough match-up for Terrence. But Terrence has a couple of inches, like you said, and length. Hopefully Terrence can contain him and give him space but be close enough where he can't shoot the ball, but give him enough space not to be beat on the dribble. With Terrence I think he has a good advantage on him.
Q. For Darius: I Kind of asked Josh this before, what is his, you know, what he has done for this team, how much has it meant to the rest of you guys, the dirty work that he does inside and that sort of thing?
Darius Miller: Josh is a big part of the team. He has came a long way. And he has done a great job of stepping up and being even more of a leader, too. So I mean, he does a lot of stuff that probably don't mention and people don't look at. And just like you say, he does a lot of the dirty work. He comes up with big stops for us and makes big plays for us. He is a really big part of the team.
Q. I have another question for DeAndre: Facing a team like Ohio State that has so much offensive firepower and pretty much any guy you handle has the ability to shoot it and score. How excited do you get for that? And what do you expect to see tomorrow for your role?
DeAndre Liggins: Just try to defend them, their Best scorers, and try to make it hard for them.
THE MODERATOR: All right, fellas, thank you very much.
Ohio State Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We are joined right now by the Ohio State student-athletes David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale.
Q. This is for David: Since you're the elder statesman, you've seen, you have seen a lot of these big men, amazing big men that come through there. What makes Jared so special? How does he compare to over guys OSU had?
DAVID LIGHTY: I think every big man we had here has been special and different in their own unique way. But for Jared with his size and ability, you know, to just read the defense at the age coming in, being a freshman and not forcing things, letting the game come to him, is something that's, you know, really helped him out. I think he plays beyond his years and that's something that is special and pretty much separates yourself from others.
Q. Just overall thoughts on Kentucky and biggest concerns going into this one tomorrow.
DAVID LIGHTY: I mean, they are great team. I mean, they are athletic, they get out and run, they push the pace. They have bigs, they have wings, and they have a guard who can pretty much do it all. So if we don't come ready to play, it's going to be a long night for us.
JON DIEBLER: With what Dave said, we have to focus on rebounding. They have a lot of guys that are big inside, especially on the perimeter, they like to crash the glass. We just feel we have to really control the boards.
DALLAS LAUDERDALE: Just to echo off Jon and Dave. Rebounding and defense is important. They have threats at every position and I feel that it's going to be a battle down there on the offensive and defensive end of the court.
Q. For David and for all of you, can you describe your impromptu graduation ceremony last week? Who gave you the diploma? Was there music and any details you give us?
DAVID LIGHTY: This lovely lady right down front, Miechelle Willis. She had the ceremony put together for us and called out our names. We kind of walked up, shook her hand and got it. It was something it special for us since we couldn't make it down to Columbus and be with the rest of our classmates. For them to do that was real special.
JON DIEBLER: It definitely caught us by surprise. It is something we didn't know was going to happen. It was a pleasant surprise. It was kind of crazy to get that diploma, but it was very nice for Miss Michelle to do that and the University. We didn't get to walk with our classmates. For them to take the time to do that and be thinking of us means a lot.
DALLAS LAUDERDALE: Yeah, it was very special. Graduating is very important to the Ohio State program. Again, getting your schoolwork doing and having the grades acceptable to be able to play out on the court are very special. And the music was playing in my head as I was shaking my classmates' hands. So it was fun.
Q. Dave and Jon, quickly your impressions of Brandon Knight as a freshman floor leader for them.
DAVID LIGHTY: Yeah, a great point guard. I mean, he has speed, he has size. And I think he plays under control. And I think he pushes the tempo when they need it and sets up his teammates when they need it as well. And I mean, he can score many different ways and shooting the ball with pull-ups and threes and getting to the basket when he needs it as well.
JON DIEBLER: Yeah, again, there are aren't many scoring point guards and that's the one thing he does. He can really score the ball. Obviously he will be someone that we have to pay a lot of attention to. And like Dave said, we really have to control the transition because they like to run. And as a freshman point guard he does a good job of controlling the tempo.
Q. For any of you guys, you've discussed what Kentucky looks like to you. Do they remind you much anyone you've played either this year or in past years? I don't know if it would be Florida State or maybe Tennessee or who do they look like?
DAVID LIGHTY: I say kind of like a Tennessee last year, playing against gem with bigs that they had and, you know, them pushing the tempo as well. And the wings who get out on the break and finish at the basket. So like I said, they played different from them, but size and athleticism-wise they are similar.
JON DIEBLER: Yeah, I agree with Dave with how athletic they are on the perimeter and the bigs that they have down low. They are very comparable to Tennessee last year and I think that's why we've put the emphasis on rebounding so much in this game.
DALLAS LAUDERDALE: I think my perspective on opinion is they like to block shots. They were talking on the comparison between how many shots we blocked on them this year and how many shots they blocked. When you brought up Florida State, they sort of remind me about the way that Florida State played us when we played up there. So we have to finish strong and pump fake.
Q. Following you on the other question about the graduation: Dave, for all of you, talk about the advantages of staying all the way through it in college and what you got out of the experience.
DAVID LIGHTY: Well, graduating, all of my other classmates that I came in with, they have a couple more years to go until they do that. It is just an honor pretty much. I mean, you grow as a person, on the court and off the court. And all experiences that I had, you know, here at Ohio State is pretty much making me the man that I am today.
JON DIEBLER: I think the great thing is we're going to leave college without any debt (laughing), so that's nice. Like Dave said, getting your degree is just an awesome feeling. It is a great honor to go through that, especially as an athlete, just with the amount of time that we spend in our sport. And then on top of that, you know, spending all the time you need for schoolwork it is very time consuming and it takes a lot of work. A great accomplishment for all of us.
DALLAS LAUDERDALE: It is kind of tough to be the third person to answer. They said everything I want to say. It is definitely a blessing. I don't want to repeat everything they said. I'll say the same thing.
THE MODERATOR: All right, fellas, thank you very much.
We have the head coach of The Ohio State University, Thad Matta.
COACH THAD MATTA: Well, obviously, you know, stating the obvious, we are glad to be here. And, you know, I think as we told our guys every round you advance in the NCAA Tournament the opponent will get tougher. It is definitely the case as we go in our game tomorrow night. I know being in this position last year in the Sweet 16, our guys have a good feel for what this is all about and what we have to do to have an opportunity to win the game.
Q. Your impressions on Brandon Knight as a floor leader, what you have seen.
COACH THAD MATTA: Well very impressed with his ability to run their team. You know, I think that he's got the ability to not only score, but he makes players better around him. You know, for his size as a point guard he is long, he is athletic, and, you know, he showed in the Princeton game things -- he didn't shoot the ball particularly well in that game but he makes the game-winner. With as young as they are, I think he has done a tremendous job of coming in and learning the system that they are trying to play. And, you know, he is a heck of a player. He is a challenge to guard.
Q. Thad, you mentioned that being in this position last year, our guys have a good idea about what this is all about and what you have to do to win the game. In your mind saying that, what's the difference when you get to this point, the third game of the Tournament, versus the first two?
COACH THAD MATTA: I think it is just the heightened awareness of how good your opponents are. I think that these guys have done a much better job of not buying into all the, I used this word a couple of times this week, the hype that goes along with this. I think they have a better understanding of, you know, regardless what happens in tonight's game or the first game tomorrow night, if we don't come to play well it's all irrelevant. It's one of the things we tried to do with our guys is really tune out the best that they can everything that's going on around the outside and just concentrate on what's on the inside and the things that we can control.
Q. The guys mentioned seeing a lot of similarities in Kentucky as they did with Tennessee last year. Do you see some of those as well?
COACH THAD MATTA: You know I do. Number one, they are both in the same conference. I'm kidding.
I think that Tennessee last year was long. They were athletic. You know the wings were big, a lot like Kentucky is. I think that they're interchangeable. They were interchangeable as Kentucky is. And I kind of view Kentucky a little bit like us, they can make some adjustments and play a couple of different ways. So I think, you know, from that standpoint where, you know, Kentucky will push the ball, they will try to score quick. But if it's not there, the one thing we really noticed is they will take the air out of the ball if they get a sizable lead and really slow things down and go into the half-court offense, a lot like Tennessee did.
Q. Thad, as you know, some of the players were talking earlier in the week about bringing a different mindset into this game compared to last year, and what you just said concerning, about trying to tune out everything around you. As you look back at last year, with these guys being in the Sweet 16 for the first time, did they kind of get their eyes opened a little bit by I don't know if bright lights is the right analogy, but were they just a little bit, I guess, awestruck by being in that situation?
COACH THAD MATTA: You know I don't know exactly, or I don't recall exactly what the mindset was of that team. I think quite honestly, we've really tried to create a mindset for them coming in here. You know, the thing in last year's game and we had ample opportunities to win that game, you know we just didn't finish it off. We are up at halftime and Dave plays eight minutes, even in the second half where Dave picks up a cheap one early on in the second half. So I think it's more of, you know, you were in that position last year. What can we change? How can we think different as we prepare is probably more what we're after. And, you know, a lot like this year's team. Last year's team was very attention-to-detail-oriented in their approach of scouting and that sort of thing. These guys may be the best I ever had in that regard of watching film and asking questions and, you know, wanting to know as much as they possibly can.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Coach Matta, thank you very much.