Michigan State Quotes
THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement.
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, played against Wisconsin since Dick Bennett, and before that even and seems like it never changes. You know, I remember Jud saying to me one time that a win is when you win by one. A real good game, you win by two. And a blowout, you win by three. And I don't think it's quite that way.
But give [Greg Gard] credit. His team played well again in back-to-back games. And I did not think we played very well. I thought the first half we were really out of sync. And so we talked about it as a team and we just gotta do some better things.
Cassius was unbelievable the first half. Miles played really well the second half. And those guys brought us back in it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. For Cassius, getting here and getting game 1, does that help? Do you think it was the nerves, because it was the Garden, the start of the run for the title? Do you think just getting game 1 will help this team exponentially better?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Definitely. I think it's a lot of shots. We got a couple good shots that we missed that we usually make. It was a lot going into the game, the first game is always the hardest game.
So it's a lot we can learn and get better from. And we got another opportunity to come back tomorrow and get better.
Q. Miles, you got pushed to the 4 there and you had success as a team overall. One way or the other playing the 3 or the 4, which do you think is the most efficient position for you with this team at this stage of the season?
MILES BRIDGES: I feel it doesn't matter to me. I know plays from both wing and the 4. So my teammates did a great job getting me involved. And we executed.
Q. Miles, what's it like playing here at the Garden? And is it a little weird you're doing this tournament a week early? And also I know you decided to come back in part to pursue a national championship and all that. How excited are you that this time of year is finally here?
MILES BRIDGES: We're definitely excited we get to play here for a championship at the mecca of basketball. We had to get some first-game jitters out of the way. But I feel like once we got that out of the way we got comfortable and we got going.
It's not really that weird. We play in the PK80. I feel it prepared us for this. We've just got to stay focused throughout the whole tournament.
Q. I know that you don't care who you play, you just want to win a title. How much would you like another shot at Michigan?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Like I said, if Michigan wins this game, we end up playing, I definitely won't be disappointed to get another opportunity to go out there. And I definitely myself got an opportunity to go out there and play against them. I think I dropped the ball the last game.
If we play Michigan, it's going to be a big rival game for the tournament to move on to the championship, but that's the type of game you live for.
MILES BRIDGES: We'd like to prepare for both teams. But if we play Michigan, it will be more of a pride thing as well. But both teams are good and we're going to try to prepare for both.
Q. Miles, how tough is it to beat a team three times, especially in one week?
MILES BRIDGES: It's definitely tough. Last year we played Minnesota three times, we lost the last game. And we definitely didn't want to do it this year. Wisconsin is a great team, too. Their record doesn't determine how good they are.
Q. Miles, you passed on a lot of money to come back to school and win a championship. How did it feel when you saw your name in the mix of that FBI report?
COACH IZZO: I'm sorry, we're not talking about any of that stuff. I made that perfectly clear. And I apologize, I don't blame you for asking, but we've got enough to do.
Q. Guys, obviously you had to beat Wisconsin three times this year, but you guys just played them on Sunday. So I know you guys didn't know who you were playing until like last night but did that kind of help that you already had some scouting done on them already?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Definitely. I think we knew their offense pretty well, just coming off playing them. We knew the game was going to come down to details, rebounding who played the hardest. In terms of what they ran and the type of players and the scouting report, we had that down.
Q. When it came down to crunch time and you started spreading route, athleticism and length, do you think that played a part in the last two minutes of the game?
MILES BRIDGES: It definitely helped us because they played a game yesterday. So we just tried to go after them because they looked kind of fatigued, and we wanted to execute and get stops.
CASSIUS WINSTON: Definitely. I think it bothered them a little bit, the length bothered them definitely, especially Jaren and Josh on the wing. We got a lot of deflections and steals down the stretch. That helped us get some key stops.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. Obviously Miles and Cassius scored well today, but a guy like Matt McQuaid we saw a little bit earlier this year, didn't get a lot of shots today, but kind of kept them off the line, but was able to step up and hit the big 3 late. What does it say about a kid like that -- we've seen his confidence up and down at times -- to be able to do those things?
COACH IZZO: Hit that one and hit that big layup and he got a couple of great offensive rebounds. I thought, in all honesty, Matt and Josh played extremely well defensively, yet we couldn't get either one of them to buy a shot.
They did a pretty good job on Davison and Pritzl. Between those two they were, what, 5-for-21, and those two had a lot to do with it. But there's no question that for the kid who hadn't been shooting very much tonight to knock down that big 3, we needed it and he needed it. I think it will help us down the stretch.
Q. Your team is now 8-0 in games decided by six points or fewer in overtime this season. How impressed are you that a team this young still continues to win these games in clutch time like this?
COACH IZZO: I watched Jay Wright the other night and they came back and won a game in overtime.
And I watched the interview and then I talked to him the next day. And he said, you know, at this time of year it's better to win close than blow a team out by 20.
I told him he was freakin' crazy when I talked to him. But I kind of understood his point. In other words, yesterday there's four games in single digit numbers, and that's kind of the way the NCAA Tournament is going to be.
I was disappointed in my team, maybe in myself, too. I just didn't think we played well. But like some of my, my equipment man and guys like that said out to me, when has it been any different with Wisconsin?
I still give [Greg] a lot of credit. His team played so hard. And they're very patient. They're a tough team to play against.
So in general, winning a close game, you know, if we march on any in this tournament or in the next tournament, there's probably going to be a lot of close games. Couple of years ago we won by 15 in a lot of these games and we weren't ready for a close game.
Q. The free throws, you were getting aggressive and getting to the line, and then Miles misses one at the end there. But more importantly, did you see what you wanted from the guys trying to go to the basket and getting there hard?
COACH IZZO: I did. And it was a physical game. Probably a hard game to officiate. I wasn't happy; [Greg] probably wasn't happy. But I wouldn't envy the officials in that game. I thought there was a lot of banging inside. And Jaren's last foul was a question mark on a hook or whatever.
But I think in general that's Big Ten basketball. That's tournament time. And not as much is called. I thought both teams were physical. We only got 11 free throws. They only got six or seven free throws. It wasn't like there were a lot of free throws, but I think we did try to drive it a little bit. One time Josh either tripped himself or got tripped. Those are big plays.
But in general we were more aggressive in some ways, Miles was a lot more aggressive in the second half.
Q. When you're motivating your guys, is it just about winning that day's game, or do you take a larger picture of trying to get a No. 1 seed in the tournament?
COACH IZZO: I haven't talked about the 1 seed in the tournament because I really don't care. I look at the way they're doing it. Notre Dame doesn't count as anything.
And it doesn't bother me. It really doesn't bother me. It does bother me that we're not maybe playing at the level you need to play at to advance in that tournament. Nothing to do with the 1 seed, just to do it with how well we play and what we need.
Q. You might have more postseason experience than just about any coach in the country, outside of Coach K. But just what is it about teams like Wisconsin that maybe don't have that good of a regular season but seem to be able to click at -- do you see anything? What's the motivating factor there?
COACH IZZO: If you look at their last six or seven games, first of all, well-coached. His team is not going to make the NCAA Tournament unless they win this. And I don't know if he looked at winning it. I think he was just able to get his team to play. And I have a lot of respect for him in that.
But Wisconsin has been this way, like I said, early. Just like I said in their DNA over there. Always tough to play against, whether you beat them or lose. I've lost a lot of close games to Wisconsin when Bo was there. Lost a lot of one-point games, last second shot games. That's what I said.
I mean, I'll promise you this, the year we won the national championship with Dick Bennett, we beat them four times.
And I think the blowout was maybe six points. I don't know. Eight. It was just -- it's the way it was and so it's got to be in their DNA more than just each individual player.
It's what they do there. And they've had some continuity in their coaching staffs, or a guy like Dick Bennett and Bo had a similar philosophy. But give [Greg] a lot of credit, to take that team that was struggling. They played really well, not just against us but the last six. They beat Purdue. They played very well.
Q. How much would you enjoy having a second shot at Michigan if it worked out that way?
COACH IZZO: You know, the rivalry is the rivalry, but I learned a long time ago that if you get caught up in that, I don't know who is going to win this game. Nebraska is maybe playing as well. Michigan was playing pretty well the last two games.
And then they struggled yesterday. We all struggle. So, I mean, do I want a chance at them again? Yes. Do I want a chance at Nebraska if it helps us move on to the championship game? Yes.
So John's done a good job with his team. I think Tim -- to be 13-5 and we're sitting here asking if they're going to be in the NCAA Tournament, almost sounds ridiculous to me. But whoever we play we'll be ready to play. I think it will be a little better.
We had kind of a tough night last night. We got in late. Had a little plane problem. And I just don't think we were as sharp as we needed to be. That usually falls on the coach. And I'll take that blame and see if I can do a better job tonight.
Q. With the decision in the last two games against Wisconsin, sliding Jaren over to the 5 to close those games, how much of that was you wanting to do it versus reactionary to what they were doing when they stretched things out?
COACH IZZO: A little bit of both. We thought we could stretch things out, because Happ doesn't come out a lot. We thought we could do a better job of stretching things out.
And Jaren gives us -- now we've got a 4 and 5 that are stretched. And Jaren's done a good job. Today was one of those days where he reverted back and we couldn't -- a couple of reach-in fouls, although the last foul I think was a question mark. But he deserved probably three of his five. And we just gotta keep him in the game because Jaren Jackson is very valuable to this team.
So we went to that as we went to it in Madison last week, and we'll probably do a little bit more of that, because he's a better free throw shooter than a lot of those other guys. And he is a shot blocker, and we can use him to switch 5 which is what we wanted to do.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, let's start with an opening statement.
COACH GARD: Obviously a tough locker room. But I couldn't be more proud of how they've grown together. I told them even before today, I don't know if there's a more improved team -- there's not a more improved team in the league. I don't know across the country if there's a team that's come as far as this group has with what they've had to overcome and work through and how they've grown.
So short here today and it ends on an extremely bitter note. But proud of how they've grown. Went toe to toe the last two games with Michigan State. Credit to Tom and his group. Made enough plays when they needed to and we didn't come up with enough rebounds when we needed to.
But, like I said, proud of these guys to my right and the rest of the group in the locker room as we've grown over the last 30 days or so.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Could you address, did Michigan State make any changes? It was the third time and you played them just a week ago. Did they make any changes or adjustments that you didn't see last Sunday in Madison?
ETHAN HAPP: I didn't see any, no.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. I understand that there isn't a lot of silver linings at this level of basketball, but when you look at the injuries this team has endured and where they finished, can you end the season taking great pride in just how far they've come?
COACH GARD: Yeah, as I mentioned in my statement, obviously with what they've overcome, obviously with what we started early in the year, you mentioned injuries. We've tried to put that behind us and grow from December on when that happened. And how they've been able to persevere and continue to get better. And from where we were in, I think those two guys went out December 4th or 5th, to where we are now, we didn't -- the problem was by the time we got out of the nest, so to speak, it was a little too late in terms of this past month.
This team is kind of a microcosm of our players over the years. We've been very successful with a lot of late bloomers, guys that have really sprung into their own as juniors and seniors.
We don't have any seniors and just a couple of juniors that are playing. And this team was much the same way; it was a late-blooming team. Unfortunately, like I said, December and January weren't -- early December and January weren't as kind to us. But proud of how they persevered. There's been a lot of teams across the country that would have folded up shop and quit a long time ago. And we were 3-9 in the league at one point.
But this group kept persevering and battling and getting better. And unfortunately we didn't have enough today nor enough earlier in the year to be able to keep playing in the NCAA Tournament, which I know everybody in that locker room that was the goal was to try to win this thing to get there.
Q. You've coached against Miles Bridges for two years now. Can you talk about the challenges he presents and how much of a handful he's going to be going forward for other teams in what it will probably be his final postseason?
COACH GARD: As I've said before, when we played him his addition to the 3-point shot to his game has changed it. And it not only helps him, it helps Ward inside and other guys inside, Jackson inside, because now you've got to stretch the floor. You've got to stay with Winston and Langford and McQuaid. And it gives those guys inside a little more room to operate.
And then he's added some play-making ability. His ability to change direction with the ball, some of the things he's done not only today but in other games, in the past he's been primarily a straight-line driver. And he was able to change direction. He put -- he had a good move there on Davison in the second half where he got separation and got a jump shot off.
So he's becoming a much more complete player. And obviously at his size he's a matchup problem too at 6'8" with his ability to play inside and outside. And he's evolved as you would expect him to.
Q. Over the past two decades, 19 straight seasons, Wisconsin has made the tournament. This is the first time in a long time you've obviously been a big part of that. Wisconsin fans have come to expect making the tournament. But can you speak to how the program has grown to this point? And then if you're going to get back next year, what philosophical changes you might tweak heading into a new season, obviously with the goal of making the Big Dance?
COACH GARD: The biggest thing that will help us going into next year is get older and healthier. As I mentioned we had no seniors in the rotation. We had two guys that were out for most of the majority of the season other than 10 games. So we've got a lot of things we've got to get better at and grow. It's the youngest we've been in 20 years, since the last time it didn't happen in terms of number of freshmen in the rotation and the biological age of those playing.
But that wasn't -- these guys didn't want to use it as an excuse. They thought we could get there with a bunch of young guys. Like I said, the perseverance of this group has been pretty admirable in terms of how they've continued to battle. And today was another great example of it.
So we'll reflect on this and I've got a lot of things that I won't share that we'll work on and get better at, and part of it will be just health and maturity will help us a lot.
Q. Above and beyond obviously disappointment that would come from any season that ends the way you don't want it to, did you have extra emotional investment in that streak? You were such a big part of it, really, and not to preempt the committee but it looks pretty jeopardized?
COACH GARD: We've never talked about a streak. All the way back to 2001, we've never talked about, oh, we've been to the tournament five years in a row, ten years in a row, we've never used that.
It was always about doing your best you could do to try to win the conference championship first, then come and try to win the conference tournament championship and then you try to bop until you drop in the NCAA Tournament. So we never said -- we never went through it with it being results-oriented. We always try to get better as the season went on.
Mentioned earlier, this group just surged late, too late. But, so, I don't get caught up into streaks. I understand that. But how about admiring the great string that's been put together? That's pretty dang impressive.
I think the next one, I know Michigan State has one, Kansas has one. Duke maybe has one. Gonzaga has one. Then I saw the next closest was seven years. After that, Iowa State and somebody else has, Cincinnati maybe that has it at seven years.
How about applauding those 19 teams that were able to make it. I'll tell you what, there's a lot more that could go wrong than can go right. If you have injuries or have things happen at the wrong time to you, there's a lot of teams would have -- 400-some Division I teams and we're only one of four or five that have strings this long.
I think we reflect back and admire the coaches and the players and the tradition that's been established and appreciate that. Because that's pretty special. 19 years in a row is hard. And obviously there's a few that -- Michigan State has a string that's going at 20 or something like that. But that's hard to do.
And our goal will be to try to get back there next year not were the idea that we're going to start 19 in a row again. Let's just do the best we can do to get ready for next year, try to win the Big Ten Championship and take that process-oriented approach.
Q. Having played them before, preparing for them, what adjustments did you make for the athleticism and length this time around?
COACH GARD: Well, I think the one thing that we didn't do a good enough job especially the second half today is keep them off the glass. And that happened a little bit in Madison. That's one of their pillars. They hit the offensive glass pretty hard.
I think we gave up 13 offensive rebounds in the second half on 19 missed shots. That's almost 70 percent of misses; that's too many. And that extended possessions. That allowed them to do what they do and hurt us from being able to maybe expand upon a lead we had or catch them closer.
So going against them for a lot of years, the keys really haven't changed. You've got to be good in transition defensively. Gotta keep them off the glass. They're very good defensively. Jackson makes a whole difference for them compared to years past just because of his shot blocking at the rim. So, yeah, they're a pretty complete team.
Q. On Jackson, the second straight game they switched to that lineup with him at the five down the stretch of the game. Just what difference does that look give them and what is the impact?
COACH GARD: I think it's not only Jackson at the 5 but I think it's Bridges at the 4 because we went with our more mobile 4 down the stretch, too, and the lean forward. So they were doing some things to counter what we were doing in terms of trying to stretch the floor more with our 4-man.
So I think it was more -- I don't know because I haven't asked Tom about his rotations or who he has in, but I know they were trying to match what we were doing with Ford a little bit too, and to go a little more mobile and smaller on the perimeter. They've done that before. Bridges has played the 4 a lot in the past.
Q. How would you evaluate the overall strength of the Big Ten this season compared to what it's been in the three seasons since it increased to 14 teams?
COACH GARD: I don't think it gets enough credit. I think obviously we've got three or four, five at the top that obviously get a lot of, but the middle -- I mean here it is. We finished in, what, ninth and we have a game, we have back-to-back games like this with the first-place team. And you've seen that across the board. Watch what Rutgers has done. Rutgers played Michigan State, tough both times. Overtime in East Lansing and what they've done here in the previous two games.
So it doesn't get maybe the attention and everybody thinks the Big Ten is down. People that are saying that are the people that aren't playing in it, aren't having to coach in it every night, having to see the players -- Penn State, how Iowa played yesterday. And Michigan is playing real well right now.
So, yeah, you think it's easier or not as good until you have to come play in it. Then you find out it's a little different.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.