March 8, 2007
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: We're very pleased and excited to have a chance to continue in this great tournament here in Chicago, and I thought these four seniors in particular gave us great effort in various ways to allow us to come away with a hard fought victory this morning and afternoon.
Obviously it wasn't a pretty game in a lot of ways, but certainly we had to do some things in terms of loose balls, blocking out, gutting things out in a lot of different ways after we got a big lead. I'm very pleased for us to have a chance to continue on in the Big Ten Tournament.
Q. Dion, do you think that it was almost infectious with both teams, that both teams were struggling so much at both ends, it was almost getting into both teams?
DION HARRIS: I mean, we as far as offense, you mean? Yeah, I guess both teams were struggling to put it in the basket. But in terms of us, we don't really want to look at the offensive side of things and base our performance on that. We really wanted to dig down defensively. I don't think we worried too much about whether we've got it going offensively. Obviously we wanted to, and we had to convert going into the second half.
The main thing was trying to get easy baskets since both teams were struggling to put it in as far as shooting from the outside, so that's what we did.
Q. Brent, can you talk about the rebounding edge that you guys had and how that played a role today?
BRENT PETWAY: We knew coming into an arena like this, it was going to be a lot of long rebounds because NBA arenas usually have the harder rims, so we knew everyone was going to have to get on the glass. We talk about it every game really. Collectively everyone has to box out and get to the offensive glass and defensively I thought we did a pretty good job of having a balanced game today.
Q. Dion, could you just talk about the mentality of the team out on the floor when the game got to within six and it looked like maybe they could have got it maybe a little closer? What kind of was going through your mind having a 15 point lead when it got back down to six?
DION HARRIS: They got it back down to six, but once again, we've got to take it upon ourselves as seniors to finish off strong and come out with the win no matter what. Obviously we don't want a lead to get down to six after we had it to 15. But we have to do whatever we had to do in order to finish strong and come out with the victory.
Q. For any of the players, just in terms of a chance to play Ohio State for the second time in a week, and obviously what happened last Saturday, just the opportunity that presents itself tomorrow for you guys against Ohio State.
BRENT PETWAY: It's going to be another fun game. Hopefully we get to play the No. 1 team in the country, and that's always an opportunity you look forward to. It's tournament time, and it's just going to be fun. We'll be ready for it.
Q. For any of the players, do you guys pay any attention to the fact that some people say you have to win one or two or three games to make the NCAAs? Are you just concentrating on one at a time?
DION HARRIS: We're not paying attention to any of that stuff. We know what we have to do as far as taking it game by game, and right now all we're focused on is playing Ohio State. That's it.
Q. For anybody, considering the way the Ohio State game turned out that you kind of had the lead for most of it, have you been thinking about that? Was it hard to put that out of your mind for this one?
BRENT PETWAY: Luckily we had a couple days to get ready for this game, so I think that helped us a little bit, no question. But coming into tournament time, it doesn't matter what you've done.
Leading into the tournament, you can always start getting things rolling right when the tournament starts. We felt like we have been playing our best basketball in the past ten days, something like that, but it always starts with the first game in the tournament.
THE MODERATOR: We can continue with questions for Coach Amaker, please.
Q. Winning four is difficult over four days. Is it an advantage, though, going into your second game having played today on this court, or is it a deficit of coming back, back to back?
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: Well, I'm sure you can get a number of different theories on what's the best scenario, I think, and my experience always has been of the mindset of getting in the tournament, and whatever tournament that is, and obviously we're speaking about the Big Ten tournament now, try and get momentum within the tournament.
So by winning our first game, being the first game here today and hopefully getting a point of reference with the arena, the floor, the court, all the things around being in tournament play, I like the fact that we were able to do that, and certainly it's always nice if you can say that and you have a victory. We were able to do that now, so we're going to see if we can use it to our advantage.
I'm sure if you're on the other side, if you're one of the teams that has a bye, that they're feeling good and I'm sure they're selling it to the players that it's better to have an extra day of rest and feel the teams and scout things. But certainly we feel good about winning this first game.
Q. Can you talk about a couple guys getting in foul trouble in the first half?
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: I mentioned to our kids in the locker room that I thought our bench gave us a great boost today. I thought that the three by Ron Coleman, I don't know if it was a three or a two now, but the jump shot that he made late, certainly was a big bucket for us because we had been struggling offensively and had the lead dwindle down. So I thought that was a big basket.
But you're right, DeShawn gave us great minutes, especially with free throws in the first half, trying to get out of the blocks. Both teams were struggling to score as we did the whole game, but certainly the start of the game, and I thought his aggressiveness, his energy around the baskets, getting rebounds, put backs, making foul shots for us, I thought he allowed us to break the ice and get a little rhythm and be a little more comfortable in this environment.
Q. What do you attribute the struggles offensively today for both teams? Was it the nerves, the NBA style arena?
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: You could look at a lot of different things. I think a lot of times you see it happen in tournament play where teams are struggling offensively to score and shoot. I was pleased that we didn't allow that to become a crutch for us not to continue to dig in defensively.
I thought we were really hustling, getting loose balls, Jerret Smith being on the floor a number of times throughout the ballgame, coming up with loose balls. I thought it was one of those moments where both teams were struggling, and whatever team was maybe going to hit a stride, and I thought we hit it in the second half and opened it up and gave us the cushion that we certainly needed to win this basketball game.
Q. How important was this win for you guys personally? A loss here gives some critics a little more fodder. How important was the win for you personally?
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: It's not about me personally. I appreciate the question, but certainly it's about our team and trying to see if we can advance within this tournament. I thought our kids came in with great spirit.
Obviously coming off, as some of you have mentioned, about our previous game, our loss that we had in our final game at home, and being able to kind of regroup and go for this tournament. I was very pleased with our kids for the effort that they gave today, especially defensively on the backboard, and for us to get 21 wins and advance in our tournament right now is a very positive, good feeling for us.
Q. How have you been able to internalize everything that's been going on with you and surrounding this team? It's like you've been able to keep the guys focused. Your team seems to be concentrating on the games and not necessarily all the things that surround them.
COACH TOMMY AMAKER: Well, I'm pleased that they are. I think it goes to show that we have really good kids. These four seniors in particular have been tremendous with our ball club and doing things on the floor, being solid citizens for us in the locker room and taking care of our team. I just think our kids have been able to respond to what we've been trying to teach and staying very focused. I'm not sure everything that's swirling around us and all those things, we're focused on what's right in front of us, and I think that's been the key, to stay focused, and I'm pleased that our kids have taken that lead, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, appreciate your time. Thank you.
Q. Guys, first Spencer. It looked like you went up to coach before the game and sat down and asked him, anything that you said, anything important?
SPENCER TOLLACKSON: He actually just called me over and just told me not to worry about whatever happens on the offensive end. Don't worry about anything that happens on the offensive end, just try to focus and try to play physical defensively and just try to block out and keep my guy off the glass and the offense will come.
Q. Can you just talk about I'm sure you guys have answered this question already, but just about how the season has been just during the losing streak, and how do you maybe try to look on trying to build something for next year, just being competitive against some of the top teams? You started out with Ohio State and Wisconsin.
JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: It's been a tough year with a lot of adversity. We've kept battling, and all the coaches and all the players, we just kept fighting through it.
We're a young team, and we had trouble holding off some good teams. In a tough stretch when Spencer was out, we played them tough, but we just couldn't hold them off, and I think that was partially experience and not having the experience. We had a lot of new guys that just came in.
It's just been tough, but I think we've just got to get back to work now right away and not take any time off and just continue to get better. Just keep building and trying to make things better for next year.
Q. This is question is for Spencer. While you were injured and when you watched the team play, and like I said, when they had a couple of those games against some of the top teams and they were right there with them, what were you thinking about kind of towards next year and how good this team could be?
SPENCER TOLLACKSON: I think it was obviously frustrating for me to have to sit out, but I have complete confidence in my team with or without me. This team has a lot of character, and I think that that's really where winning starts.
We're definitely looking forward to next year. We're just going to like Jamal said, I don't think anybody wants to take any time off. We all wanted to play tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Unfortunately it didn't happen.
It's going to be up to our captains. We're probably going to take a day or two off and get right back and start lifting weights again, having open gyms. I wouldn't be surprised if we started giving each other workouts. This team has a lot of heart and a lot of character, and we'll just put this year behind us, learn from it and move on to next year.
Q. Talking to a couple guys in the locker room, they were saying that coach tells you some things outside basketball. Tell us what he's told you throughout the year, life lessons, I guess.
SPENCER TOLLACKSON: I mean, I think if I ever had a pencil and a piece of paper, Coach Molinari would have written down more wisdom quotes, I guess you could say, than I've ever heard in my life. He's like a wizard. Don't let the gray hair fool you. He knows a lot about life. He's always talking to guys not just about basketball. He's a great basketball coach, but we love him for the person that he is, for the father that he is. He's definitely taught me tremendous life lessons, especially going out with my hand this year.
We've had private conversations where he's really touched me, and I'll never forget that.
But like you said, I'll say it and everybody else on the team will say he's definitely taught us a lot of life lessons.
JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: I'll just add on that. I've never seen a coach work as hard off the court with just trying to get guys to push themselves with academics and basketball. Hardest working coach I've ever had. I mean, he just put in more time than anyone that I've ever worked with. He's just really truthful and has pushed us to be the best players that we could be. I just want to thank him for that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Molinari.
Q. When you took over this team for Coach Monson, what kind of expectations did you have? I mean, how good did you think this team could be?
COACH JIM MOLINARI: I think I have higher expectations, but there's no excuses, injuries are part of it, but Spencer going out for seven or eight games really hurt us. That broke a lot of it he was playing at a high level then.
But I knew it would be a struggle, but I also think that this is a year in the Big Ten where the middle of the pack is so good, other than the two top teams, that every game is so important.
I always tell people, you never want to be the bottom three. If you're in the top two you get the best games, but if you're in the bottom three it's tough, too. I knew it would be a struggle, but I think they've grown. I think they've grown. We would like to have a few more wins, but I'm proud of them. They never quit. They care.
Q. A lot of years in coaching, how difficult was this season for you?
COACH JIM MOLINARI: Losing is difficult. It's always difficult. I mean, it's really difficult on young people, too.
But other than that, no, there's a lot of reward. I kind of judged it going in just to move the program along, moved them along, move every area along. I think we've done that. I completely trust the leadership at Minnesota that they'll benefit from this, and next year will be better. They're all back. They've got to have some growth and probably some additions, maybe some subtractions.
It was difficult but it was also a great year, and I appreciate the opportunity.
Q. As far as your philosophy has always been defense, and it seemed like there was a time when the team was playing pretty good D to start off and then it got away from that. What do you think about this team's identity? Was it ever to form an identity towards what you wanted them to do?
COACH JIM MOLINARI: Well, I think we got back to it the last few games here. We just had a hard time if you hold the team to 27 percent shooting and lose. I thought this year we would get over the hump. I give Michigan credit. They did a tremendous job. They're very long. They're very hard to shoot over. So, I think they understand defense. We need help at the point guard, and what happened this year. I'm sure that's going to come under way with the two guards they signed.
Q. Obviously you said losing is difficult, but after hearing what Spencer and Jamal had to say, does that take a little sting away or make you feel better about what you had accomplished this year?
COACH JIM MOLINARI: Oh, yeah. I love this group. I love coaching and I love doing that part of it. It's just like raising your kids. You don't tell them what's important tomorrow; you tell them what's important in five years. But that's the philosophy under Joel (Maturi), that's the philosophy of Minnesota athletics. The student-athletes really are pushed in all areas. So yeah, that's always rewarding, but still, I like to see them benefit a little more from all their hard work. But I still say they will get that. It's hard for young people if they don't get immediate gratification, but they will get that down before they all leave.
Q. After the experience this year, is your main hope to be a head coach again or would you setting for an assistant?
COACH JIM MOLINARI: Right, that's what I would like to do at the highest level, no doubt. I appreciate the opportunity, no doubt, that's what I want to do.
The reality, these are all growing experiences. That's something I would love to do.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate it, Coach. Thank you.
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