March 8, 2012
MODERATOR: Our format this afternoon, as always, we'll ask Coach McCaffery to make an opening statement and then go to questions for the three student athletes. Coach?
COACH McCAFFERY: I'm very proud of how we played today. I thought we played against a team that was ready, a team that was well prepared, a team that fought extremely hard, as always. We knew what this game was going to be like, playing a team like Illinois. It's always difficult. And I feel like until the second half in particular we played with a lot more energy level on the glass. I mean, we had zero offensive rebounds in the first half, 14 in the second half. I think that was a big difference maker in this game.
And we played not them not so long ago and, I thought, had a pretty good game in terms of running the fast break. Didn't convert. 18 turnovers. And today, six turnovers. So I'm really proud of Bryce and (Roy Devyn Marble).
MODERATOR: Questions for the three student athletes? Raise your hand. I'll get a mike out to you. Start right down here in the middle.
Q. Hey, Matt, you guys were down seven in the second half. You got the three and then you got the steal for the dunk, and then there's a timeout and you were kind of exhorting your teammates on. Do you think that was your leadership, you were trying to show them what it was going to take down the stretch?
MATT GATENS: Yeah. Down seven, you need to make something happen. I think I just missed the three, and I came off, got a good look. Bryce found me in the corner on that one. And we just needed something to happen. And I found a good spot to get a steal there and a quick bucket and just in the timeout, just trying to keep guys being aggressive and believing. And Coach said when we were down seven, you know, it's only a couple possessions; it's not over. So it was great to see our guys believe and be confident and put a run of our own on them and go up seven on our side.
Q. Aaron, like Coach said, the rebounding effort in the second half was much better. What adjustments did you guys make defensively, especially on Meyers Leonard?
AARON WHITE: On the boards, we definitely talked about heading the crash off at the boards. Didn't have any in the first half. So especially me and Zach (McCabe), I think, really tried to get down there, try and get one back if we couldn't make 'em, because the bigs spark that run. If you miss a three and you get it and you kick it back out, Matt hits a couple, make a couple lay ups, that's how you spark something. I think that was big in the second half for us.
Q. Matt, in the second half when you were down six, you seemed to be vocal, trying to get everybody up, keep them up. How important was this game to you based off your career, based off everything?
MATT GATENS: Huge. I don't want to go home. I want to keep playing. I don't want to take this uniform off. And I think all the guys up here and in the locker room feel the same way. Personally, I haven't been past this first day. Feels good to get past it, but you gotta get over that and go and get the next one now.
It's back to the film room and we gotta get ready for Michigan State and keep extending this. We're playing for our lives. And it's a great feeling when you get it done, and it's a great group of guys to do it with.
Q. Matt, obviously you guys have played in a lot of really close games this year, not just your team, but every team in the Big Ten. And a lot people are saying that this year is the strongest conference in the Big Ten. Do you think that?
MATT GATENS: Strongest year?
Q. Strongest conference.
MATT GATENS: Oh, in the nation? I mean, people keep saying that, so, yeah, I believe it. I am a little biased because I'm in the conference and see the teams every week. But top to bottom, every team has knocked off a ranked opponent. I think I've heard that.
And there's no nights off in this league, no matter if it's home or away, and that's how you've got to approach it and that's how we'll approach the game tomorrow.
Q. For a team like you guys that have to obviously go on a big run to make it into the NCAA Tournament, does that give you does that help buoy you because of the fact that you've seen this year that every team can beat everyone?
MATT GATENS: Absolutely, yeah. It puts that belief in ourselves. We have proven we can we can beat ranked teams, and teams we've been the underdog and won. Anybody can beat anybody in this league on a given day, and we're going to be try to prove that the rest of this weekend. Starts tomorrow.
Q. Bryce, you've had an up and down season. How satisfying it was for you to play a game like you played today, the way you controlled the offense, got a lot of assists, just played the game like you've done so many times?
BRYCE CARTWRIGHT: It's been frustrating being injured, but when healthy, I know I can play. I can play this game. So it was very gratifying today just to ball like I did and get my teammate involved.
Q. Matt, looked like you were matched up a lot on Brandon Paul today, who had four points, 2 of 11. Do anything particularly different on him or just paid a lot of attention to him?
MATT GATENS: Yeah, coming in definitely, because he's the leading scorer, one of our main keys, and we approached the game with our eye on him. And last game, he had 17 against us, so we knew he was going to be a key to stop but as a team effort on him. I just wanted to be the aggressor and make it tough on him, limit his touches and his easy looks, but other guys getting their hands in there and getting their hands in his face and making his looks tough.
But I thought overall, we did a good job on him. He's a good player.
Q. Just for any of you guys, Zach is really (Off Microphone)?
AARON WHITE: Couldn't really hear you, to be honest with you. I'm sorry. You kinda cut in and out.
Q. Zach, on the defensive end, as far as the dirty work
AARON WHITE: Oh, yeah. You know, being undersized at 6-7, to go out there and front Meyers like that, seven foot one, just unbelievable effort. That's not the first time he's done that. He's done that in the Northwestern game, denying the high post.
I mean, in this league you got a bunch of centers. You got (Cody) Zeller. You got, obviously, Leonard. That's just a tough match up for him. But he's working his tail off, really proud of him. Be out in front of 'em and fight 'em and then go get a couple rebounds for our side was huge. So maybe his numbers aren't showing it, but he's definitely making a big impact for our team.
Q. This one is for Bryce and Matt. After Illinois hit a three that cut the lead to one, Bryce, you were inbounding the ball to Matt; Matt, you caught the ball. Were you first of all, Bryce, were you looking for Matt? And second of all, Matt, when you got the ball and then turned to dribble up the court, were you looking to get fouled immediately and then you decided to just to dribble it all the way up? Bryce, start with you, please.
BRYCE CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, I was looking for Matt. He's our best free throw shooter, so we needed to get the ball to Matt so he could ensure ourselves some points.
MATT GATENS: Yeah, when he got it to me, you're expecting to get fouled right away. I think there was like 16 on the clock. They tried a trap, and I just split it. And at that point, I wanted to get up the court and waste as much clock as I could. Those last minutes seemed to take forever, and you just want to run them out, but they came from behind and got me and it was a good find by Bryce.
Q. Any or all of the players, you guys were down seven and then it seemed like two minutes later you were up seven. Talk about what you saw there from them. Did you sort of feel like you got into their heads? Did they sort of lose whatever what was the changeover you saw from them?
AARON WHITE: The momentum of the game really switched. Matt really sparked that run with that three in the corner and the steal and the dunk. And when the momentum changes like that, you just feel really confident coming down the floor, both defensively and offensively.
So for us, we got a couple stops, started making our shots on the other end. And the next thing you know, we're up six or seven points and the whole game has flipped in a matter of a couple minutes. But, yeah, that was a huge part, and I think Matt really sparked that for us with the three and the dunk.
MODERATOR: Questions for Coach McCaffery.
Q. Coach, how satisfied were you with the rebounding effort in the second half, particularly after the way the game in Champagne went?
COACH McCAFFERY: I think not only the way the game went in Champaign but the way the first half went. We didn't you couldn't get any traction because we couldn't get a second shot. We couldn't get a put back. We couldn't get an opportunity. If we were going to effect some change in the second half or the way things were going for essentially three halves, we had to get some second shot opportunities and keep them on defense a little longer.
Q. You were a little outspoken on Matt not making the all defensive team. Just talk about his defense on Brandon Paul today.
COACH McCAFFERY: You know what, I could come up with a number of different superlatives, but it's the same effort every night. That's why I thought he deserved to be on the team.
Now, I don't want to get too sideways about it because it's disrespectful to the guys who made it because the reality is they're all terrific defenders. But I think he's the best.
Q. Coach, Illinois went this entire game without shooting a single free throw. What's that say about the effort that you got from your defense for all 40 minutes?
COACH McCAFFERY: You know, I could kind of see it early. I thought our defense because our defense was in front our bench. I thought our effort level was incredible. And then you look down at half time and they shot 14 for 28, shot 50 percent, and they had 11 assists on 14 baskets. And it just goes to show you how well they were executing and what kind of players they have and their intention to come in here and play well and play hard and compete and win.
So in the second half, it was much better, I think in particular in the first five minutes. We really made a little real push, and then we had the 20 to 5 run, which was really evident when we got up toward ball and got the passing lane and got a couple steals, Matt, Aaron White, Marble. You know, three big steals there.
Q. Fran, the first half, some of the guys seemed a little tentative going against Leonard. And in the second half, they seemed to attack him in the post a little bit better. Was that a concentrated effort or just something
COACH McCAFFERY: No, you know what, Scott, when you're playing Illinois, your effort has to be concentrated the entire time. You're not going to make a whole lot of changes. You can't play behind them. You have to be in front of them. Now you're worried about high low, you're worried about lobs over the top. And so wing side help was pretty good, but our ball pressure in the second half I think was a little bit better than it was in the first half, not so much from the high post. It was good from the high post in both halves, but from the wing, I thought second half was better.
Q. Fran, (inaudible)?
COACH McCAFFERY: The thing about Zach is, you know, it's great when he has numbers. He had a stretch there where he was getting 18, 20 points. But he affects the game in a positive way if he doesn't have scoring numbers because he's going to defend and he's going to execute, he's going to make his free throws. He's not a big mistake guy.
He has got in foul trouble. If he's going to make mistakes, a lot of times it's fouling. And obviously we were worried about that today because we were going against a guy that's much bigger than you, you're worried about having foul trouble and getting them into the bonus, but that didn't happen.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little about Michigan State? When you played there, they shot the lights out and you're
COACH McCAFFERY: They shot the lights out, but the other thing they did was they beat us up. They really took us out of what we wanted to do. So it was a combination of both. It was an incredibly concentrated effort at both ends of the floor. That's why it was a 30 point game. So obviously we're going to have to do a much better job tomorrow.
Q. Fran, the key from your perspective, three pointer by Matt, then steal and dunk when you were down seven, through your eyes, how pivotal was that in turning momentum?
COACH McCAFFERY: Oh, that was the pivotal piece right there. That was the pivotal part of the game. They're up seven. I mean, Rick, you've been around. Seven can go to 11 quick. Or seven can go to one or two. And that changes everything for the rest of the game. And as Aaron said, we then had the momentum. They had it. And then we hit the three and the steal and the dunk. Now everything's changed. They gotta call timeout and they gotta get reorganized. We can change defenses. We just have a more confident bunch coming out of that time out and we scored the ball.
Now, we got to a point where we were struggling scoring the ball. And we did. And a lot that had to do with how much they were fighting and their defensive effort.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the press in the second half. I think you guys got a couple turnovers
COACH McCAFFERY: We got a couple turnovers. Couple of times they took it right through us, too, and that was unfortunate for us. They got a little bit tentative on one or two possessions there. And that's kind of what you want. You want them to go a little bit sideways, a little bit less, especially when you have athletes and a great big guy, you want them going a little bit more east and west than north and south.
MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Congratulations.
MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Weber to make an opening statement and then go to questions for D.J. and Meyers. Coach.
COACH WEBER: Well, I thought we played with great energy at the start, and that was the thing we had talked about. You know, D.J. came out and made some shots. When we had the opportunity, got it to Meyers. And then I thought a big basket finished the half by D.J., gave us good momentum into the second half. And then you get a little run, I think, 40 33.
And to Iowa's credit, at that point in the game you can go one way or another, and they made the plays. For us it's just that gut check part of the game. We've talked about it, where you get to that brick wall in the game and you've got to make a decision on how bad you want it and how you're going to maintain a lead.
But we turned it over. We got killed on boards in the second half. And they made plays. I think (Josh) Oglesby, with the 40 33, Oglesby with a big three, Gatens with a three, and then I think the steal by Gatens.
And then you could just see our body language. We kept trying to be positive, pump them up. And, again, to our kids' credit, it's been a great group. I just feel bad for them that they haven't had more success. And they didn't quit, down to the last play.
So we'll go from here. The NIT is a possibility. I think we're probably a bubble. Just depends what happens in other things. But I think our kids want to play if we have that opportunity, and we'll just see what happens.
MODERATOR: Questions for student athletes.
Q. For Meyers, can you just talk about how difficult the last few months have been with the losing and just everything this program has endured recently?
MEYERS LEONARD: You know, it's been a very tough situation. Like Coach Weber always says, we have a great group of kids and a great coaching staff and just a great environment. Obviously we went through a tough stretch with all the losses and just some down moments in the season.
We definitely showed some great moments with the win against Ohio State. Michigan State was a big win. And early in the season we had some success, but, you know, like the last week in media we were just kind of missing that one thing. I'm not really sure what it is and I still don't know to this day.
We have so much talent. I was talking to Tracy (Abrams) after the game. We just have, I feel, like every piece that a team could possibly need, but we're just missing that one thing. It was hard. But off the court, great group of kids. Probably the best team I've ever been a part of. Each and every one of them means a lot to me, along with the coaching staff, and they always know if they call me and need something, I'm going to be there for them.
Q. D.J., did any rumors with your coaching situation did that wear on you at all? Did it affect things in recent weeks?
D.J. RICHARDSON: No, not at all. You hear stuff going around campus, you know. People say stuff here and there. But we still did what we had to do, and coach still coached us, and he did a good job of just getting us through a tough situation. And, you know, me and Brandon (Paul) the upperclassmen, being leaders, we try whatever we can to help coach out on the court. We're out there, and we're out there making the turnover. So coach is doing a good job of coaching, and we just gotta do a better job out there on the court.
Q. Both the players, could you talk about what was going on with Brandon Paul today? He's obviously very talented and things weren't going well for him. What did you guys see?
D.J. RICHARDSON: Brandon kind of struggled tonight. He couldn't get it going offensively. First half he did a pretty good job on (Matt) Gatens. His offense wasn't too good tonight, but first half he didn't do a good job on Gatens. Second half we kind of switched off on him, and obviously he performed better. He stayed consistent. He did some good things for us the last couple of games. You've got to stay consistent.
Q. You guys were up by seven, and then it seemed just within a couple minutes they're up by seven. Can you describe what changed the momentum there?
MEYERS LEONARD: We had a couple crucial turnovers I recall. One on an inbounds play. And kind of missed some defensive assignments. Oglesby, like coach said, hit the three. Gatens got the steal off of us, hit another three. He just kind of made a run. I'm not really sure what happened.
We definitely lost focus there for a minute. And like coach said, we weren't able to get through the wall. We didn't stop playing, but we just we missed some assignments and maybe just weren't cutting enough, cutting hard enough and just executing the way we should. Because whenever we went to whatever coach said to do on offense rather than doing our own thing, it seemed to work. So I think if we were more cut in and able to execute better, it probably would have turned out a different way.
Q. Coach brought up the NIT. Is that the something that you guys feel that you could get up to want to be in?
D.J. RICHARDSON: I mean, it's always great to play in the NCAA. We have a great group of guys, like Coach and Meyers said. We just want to keep playing games. And it's fun being around these guys, you know. This is the best group of basketball players I've ever been around. I love everybody on the team, and we love each other.
We had chemistry throughout the whole year starting in Italy. The NIT, you know, if that's what we have to do, we'll go there and try and win some games there and try to win the championship.
MODERATOR: Questions for Coach?
Q. Bruce, obviously you've talked a lot, I guess, about the struggles throughout the latter part of this season, but now you're at a point where you know you're not going to make NCAA tournament, can you kind of reflect on where this kind of went wrong for you all?
COACH WEBER: Well, we were a young, inexperienced team going into it. I'm not sure where people's expectations were. You always expect to be successful as a coach. And it's a group. We went to Italy. I thought we developed, as they said, some good chemistry.
We started out pretty well. We didn't play pretty basketball, but we were finding ways to win with defense and hustle and togetherness and won some close games.
You know, I think a lot of people probably feel maybe the Ohio State game was maybe the turning point because all of a sudden expectations changed, mindsets changed. And then I don't think it was really a good situation after Ohio State to have nine days off, and that I think and then you had two buys in a short period of time and then all of a sudden you lose a couple close games. Grumbling starts and but, again, I've said all along, they haven't quit. They come to practice. They have great spirit.
I think they want to win sometimes too much. Like tonight when the other team made the run, instead of, like Meyers said, just executing, guys would just go try to make plays. And we've emphasized the whole time, you've got to execute and let the team win the game, not the individual.
So, you know, our spirit was tested. There's no doubt. But they hung in there, and they hung in there until the end today.
Q. Bruce, what was your take on Brandon's situation today? What was going on with him?
COACH WEBER: I think he's had a tendency all year to force things and try to do too much, and then once it started going bad, I think he just kept, you know, going and trying to do trying to make the big play. And then you start you know, you hang your head, and now you're worried about the next play and then he turns it over, whatever.
And I think down the stretch he just was trying to make plays for us. And, again, that's been one of our problems. Let the team do it. Move the basketball. Get it to people. And so he did a good job on Gatens first half. Second half he slipped a little bit.
Q. Bruce, it's been such a rough ride for you and the team the last couple months. Your thoughts is there relief here? Is it disappointment? Are you playing
COACH WEBER: When you lose and don't have success as coach, of course there's disappointment. And, you know, that's why you coach, to help your team be successful. And so you just all you can do is come every day and give your best effort. And I thought our staff did, our kids did. We just you know, again, you have zero free throws today. Certain things, sometimes it's not meant to be.
You can go back to the Minnesota game, the call at the end of the game. We should have won the game. And all those things just kind of add up, and sometimes life isn't fair. Basketball's not fair. It humbles you, and you have to keep plugging in life, you have to keep plugging in basketball.
Q. Coach, have you ever been in a game where you shoot no free throws as a team?
COACH WEBER: I don't think so. Not that I can remember. I didn't realize it until about midway through the second half, and then I reminded the guys that control that, but it didn't seem to do any good.
So, you know, we shot we shoot jump shots. They got to the free throw line with offensive rebounds and they got it inside a little bit. But Meyers gets fouled all the time, and it's really baffling to me how they can call touch fouls away from the basket and then they can let people beat up big guys. And it's almost a disadvantage to have a big guy at times, to be honest.
Q. Meyers seems like for stretches like he could dominate in that game, but yet the last 10 minutes, touches, shots weren't there. What did you see?
COACH WEBER: We turned it over. Quite a few possessions. We had some open shots. Sam made the three, had a wide open one after that. And we haven't shot the three very well all year.
But that's where you've got to execute and be patient and make sure you get he ball. When Meyers said what are we missing, probably a leader. And I think early we had that a little bit with Sam (Maniscalco). And then when Sam's didn't go in, you know and Tracy did a great job. I think he's going to be a very good player. He has a great heart. He loves it. He's kind of been our leader, to be honest. And I said it before. It's the good and bad. If a freshman has to be your leader, it puts you in a bind, to be honest.
But, you know, all year we're not great passers. And then Meyers, I think I think he got a little tired. He gets frustrated. He leaves the post. He stands up. And when you add it all together, you don't get many touches.
Q. Bruce, have you been given any assurance or do you expect to coach in the NIT or beyond?
COACH WEBER: I don't know. I don't even know if we'll be in the NIT, to be honest. So I don't know anything.
Q. Bruce, coaching this game can give you exhilarating highs and crushing lows, and you've seen both. When you've been at one end, had hard is it when you're at the other?
COACH WEBER: It's just like life. There's great moments in life and there's moments that aren't so good, and every day you've got to approach life with a positive attitude. If you just go in a pity party for yourself, nothing's going to happen.
And that's the whole message I've given to our kids this whole time. Sometimes it's not fair. But what you do about it makes the difference.
We showed the video last night, we've done it before, a professor from Carnegie Mellon that was dying of cancer, and he went around, and his view, approach to cancer and life and dying. And, you know, he talked about brick walls, and they're there in life not to stop you but to see how badly you want it. And we hit that brick wall in the game today. But they kept battling down to the last play.
MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.