March 10, 2007
Illinois Fighting Illini
COACH BRUCE WEBER: It was kind of typical of the first two games, just hard-fought games. Both teams I think showed some toughness. We both defend pretty well. We know each other well and don't give each other easy looks. We had the good start, they had the good middle of the half, first half, then we kind of kept it close.
I told them at halftime, we haven't played well at all and it's a three point game. It's the same type of game that was at our place, and we got going second half. Then they punched back and hit the threes. But we didn't quit and some things went our way, some plays went our way, and we made just enough free throws to find a way to win it. It was a gut check. Our kids, I'm so proud of them. They've been so resilient all year. It seems like we just keep getting knocked down, things happening, and they just haven't quit.
We talked about if we could get to Saturday, we'd feel pretty comfortable about an NCAA bid. I guess you never know, but we've talked about this, let's fight through tomorrow, see if we can find a way to beat Wisconsin and get to something, then you know you're guaranteed of something.
Q. Shaun, I was just wondering if you could talk about that last sequence when you shot four times and scored. You started off with the fadeaway. How did you get back under the basket so quickly to get the first rebound?
SHAUN PRUITT: When I missed the shots and got the rebound? My legs were kind of dead and I really thought they were going to foul me, so I didn't want to go to the free throw line, so I just had to put it in. I don't know. We just had a great effort tonight.
Q. Warren, can you talk about what it feels like to win these two games and get to Saturday, and Coach was saying this was a pretty key win.
WARREN CARTER: It's definitely a big feeling. It's a big win for our team, gives us some confidence going into the Wisconsin game, especially here in Chicago. We had so many guys show up tonight. One of those guys, he made some big free throws down the stretch for us and we've just got to enjoy it a little bit and get focused for Wisconsin.
Q. Warren, at the end you made some defensive plays. This turned out to be a nice night for the big guys. Did you and Shaun talk about that, the way the game was evolving?
WARREN CARTER: Me and Shaun always joke around, we say Shake and Bake off of Talladega Nights. Whenever our front court can do well, whenever our team can go inside out, I think that's always a good sign for us. Especially when teams go man, we always look to get the ball inside to Shaun and we try and play off of him.
Q. Could you talk about getting this done in the United Center? You guys have a pretty good run going on here, and being from the area, do you guys get a little extra push from this building? Just talk about that.
SHAUN PRUITT: Yeah, we definitely do. I think it's like a second home for us. We always have a great crowd of family and friends who come see us. We love the support, and we have a pretty good record here, and we're not going to be able to play here in the Big Ten Tournament for probably like five years or something like that, so we don't be here. We just want to take advantage of the opportunity to play here.
Q. Shaun, you look pretty tired right now. You've admitted it. How much will you have in the tank for tomorrow's game? How deep will you have to dig?
SHAUN PRUITT: I should be good, as long as I can get some fluids and get some rest. I like to play basketball, so I'm going to be ready.
Q. If you guys are Shake and Bake, who's Ricky and who's Cal?
WARREN CARTER: I'm Shake. I'm Ricky Bobby.
SHAUN PRUITT: I'm going to take Bake. He's Shake, I'm Bake.
Q. Warren, talk about this game. Does this game kind of summarize you guys' whole season the way it turned out?
WARREN CARTER: We've definitely had so many games like this that have come down to the wire, and a lot of them didn't go our way. Finally we closed out a game. We finally got the guys that we need.
Like I said yesterday, our team is where we need to be now, and we're just going to stick together and try to make a push to the end of this thing.
Q. Trent, for you sitting out last year and then obviously playing a pretty big role all through this season, how does it feel for you personally to get a win that maybe gets you into the NCAA tournament?
TRENT MEACHAM: It's tough sitting out, but I wanted to help in any way I could. Tonight was a big game for the NCAA bubble. I'm tired of all the talk, I just want to play. I'm tired, but for tomorrow I just want to play and help the team.
Q. Following up for any of you guys, even though it's not over until it's over, do you feel you can exhale a little bit now in terms of the NCAA Tournament?
TRENT MEACHAM: Personally we've been playing in a sense of urgency the past three weeks and we've got to keep that. Right now our focus is Wisconsin and trying to win this Big Ten Tournament, then we'll look to the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Could you just talk about how big Shaun played today? It's kind of an era where so many teams don't even have a true center. I was just wondering if he played like a throwback true center tonight?
COACH BRUCE WEBER: His development over the past three years has been astronomical, just starting with the conditioning and strength, and then once he could keep up with the game, now just kind of getting to post game. He's making the next step now of kind of learning the post, how to steal, how to look for the next pass, little things that can make a player more effective. I think then if we can go the next step with just even taking another step and really putting in the time this next summer.
Probably the biggest thing he's done is he defends much better, and obviously we've defended here this last stretch, and tonight those guys did a great job on (D.J.) White, between Warren and him, and Brian Randle, we post trapped him, made him kick it out, we rotated, just made it very difficult for them to get easy looks.
Q. Could you talk about what was going through your mind when Shaun is missing and rebounding and rebounding and missing, and just the overall feelings after coaching a game like this.
COACH BRUCE WEBER: Well, I guess that play maybe showed it was kind of typified our effort today in the game. We just didn't quit, kept going, kept going. I think maybe early in the year, maybe the shot wouldn't have went in and they would have picked up the rebound. That would have been kind of typical of what we went through. We kept talking about, hey, we were here in this same spot at their place, we didn't execute down the stretch. We didn't execute on defense or offense. We didn't really break down at the end, and that was key. We broke down at Indiana, at Bloomington, and we also broke down at Iowa City, and tonight we didn't. So I guess we keep improving as a team.
Q. In terms of looking forward to what you have to do these next two days in the tournament, your guard play, your starting guards the first three quarters of the game, they just defended well or they were not in sync? It was a big man's game.
COACH BRUCE WEBER: Well, we haven't scored well. We've struggled a lot of it, people say we're making excuses, we just haven't had guys in practice. We've talked about it all year. Our strength is getting it inside, and if we're patient getting it inside, now we can kind of play off of it. We've struggled. Rich (Semrau) has struggled. I really felt bad for him but he still played 41 minutes and he defended. He does all the little things that help us win. He's checked his ego in, and that's difficult for a kid to do in this day and age. All he cares about is helping us win. I'm so happy for him and for all the guys that we're able to have a nice stretch run here and build it up to 23 wins and see if we can make a run at getting Wisconsin tomorrow. It will not be easy. Obviously they're very, very good. But who knows. A lot of people didn't think we could do some things, and maybe we can find a way to figure it out tomorrow.
Q. Talk about the play of Calvin Brock tonight. He didn't score a lot of points but he did a lot of other things for you. Elaborate on that.
COACH BRUCE WEBER: Well, obviously Trent (Meacham) did some nice things. Marcus (Arnold) had some minutes defending on (D.J.) White, and then Calvin really gave us a nice boost early, got some buckets. Has a tendency sometimes to go too fast. But if he just stays settled down, they just decided to put White on our three man and put (Xavier) Keeling or White on Shaun early. Shaun kept just posting up, they'd push him off the block, and then second half, halftime we talked about getting deep. So now we're able to run Calvin, run Brian (Randle), make White run around, and sooner or later he's going to not be able to catch up with those guys. Calvin got a couple little short jump shots, got a couple post feeds, and the bench was very important for us tonight.
Q. For you to see them play like this, considering this year and it's been very difficult, for you is there a level of satisfaction to make this level?
COACH BRUCE WEBER: Well, I'm proud of them and our staff and the kids, and they haven't quit. It seems like the whole season nothing would go right. Just when you maybe feel like you're getting over the hump something else pops up.
It's been a long, hard season. It was a long, hard game. But it's not over yet. We're hanging in there, Illini are hanging in there and they've got 23 wins and they're playing on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament.
Q. How do you think you're different and Wisconsin is different since the game you played against them?
COACH BRUCE WEBER: Well, that was a dog fight. We had a chance, we took the lead under four and then (Greg) Steimsma made the big shots for them and we couldn't find a way to make some shots.
I think a lot of it, we do have a decent match up for (Alando) Tucker. (Brian) Randle, if we can keep him out of foul trouble, we can at least do that. I think the key will be do we have enough energy to deal with Kam Taylor and (Michael) Flowers. I think that will be the key thing, and then we've got to find a way to score. Bo (Ryan) does a great job of defending. They play the pack and just make it really difficult on you.
Obviously we struggle scoring, so we're going to have to figure something out, go back, eat something quick, get started watching tape and hopefully by tomorrow morning come up with a little game plan for the kids after breakfast.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for your time, Coach.
COACH KELVIN SAMPSON: First of all, congratulations to Illinois. I thought their team defended and rebounded. I thought they showed great toughness tonight, and I thought our team did, too, two teams that just really guarded each other. We hold them to 35 percent, we shoot 31 percent. Both teams only turn it over ten times. It's just hard to find a good shot. Both teams are good defensive teams. When you have two teams that play this way, it's going to be a low scoring game.
At the end of the overtime, at the end of our regulation, a couple thoughts. One was to throw the ball to D.J. (White) and run something for him. But the only thing clean we probably could have gotten for him was maybe a they were trapping the ball screen so hard, maybe pick and pop, release him off the screen for a jumper.
But the way they were clogging the lane and defending ball screens and doubling him on the posts, we felt like if we could push everybody to the baseline and give our man some space on top that he'd get a good look and he did. He had a clean look, but just missed it.
We had our chances. Second half, Illinois made a run, they went up, we came back, went up four. Then we had the foul I think that was called on us on the post when the kid made the three. He missed them both, right? I thought that was a big play. It looked like we'd get the ball back up three.
If you have the ball and a three point lead with a minute to go or around a minute to go, I thought that would have been huge for us. But still, we had a chance to win the game, just couldn't get it done tonight.
Another big possession in the overtime was I think (Shaun) Pruitt had three offensive rebounds and a put back there towards the end.
But both teams played hard and both teams competed. We came up a little short.
Q. Earl, how much is your shoulder still bothering you? It looked like when you were heading to the basket you kind of held up except for that last drive. Is it a concern going to the rim and making contact?
EARL CALLOWAY: No, it's not a concern. Certain holes I can see and certain holes I can't. I try not to force it. If it's a clear lane I take it, but the main thing was to create for others because my shots were not falling, so I was trying not to force anything. I'm fine.
Q. D.J., can you just talk about the physical battle tonight? You were obviously involved with a lot of rebounds, just a defensive battle. What was it like being involved in that for 45 minutes?
D.J. WHITE: Well, it came down to the wire. I just tried to go in and help my team rebound. We came up the possession Coach talked about at the end, we didn't come up with a critical rebound when (Shaun) Pruitt got three offensive rebounds and a put back. We just didn't find a way at that point to get the rebound.
THE MODERATOR: We'll finish up with questions for Coach Sampson.
Q. How do you feel about your team going into the NCAA Tournament? Are you okay with the way you're playing right now?
COACH KELVIN SAMPSON: I just think we struggle making plays, but we're capable. If we defend like we have defended the last few games, I think we'll be okay. We can't survive when Rod (Wilmont) and Earl (Calloway) go 2-for-17. We're not good enough to overcome that. We were good enough to win this game and I think we're good enough to win games in the tournament.
But I've said all year long, where we started and where we finished, we became a pretty good team. But that was it. At no point this year were we really good or very good or great. That's just not who we are.
But I'm proud of these kids. We had a lot of opportunities tonight. By about 3:00 o'clock in the morning I'll have this thing figured out (laughter). There's another play, Armon (Bassett) made a great pass to D.J. (White) where it looked like he had a dunk. You've got to make plays. That would have put us back ahead.
But we just didn't do that. Rod and Earl obviously Rod has carried us the last couple games, and Armon and A.J. (Ratliff) shot the ball well from the perimeter. We didn't turn it over a lot. Just didn't have a lot of good looks. But I give Illinois a lot of credit for that. I thought they defended us well.
Q. You touched on this before, but you weren't it didn't appear you were able to get the ball into D.J. very much in the second half.
COACH KELVIN SAMPSON: Well, we did get it to him a lot, he just didn't get a lot of shots. They did a good job monstering him. It's like (Shaun) Pruitt, we did a good job monstering him too. But he got a lot of his points off the offensive boards. If you look at his nine shot attempts, I'd say five of them came off second shots and in some situations maybe even third shots.
But our game plan was not to let Pruitt get to his right shoulder and have his way. But I can't say anything our defense was good. Both teams' defenses played well. We just if Armon makes the basket, we go home a winner. That was a good look, but just didn't make it. That's the way it goes in tournaments. It would have been nice to win it in regulation.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate your time, Coach. Thank you.
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