COACH PITINO: Toughness wins for us. We didn't have a problem with trying to beat them at their game. I thought it was a little bit better to grind it out than to play fast with them because they're so good on the break.
But we just found a way to win. We continue to do that.
I thought these three guys sitting here were extremely tough. Reggie obviously gets his tooth all knocked sideways. We put it back in place. He comes back, makes some huge buckets down the stretch, some great blocks.
Jordan Murphy had 10 big-time rebounds in the second half.
Amir obviously was terrific getting to the basket.
We've won nine of ten. We're excited about that. We're proud of where we stand.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students, please.
Q. Jordan, with the two early fouls, did you know you were done for the first half? How did you change your strategy in the second half?
JORDAN MURPHY: I think mainly at halftime we knew we were down in the rebounding battle. That was one thing we really emphasized during our talk in there.
I really had to get back to what I was doing, just rebounding. The rest was going to fall.
Q. What happened with the tooth getting knocked out? Any hesitation to come back in?
REGGIE LYNCH: I've never had my tooth knocked out before. When I got hit, it was a feeling I never really felt. When I went down, man, something's wrong.
Got pulled off the court. Coach checked to see if I was good. Went back and checked it out, put it back. They asked me if I wanted to wear a mouthguard. I'm not really a mouthguard wearer. I said, I'll do without it. Went back and it felt good. It was kind of knocked back a little, so put it forward.
Q. Amir, talk about the Wisconsin loss. You hadn't lost in a long time. What motivated you coming into this game about how you played in that game as a team?
AMIR COFFEY: The Wisconsin loss was tough. We just got kind of handled in that game, out-rebounded, out-toughed. We wanted to come into this game mentally prepared and physically also, and really take it to them.
Q. Jordan and Reggie, I saw you guys watching the end of the game that preceded you guys. What did you make of the atmosphere during that game and during your game?
JORDAN MURPHY: I thought the atmosphere was really good. That was a really competitive game between two really good teams. Their fans were really cheering them on. I think they were giving a good, hard-fought game. Michigan pulled it out. It was really close.
REGGIE LYNCH: For me, it was a very great atmosphere. Down the stretch, it was a very close game. Watching that and seeing Michigan pull out the win against Purdue doesn't really surprise me. They are a very good team, as is Purdue.
I'm just excited for having that type of environment, as well, coming down the stretch.
Q. Reggie, can you talk a little bit about the balance of this team? Four in double figures, what that means to this team collectively?
REGGIE LYNCH: This team has got a lot of weapons. I love playing with this team so much. Like, if someone doesn't show up, there's a lot of guys that can step up, including me. The last two times we played against Michigan State, I didn't have the greatest game, and other guys were able to make plays.
But this game is just great interior play. Our guards were getting to the basket, making big shots. I just love playing on this team because we just all have so many weapons. We all celebrate each other's success.
Q. Do you feel like in some ways you guys are America's biggest secret right now? You're rising up. Not a ton was expected of you. Now you're showing what you got.
AMIR COFFEY: I mean, we don't really feel like a secret. We just go out there and play, let all the other stuff take care of itself.
Like coach says, he wants us to gain respect. I think that's what we've been doing, just playing good basketball.
JORDAN MURPHY: I agree with Amir. We just worry about playing. We know respect is going to come as soon as we start winning games. Have to play our hardest, leave it all on the court. That's what our main focus is on.
Q. A year ago you're losing in this tournament by 33 points to Illinois. Can you imagine a year later beating Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans?
REGGIE LYNCH: This year I can imagine it because we knew we were going to be a great team before the season even started. As the season has gone on, we knew we were going to be one of the better teams. We're trying to climb to the highest seed we could get. I'm just very proud of our guys, the way we've handled the five-game losing streak in particular, just bouncing back and winning nine of ten, I think.
It's really just been a great year. We're not done yet. We just feel that we need to execute down the stretch when it comes to Michigan.
Q. Jordan and Reggie, talk about the difference between playing the Michigan bigs as opposed to the Michigan State bigs. Very physical. Michigan's bigs are versatile, can shoot the three.
JORDAN MURPHY: Yeah, I mean, Michigan bigs are really versatile. Mo Wagner is obviously really good. D.J. Wilson is good, as you saw today.
The difference between them and Michigan State, Michigan State has more physical bigs, obviously, are less mobile. Miles Bridges is really mobile as well. D.J. Wilson is a little taller, a little bit more versatile, I'd say.
REGGIE LYNCH: Yeah, same here. I was just guarding in the post all day. But now I'm going to have to move my feet on the perimeter, get to some pick-and-pop action. Help Murphy out with D.J. Wilson down low. Just have to be in the help.
THE MODERATOR: Fellas, thanks very much.
We'll take questions for Coach Pitino.
Q. A year ago, where you were, does a day like this bring into relief in your opinion mind? Does that feel like another universe?
COACH PITINO: Yeah, I mean, I think it's excitement. There was nothing more demoralizing than going to a conference tournament last year with three players suspended, Joey King broken foot. I walked out of the elevator today, there was our band, our cheerleaders. I don't remember anyone there playing songs last year. Maybe they did, I don't know. I might have gone out the backdoor (laughter).
So this is what March is supposed to be all about. We did believe we would be a good team. We just felt like we were going to have to eat crow for a little while, for a couple months. Internally we believed that we were really going to make a huge jump.
Our guys have shown that. I mean, we've won nine of ten in this conference. We won eight in a row. That's pretty special.
Q. What happened with Akeem? What is the latest?
COACH PITINO: I don't think it's looking good. We think it's a popped Achilles, unless our doctors don't know. I think they're pretty sure of it. It's a huge blow. If that is the case, I feel awful for Akeem.
My heart dropped. It was a weird play. I didn't see it. All of a sudden, I turn and look, he had crutches. It was kind of a crucial point of the game. I couldn't tell at the time.
But I hate it. I hate it. He doesn't deserve that. His leadership has transformed this team. He's such a tough kid. I know he wants to play at the next level.
If it is the case, we'll be here for him. Our guys, they need to rally around him because he deserves that. He came here with no ego. He transformed our locker room. He made some huge shots.
If it is a blown Achilles, it's a huge blow for it.
Q. Obviously Akeem was put in the starting lineup for Dupree McBrayer. Do you see him filling that role again? Who steps up if Akeem can't go?
COACH PITINO: We will play Amir at the two-some and we will have to play Mike and JR a little bit more at the three-some. We're going to have to adjust. Obviously less than 24 hours is not ideal circumstances.
But it's part of the game. I hate it. I truly hate it for Akeem. I really do. He's a great kid. I'm very, very appreciative of all the hard work that he's given us. You hate to see that.
Q. With Wednesday's events, today Michigan starting to get a team of destiny feel to them, what type of atmosphere are you expecting tomorrow?
COACH PITINO: Don't get me wrong. What Michigan went through, it makes you all think twice. I'm so happy for those guys, that they're safe, that they're playing for each other. Something like that puts everything in perspective. So happy that all those guys are safe. They were able to get here. They're embracing the moment. They're not rattled by it, which is special to see.
But I think we got a pretty special story, too. So our guys feel like they got a little bit of that, as well.
Q. A common theme in your locker room is not being particularly respected, feeling of that. How big a driving force is that right now for your kids?
COACH PITINO: Well, I'm not a big 'nobody respects us'. I don't really get into all that 'cause I think I'm confident enough in ourselves that I don't really try to worry about that.
Our motto going into the year was 'respect'. More than anything, it was about respecting the opportunity that we had. We're a really young team. Obviously we didn't get it done on the court last year or off the court. A big thing that we talked about is taking ownership of who we are, what we're all about, and respecting a terrific once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Then I would say after winning 24 games, winning nine of ten, I think it's morphed into a little bit of the other thing.
So I try not to worry about that too much. I know our guys, whatever gets them to play hard, I'll roll with. But for us, we know we got a good basketball team. You don't win eight in a row, you don't not lose in February, and not have a good team.
We'll see where that takes us. I'm extremely proud of our guys. I think there's been a lot of awesome stories in this league. Northwestern obviously, what Chris did there, that's a Hollywood-type story, the way he's been able to do it, build it the right way.
Michigan, to get that scare. Thank God, everybody's fine. To win two games especially.
I think our story is great. We went into the season with a lot of question marks, a lot of uncertainty. We ended a season with, you know, nobody really believing in us. I'm not sure they should have. We just dealt with it. We believed in what we were doing. We turned it around.
Our players deserve a lot of credit for that. There's a lot of great stories in this conference. I think it's a special conference. I wake up every day and I kind of pinch myself that I'm a head coach at 34 years old in this league. There's so many great coaches, great universities. The basketball is obviously terrific.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks.
COACH PITINO: Thanks.
Michigan State Quotes
COACH IZZO: I've been very proud of this team the last 10-12 games. I have to admit, I was disappointed today. I do not think we competed with the same grit. I was worried about how my young guys would react to a half-a-day prep.
So either the coaches did a bad job, or we just didn't play with the same spunk we played with. We did a decent James Blake in the first half of staying on the boards. That was the only way we stayed in the game. We kept saying on the bench, How are we in this game?
I give Minnesota credit. They must have checked us awfully well for us to shoot probably a season low in both field goal and three-point. But I was disappointed in our performance, I really was. I'm sure the players are, too.
It's a learning lesson. It seems like the whole damn year has been a learning lesson. We learned again today, if you don't come at this level, it's not an AAU tournament, and play 40 minutes, you can play better the second half, you can play better in different parts. It's not going to be good enough.
I think we'll learn from it, grow from it, hopefully do a better job if we get a chance to play again.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students.
Q. You just heard your coach say all that. What is your reaction? Do you agree?
TUM TUM NAIRN: I put that on myself, not bringing everybody ready to play. Got to do a better job as a leader of the team to make sure guys are locked in and ready to play.
MILES BRIDGES: Yeah, we just didn't come ready to play. Myself, I didn't rebound well. We just got to bring it every 40 minutes, man. We can't just come half of the game. We have to bring it every 40 minutes.
Q. I hear there's a cliché that it's hard to beat a team three times in a season. You swept them in the regular season. Did they do anything different the third time around?
MILES BRIDGES: They just played harder. They rebounded better. They just wanted to win worse than us. That's on us. We got to come ready to play. We're playing for a championship. We didn't bring it today.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You may return to the locker room.
We'll take questions for Coach Izzo.
COACH IZZO: I want to quantify his statement. Wasn't like we didn't care. I just don't think some of our young guys understand. Miles played okay. We didn't get much out of Nick early. We didn't get anything out of Cassius. We got a lot better second half out of Josh than first.
I just don't think they understand yet that it gets racheted up. That's what these games are all about.
We tried to warn them. I do give Minnesota a lot of credit. They played hard. They played tough. I mean, we did out-rebound them, which is hard for us to do. We're not that big. We were out-rebounding them by eight or ten at halftime.
We just didn't make some shots. We missed some layups. They did a better job. They hit some shots. It's not like they shot the lights out of it either.
So probably played a little better D than I give us credit for, but we did not execute. We stood around a lot. I thought they just had more zip.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Do you think the guys seeing what happened today will have a different approach next week?
COACH IZZO: Well, you hope so. I said it's been a learning year for me and for them.
Maybe it's my fault, because I talked to them about it last night. I guarded against this. I know what happens.
You win a game. You get back to the hotel. You got an hour, then you're going to a gym to practice on the next team.
But that's what one-and-done time is all about. But they don't know that. AAU ball, if you lose this game, you probably play another one in a couple hours, right? Then another one tomorrow morning. If you lose that, you play in the afternoon.
I think that's really hurt these kids personally. I just think too much, winning is never valued. It's not like they on purpose said, We're not going to play hard. They just don't understand the rise of the level that it takes.
The two threes they hit were just scouting report to the T. Scuffle dribble left and shoot. One thing we've been really good at over the years, why we've been a good turnaround team, is taking one game, by the next day being prepared for the next team.
It is a little more difficult when you have so many young guys. So I'll learn a lesson, too. Maybe we got to change how we did it. I just couldn't believe we were in the game, because I thought they played hard, and I didn't think we played nearly well enough.
Q. After a pretty big win yesterday, do you think their youth and their ability to handle or not handle success played into this? Do you not allow for that?
COACH IZZO: I don't think it had anything to do with beating them three times. Like I said, we played them so long ago, I feel like we played them last year. In fact, one of the games was last year, 2016.
I don't think it had anything to do with that. It wasn't like they ran all over us.
I don't know if we didn't handle that, to me, the word 'intensity'. It seemed like we just couldn't get through that you just got to play harder.
Man, I got great kids. I got the greatest kids. I'm going to have to live with it. It's part of the process. I hate the process, but it is part of the process.
Q. You mentioned having a very young team. They didn't seem scared to me. Do you think there might be some nerves because there's freshmen and it's the conference tourney?
COACH IZZO: I'd like to say yes because it would make me feel better, but nerves would make you miss shots, but I don't think it would make you not run, not be up on ball screens. The things that we didn't do, I don't think those are nerves.
Missed free throws, missed threes, yeah, that can be nerves. I'm cool with that. They should be a little nervous.
That's not why we lost. We lost because we just didn't bring it early. I was disappointed. There haven't been many times, guys, that I've been disappointed in this team this year. Today was one of them. I'm disappointed in myself. I must not have done a good enough job last night.
We got beat by a team that's probably a little better than us, but it would be interesting to see how Richard thought they played. They shot 40%, 31%. We out-rebounded them. I'm not sure he's tickled to death. But they found a way to win. Those juniors and seniors did a better job of finding a way to win. We just didn't do as good a job.
That could be in coaching some. Seriously, I got to do a better job. I just felt like our players did not realize, you know, the sense of urgency is needed for 40 minutes when you play in one-and-done time. It's such a unique thing to do.
So maybe this helps us. Maybe we'll do a better job if we get to play again in a tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks very much.
COACH IZZO: Thanks.