COACH GARD: Obviously extremely happy for our guys and proud of 'em. Thought they played for the most part really well tonight. Shared the ball. They had 15 assists on 27 baskets. Really did a terrific job on both ends of the floor defensively, other than a couple breakdowns here or there, to be able to try to keep Indiana under control with what they can do offensively to teams was evident here and yesterday with what they did to Iowa in the second half, Ohio State at the end of the regular season.
A complete team effort. I thought guys off the bench did a good job, as well. It's always good to get that first one when you get to this point in the season.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students, please.
Q. Bronson, 15-point lead you had in the second half, they started to make the run. What is the focus like at that point? What are you concerned about most?
BRONSON KOENIG: I would say we were just trying to keep our poise, not give them anything else easy, not turn the ball over, and just get good shots every time down the floor. So if we take bad shots, then it leads to, you know, threes, transition points.
We were just trying to take care of the ball, take the best shots possible.
Q. Ethan, one of your teammates said he thought when you guys drew the Indiana matchup, because you played well against them before, you got a little bit excited. You had a good year against them in all three games. What's your explanation for that?
ETHAN HAPP: You mean personally or as a team?
ETHAN HAPP: Personally, the last two games started in doubles. I didn't think I did as well offensively as I could have, even though the numbers don't show it.
I think the biggest thing is that we just come ready to play. We know they're an up-tempo team. We want to control the pace. Not that we want to control the pace, but we controlled the pace in all three matchups. We were able to do it that way.
Q. Bronson, Coach Crean was in there, couldn't say enough about you, going against you. Said it was an honor to coach against you. I saw he said something to you after the game. Would you be able to speak on that? What does it mean to hear that from another coach?
BRONSON KOENIG: I'm very appreciative of whatever he had to say about me. I don't know what he had said. Whatever he said, thank you, Tom Crean.
Q. Bronson, I think when Greg was talking about Trice earlier this year, he said you'd been looking for a point guard to mentor. How do you think he's played, especially down the stretch now, including tonight?
BRONSON KOENIG: I'm extremely proud of him. I just got a question asked in the locker room about, have I said anything to him about March. I pretty much just said, I don't even really need to say anything about March because of his background, where he comes from. I just need to give him all the confidence out on the court.
I thought he did a great job tonight controlling the pace, being a facilitator, knocking down open shots.
Q. You had a rough Big Ten tournament last March. Any difference between a year ago versus now?
ETHAN HAPP: I think we sputter towards the end of the year. Really picked up a sense of urgency. Not that we didn't play urgent last year against Nebraska. I think we just feel like there's more on the line.
We came out more hungry than I think we did against Nebraska. I think we played a little complacent. I think that was the difference between the two games.
Q. After that six-game stretch, now these last three, is there a sense that everything is starting to come together for this team?
D'MITRIK TRICE: Yeah, definitely. After the Minnesota game, we definitely felt good about how we played, whether that was defense or making shots. I believe we're finally clicking on all cylinders as of right now. We're finally back to how we should be playing.
BRONSON KOENIG: Yeah, I think we kind of picked up where we left off during the Minnesota game. We all kind of, I don't know, are playing more together, playing as a unit. We're having fun again. Making the extra pass, knocking them down. Everyone on the court to everyone on the bench is electric, having fun.
It's a good feeling.
ETHAN HAPP: I think for a while there, our offense kind of sputtered. Our defense was keeping us together. Once we got the offense going, our defense was kind of lacking. Now we're focusing on both. We've been doing a good job of maintaining both, not letting one lapse.
Q. D'Mitrik, you played a lot of minutes tonight, facilitated the offense. At what point do you think you grew to the point where you could play a game like this?
D'MITRIK TRICE: I'd have to go back to the trust factor that Coach Gard puts in me, allowing me to play these type of minutes, him trusting me with the ball. Definitely having a couple of starts under my belt really helped.
But just the preparation that I have to take each game to play these type of minutes has really helped me.
Q. Bronson, I think you were asked about maintaining the lead. You said, Get good shots, maintain our poise. Against Iowa not too long ago, you did not hold the lead. Did that help you in any way tonight, any lessons you took from that game?
BRONSON KOENIG: Yeah, I think so. I think handling the press and handling their pressure in general, I think we learned a lot from that Iowa game, myself included, to go demand the ball, go get the ball.
I thought we did a pretty good job of knocking down free throws down the stretch.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You may return to the locker room.
We'll take questions for Coach Gard.
Q. Coach, you have a lot of experience, both as an assistant and head coach, of winning games in March and going far. Is there something you've been able to tell through the years that you can figure out if your team is good versus very good versus great? Is it defense, camaraderie, senior leadership?
COACH GARD: It's probably all of the above. I mean, the terrific teams we've had over the years typically have all three. Obviously senior leadership helps. You have to be able to defend, you know, or you're not going to go very far this time of year.
I think having a looseness about us, too, helps. I don't try to pump any more into the moment than what is, already what comes from the outside sources.
I just tell them, Hey, play. March is for players. Go play. This is your time of the year.
I told them before the game, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. There's probably nothing I'm going to say in this pregame speech that you haven't heard for the last four or five months. Here are a few keys, go play and have some fun with it.
They did that. I think the energy and toughness we played with defensively, as I mentioned before, to be able to keep Indiana under wrap, so to speak, offensively, from their offensive standpoint, I thought was a sign of our synergy. Obviously getting shots to go down, our back court is pretty good with the three or four guys I'm rotating through there.
Everybody is contributing in a way that they can. That helps as you continue to move through the month.
Q. Momentum can be elusive. Do you feel the victory against Minnesota? How much pressure did it relieve from these guys? I don't know if it reestablished some confidence or got them back on track.
COACH GARD: I think maybe more so than relieving pressure was we got back to our identity. We got back to who we are as a program.
Ohio State obviously was not us. It's credit to Ohio State. They made shots. Once we tried to start to guard them, they were warmed up, everything went their way.
Defensively we got refocused on what was important. I think it was that identity coming back, specifically from the defensive end. The energy, how hard we played, those type of things. We fed off of that. That helped us on the other end of the floor, too.
When you can get contributions from a lot of different players... I was told in the locker room we haven't had five guys in double figures maybe since Prairie View A&M. That was a long time ago.
If we can continue to get balanced, have a lot of guys contribute, it helps us as we go forward.
Q. Offensively I think you mentioned it earlier, the ball movement was really outstanding. Have you done something different offensively to promote that? Are the players just kind of catching it here at the end?
COACH GARD: I think we've gotten better at understanding how important it is. We have tweaked a few things and moved some people around a little bit. I think the one thing that's helped is D'Mitrik in the lineup helps us move the ball more, too. It gives us another ball handler on the floor.
I probably played three guards more here in the last couple weeks. Just as he's matured, I've watched him in that position. It's helped to take maybe some of the pressure off the guys that have to do the ball-handling responsibilities.
It's a combination. I think we're maturing. Teams mature in different areas at different times of the year.
But they're playing very unselfish, which is good to see.
Q. What are the breakdowns early that led to so many offensive rebounds and the second-chance points?
COACH GARD: We didn't block out. I mean, at one point in time when I called a timeout, we had three guys outside the three-point line. We were in a scramble situation, too. They had to rush to shooters.
Basically we weren't getting bodies on bodies. Once we started to do that, even rebound from the top down, too, that helped. Some guards got in and got their face in the action, too.
We just started to play a little more physical in the paint.
Q. You were speaking about the senior leadership. Bronson made a big basket at the end. How much of an impact does it make to have him back in good health?
COACH GARD: He's obviously played a lot of minutes in his career, from the time he set foot on campus pretty much.
These guys don't get too consumed in the moment. When the score gets a little tighter, they continue to play on. They've been in these type of situations, tight games before. They continue to play the next possession. Can't push the panic button.
When you have some experience specifically in the backcourt, that helps as much as anywhere. Our two starting guards played as much as they have in their career. That helps kind of calm the masses. When they see those two guys for the most part playing under control, doing the right thing, it helps settle everybody else down as well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH GARD: Thank you.
COACH CREAN: Disappointed with our loss obviously because they made some really tough plays. There were times we didn't defend a shot as well as we needed to. We didn't get down and double inside of the post a couple times as quickly as we needed to.
In all honesty, we missed a lot of shots that we've been making, especially around the bucket. I know we got into the paint quite a bit. We just didn't get as much out of there.
But our guys didn't flinch in the sense of coming back. We kept coming. Unfortunately, that last play Koenig made at the rim, that was an absolute dagger. He is a tremendous player. As I said to him, it's been an honor to coach against him. He has gotten nothing but better. He is going to be a long-time pro. I don't know much, but he is going to be a long-time pro.
They made timely shots, but he led the way. As good as Happ is, Ethan is very good, Koenig is capable of so much. Unfortunately tonight that happened to us a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Question of James and Juwan.
Q. You're one of the best scoring teams in the Big Ten, 81 points a game. This is your third game against Wisconsin where you haven't scored 70. Is it just that they have one of the best defenses you've seen against anyone this year?
JAMES BLACKMON, JR.: I wouldn't say. Not really, it's on defense. I think it's just the pace they play at. They slow it down on us a little bit. Sometimes when our shots aren't going like tonight, it hurt us.
Q. They have a very experienced team. They moved the ball well. How tough is it to defend a team that always seems to find the open man?
JUWAN MORGAN: It's very hard just because the ball moves faster than anybody can physically run. I think once they got us in rotation, them finding the open man, once we close out on him, there's another open man. Seems like we're always in rotation. They were just finding people for the open shots.
Q. Juwan, you've been playing well offensively as of late. What has been going on for you? What was going on tonight with that?
JUWAN MORGAN: It starts on the defensive end. Sitting down with all the coaches, all the different players coming and telling me, that's the way it always started for me last year. I had to get back to the roots of how well I was doing last year. I started on the defensive end locking down, not giving ground on any given possession.
My teammates did a tremendous job of finding me in the open slots. My team was moving the ball. Once we are really moving it, it opens everything up.
Q. How tough is it when you're down 15 in that second half to expend that much energy coming back, get close, then not have it come through for you?
JAMES BLACKMON, JR.: Yeah, it was really tough 'cause we want to play at a certain pace. We got them moving a little bit towards the end of the game, speed 'em up. Like you said, the last play was kind of a dagger. Just a couple stops we needed.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you. You may return to the locker room.
We'll take questions for Coach Crean, please.
Q. The interior defense was really good last night. Tonight not so much. Was that a product of Happ and Hayes being really good?
COACH CREAN: No, I wouldn't say that. They got the ball deep. Two things; we didn't have enough good ball pressure at times, and we didn't get down there to go after the ball enough.
They do a really good job of keeping the dribble going in the post. Our guards, we left the bigs hanging out to dry a little bit at times tonight.
It's hard because they can really pass and play. You have to come aggressively. You can't come halfway or late. You have to come aggressively and be in rotation a little bit against them. They put guys out there that can shoot the ball.
On the other end, I'd love to credit the defense, but we missed a lot of close shots. De'Ron, Thomas, those guys missed close shots around the bucket that if we make those, it's a different story. They made theirs.
We were not nearly as effective getting down and causing the congestion on their shot as we needed to.
Q. I was sitting right behind the Badgers' best, heard Koenig said thank you a couple times.
COACH CREAN: I just shared that time with him. I pretty much said what I said. Thank you.
Q. Tom, they went through a rough stretch like many teams in the Big Ten. What do you see them doing now?
COACH CREAN: I don't know. I'm not good at that. I'm not good at dissecting them. They got really good players. They got the most experienced team in the country. They play inside, outside basketball very well.
At the end of the day, they've got Koenig. He makes a huge difference. Just as we went through the stretches where some of our guys weren't as healthy affected us, probably affected them when he wasn't as healthy. He is a big-time player. It's easier to say it now because we're not competing against them. I'm not sure he's ever gotten the credit in this league he deserves.
He doesn't play a game that promotes himself. He plays a game that wins. He can shoot it. He's quick. He can get to the rim, pass the ball. I've been a big fan for a long time. Now it's easier to speak it.
They've got toughness. Showalter knows exactly what he's doing. They score inside. The played faster in the first half when Hayes was in foul trouble. They're a faster team when he's not in, in my opinion.
Koenig, it's ridiculous how much he affects winning. I say that in a good way.
Q. What do you think led to Thomas and De'Ron struggling around the rim tonight?
COACH CREAN: I don't know. They missed shots they usually make. It's one of those things. I can't say.
You have to play through the contact, okay? When you're going to play against a Wisconsin team, whether it was when Bo first came into the league or whether it's now, they're going to put their chest into you. That's what it is.
I gave up complaining about that years ago, right? They're going to put their chest in you. You have to play through the contact.
But we didn't make those shots. It's not the only time we've gone against contact. We didn't make the shots. But we were right there. We were getting it in the paint. We also missed some jumpers we would make.
I think we got a little frustrated because we didn't make the close shots. It is what it is.
Q. You were down 15, came back, made it a four-point game. What do you like about your team being resilient?
COACH CREAN: They weren't going to stop. Our guys have been through so much. I mean, they deal with more than I could even possibly tell you.
They weren't going to go away, our guys weren't. Like I said, we were right there. We were gaining confidence. You just hold your breath sometimes when Koenig has the ball. We didn't guard him well enough. We didn't guard the shot well enough.
The one thing about Koenig, if your hands are anywhere near the middle of your body, he's going to go up and get it off quickly. We were a little late in our rotations because we didn't go quick enough to the post, all right, which spread them out.
As far as the aggressiveness that we played with at the end, it was good. I think we played aggressive throughout the game. Again, our hands weren't where they needed to be on challenging shots. I think we'll be a little disappointed with that.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.
COACH CREAN: Thank you.