COACH GARD: Obviously terrific team win, terrific effort. Played exceptionally well. Played really hard. Just proud of our guys, of how they've continued to improve and grow, take little things we have worked on throughout the year and continue to get better at it.
Guys off the bench did a terrific job. Obviously Northwestern has had a heck of a year. For us to come in and play this well, show we're getting better at this time of year, it's a huge step.
Like I said, proud of our guys. Try to get as much rest as possible and get ready for Michigan.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students, please.
Q. Ethan, coming into this game, a rough stretch at the free-throw line, today unbelievable. It seems like the crowd and your alums and fans go nuts every time you make a free throw. What was the secret today? Confidence? Technique? Practice?
ETHAN HAPP: I mean, coming into this tournament I, felt more confident. Last game, I only got one crack at a free throw. I put in a lot of time. Coach Gard has helped me with my free throw, as well.
We put in a lot of time, worked on a lot of things. It's good to see it start to pay off a little bit.
Q. Nigel, you're playing a team that's gone for its third time in three days. You guys are known for your defense. Is that a pretty good combination for Wisconsin, your defense against a team that's somewhat weary?
NIGEL HAYES: Yeah, definitely. We'll take that advantage for us. That's kind of the benefit we receive for doing semi-decent in the regular season, the regular conference.
We know they're playing hard, playing inspired, playing well right now. If they're going to be a little tired, we'll definitely take it. We don't want to run around like spring chickens or anything like that.
Q. As that lead is starting to grow, what is it like playing with a lead like that and the confidence it gives you throughout the game?
NIGEL HAYES: It's a process, definitely. We're trying to become better. It's something that I've noticed. Freshman and sophomore year when we played the good teams, we watched the other really good teams, the teams that go on to do good things is when they get a lead, the things they do. Again, our coaching staff and Coach Gard stresses that you continue to play the game the right way.
I said that to the guys. We had a 15-point lead. I said, We've done the big things to get the lead, makes threes, and-ones, et cetera. To extend the lead, we have to continue to do the little things right now.
I think we did a fairly good job of that. We got away from it a little bit throughout the second half. For the most part, we've taken a step in the right direction of, you know, closing out games.
THE MODERATOR: Fellas, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
Questions for Coach Gard.
Q. They had one assist until the eight-minute mark of the second half. Wisconsin, known for its defense, but 48 points, that kind of play, you had to be impressed with your team's play?
COACH GARD: Yeah, I think we've gotten better as the season has gone on, specifically defensively. We got bent sideways a little bit offensively. We had a hard time scoring two, three weeks ago. Defensively, other than maybe one game or a game and a half, we've been pretty consistent.
These guys understand that's where it starts. We have to be very good at that end. I think this group has taken ownership of that. They take pride in what they do defensively, in how consistent and good they can be.
We'll just continue to build on it, continue to get better.
Q. Towards the end of the game, you had a chance to work in some of your bench. Did you see anything you liked that you hadn't had an opportunity to see earlier in the season?
COACH GARD: Well, I think Alex, for one, is starting to turn the corner a little bit as a sophomore. I've noticed how he's practiced the last two, three weeks. Hence, I've used him a little bit more.
I think him, Jordan Hill I thought did a good job of stepping out. We were out with Khalil Iverson. He's home with his family right now.
Guys are continuing to grow. Every opportunity they have, they need to take advantage of it, whether it's in live action in a game, what they get in practice, in the scout team, or over with me on the other side of the floor. Just take advantage of your opportunities, continue to grow. Our young guys have definitely bought into that, definitely improved.
Our program has typically been developmentally based, in terms of guys growing through the process, getting better. Hence, you see a lot of juniors and seniors on the floors, a freshman here or there. They work and improve as they go through our program.
Q. How gratifying is it to see this team respond from what was a little bit of a rough patch second half of the season to play the way you're playing now?
COACH GARD: It's the right time of the year to be playing like this. We'll continue to try to get better.
We never lost faith in what we were doing, lost hope. It's just a matter of, Let's do what we do better. There weren't any radical changes, anything outside the box. It was just, Let's get back to doing what we do really well. Let's try to improve upon it. That was specifically on the defensive end. That's where, I think, we've taken another step forward here in the last week or two. That's helped us. We've been able to really be pretty effective and efficient defensively. It's helped our offense because we've been able to do that. They've kind of played off one another.
The defensive end is really where I think they turned the corner.
Q. In your first game against Michigan, when you won, Bronson was your leading scorer. In your second when you lost, he didn't play. What do you expect and need out of him tomorrow to succeed?
COACH GARD: It will be all the other guys, too, that will be a part of it. Michigan is playing really well, not only in our league, but in the country. Won 8 of 10, something like that. John has done a heck of a job over the time he's been there.
They got really good players. They have a lot of seniors. They have more seniors than we have. They're playing well at the right time, as well.
We'll have to be very good defensively. There's not going to be anything secret. They know what we do. We know what they do. It will be two pretty good teams going at each other.
Q. Vitto just talked about how the focus today was shutting down the guards. Tomorrow, with this Michigan team, is the help defense going to play a bigger role than the individual matchups, sort of guarding as a team?
COACH GARD: Yeah, I never get too caught up in individual matchups because we are so help oriented. We change some things. There's rotations that are involved within it. We have to have all five pieces working together, not disjointed in any way.
Michigan does test you in different ways. Obviously with bigs, they can stretch you, shoot the threes. Walton is playing as well as any point guard in the country right now. Obviously they've got experience in other areas with Irvin and the other guys that play along the frontline for them.
We'll have to play well. You get to this point in time, you're in a championship game. They're not there by accident, and neither are we. Like I said, it will hopefully be a really good game between two good teams.
Q. Going into this championship game, is there a sense that you want to use this to vault yourselves into a tournament run? Is that a world away, you're focused on this game?
COACH GARD: No, I mean, we haven't talked about the tournament at all. We've talked about the tournament, this tournament, just trying to take three steps in this. We talked about step one. We couldn't get to today until we took care of yesterday. Same thing today, Sunday wasn't going to happen unless we took care of today.
All we're worried about is the game in front of us. That's how we've approached all year. We'll rest up here, get ready for Michigan, get ready to go tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH GARD: Thank you.
COACH COLLINS: Just credit Wisconsin. I thought they were very good today. They were very sharp. They were very physical. They beat us to all the loose balls.
I thought early in the game, both teams were kind of struggling to get a rhythm early. I thought their ability to beat us in the hustle stats was big, offensive rebounds, loose balls. They were good. Their big guys were tremendous. They made shots, 12 threes. That's why they're a championship-level program.
For us, we just never could get in a rhythm. I thought we had some shots early in the paint. We needed to see it go in a little bit to find some energy. We just weren't able to do that.
Credit Wisconsin. I thought they played very well. They deserve to be playing tomorrow.
Q. Bryant, you shot so well in your first two games here. How much of what happened today was the result of Wisconsin's defense and how much was the shots not falling?
BRYANT McINTOSH: A lot. I think they guarded us pretty well. They took a lot of our stuff away, pushed us out on the floor.
We didn't do a very good job of sharing the ball either. We only had a couple assists for the entire game. That's something we have to be better with. When we cause them to collapse, we got to share it.
They did a great job of trying to take our stuff away. It's a credit to them.
Q. Between not having shots fall for you, what they were doing defensively, when the lead starts to get into double-digits, how tough is that?
BRYANT McINTOSH: Yeah, it's tough. They had it going. They were hitting shots. I thought especially in the second half, when we were trying to make a push, we could never close the gap. Trying to expend that much energy after playing a couple games in a row in the past couple days is tough.
They're a really good team. You can't dig that big of a hole in order to try to expend that much energy trying to get back into the game if you're wanting to win at this level.
Q. Bryant, what do you think the vibe is going to be like within the team in terms of how long you think about this one, when you start thinking about what's ahead?
BRYANT McINTOSH: Yeah, I think we'll think about this loss. We'll have to sit on this one until we figure out what our next game is. If we're fortunate enough to get our name called, then it's time for us to move on once that happens.
I'm sure that's how the coaches will be. I think that's how we will be, as well.
Q. Bryant, this is your first extended Big Ten tournament run. How did you deal with the highs and the lows? What did you learn over the past three days?
BRYANT McINTOSH: I think we handled it fairly well. It's so much about when you get this late into the tournament, it's about energy. It's about effort. We didn't have enough of either today.
They beat us every 50/50 ball. They deserved to win the game, and we didn't. Didn't even deserve to be on the floor at some points. They put it on us today.
Just disappointed in our energy and effort.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Bryant.
BRYANT McINTOSH: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Coach Collins.
Q. 25 points over turnovers yesterday, only four today. Is that something you realize that's happening during the game?
COACH COLLINS: Wisconsin notoriously is a team that takes care of the ball. It's not as easy to turn them over. I mean, they're playing all seniors out there. They have guys who played in these games their whole careers. They understand the stage. They're poised. They're tough.
We knew we weren't going to turn them over 20 times. That's not how they play. Against Wisconsin, you know they're not going to beat themselves. If you want to compete against them, you want to beat them. You have to beat them. They're not going to make mistakes.
So you have to execute well. You have to be very tough defensively. You got to lock up the boards. You got to get the loose balls.
I thought those were the areas, especially when they got some distance with us there late in the first half, I thought those were the areas where they were able to stretch out the lead.
Initially our defense was pretty good. We had a few breakdowns. A lot of their buckets were coming off offensive rebounds, throwing out for threes, a loose ball they got which led to a basket or transition.
You know when you play these guys what kind of game it's going to be. It's going to be a possession-by-possession, execute-based game. We weren't able to match that today.
Again, they were the better team. They deserved to beat us.
Q. Looked like you had a nice moment there in the handshake line with Greg Gard. Was some of that in relation to what happened a month ago?
COACH COLLINS: No. I was just wishing him luck. Yeah, they're a great team. I have great respect for their program and him as a coach. At the Big Ten level, I wished him luck for tomorrow, wished him luck in the NCAA tournament.
I've talked all along how much I respect their program. We've emulated, try to do what they've done. It was more just well wishes.
Q. You had a great win last night, a tough one today. How do you make sure on the precipice of history that your team doesn't get too high or too low? Where do you feel your team's mentality is right now?
COACH COLLINS: I think we're going to be fine. We're going to be fine. We got beat today. I think sometimes psychologically we talk too much about all that kind of stuff.
We had two great wins. We got beat today by a really good team. We get rested up. We dust ourselves off. Hopefully, nothing's guaranteed. Tomorrow night, whenever that show is, we see our name called, and we figure out and start preparing for who we're going to play.
But we're going to be fine. We got character in our locker room. We're going to be ready. We'll get rested, get prepared. We'll try to play our best next Thursday or Friday, if we get that chance.
Q. I agree nothing's guaranteed, but it's been a heck of a six months in Chicago. Cubs fans waited their entire lives. I assume that the school and its alumni have waited their entire life. What do you expect in terms of the players, school, alums?
COACH COLLINS: If that happens tomorrow night, I think there will be a lot of happy people, which makes me happy. I love Northwestern. I love the people, the community, the fans. Everybody has really embraced us, embraced this team. I know it's a long time coming for a lot of people that followed the program for a lot of years. Hopefully there will be a lot of joy.
I'll be most happy for the players, though. Those are the guys that have earned this right. They're the ones that have gone out there and performed night in and night out, losing key guys throughout the year, Pardon, Lindsey, for extended periods of time. Just finding a way to win, be effective in this league, get to the semifinals of the conference tournament.
It will make me happy to see a lot of smiles and hopefully excitement on people's faces. For our guys, a lot of the guys came here because they wanted to be a part of the first -- not just the first tournament, but a first of a lot of milestones that this team has been able to accomplish, which they deserve.
They've been a great group to coach. I'm excited to continue the journey. I hope we can keep playing for a while, because this has been a really fun team to coach.
Q. What did you learn about your team here in D.C.?
COACH COLLINS: I mean, I don't know what I learned. I felt we were a good team. I think we're playing well. I really do.
I sense when we played Indiana a couple weeks ago, even though we lost that game, I feel like until today, where we just got beat, were a little bit out of gas, I feel like our level of play has been really good for a four-, or five-game stretch.
We're sharing the ball, playing hard, grinding defensively. That makes you feel good heading into next week. I feel like we're in a good place. I know we're excited to hopefully keep playing.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.
COACH COLLINS: Thank you.