March 13, 2009
MICHIGAN STATE QUOTES
THE MODERATOR: We'll take an opening comment from Coach Izzo. We'll take questions for just the players and finish with Coach Izzo.
COACH IZZO: It wasn't pretty. I think you have to give a lot of credit, we played a team that played their heart out and unfortunately for us beat us at our own game the first half. They out-rebounded us. Got every hustle point, every loose ball.
That team is a good team and I didn't think we played as well. And yet having Goran and Raymar in foul trouble and playing so few minutes I think it hurt us a little bit.
And thank God for Travis and this guy next to me, Chris Allen, who I thought had his best week of practice and one of his better games if you looked at it offensively and defensively the couple of rebounds he got.
My hat's off to Minnesota. They did play well in the second half. I thought we executed better. I thought we rebounded a lot better. I thought we got some loose balls and played more our style. So they took us out the first half, credit to them.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the players.
Q. Did you have a feeling this week, Chris, that you were due for a game like this the way you were playing?
CHRIS ALLEN: All week I was trying to listen to Coach, take all his advice and just talk and try to be more aggressive. So it worked out all right.
Q. Goran, the difference in the second half compared to the first half, and going to the boards. You got out-rebounded the second half, I think was the one difference in the first half.
GORAN SUTON: I think like Coach said, having me and Raymar out in the foul trouble in the first half really hurt us in the boards and I think we are two busy rebounders on the team. I think it made a lot of difference in the second half.
Q. Was there some surprise with Minnesota coming out with the zone early there and just how did you all respond to that?
TRAVIS WALTON: We knew Minnesota played different type of defenses. We know they played man yesterday, primary man on Northwestern, but we know they can play zone. They played zone against us in the first and second game. They are a great team. They're young and they are scrappy, and today they kind of brought it to us in the first half. In the second half we kind of picked it up. But they did a great job of changing defenses on us.
Q. Travis, you've always been known as a defensive guy, but what has it meant to you to contribute to this team offensively even when you're not scoring like you went 35 minutes today without scoring?
TRAVIS WALTON: It's big. Basketball is not just about scoring. It's about making assists for somebody else to have the opportunity to score. And it's about setting people up. Running off plays hard so you can be a decoy to help somebody else score.
So if I'm not scoring on the ball I try to be a decoy or try to make a good pass and not turn the ball over where I'm going to hurt the offense.
Q. Chris or Travis, was the pace in the game about what you wanted and was the zone a factor in that, in getting you guys going, the pace you might have wanted?
CHRIS ALLEN: First, it was just a slow game. It was like a 2 2 1 press. It wasn't really a press, they were just trying to do it to slow us down. At first we were kind of timid, scared to attack and then as the game kept going we started to pick it up.
Q. Chris, last season despite a sour ending against Memphis, you had a big game. Is there anything about the postseason that you feed off of?
CHRIS ALLEN: I wouldn't say that. I'm just trying to play hard and do everything I can to help us win and get to the championship.
Q. Westbrook yesterday had a good second half against Northwestern. You guys pretty well shut him down there this afternoon. Was that a goal of you guys?
TRAVIS WALTON: We knew Westbrook. He's a big time player. Every time in the end of a game he always step up and make big plays. You just seen it all year. So we put a big focus on him in practice and scout team, containing him and not letting him have the opportunities to score on us. We just did a great job helping each other on defense and whoever was guarding him, we was giving him the star treatment as far as what we do and we kind of contained him today in the second half.
Q. Given the injuries and illnesses you've been through, do you feel like you're just now kind of coalescing and putting yourselves together and if so was it frustrating having to wait this long to get everybody together?
GORAN SUTON: Well, I think this is the healthiest we've been the whole year, and I think it's frustrating in the beginning, in the middle. Having Raymar out, having me out. Some other guys' injuries and I think our best battle was still to come and hopefully we can keep moving on in this tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Tom, with the foul trouble, you got a lot out of Gray and Green today. Is there any extra benefit getting more time for them and getting their feet wet a little bit more?
COACH IZZO: Marquise probably deserves a little bit more time. He did a great job and played well in that stretch. And it all comes down to mistakes, and I thought early we didn't play as disciplined as I like to play. We were reaching.
They are a very good penetrating team. Travis said it best. We put a lot of stock into Westbrook because he's a good player. I love Johnson, he plays so hard.
And he did a great job, and he really scored well. So I think we have depth and they have depth, and yet our depth, with foul trouble, really worked to our advantage. Especially I thought Draymond Green did a great job and I thought Marquise did a great job and Chris coming off the bench.
So these three guys, when you get three guys coming off the bench to do some things, that really helps your team.
Q. Tom, just out of curiosity, do you keep a plus/minus stat with your players like hockey? It seemed like Travis' numbers would be off the chart if you did.
COACH IZZO: We've been taking more minuses lately as far as on things we were supposed to do. Travis is the glue guy and did a great job bringing this group together. Like Pat asked, for the most part we're still a little we're getting better, and then we get Ray in foul trouble and G, and the good news is we got guys to bring in. The bad news is we've got to get our main group playing together if we're going to grow as a team.
So we've got some depth. We utilized it today to help us win a game. But Minnesota's got some depth, too, and they're going to be a dangerous team, I think, in this tournament coming up, and I say that because they've got a lot of different weapons and they've got a team that can play big and a team that can play small and they're very well coached.
Q. Can you talk about the alley oop to Morgan coming out of the halftime locker room? Was that a set play? Really seemed to help with the momentum going into that half.
COACH IZZO: Yeah, we tried to go with something to get him going a little bit. He only played six or seven minutes. And so we have a play that we run and it just happened to work, which half of them don't work three quarters, nine tenths or whatever. But it was and I think it got Raymar going a little bit.
Any time you get those kind of plays, I think it elevates your team's energy a bit. It was a good play for us, good way to start out the second half.
Q. Those that cover Michigan State know you well enough if this was a regular season game I think you'd be up there, being a little more upset with how this game went, but you've seen what has happened in all these other league tournaments and stuff. Was it a matter of just survival and moving on, do you have to just say we're satisfied?
COACH IZZO: No. I'm not that cool. I thought Travis Walton said it best at halftime. I try to tell our players, I've been in a lot of games and won a lot of games in my career, and winning games is kind of anti climatic. In the NCAA time or Big Ten Tournament time when you're one and done it's critical.
But if you have lures of grandeur of being something bigger than this, we have to get better as a team. And he said we're not getting better this first half.
I thought in the second half we got better, but I am trying to keep the balance between realizing that first day game for us, second day game for them is definitely an advantage for the other team. Now, after that it goes back the other way.
So it was a day when I said I knew Tubby well, I knew how hard his team was going to play. I said if we can survive this. And they did a great job yesterday and did a great job today.
We just got that little run in the second half and that was the difference in the game. So I am satisfied that we're moving on. I'm not as satisfied with some of the things we did late and we made some mistakes that maybe we'll discuss when we get back.
Q. Could you please talk a bit about your coaching counterpart today and the job he's done at Minnesota since he's arrived?
COACH IZZO: You know, Tubby's been a good friend for a long time. We've played him at Kentucky a lot, and every game was a one and two point game. I went to Kuwait with him so I saw him on another side. If there's a better human being, and I don't say that because he's a friend, I'm on the board with him, but the job he's done up there, the problem is he's doing it too fast. When you do it that fast then everybody expects, expects. And if you ask me, he's way in front of the curve. And if you look at how young this team is, how many good young players they've got, this is going to be a team to recon with.
And they slide a little bit the second half. I don't think they slid a little bit. It's just that other people with more experience, players, maybe rose up a notch. But if you watch the passion he has for the game, he's a hard guy to dislike. He does it the right way. His kids play hard.
We're supposed to be a team that plays hard rebounds, gets loose balls, they kicked our tail in the first half. They really did. And I think that's a tribute to him getting his players right back up. I'm glad he's in the Big Ten. He's a wonderful addition to our league.
Q. Did you know that he would embrace the Big Ten, the defensive presence and defensive style of play? What's the factor that seems to have really pervaded the entire league the last few years?
COACH IZZO: I don't know if he embraces it. I think he's a leader in it. If you watched his teams at Kentucky, they played the same way. And he coaches it to be tough. I had a couple of his guys when I coached in one of those World U.S.A. teams, and I loved coaching his guys, because he embraces guys that go hard, that do it the right way. That's all. That's what he does, if he's got real talented players, if he's got not as talented players. But he's got some good young players on the team and some good older players.
I'm not counting him out. In tournament time he's a special coach and I've gone against him many times and won some and lost some.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
THE MODERATOR: Opening comment then questions for the players.
COACH SMITH: I want to commend and congratulate Michigan State. That shows why they're the top team in this league. They really took it to us in that second half. I thought our kids gave an excellent account of themselves and played extremely hard. Had some breakdowns there in the second half but I thought overall we had a good game plan and our kids stuck to it for the most part. Again, it was a good college game and we fought pretty hard.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Damian or Devron? Okay, guys. I guess you're free to go back.
Anything for Coach Smith?
Q. Was the pace of the game about what you wanted?
COACH SMITH: Yeah, we were doing a good job and pushing the ball. I thought press early in the game was very was effective even though we weren't able to, no one was able to get any rhythm, any consistency. But we were forcing some turnovers and doing some things. We just didn't capitalize a few times, but pace in the game was what we want. We like to play up tempo and we just didn't score, weren't as efficient as we'd like to be offensively.
Q. Coach, normally at this point a team that's out of the tournament looking at the NCAA would try and lobby for its place in the NCAA Tournament. Do you feel like you need to do that? Tom made a pretty good case for you just a minute ago. Do you feel like you needed to do that?
COACH SMITH: I appreciate Tom lobbying for us, and I hope he doesn't send me a bill as a lobbyist. But I think we've had a pretty good resume. We've had a pretty good year. Not a great year but a good enough year. I think looking at the competition and the way we played, obviously we had a tough month, February, but those five games we lost that month were all on the road. So hopefully that accounts for something.
I think we were a team that could play well in NCAA Tournament. But if we don't we'll be happy to go wherever we're up get into the post season play. Any time you get to this point you just want your kids to have had a good experience. You want them to keep believing in the program and believing that they have a chance. And we have a chance to, I think, be a pick to go to the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Two years now your style of play is pretty good fit for the Big Ten with the defensive emphasis and were you surprised at all that defense seems to pervade the league the way it does, just the physical play?
COACH SMITH: Well, it kind of evolves to that, because what you do is just like anything else, you look at the top teams and you say, okay, how do we beat them? How can we compete with them? And obviously in any conference that's the case. And different styles, I think the Big Ten gets that reputation because there is that physicality, but also, as you mentioned, there's a lot of coaches in the league that emphasize defense as well.
I'm more on the side of more of a finesse game. But I think we have to continue to look at ways to improve the game. There are things that we can do as far as widening the lane that I think can help out putting that half moon in front of the basket, that kind of stuff will take away some of the physicality, I think, and would help not just the Big Ten but college basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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