March 13, 2014
COACH GROCE: I thought that kind of flipped it around for us a little bit offensively in the second half. And then to finish the game 11-9 on that run and defend the way that we did to take care of the basketball today with turnovers. You know, I thought we did a lot of the little things really well. Obviously we got a great challenge tomorrow playing Michigan. Our guys are looking forward to it. We're going to worry about them when we get back to the hotel. I told them they can enjoy this one between now and the 45 second bus ride back to our hotel and then we got to start to turn our focus on to a very good Michigan ball club.
Q. Tracy, have you ever had had a better game at Illinois, 25 points, 7 rebounds, one turnover?
TRACY ABRAMS: I'm not really concerned about the points and stuff. I'm just glad we was able to be together, pull it out and fight as a team, as a unit. We rely heavily on Rayvonte. He came through for us.
Q. Tracy, just what did you see in Indiana's ball training defense, it seems like you really attacked them off of the screen and roll?
TRACY ABRAMS: They was playing a lot of cross match up. We was just using what they give us. Trying to be aggressive and attack and making good decisions, whether that was going up and in front or kicking it up?
Q. Ray, the last few games you guys have really come together as a team. Talk a little bit what that's meant for the morale as the season ended for you guys?
RAYVONTE RICE: Just everybody stepping up and doing what they're good at. We're just finding out what each other is good at and we execute it.
Q. Ray, in reference to your last answer, now five and one in your last five road games, what's the turning point for you guys?
RAYVONTE RICE: I mean, we're letting our defense I -- I mean, we're just stepping up and playing defense. We're just executing our game plans.
Q. At Indiana, it was a lot like this through their run to open the second half. And then you never recovered from that. That was number 6, 7 and 8 game streak. How different do things feel now?
TRACY ABRAMS: It's a lot different. We rely on each other more. We trust each other more and we're there for each other more, most importantly. When you know that it's easy, you know, to bounce back after a bad play because you know you got guys with positive energy just motivating you?
RAYVONTE RICE: We're just doing better, just finishing games and just playing great defense.
Q. Tracy, I know you said the points don't really matter to you, but you had a couple of rough games this season. How gratifying is it to, you know, have a game like this for this type of moment?
TRACY ABRAMS: I'm positive all of the time. I'm a leader. I'm a captain. If I worried about the bad games that I had, what example is that to our younger guys? For me, you know, I'm just positive. And coach does a great job, staff does a great job helping me out regardless of the struggles I've been having offensively.
Q. Ray, when you're talking about the defense, talk about the roll that Nnanna played today with five blocks and seven rebounds?
RAYVONTE RICE: He's just helping us. Covering for his teammates, that's what it's all about. Just helping each other on defense.
Q. Coach, ever since you put the two freshmen in the starting lineup, I think they're six and three with the new lineup. What do these guys that bring to the table that's made this big improvement?
COACH GROCE: Sure. I thought -- I've said this numerous times. I've been asked the question obviously a lot. It was something that we had thought about doing a little bit earlier than what we did. I just didn't feel like that either guy at that point in time was accountable enough defensively. So we kept working with them. They were very coachable. They were very teachable. That's okay. It takes some time. It's a process. Once we realized that they got it, that light bulb went on. They understood our system and understood the terminology, we knew how talented they were in the offensive end, in terms they can make shots and make place. What that allowed us to do was then take a bench that was entirely compromised of five fresh men and one sophomore and have a little bit more of a blend of experience. Obviously Ekey has played really well both as a starter and off the bench. Joe's been a little bit up and down. But those guys have been willing to sacrifice in order for the team to be better. So I couldn't ask for two better seniors. I think that's been the key to the transition. A lot of the focus has been on the freshmen and how they played and rightly so. They played well. But I this think the senior's ability to adapt not to be a distraction but to be an enhancer of what they're doing in their new role, that's pretty special for a senior to did that. It's not surprising if you know Jon and Joe and their DNA and their makeup, you know, they're great people first and then obviously very good basketball players second.
Q. John, how much were you in the zone and why were you in the zone were you in the zone more today maybe than you have in most games?
COACH GROCE: Yeah, we used it more a little bit late in games here lately. We did in Iowa City as well. I thought it was good for us today. You know, I thought that you know, that on lay was trying to attack ago lieu a little bit. So that was one of the reasons. You know, make a few passes. Try to disrupt rhyme agents a little bit. I thought they got in a little bit of a rhythm driving the basketball when they got out to a 38 33 lead. Fortunately today it was good for us. I thought we got some key stops late in the game certainly using the zone.
Q. Coach, I guess bouncing back from what happened last Tuesday, what's kinds of the message over these next few hours basically?
COACH GROCE: Well, we learned a lot. We take advantage of every circumstance that we're in. I try to tell our guys how important it is to be life long learners. We talk about that a lot. We all to live kind of up to that. Regardless, win or loss all year, we've watched clips of every game. We watched the clips after that game the next day. Certainly we got a lot of respect for them. I thought they played terrific. There was some things this the game we could have controlled a little bit better. I didn't think we execute quite as well as we should have. We'll talk more about that this afternoon as we prepare for tomorrow's game.
Q. Going into tomorrow, is it more important to get out to a fast start, or how do you look at the mental side of a loss like that?
COACH GROCE: As my college coach that just got inducted to the hall of fame I talked to him yesterday, Patterson at Taylor, great coach, great hub. He said to me, you'll be surprised 18 to 22 year olds have amnesia, a lot quicker than coaches do. Like Tracy said, if they had got too caught up, you know, that game was a rough one for us. And we can play better. But to do what they've done here late in the year after the losing streak, I think that's the answer to the question. You know, they're on to the next one. You know, you don't go to Iowa city that's a hard place to plan. Fran does a great job. Play the way we played like three or four days later if you don't have some toughness about you. I think our group is pretty tough. They got to understand that that was two games ago. Tomorrow's game could be a completely different type of game. It's a separate entity within its. We've got to play well tomorrow.
Q. You just mentioned the word toughness, you talked about execution very briefly and after the Michigan game you said that you saw what I saw all that shooting. But is the missing ingredient from that game, was it toughness and if not, what is it?
COACH GROCE: Well, I mean, we'll look at it more obviously here this afternoon. We already looked at the clips once before, as I just said. I thought there was some things that we can control. We want to worry about the things that we can control. We can always control our attitude. Always control our effort. We can always choose to not be discouraged regardless of whether shots were going in for us or the opponent. We can control executing and doing our job on every possession. Those are the things that we'll take a look at. The things you can't control, if you get too if focused on that, I think you can drive yourself crazy in this profession and lose as much hair as I've lot.
Q. The first half they hit six of ten threes they don't make another three the rest of the way, was that a strategy at halftime or just the way the game flowed?
COACH GROCE: No. I was concerned at the half. We had a plan in place. I felt like boy, if they could get the ball into the paint. They've got such great drivers with Robinson and Williams and Ferrell is explosive, does a great job with getting the ball into the paint. I was more concerned don't get overly concerned about them making the -- I thought in the second half when they made that run, to get three, ironically, I thought they livened our defense a little bit. Give those kids credit in the second half, they stepped up. And our guys probably get tired of me talking about them. He moves without the ball. He seems like a great teammate. Plays hard all of the time shoots, pass and dribble. Has good size. He just reeks of winning. I love him. He goes three for three in the first half. As you guys know who covered them, he had been on a tear here lately. We have a lot of respect for him. He made three big shots in the first half of three as well as some other plays throughout the game and fortunately we were able to weather that.
COACH TOM CREEN: Congratulations to Illinois. They played an excellent game today.
Q. You guys got it going from the three point line in the first half, missed the last 11. Did they come out on you more? What changed the rest of the game?
WILL SHEEHEY: The ones in the first half kind of came off movement and penetration. The second half we didn't necessarily get the same penetration and movement that we did the first half.
Q. I'll ask both of you, the zones seemed to give you some troubles. Was that a big factor in the game for you? You came out the second half really penetrating and they went to the zone. There must have been a reason for it.
YOGI FERRELL: We needed to move the ball more, still kind of play inside and out. But we didn't do that the second half.
WILL SHEEHEY: I think we had some sets where we actually did have some pretty good movement within the zone but it wasn't on a consistent basis.
Q. For either of you, what about Illinois toward the end of that game, why were you not able to get over the hump there?
YOGI FERRELL: When they were running the high ball screen, we weren't defending that as well as we were especially in the first half and then they got a couple of key offensive rebounds down the stretch in the second half.
Q. Yogi, specifically, what's it like to play against Abrams that you played against now for two years at that guard position. It seems like he never quits.
YOGI FERRELL: Yeah, I've been playing against him for a while now. You know, it's a good guard, big body. He attacks the rim really well.
Q. Tom, what was your -- what is your message to your team at this point?
COACH CREAN: Bottom line is we can play better. We have to -- you have to match the toughness and the competitive spirit every time that you play. And we've just got to quit making defensive mistakes in coverages and giving them live ball turnovers. Really what I want to do is try to find a different way to say that message because I've given it a few times. And that's the biggest thing.
Q. Coach, you were -- you guys were down 53 to 52 with a little over a minute left. What kind of defense -- it looks like you guys were trying to transition?
COACH CREAN: It was a defensive mistake. It's something that we practiced. It was just a mistake. We didn't get into that rotation as quick as we needed to. We've done it all year. I mean, we've played that kind of defense all year. And in that situation, going to man, they were really hurting us with our high ball screen. So that was one reason that we had to go to more of the zone. We just didn't get over there quick enough based on the person that was up that had to jump into the zone.
Q. Coach, what were your thoughts on your team's energy, especially down the stretch? It seems that guys maybe weren't as energetic that maybe they might normally be in such a close game?
COACH CREAN: Yeah, I have to watch the film. I didn't think our execution was where it needed to be today. At some point you have to grow over -- when things aren't going right for you in lack of offense, then you have to be able to overcome it. And you can't make mistakes on the other end.
Q. Tom, how would you define this season?
COACH CREAN: I wouldn't. Because I hope it's going to continue to keep going. So I'm really, 15, 20 minutes after the game has ended, I really don't have a definition of -- I hope we get to continue to play. It would be an honor to keep playing. And I'd like to see us continuing to get better.
Q. Tom, you mentioned that at some point you have to grow over. What are the biggest growth areas still out there for these guys?
COACH CREAN: The value of the basketball is a big one. Just a four minute talk on the court. And sometimes the energy can lacking when the communication is not where it needs to be. Just continue to make simple basketball plays.
And probably the biggest word that we use is just that intent -- the intent of it -- intent covers a lot of things. It covers your competitiveness. It covers your awareness. It covers your grit. It covers your will, you know, the intent of getting stops.
We started the second half, I think we had seven or eight stops in a row. So that's very good intent. I mean, without question, but it's the consistency of that. And going back to Dana's question, it was your question, right? I think the biggest thing to me that I don't want to define it as but it's certainly been that way this season is we've just never been as consistent as we need to be.
Like I said, I hope that we're going to continue to play and we can keep building it. Because there's a lot of talent. There's a lot of work ethic in there. We've got to keep understanding what our individual responsibilities are for winning and that means making the game easier for your teammates.
And that is the hardest thing in my mind to get when you have a lot of guys that maybe winning came easy or they were surrounded with other good players or there wasn't a premium put on it. But when there a premium put on winning, you have to make a simple play. You have to make it about your teammate.
You cannot lose intent even if it's not going right for you. That's the hardest process to go through with it. If you don't have enough talent, well, that's another hard process. We have the talent. They just have to grow up and they have to continue to learn those lessons.
And days like today, they're hard. You beat Iowa, you beat Ohio State, those lessons come alive pretty good. But you lose like today, in the Michigan game, we had all of that. But again, there was some costly defensive mistakes down the stretch and a couple of turnovers.
And that's been the part of our season that's really been the crux, that as hard as we try to work to get out of it, it still carries over into the games. And we just want to continue to build on that. Every bit of experience this team can get, especially being in this league and what we've learned from this league, to continue to go out and play is very important.
Q. Coach, Vonleh hasn't had double digits in over a month. Do you think that's kind of a result of the foot injury or do you think it's kind of hitting the freshman wall?
COACH CREAN: I don't know. The injury has definitely been there. He was very limited in practice this week. I think you can see that in his energy at times in the game. We've really had to hold him back in the practices. And it's part of it.
So there's no question he can be more aggressive. There's no question about that. But he gets a lot of focus too as you see. As good as Yogi is and as good as Will is, the post double and things like that, the freshman that misses time, it's like missing considerable amounts.
And again, you can say they're playing the games but it's that rhythm of practice. That's why the one zone play we ran at the end when Noah hit Will and Will hit Troy, that shows how good they can execute it. We ran that two days ago. The opportunity to learn it and get those things done, you got to keep doing it time and time again. And young freshmen go through different walls.
I don't know if you ever see a proverbial wall where they just run up to it and smack it. They can hide it pretty well. You can hide it with your practices and not going as long. But there's no question that missing the games that he missed and those type of things bothered him.
But he's going to be a very good player and he's just got to continue to learn and we got to continue to try to help him get better.