March 14, 2014
COACH BEILEIN: Well, we're thrilled to get that win because as you can see, as Illinois has shown in their last six games, how well the program has played after a tough January. To win at Michigan State, to win at Iowa, and to win at Minnesota in that stretch shows you how good they are. So we had a lot of respect for them coming in. They proved how good they were, and, fortunately, we got some good bounces around the basket to finish the game.
Q. Nik, can you talk us through that last look and kind of what your read was giving it to Jordan?
NIK STAUSKAS: I just came off a high ball screen. I was looking to be aggressive, and I raised up to shoot, and the guy guarding me was still chasing me, and the big came up to me, too, and J Mo [Jordan Morgan] rolled down the lane and he was wide open. I hit him with the ball and he laid it in.
Q. For Jordan, if you could go through that play, too, and kind of the concept of always being ready when you're not a main offensive option?
JORDAN MORGAN: Well, coming out of timeout, Nik [Stauskas] told me he was going to shoot it regardless, so I wasn't necessarily ready for the pass. But I don't know, just watching the shot, there's been times in the past where they've passed that, and we weren't ready because they thought they were going to shoot. So just kind of watching the play, and then as far as catching it, I just put it on the rim and got a nice roll.
Q. Nik, you talked about the importance of going to the postseason playing your best basketball then. How close or how far do you think you are from Michigan playing their best basketball at this time?
NIK STAUSKAS: You know, I think we're coming along pretty well. I think we still have some strides to make defensively. I think that's where we're really going to be at our best once we start locking down defensively. But I think offensively we've been doing a pretty good job so far. Guys are getting better at communicating on defense, getting in the gaps and all that kind of stuff. We're confident in our abilities, and, I think, going forward we're only going to keep getting better.
Q. Nik, Glenn, talk about the zone that they played and toward the end of that second half, it seemed to give you guys some problems. Was there something you guys didn't see on film?
GLENN ROBINSON III: They were playing like a 2 3 zone and it was really high, so they know we have a lot of shooters on our team, so they were kind of taking that away. We tried to hit the middle, and once we did that we got a lot of open looks, but we weren't hitting jump shots today like we normally do. In the first game we knocked down a lot of threes.
NIK STAUSKAS: Pretty much what Glenn said. I think we were getting some pretty good looks in the zone. They were doing a really good job, though. They were making it tough for us at the end of the shot clock. We were getting some pretty good looks, and I think this time around we just weren't making the shots we normally make.
Q. What was going through your guys' mind when Illinois started mounting that huge run and was starting to get back in the game?
JORDAN MORGAN: It was tough because they had us in a -- they were in the bonus, and so they were just attacking the rim, and it was hard for us to necessarily just stay in front without fouling. So that made it tough defensively. And, then, offensively we went through that stretch where shots just weren't falling for us, and I think it kind of just builds, so we just kind of needed to break out of that.
Q. Jordan mentioned the huddle in there and drawing it up. Can you take us through what you wanted and what you saw?
COACH BEILEIN: Well, the difficulty was going to be whether they were going to be in zone or man, so we tried to call a play that works against both, and we still had timeouts left. If we didn't like what we saw coming up, I was going to use another timeout maybe at the 11, 10 second mark. But they came out in man, and so we were just running something to get Nik [Stauskas] the ball, and then get him some action, and then he just read the floor. If he shot it, fine. If he found somebody else, fine. We had Glenn [Robinson III], we had Caris [LeVert] and we had Derrick [Walton Jr.] -- or Spike [Albrecht], all coming open at the same time, as well.
Q. Jordan mentioned that Nik said he was going to take the shot regardless. Is that kind of a step in the right direction for him to kind of take the load on his shoulders, but at the same time be wise enough to make the right read?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, I don't know if that's good or bad. He doesn't really predetermine like that, but I want him to think that way, thinking I'm going to shoot it in. I don't want him to go off that screen looking to pass and being wide open. So he had the right -- he came off, and then looking to score -- if he doesn't have his eyes on the rim, he doesn't get double coverage, and then Jordan [Morgan] is not wide open.
Q. Can you talk about that defense, as well. Was it kind of a 3 2 that they played a little bit earlier in the second half?
COACH BEILEIN: No, it was all 2 3 zone. They ran some full court action just to slow us down. I'll have to look at the quality of our shot a little bit. Nik [Stauskas] went two for ten in the game and -- I think those were the best shots he got were against the zone. He didn't knock them down, but we had people knock down big ones early in the second half between Spike [Albrecht], Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, but we're going to have to make some of those because they were really packed in there.
Q. I want to ask you about being ready in that situation. Even [Jon] Horford when he was in the game with hands up ready, just in case he was going to get the ball and kind of coaching that mentality?
COACH BEILEIN: We do a drill, probably every other day, that I saw from a team we played in the NCAA Tournament. It's just a guy running to the rim with his head turned looking. It's a lot of action, a screen and roll play, but you don't know what's happening. You've got to be able to catch it here, catch it here, catch it with balance and put it in.
I'm telling you -- I probably exaggerate, 10,000 times -- at least 2,000 times in five years Jordan Morgan has run that same drill. There's a bag to hit him, you still got to catch it in a crowd and keep it up and dunk it if he can. He said he wanted to add a little drama to the game, so he decided to put it up on the rim.
But he's practiced that very often.
Q. There are six Indiana kids on your roster. How important has the state been to the recent success of the program?
COACH BEILEIN: Well, I think it's been -- if you look at the footprint of the Big Ten, there's some very good players who grew up in this environment watching these games, so we're looking anywhere within that footprint. And we have a lot of respect for the coaching in a lot of states because we have guys from Ohio, we have guys from Michigan, we have Illinois and Indiana. It just so happened during this little run of recruiting, they sort of all came in together a little bit.
It is important, and we're going to continue to recruit in that state as well as the others within the Big Ten, and anywhere nationally where we find the right fit.
Q. I'm guessing you don't have a preference who you play tomorrow?
COACH BEILEIN: Absolutely not, no. These are two really good teams. We've played Nebraska at home, but we played Nebraska on the road and Ohio State on the road. They're both really talented teams, or they wouldn't be playing right now in this game. We'll watch a little bit of the game and see what we can do.
COACH GROCE: Obviously we're disappointed. That one stings a little bit. When you pour your heart and soul into something, you play as hard as our guys did today, I thought our effort was great, I thought our attitude was off the charts, and thought our execution for the most part was good.
You know, we did a good job of taking care of the ball. If you'd have told me before the game started that we were going to play with nine turnovers, out rebound them, shoot a higher percentage, I probably would have taken it. Just a bounce or two here or there. We were just talking back in the waiting area there, obviously Tracy, we got the ball right where we wanted. Tracy has made big plays for us all year, whether it's Missouri, whether it's yesterday's performance, you know, his ability to lead and be vocal is a big key to our team. I just told him it's not about that last play. There were several other plays during the game.
After the fact -- I think Bill Belichick said it once and it's always kind of helped me from a perspective standpoint as a coach -- that there's all kinds of things that you can second guess after the fact. You can go back, I wish I would have done this or I wish I would have done that. But decisions that are made throughout the course of the game are discussed and they're educated decisions. Most of the times those work, and to be honest with you, occasionally they don't. I think if any coach was honest with you they would tell you that. Just a play or two here late in the game, and we obviously had an opportunity to get a big win today.
Obviously, we have a lot of respect, certainly, for Michigan. They're a very good basketball team and made a few plays down the stretch that enabled them to win today, so we have great respect for them.
But I'm really proud of our guys the way that they battled and the fact that they executed our game plan much better certainly than we did just 10 days ago.
I think you saw what I've been saying now for some time about our DNA, and who we are, and who the guys are in our locker room as people, the way that they responded in the last three games since playing them in Game 1 back in Champaign.
I'm not surprised. We've got great guys. I'm really proud of their effort, and now we've just got to try to build on this and see if we can continue to keep improving. But again, at the end of the day, it's just a play or two right there. We were right there.
Q. Obviously you guys are disappointed in the result, but it's such a massive change from the last meeting with these guys. Did you do anything differently in preparation, not just schematics, but even little things for this game?
TRACY ABRAMS: No, we did a better job of executing exactly what it was we wanted to do. We actually was out there connecting and talking. That was a big difference from the last game. We were out there communicating and connecting, and it showed.
Q. Tracy, when you go through that last shot, it was right there, and then Coach said, it was really close -- what did you take away from that?
TRACY ABRAMS: It's obviously an uncontested shot that I probably could make. But at the end of the day, we obviously wanted to get that one in and we wanted to win, but it came so close, like Coach said. There was a lot of other plays that we can account back to that we could have did different or could have got an extra rebound.
Of course, we wanted to make it and got a little upset, but you've got to keep moving on and keeping learning from those experiences.
Q. You kind of stood there for a while after it, kind of in disbelief. What was going through your mind?
TRACY ABRAMS: Of course, I thought it was going to go in, and I thought we were going to win and I had the utmost confidence. I wasn't shocked that we lost, but shocked the shot didn't go in. But it is what it is.
Q. Now that the regular season is over, what can you take from this and bring into the postseason next year?
COACH GROCE: Sure. Well, I think you can take a lot from it. Just for me, I'll probably appreciate it in terms of what we've been through. We still have opportunities, obviously, to participate in postseason at this juncture, so we want to make sure that we finish our second year as strong as possible.
But just when you look back from March 2012 to now, there's just so much momentum, and these guys that were up here, as well as the guys in our locker room, deserve a lot of credit for that, as do last year's seniors. That's two groups in a row that, I think, certainly in the preseason and maybe even throughout the middle of both seasons, that people counted like they're done. And those guys kept battling and kept fighting. I think that's a reflection of their character.
Obviously our new building and the renovation of State Farm Center, the recruiting classes, the momentum that we've had, I think that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we're headed in the right direction.
It certainly is a process, and I've said from day one, we're not going to take any shortcuts. We're going to continue to grind and get a little bit better and keep improving. Our team has done that. I think our program has done that, and we're excited about where we're going.
Q. You guys showed a lot of resilience today getting down by double figures, kind of what the trademark of this team has been over the last two or three weeks. Do you attribute that to the players' attitudes like you said earlier?
COACH GROCE: Yeah, no question. Great leadership from our captains, our assistant coaches do a great job with our kids. We've got a great group to work with. Even when we were struggling from a win loss perspective, they were great to be around. These guys are a high character group. I think it's a big reason why we've been able to play some really good basketball here late in the year.
Q. You had some success with your zone against them in the second half, and, yet, when they went to the play with Morgan you were in man, I believe.
COACH GROCE: Yep.
Q. Can you talk me through that?
COACH GROCE: I thought it was the best thing to do at that time, a little bit like the Bill Belichick deal I was talking about earlier. Just like we thought, they had changed defenses, out of timeouts. We made the decision there, basically, Dustin and I kind of talked and decided not to call the time out on the one possession where we got the difficult shot in front of the bench. Because we wanted to play man to man knowing if we changed -- they had done it the whole game, they changed to the 1 3 1. And we actually had some success against the 1 3 1, so it wasn't an easy decision.
Obviously, if we score there, we're all saying, great decision not to call time out, and that's kind of what I'm talking about. But we didn't score there, so now it's like, okay, well, maybe you should have.
You can second guess so many things throughout the course of a game. As long as it's -- I tell the staff all the time -- as long as it's educated and it's well thought out and there's a reason, we've got to go with it. Hindsight is always 20/20 on decisions like that. You're right; now that I know that Morgan scored that basket as it looked like it was going to roll off the rim, I would have liked to have gone zone.
It is what it is. Like Tracy said about the missed shot, I think that's part of the game, and it can be frustrating, obviously, and that's why you're disappointed. But one thing about our group is we've never been discouraged. We've continued just to keep fighting and fighting and fighting, and we'll learn from it the best we can.
I can assure you those decisions were thought out, communicated, and we went with what we thought was best at the time.
Q. Following up on that, you guys did have a lot of success with the zone. What went into the decision to play it, and how well did you execute it?
COACH GROCE: Well, we've been really good in it here lately. I think we've played it really well. Obviously most people -- when you think about playing Michigan, they made 16 threes last Tuesday -- aren't going to think about, hey, let's play them 40 minutes of zone. That takes some gumption to do that. But I thought we had played it well, and I think they're such a rhythm team. They're so good on offense. They're second in the country in offensive efficiency for a reason. They execute as good as any team I've seen on film all year in the half court.
I thought at the time they were up by 13 we needed to throw them -- it's the analogy of a pitcher. We had been throwing them fast ball, could we throw them a curve ball or a change up or a slider just to disrupt the rhythm. Did I know for a fact when I made that change that it was going to be good two, three, four, and I'd keep playing it? I'll be honest with you: No. It stuck, so we ended up sticking with it, and I thought it was fairly effective for us down the stretch.
Q. What was working so well for you guys when you mounted that 19 6 run to come back and take the lead?
COACH GROCE: Well, I thought we were getting stops, which was big, and I thought guys were making some plays, made some big shots. We did go small. I thought that was good for us there for a little bit, as well, with Jon Ekey at the 5 and Malcolm Hill at the 4. We were trying to make some adjustments to get ourselves -- fight, scratch and claw back into the game, and our guys made some plays.
Q. Postseason plans, with such a young team, how important is it to keep playing and have game experience?
COACH GROCE: I think it's huge. I do. Obviously, your season gets an opportunity to continue. You get to continue to work with your guys. Especially our team, I think, has kind of been a work in progress all year. Now they're starting to experience some fruits from that labor, and for us to continue to work, to keep getting better, I think is important.
Not everybody gets an opportunity to participate in postseason play. It's not just for all 350 plus teams. Hopefully, we get that opportunity and certainly can make the most of it.