March 15, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from coach.
TOM CREAN: We're excited about the win. We thought we defended at a very high level to hold a really good shooting team and a high scoring team when they get their offense rolling the way they're capable of, to hold them down in this game.
Our whole focus was getting ready to play our best basketball today and hopefully we play even better basketball tomorrow. Never to look ahead and to stay totally locked into the game at hand.
And I'm excited about the way our guys played. They should be too. And because they started off in a great way, they continued to play at a high level, and we closed the game the last seven minutes, not only defending pretty well, but scoring very well. That's the key. To go 21 24 from the foul line, to rebound the ball the way that we did, those are big, big things for us. So we're excited about the victory.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes?
Q. Victor and Cody, obviously you guys have been the subject of a lot of national headlines, but how important are some of the guys like Christian [Watford] and Will [Sheehey] and Jordan and some of the other guys on this team?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They're huge. It takes our whole team to win. When guys off the bench step up and when Christian and Jordan step up, it's huge for us. They're very capable of that. Without them, we can't win.
CODY ZELLER: It's great. The guys that we have on this team are great as far as everyone is humble, no one's there's no jealousy at all, which makes us a tough team to beat just because we're such a close group. Whether it's me that has 20 or Will or Jordan or anyone else, it doesn't really matter to any of us, as long as we win.
Q. For any of you, I think it was 60-52 coming out of the under eight timeout and obviously a lot of people were kind of thinking about the game at home. What was it that just allowed you to close the game out. You hit them with a five-point burst and they called timeout and from there you just kind of had control.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: We learned from that game. We looked at the film last night and we looked at some things. We know we shouldn't have done some things. We let one get away. We knew what they do and we kept grinding it out and kept playing.
Q. For Victor, you spent a lot of time on Brandon Paul tonight. He was 2 13. Just talk about the job that you did on him to help your teammates and the pride you take defending the other team's best player.
VICTOR OLADIPO: It was huge. But again I couldn't have done a great job without my teammates. Cody [Zeller] did a great job of blitzing. And I wasn't the only one, Will [Sheehey] guarded him and Remy [Abell] as well. He's a great player and we tried to slow him down. He takes a lot of shots in order for them to win. So when you go against someone like that you got to force them to take tough shots and I think we did a great job of doing that.
Q. For Christian, what's the season been like for you as the team's added so many new players, so much young talent?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: It's been great. We got a lot of guys that can score. Any time that you have a team like we have, it's definitely been a fun year for me.
Q. Victor, at what point did you decide to go 360 on that dunk and is that the best one you got?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I know I was going to do something when I caught it, but I don't know, it was just a last second thought. I thought about it while I was in the air, so I just kind of turned around when I was in the air. And, no, that's not my best one.
Q. Cody, in the first half it seemed like for a time the ball got into you in the paint almost every single possession. How much of a priority was that in this game?
CODY ZELLER: It's a priority for us every game, whether it's me or Christian [Watford] getting it inside. They were double teaming, so I was trying to find the open guy. But even if I don't score it, it opens up a lot of things for our shooters on the outside. And I thought we did a nice job of that and it opened up a lot.
Q. You guys were really pushing the pace at the beginning of the game. Obviously that's a priority for you guys in most of your games, but how much more of a priority was that with this Illini team?
VICTOR OLADIPO: It was huge. By watching film we know that when we do that we can excel on both ends of the floor. So they're a good team and we know they're going to make tough shots, so we were just trying to run it down on the other end as fast as we can to change the tempo of the game, because we like going up and down.
Q. Victor, talk about Jordan [Hulls], he only had two points, but he played a really good defensive game. Talk about the role that he played. And also couple words about [Will] Sheehey coming off the bench going 4 4.
VICTOR OLADIPO: Jordan, he went 0-2, but he had a great defensive game and he also had seven assists. So he helped us win. He does a great job of that. He's one of our leaders, he's one of our seniors, and he's very capable of changing the game as well with points. When we can win and he only has what? Two points and seven assists? It just shows how deep our team is and how capable he is of still playing defense at this time.
And Will Sheehey, he's just Will Sheehey. He's a sparkplug. He comes off the bench and he plays defense. He makes tough shots and he rebounds. He's one of our leaders as well. So when they play at a high level, our team plays at a high level.
Q. For any of you, what did you do better defensively? What did you feel better about just in terms of just game plan today?
CODY ZELLER: I thought we were very active, especially on the ball screens. Sometimes, especially for me, it's, we're trying to blow out their screens and I thought we were aggressive overall.
We had a lot of deflections, which is always a big key for us. I thought we were just active. The beauty of that is it leads into our offense I thought it really got our offense going.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You may return to the locker room. Take questions for coach.
Q. Same question I had for Victor [Oladipo] and Cody [Zeller], obviously those guys have been the subject of a lot of headlines, but how important are the veterans on this team, guys like Christian [Watford] and Jordan [Hulls] in terms of the success y'all have had?
TOM CREAN: I think we have a team like we have had that's answered the bell all year long. Responded from tough games. And sitting where we're sitting, the team has been the headline maker. Because these guys are so unselfish and they're so selfless with one another and the way that they work, the way that they share the credit, the way that they play offensively and defensively.
We have been in the top percentages of offense the entire year and we have been anywhere in the top 20 with the defense. I don't think that happens if you don't have a team committed to both. I think it showed again today in five guys in double figures, Jordan Hulls with seven assists, no turnovers inside the game with tough assignments, great looks. Jeremy Hollowell coming in and playing solid, Remy Abell playing, making some big plays, Will Sheehey we consider a starter and he played that way. So I don't think it's anything uncharacteristic for us.
Q. Your ball reversal today and also having that rudder of Jordan [Hulls] to where he's not scoring, but he doesn't get frustrated and try to press.
TOM CREAN: I think we're the kind of team that if you take somebody away from the game, and you don't want them to be the one that scores, there's still so many other guys that can play, because of the ball movement, because we understand that when we're at our best we're a ball reversal team.
There's certain things we want to get early, there's certain things we want to get late, but everything in between is about that ball spraying all over the court and reversing, being reversed.
Q. What specifically were you doing on defense? It seemed like you were really blitzing the ball screens and getting your bigs out very aggressively.
TOM CREAN: I think they were aggressive. I think that's very important. We got guys that can cover a lot of ground when they step out. So there's certain things that, whether we're blitzing or switching, these guys have done a good job all year of being game plan specific, being very, very concept driven in how we guard. So we don't have to spend a lot of time on something to prepare for a game. And they're good at it. But they want to play an aggressive, attacking style and that's, that was the number one key on the board today is attack on both ends.
Q. Almost regardless of what happens going forward you're probably going to be the only team in the country on Selection Sunday with at least nine Top 50 wins and no losses outside of the Top 50. Do you think that's enough to where you've already secured a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens tomorrow or Sunday?
TOM CREAN: I haven't thought about that as much, but I was asked well not just like that after the Michigan game but much the same. I would think that we have I would hope we have done enough. I think when you have the league the way that it is and you win it outright the way that we did. And I think one of the bigger things is the way we played on the road and the only home losses that Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State have are to us. And that says a lot, because those are three teams that can win a national championship and have been considered that way most of the year. So I would hope that we have, but that just remains to be seen.
Q. You talked about the defensive effort in particular. What did rebounding do for you guys? I think you controlled the boards most of the game, you finished plus 12 in that regard. How important was that?
TOM CREAN: The key was that we had our rebounding going from the beginning and we were 26 10 at half and we were getting some putbacks. And where we had our lull in the second half is we weren't rebounding the way that we totally needed to. Then we got that in order and we really closed the game right in the last seven minutes and had our biggest lead of the game with one minute to go.
So rebounding is a huge part of that. We kept stressing it all week, we had 53 rebounds in the Michigan game and if we only get 52 we might have lost the game. So every one of those rebounds matter. I think our guys really, really understand how important rebounding on both ends are and specifically how important guard rebounding is.
Q. What did you guys do so much better this time than the first meeting in getting Cody [Zeller] established?
TOM CREAN: We closed the game better and we established him early. We kept it going late. He's a better player, we're a better team, they're a better team. But we played a much better time and score situation this game. These guys have seen the last seven and a half minutes of that game numerous times. It's not the buzzer beater, that was what obviously was the result, but it was the last seven and a half minutes of that game at Illinois that really hurt us.
And we didn't start the game great. Eight of their first 11 were off turnovers.
So we went back through and as we did after that game and we watched the beginning of the game and we watched the end of the game, but we watched the 30, 35 things, clips where we really did go a great job. Because you don't get in games against these high level opponents without doing a lot of really good things.
So our guys understand fully and when we don't get away from it, we're really good. Where the ball needs to go early, middle, late.
Q. Do you feel like that the Big Ten obviously would be the best conference of the year, do you feel like eight teams is a possibility for them for the NCAA?
TOM CREAN: I would hope so. Yeah. At least. I mean, I think Iowa's a NCAA tournament team. I have all year. I think Minnesota is. I'm not sure, I haven't read any bubble forecasts or anything like that. We just played one. We just played a high level team.
So I don't think there's any question that Iowa and Minnesota are highly deserving of being in that. The other ones are probably pretty much givens.
Q. Jordan [Hulls] hasn't been known for his defense that much. But today he did a terrific job on D.J. Richardson. It was a big turned around from the first game. Talk about how important that late development is.
TOM CREAN: We made some adjustments. We have been making some adjustments in our week, all week long, it was to really make sure that we knew what we were doing when the ball's being penetrated and driven. And you cannot let somebody like D.J. Richardson loose.
And in the first game against us they both, they were, I believe, 14 of 29. And today we were able to hold them to 4 23. That's the story of the game. It's not just one person, when I look at this and how this is Victor's [Oladipo] second straight double double and Jordan has the seven assists and Cody [Zeller] and Will [Sheehey] and all these different guys, but it's a team. It's team defense.
I think that there's some individual matchups, certainly, but when that ball's being penetrated, it is team defense and I thought our guys did a really good job of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead with an opening statement from coach.
JOHN GROCE: I think it was a tale of two halves. I thought our defense was really, really good in the first half. In fact, if it wasn't good, I don't know if I have I told these guys after the game you're playing a team that's been ranked No. 1 in the country more than any other team in college basketball and you shoot 27 percent and 16 percent from three and turn the ball over eight times, and you're down 14.
Had they not showed the resiliency and toughness that they did in the first half, we would have been down a lot more. I thought our defense was really good.
Second half it flipped. I thought our offense was really good and defensively we weren't able to stop them in the second half. I thought they got too many layups, they got baskets in transition.
Obviously, we opened up the floor as a staff because we felt like we needed to increase the number of possessions there. So we started pressing, which opened up the floor for their athleticism. They got a dunk or two. But offense good second half, defense good first half.
When you're playing Indiana, you got to be good in both, on both offense and defense, both halves. So I give them a lot of credit. They made a lot of plays. I'm really proud of our guys' toughness and resiliency, their ability to keep playing and not tie their defensive effort to shot making in the first half, I think probably made me the most proud. Questions for the players?
Q. For both players, you had played in a really tough conference all year and made some comebacks, but how prepared do you feel from these experiences just going into the NCAA tournament now?
BRANDON PAUL: How prepared do we feel coming into the tournament? I really don't know how to answer that. We play in the toughest conference in the nation. If we play anywhere else I feel like we have a chance with anybody in the nation. Obviously we have won some tough games. We came back.
But right now we're just excited for Sunday to see we had a goal going into the season, so we're excited for Sunday to see what happens.
TRACY ABRAMS: I agree with Brandon. We definitely play in the toughest conference in the country, so we'll just wait to see what happens Sunday.
Q. Brandon, defensively what were they doing that was bothering you and D.J. [Richardson] to combine for 4-23?
BRANDON PAUL: They get into you. Obviously [Victor] Oladipo is a great defender. They play hard. They're scrappy. That's something I got to get better at. We missed some shots, but at the same time I was trying to get to the free throw line. And I think I did that well tonight. But some shots just got to fall. They fell yesterday, they didn't fall tonight. That's just something that happens.
Q. Tracy, you guys have had sort of a pattern of you kind of ease into the offense. Again today it was sort of a battle a little bit early and then in the second half it really got going. What's the difference when you guys are clicking on offense?
TRACY ABRAMS: I would say if anything our guys just playing together and trusting each other and trusting the system. Execution, we definitely got to put two halves together. Just execution and executing the game plan and trusting the coaches and the players.
Q. Can you go into a little more detail, Tracy, on what started working for you in the second half?
TRACY ABRAMS: Just being aggressive and just playing under control. I talked to [Assistant] Coach [Dustin] Ford and he just said, just slow down a little bit and just play under control. And I definitely took that advice and I would say things started going my way then.
Q. Brandon, what do you take away from these couple days here at the tournament? I know you guys wanted to be playing on Sunday. Obviously disappointing. But just sort of the overall feeling when you come up short.
BRANDON PAUL: The takeaway is if you compete at a high level, you can compete with anybody in the country. I felt we came in with the mindset that we can win all these games. We went through some rough stretches throughout the game and I felt like once we put two halves together we'll be in a good position. Sometimes one half our defense might be off or the next half our offense might be off. Once we put two halves together we're going to be a force to recon with.
And I think we still, we're going to continue to look forward to Sunday, because I feel like we have a lot of basketball left.
THE MODERATOR: All right. You guys can return to the locker room. Questions for coach.
Q. John, I would like to expand on that very question that you were just asked. It seemed like for a time maybe 10, 15 minutes that the team just couldn't get going and then all of a sudden everything clicked. What's the difference?
JOHN GROCE: I think in the first half a couple things. They were really locked on our shooters. I mean heavy. And I didn't think that I thought that was, that took some time for us to get adjusted to, even though we encouraged them to do that, calling some things and trying to take advantage of that. I thought it was good on their part. I thought they defended well.
Then I think the second part to that is we missed five layups in what we call the own the box area around the rim in the first half. You might miss one, maybe two. But you want to beat Indiana, you got to go 3 5, 4 5. I mean they were crips. They were right there. You can't draw up a play to get a better shot than those four or five layups. We got to convert them.
We convert those, maybe instead of being down 14 we're down seven.
So I thought that was the biggest reason why our offense wasn't very good in the first half. I thought in the second half we got into a little bit of a rhythm. I thought Tracy [Abrams] settled down. I thought Brandon [Paul] was pretty consistent with what he was doing offensively. [Tyler] Griffey made some plays. We got some things on some ATO's out of timeouts and we executed pretty well and got some in transition. But at the end of the day we just weren't able to stop them enough. It's 60 52, we have the ball with 7:50 to go. We're right there. In fact, that's better shape than we were in, in the game at home. But we just weren't able to stop them enough down the stretch. Our offense was good enough in the second half, our defense wasn't.
Q. You mentioned Tracy's [Abram] improved play in the second half. In the first half is he trying to do too much or is it mentality?
JOHN GROCE: Sometimes I think he is. Trying to find that balance. I thought that we wanted him to be aggressive, but we wanted him to be aggressively patient in trying to find that balance. That's not the easiest thing in the world when you're wired like he is, to be very aggressive, which I like. I would rather a guy be that way and try to reel him back in than trying to drop kick him in the rear end all the time. But I thought he settled down and played at a much better pace in the second half.
Q. On your offense a lot of times we focus on where the guys are making the shots on the perimeter. But as you go forward how do you feel about what you're getting inside?
JOHN GROCE: I would like to get more. People ask me, I've had a chance to be involved with offensive play calling in my previous stints and when I was at Ohio State we ran a lot of plays for Greg Oden. We ran a lot of place for Terrence Dials. I think some of the guys we have have got to develop down there. And they can get a little bit better, but at the end of the day some guys have knacks for scoring. Like [Cody] Zeller can score down there. You get him the ball down there he's going to score. Dials could do that. David West could do that when I was at Xavier. He would come to the bench and say, "Coach, just recycle the first three plays."
It's an unbelievable luxury to have when you have that type of paint attack and you have guys that demand double teams or demand the attention of the perimeter defenders. It really opens up some things.
I do think Nnanna's [Egwu] gotten a little bit better down there. Griff [Tyler Griffey] and Hen [Myke Henry] are kind of Griff and Hen. So we got to kind of develop some of what we have already down there. And then, to be honest with you, we have got to add some things with our program moving forward through recruiting.
Q. You had mentioned that you were even in better shape this time around than you were when you pulled off the upset. Does that frustrate the team a lot when they kind of fail where they had succeeded before?
JOHN GROCE: I don't think so. These guys are hard to frustrate. I think the staff does a pretty good job of staying positive. We played pretty good. I told the guys when we were talking, we won seven of our last 11 games. Losses being at Michigan, at Iowa, and at Ohio State. And we were 51 51 at home. And today tot Indiana, who is really good. We have got six, top 25 RPI wins. The only two programs are Duke with seven and Indiana with eight.
We played pretty good basketball. We're capable of playing really good basketball. But I like Brandon [Paul] and Tracy's [Abrams] mindset. I could hear them talking to the team in there after the game and they said, hey, we need to play two halves. That's great. It's one thing for me to say it, but when peers are saying it to one another, that means even more. These guys care a lot about one another and they care about Illinois and about our team, about doing well, about playing well. This time of year that's really important.
But the thing I appreciated the most about them is their resiliency. I thought we were really resilient today. Because the offense was not very good in the first half and as I mentioned at the outset here, it could have been really ugly had we not defended like we did. That's a sign of being mature, that we didn't tie our defensive effort to how things were going for us on offense in the first half.
Q. You played Oladipo twice now and he's a guy that's had a breakout year. What do you see in him as potential with his ceiling and where do you think he's at right now?
JOHN GROCE: Obviously he had 12 and 11, double-double. But I don't think the stat sheet tells the story with him. It tells only part of it. I think defensively he is terrific. He, as Brandon said, he gets up into you, he takes things away, he reads things well. You can tell he's really intelligent defensively. He's as good a defender on the perimeter as we played against all year.
Now you add his things he brings to the table from an offensive scoring perspective and his rebounding and that makes him even more potent.
Q. Joseph Bertrand has struggled lately. Talk about his game today.
JOHN GROCE: He did some good things. He did some really good things. Had five field goals. Thought he was active. Thought he played really hard and competed. Which Joe does that most of the time anyway. I thought he was good.
I thought he had two really solid games here in the tournament and hopefully that will continue to give him confidence moving forward, heading into next week.
He looked great today. Those guys did a great job. Those trainers did a great job. We probably could have tried to play him last Sunday, I just don't know if that would have been in Joe's best interest and our team's best interest moving forward. So it is what it is. But he looked good today. He looked good.
Q. When Indiana was in here people were talking about all the contributions from other guys. And then when you, even here, we're not hearing a whole lot about Cody Zeller, but how good was he today?
JOHN GROCE: He was a load. He's a terrific player. There's a reason he's on all those magazines to start the preseason. First-team All American candidate. Probably a National Player of the Year candidate.
He's a terrific player. He's very versatile. One of the things he does really well, exceptionally well for a guy his size, is run. He can really run. Really run. I thought he was good.
But I thought their other guys were good too. I thought Abell gave them positive contributions, made a couple jumpers, which typically doesn't do that. Those are big plays.
Sheehey makes two, 3's. He's, whatever he is, 32 percent 3 point shooter. Those are two big shots.
Watford made a couple and he's been really good all year from three. He buried a couple. The last one was a real dagger that he made. So he contributed.
I thought Ferrell was really good. Great defensively. Oladipo gets a lot of credit for his defense on the ball. I think Ferrell's really good defensively on the ball. And he really pushed the pace and the tempo and got them some of those layups and easy baskets when we couldn't quite get our defense set. Especially in the second half.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.