March 16, 2014
COACH IZZO: Well, first of all, the team we beat is a hell of a team. We got off to such a good start. We made shots, they didn't make shots. I thought we played some of our best basketball of the year in that first five minutes, and we built a pretty good lead.
You know, we played Kentucky, we played some of the Carolinas, and Wisconsin is very good. Kaminsky has gotten so much better, and I thought we played awfully well. I didn't think we had quite the energy level the second half, but some of that was because of foul trouble, and especially with Adreian [Payne], he played 27 minutes, got 18 points.
And the other fact that I'm really proud of is this guy next to me, Branden [Dawson], 14 points, he's hitting jump shots, seven, eight rebounds, he's really been a difference maker on the defensive end, too. These two guys are worthy of being up here, and yet Wisconsin is a good team, and I thought we had to hang on for our life.
Q. Either of you, tell me a little bit about the progress Denzel Valentine has made this season.
BRANDEN DAWSON: Well, Denzel [Valentine] has been coming in and working since the day we lost to Duke. And after that loss Denzel looked in the mirror and said, Hey, if I want to get better and be a better player, it's going to start with me being in the gym.
You know, he made sacrifices like Coach asked. He's been in the gym since after that loss, summer, in between classes. He's the one that gets us going with his energy, with his music in the pregame. Denzel, he deserves everything, but he's just a great player. He's improved a lot.
Q. Both of you guys, statement game today, statement game tomorrow?
ADREIAN PAYNE: For sure. It was definitely -- you know, it's Michigan, and we're just excited to be able to play them again. They're a great team.
BRANDEN DAWSON: Well, like Adrian said, tonight against Wisconsin, they're a great team. They fought hard. They're a tough team, and they never gave up. Like Adreian Payne said, against Michigan, we just can't come out and just get selfish. We just have to play solid as a team and just come out and play together, like Coach said, just listening to his game plan.
Q. Branden, you haven't had, kind of, full strength to play Michigan this year. How excited are you to be a part of this rivalry again and to have a shot at them again tomorrow?
BRANDEN DAWSON: Well, I'm very excited to be given a chance just to play against these guys. Just sitting out watching those two games, I felt like I could have helped out a lot. Michigan is a great team, and they deserve all the accolades they have been going through. I'm definitely excited, just to be out here playing with my teammates again, and we're looking forward to it.
Q. For either of you or both, Coach has talked about that it'll take some time for you guys to kind of get back into a groove of things. But the way you guys played yesterday and the way you guys played today, do you feel like you're at a pretty good level to be able to do some good things some tournament time?
ADREIAN PAYNE: I think we're just scratching the surface because we didn't play at a high level before. We just haven't had time for everybody to play together a long period of time so we can get our chemistry together. This tournament has been great because we've been able to play with each other more, and we're starting to look better. We're just trying to get better each day, and by us having a game every day, we're getting a chance to play with each other and get better.
BRANDEN DAWSON: Well, I would say it all started from the Illinois game at home. We lost, and Coach talked about coming out with a sense of urgency, coming out with energy, and I think Illinois just wanted it more than us. I think, in practice, Coach talks about our defense. We have to get better defensively and communicate, and I think that's important for us. We've been playing great, our chemistry has gotten a lot better, Keith [Appling] is playing with a lot of confidence, and him and Travis [Trice] are pushing the ball more, and our chemistry is looking great.
Q. Tom, you were concerned about whether you had enough time to find it. With what you've seen the last two nights, are those concerns eased a little bit for this team?
COACH IZZO: Well, they're eased a little bit, but as I told them, we honestly do have a long way to go. I thought we caught Wisconsin, we just started out so good, and they got down. But just the type of team -- it's kind of funny because Bo [Ryan] and I have gone at it now, and I think there's an incredible respect. I told my players, there's no way they're not coming back.
I didn't like the fact that the second half, we didn't seem to have the same energy level. Now, some fouls kind of dampened some of that, I think, but that's still something that this team has to realize. When you're playing in these kind of tournaments one and done, now, next week, whenever, you don't get to have bad halves. Now, we didn't have a whole bad half, but we had some bad times, and that's what we talked about in the locker room.
I'm seeing some confidence in Keith [Appling]. B.J. has got a lot more confidence. He's bringing some things. We're getting a little smoother how we cover things. Not great; I was a little disappointed in my backup guys tonight as far as my - Trav [Travis Trice] was great, but my centers struggled. I think you've got to give [Frank] Kaminsky credit. This is not your typical Wisconsin team. They run, they can score. They've got times when they've got five shooters on the floor. It is a hard team to defend. I told them after, let's get to a Final Four because they're good enough. I really mean that.
Q. As a Michigan native have and a veteran of so many Michigan Michigan State games, put into perspective what the game means to the state of Michigan, especially given the results thus far this year.
COACH IZZO: Well, we've gone through a lot of things over my 20, 25 years, I think, of being an assistant and then a head coach. I think when Judd was here, it ended up pretty even, wins and losses. Then we went through the Fab Five era and then I took over and got my tail kicked for quite a while. And then we did some kicking.
And I think to have a rivalry -- and when you think of Duke North Carolina or Auburn Alabama or whatever rivalry you choose -- a rivalry isn't a rivalry unless both teams are competitive. I think a rivalry is a better rivalry when they're in the same state. You can have some good rivalries that aren't, but when they're in the same state, they are.
And I think both coaches have respect for one another. I'm not going to get into whether we like them or they like us or whatever because I always get asked that. But there's a respectful rivalry now because both teams are good and both teams are playing for a lot. I think they should be playing for a 1 seed. I thought Wisconsin, if they won it, would get one. I still think they're a very, very high seed. We got an opportunity to play them. I told my players, we've got to play three games here. I thought that was important that we get games under our belt, and we play three days, and shazam, we get to play our rival. You know, so it's Fourth of July and Christmas. You get both.
Q. Do you think today may have been the closest you came to playing a full 40 minutes?
COACH IZZO: Honestly, no. The second half I did not think -- I think I know some of the reasons, but I did not think we played as well, but I think Wisconsin played better, too. I'm just going to take my ball and go home and be happy to be honest with you.
I thought it was -- we're getting closer to playing the way I'd like to see us play. We ran, we defended pretty well early. Probably the only negative that I see right now on this team is the fouling situation. We're making some foolish fouls, A.P. [Adreian Payne] is reaching and Gary Harris, and we can't make those kind of fouls. As a coaching staff, I told D.J. we've got to do a better job. Probably with two and a half minutes left to go in the half, should take A.P. out. It's sad you got to think that way, but I think you do.
We played well, played well against Northwestern. This was a big win because I think we beat a team that's -- as I said, I think we're playing for a 1 seed, and I don't think conference tournaments should hurt that. But we'll see how we do tomorrow. It's important to us right now to keep getting better, then we get another three, four days of practice, and then the big dance starts.
Q. How difficult has it been for you to keep your patience and your wits about you through all of this?
COACH IZZO: I mean, honestly, it's been the most difficult year of my career just because I love this team. I've said it from the beginning, I said it in the middle, I said it at the end; it is one of the best teams I've had here. I haven't been able to enjoy them enough. Good guys, fun to be around, good players, got a lot of good chemistry as far as getting along together. Now we've got to get that playing rhythm back.
But, yeah, it's been difficult. Everybody says, Well, you don't look as happy. Why would you look happy with six guys out? There's nothing to be happy about, it's just -- it was hard. It was hard on them.
But, you know, I said, adversity usually makes you stronger in some way, shape, or form. At least if I ever go through this again, I'll know how to handle it a little better. But there were some trying times, but I had to keep reminding myself, just think of them. They're out there, the pistons aren't all moving at the same time. And so I still give them a lot of credit. We did a lot of good things considering.
Q. The last time you were down here you brought the team down to watch the fast break team win the Big Ten Championship. Is there any carryover from that and will there be tomorrow?
COACH IZZO: I like being in championship environments, I really do. I went to the Super Bowl just to see what it's like. When it's closer to home, like our football team and the great job Mark Dantonio did -- when I suggested it to the players two weeks before, and then we go get beat by North Carolina which kind of dampened it. But it really didn't dampen it because the mission was to learn how to win a championship. I thought the most significant part of the night was when I said, Let's get out of here, it's midnight, we'll get home at 4:00 in the morning, 5:00 in the morning, and we left at about 7:00 in the morning. I said, Let's get out and go, and they all said, Coach, we've got to stay for the ceremony, man.
It was so much fun to watch quiet guys that I've got, because some are, waving flags and high fiving their comrades out there, and just the excitement they had to see them win. Mark Dantonio has often talked that I've kind of showed him the way, early, how to win championships, and this year he showed me the way. So is there any significance? I think you can borrow me that linebacker to jump over the pile. I don't know if there's any significance in the game, but I see the significance that was the way we started the season out, learning how to win a championship from our football buddies. And now we get a chance to win our own in the Big Ten, and I think that's an awesome -- that's a good year. That's a good set of events.
Q. Aside from, obviously, getting a positive result tomorrow, what do you need to see improved to feel good about next week?
COACH IZZO: Foul trouble would be one. I think we've got to defend without fouling a little better. We cut our turnovers down; that was good. And see if we can stay consistent, 40 minutes of consistency, and I think our situation would help that.
So those are the couple of things that I want to see. Unselfish play. We had 15 assists and 29, but early in the game, we had 9 of our first 13 were from assists. That's critical. The lack of turnovers, getting eight for the game against, I think, a good defensive team is critical.
You know, it's interesting because you get in this league as long as I've been, I hope four of us get to a Final Four, and that's what I told Bo [Ryan]. I hope everybody plays well. I'm big for the conference. I just want to play a little better than somebody else one more time in the league.
WISCONSINQ. For both guys, what made it so difficult to get over the hump there in the second half?
FRANK KAMINSKY: You know, we dug ourselves a hole in the first half, and we were trying to climb out of that hole the whole second half. And we just didn't have enough left in the tank at the end to get over that.
JOSH GASSER: Yeah, I mean, when you're down 17 at half against a really good team, it's tough to get out of. They outplayed us that first half. We fought, we scrapped to try to get ourselves back, and just couldn't quite get out of it.
Q. Frank, can you guys take enough positive from the way you played in the second half to carry over into next week?
FRANK KAMINSKY: I think there's things we can take away from the game. We know we can't come out like we did and have a bunch of turnovers in the first half. That led to a bunch of fast break points for them. They really got into a rhythm, and we dug ourselves a hole and we couldn't get out of it in the second half. We played much better, and that's how we have to play going forward.
Q. Just for both, how important was it for you guys going forward to keep fighting and to at least bring it close at the end?
JOSH GASSER: I mean, in a one and done format, that's what you've got to do. You've got to fight till the end. It's NCAA Tournament time, so it's one and done from here on out. So if we don't fight and scrap from here on out, bad things will happen. We'd like to come out on top, obviously, but it didn't happen.
FRANK KAMINSKY: We've just got to take it 40 minutes at a time going forward. Like Josh said, it's one and done time. And we know that everything we've worked for this year is on the line now, and we've got to go out there and just listen to the scouting reports and do everything the right way.
Q. Same question from your perspective on what was so tough about getting over that hump there in the second half.
COACH RYAN: Which hump are you referring to? That's what I didn't quite understand, like why we didn't get ahead?
COACH RYAN: Because we didn't make enough baskets, and we didn't stop them enough times. We shot it better. We held them to a lower shooting percentage. We did a better job in the paint. We scored more in the paint. We did a better job on -- in a lot of areas. But when you say get over the hump, the hump was 20 something at one time. Got over that one.
But hump, it's either you get ahead or you're behind. We didn't get ahead.
Q. What changed in the second half or what did you guys do coming out of the locker room to try and get back into it?
COACH RYAN: Just reiterated what we tried to get across before the game. They hit some shots. They made some jumpers. [Adreian] Payne starts out with a tough three. You've got to give them credit for the way they shot the ball.
But we didn't make some -- we didn't make the decisions we needed to make in order to get our defensive players in the half court position. So once you're playing from behind, the number of possessions change. We got behind, and we just had to keep trying to get more than they did on the next -- whether you get 40 possessions a half, 35, 30, it's usually somewhere between 30 and 40. We did not do a very good job on our possessions. And they shot it real well to get a lot on theirs.
Second half, hung in there tough. What's that mean? Of course they're going to play tough; what do you think? Athletes are going to go out there and not scrap and not -- we created some doubt for them shooting wise. We weren't creating doubt early.
I mean, you guys in a driveway, off your garage, you start hitting some shots, and the neighborhood kids are like, Man, that guy is good. Well, the neighborhood kids got to take you out of your comfort spot. Gotta do something.
Q. You talked about your offensive decision-making. Were you referring to shot selection or something else?
COACH RYAN: Yeah, ball movement, body movement, shot selection. It's never just one thing, it's a combination of things. And we weren't very fluid, but we found that fluidity and did a much better job on our points per possession. We got to the foul line, did the things we were hoping to do more of in the first half.
Q. With all the fouls and stoppages in the first half, what impact do you think that had on your ability to come back?
COACH RYAN: Well, in order to make a comeback, if you can score with the clock stopped, that's a pretty good thing, and we've been able to do that over the years. Well, try to do it again.
But just a free throw here, tough jumper by them there. We got them to miss some free throws. One of them hit so hard, our guys couldn't get their hands up in time. That's why I try to tell our guys to have their hands up at the free throw line.
You've got to grab those, and if we come down and score on that one, there's still time. There's a lot of things you can go through, but in order for it to happen, it has to be -- you've got to score with the clock stopped a lot. And you've got to get them to either turn it over or take bad shots and not give them second ones.