March 26, 2009
THE MODERATOR: While we are waiting for Coach Calhoun, we will go ahead with the UConn student-athletes. Questions, please.
Q. You got off to that 8-0 and then 14-3 lead. In retrospect as you look back on the game, how important was that for you to come out and establish the way you did?
A.J. Price: I think it was very important that we came out and wanted to show what type of team we were, get off to the same kind of start we got off in the previous two games and we did that.
We knew they were a tough team. We told ourselves all week if we got ourselves out to a good run, they were going to come back. They are a very game team, tough team. They proved that time and time again. Every time we made a run, they seemed to cut it back to four, two, something like that. A lot of credit to them.
Q. Can you just talk about the turnaround defensively on Hummel. It seemed like he obviously did most of his damage in the first half.
Hasheem Thabeet: He was effective in the first half. And second half we huddled up the whole team and we said we got to find a way to stop him. And the guys was talking when you play great defense like that, we stay together five as
one, we can play great defense.
And today in the second half, we did that. It was really tough. They got a lot of shooters, moved the ball pretty well. We tried to stay and play defense. When we play great defense, that's
how our offense gets going.
Q. A.J., it was 44-40 midway through the second half. You looked like you just took over, really made some tough shots. Can you talk about that spurt and maybe your mind-set.
A.J. Price: The whole game I felt like I was getting to the spots that I wanted to get to. But I just wasn't able to finish. And I kept telling myself, stay with it, at some point I will finish the shot, finish the play-off and I will make a big basket.
Around that time it started to happen for me. I made two or three tough little floaters in the lane, and it was just being persistent and staying with it.
Q. How important was this game for Craig? He hit a couple of shots early and seemed to find his range. He hasn't been in a rhythm like that for a while.
A.J. Price: It was huge. He got his confidence back tonight, I could tell. I love to see Craig Austrie smiling. Tonight he brought that smile out. He made huge 3-pointers in the second half. He was big on the defensive end the wholegame. Made clutch free throws down the stretch.
I think this was one of his best all-around games he played all season. Hopefully he can bring it again for us on Saturday.
Q. Second half it seemed like you were more assertive at the start. Did you come out with that in mind or did the game just open up that way for you?
Hasheem Thabeet: My guys in the locker room just told me the first half you didn't have good performance. You go back out in the second half and play your game. They know I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff. Today second half
they told me to go back there and do what you do all season long. Again, all the credit goes to my guys.
They really helped me.
Q. You have been mentioned with everything surrounding the team that you do what you do best which is play basketball. How did it feel to be back out on the court?
And then obviously you guys were -- started off well and then a little sluggish before getting together again.
A.J. Price: Felt great to get out there on the court and play basketball. Like I have been saying all week, that's what we know how to do, that's what we focus on and that's what we do best.
We came out here and played as hard as
we can and we played a great team today. I really do believe that. They are a very tough team. They wouldn't go away by any stretch of the imagination. We tried to put them away three, four, five different times, and every time they came back. But we stayed with it and we were able to keep that lead. We prevailed today.
THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Calhoun for a few opening remarks and then questions.
Coach Jim Calhoun: Obviously I'm not upset. Sometimes you are supposed to be upset about things, and I'm more than happy about the way our team played.
I thought that what we said Purdue would do after watching them and what Matt Painter has done with that basketball team, they are not going away, fellows. No matter what we do to them, we are going to have to eventually get that stake and put it in their heart, and I'm not even sure then they will go away. And quite frankly they didn't.
It took a magnificent performance by Craig Austrie, and then in my opinion we talked about it at halftime having Hasheem just took the game over. He had four blocked shots. He also had a lot of drive-in, not a good idea, drive out. So that made it very good for us.
I thought A.J., Stanley, once again, has evolved into that role as our third scorer and rebounder. And the job he did on Hummel who I have incredible respect for, what an incredible player he is. In the first half he lit us up big time, In the second half I believe we held him to two points, a layup late. Just a magnificent defensive job. I thought they did a great job on A.J. Price. They doubled the ball all the time. They did a terrific, terrific job of jumping on him. And he fought his way through it and made some big key hoops when they kept threatening down the stretch. We were then able to use the clock, dominate on the backboard and, once again, allow Hasheem to really control in my opinion the second half of the game.
But the good sign -- and I know this time of year it is getting to be a shot season, but nevertheless, that Craig steps up when Jeff doesn't have a good game, when Stanley steps up, when other people can do the job. Obviously I told them all we're playing for, fellows, is to play Saturday. That's all we're playing for. The opportunity to play Saturday, which is -- now you are playing for something even more special. And the kids came through great. I couldn't be prouder and happier of them.
I told them, it is really true when I said it to them, we are playing Saturday in the Regional Finals. I get goose bumps and I did. And there is no -- there is only one or two better feelings. That usually involves a Monday night. So it was really pretty special stuff for us, and I couldn't be happier with our kids. I thought we played well.
I heard A.J. saying what Matt has done with that team, and they got some young players and Johnson will be a terrific player -- I love Hummel. He really gets them to play at a level of intensity that very few teams ever can play at. He gets them to run their offense at a speed -- I will be very honest with you. We have played some awfully good teams. Nobody ran their offense at the speed they ran their offense and made it very difficult for us at particular points in time to stay with them. That's why they kept coming back.
It was a terrific performance by our kids. I thought a really good performance by Purdue who, quite frankly, ran to one of the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet. Beyond that, the game might have been different if we had just a, quote, regular center.
Q. Can you talk about the defensive switch at halftime, putting Sticks on Hummel, what went into the original thinking and then the switch?
Coach Jim Calhoun: We had the idea of three different people: Craig, his eye on the ball; Jeff, because of his length, Jeff has a 7-foot-2 reach, to play him; and then Sticks. We fear now even more so -- and it hasn't happened to him too much -- Stanley getting in foul trouble. So instead of going -- you want the first option or Stanley? But they usually count what happens not in the heart but at the end of the game. Therefore we made sure if he was, quote, what we thought could be our ace guard, we didn't know it was going to be, we went to him in the second half. That's really what it was. As we sat around thinking we knew we were going to play Purdue after we beat Texas A&M, it certainly was Stanley, our first choice. We know Hummel can lift fake. He moves so much. And I didn't want to get Stanley involved for both defensive and offensive reasons.
Q. Jim, there was Robinson being lost in the last semester and then there was Dyson being lost now for -- late in the season and now the events of the last couple days. Did we learn something about the way that UConn responds to adversity here?
Coach Jim Calhoun: I hope so. I think I said -- and it took me a couple days. I can understand why people might have criticized or not criticized after the game that I just thought it was a loss and I had a chance to put it in perspective.
Just how much -- as I said before, how much admiration I had for the athletic, because it is an overused word, the athletic courage of both teams. So I think we showed incredible grit in that game. We showed incredible grit going back to Gonzaga. But without a couple pieces, a team that was emerging, not necessarily being less but being different. Yeah, the kids -- the kids responded the way some of our teams did. I remember being down in a Final Eight
game to Gonzaga with Khalid El-Amin on the bench and we found a way to get ourselves to St. Pete to win our first national championship. They truly have won 30 games, they truly -- a form of legacy at UConn, won 101 games.
As I told you all along, this has been a special group.
Q. Hasheem was up here telling us that at halftime some of his teammates were telling him to take over and assert himself. Were you telling him the same thing?
Coach Jim Calhoun: The NCAA gives you the 20 minutes. And the first five we leave for them. I will tell you this, I just thought of it because you brought the question up, we are in the coaches' room. To be very frank and honest with
you, there was more talk at halftime than there was obviously in the previous two games or probably any other game where we give them the three or four minutes with each other. Today for that five or six minutes, a little bit
longer, there was an awful lot of talk in our locker room. I think that's good because they believe in each other. They have been together, this group -- A.J., five years with us. Craig and Jeffrey, four years. Hasheem, three years. They can share things that a lot of teammates can't because they aren't sensitive. They have an affinity towards
each other. Obviously since we lost that game, we bounced back pretty well.
Q. Craig hasn't shot that well. Does it -- do you feel good for him that he is able to hit it in this big stage?
Coach Jim Calhoun: You heard me say before I called him in about starting him and all that stuff and I believe in him and I've always believed in Craig Austrie. He has also always been our Papelbon. For those of you that do or do not love the Red Sox, tough. I love Papelbon. He is your closer. Without question, he has that ability for us, particularly last year. And this year there was something at times missing. When we really needed him, he was there. He has always been there for us. And he has really, really been there for us in the NCAA tournament, no question, defensively and offensively. I couldn't feel better than I do than for Craig Austrie. He has the biggest smile. I heard A.J. say that, too. Craig doesn't give you a lot of smiles. I don't care if he smiles because he gave us a great game. For him to step up and make some of those big shots, play great defense, he was very good -- special for us.
Q. You hit on this but can you talk about early in the second half they got it to within three, I think. And then Thabeet made six or seven plays. Made a block every rebound, got some layups, a dunk and it just seemed like it wasn't going to happen for Purdue after that. Can you talk about that sequence.
Coach Jim Calhoun: I agree 100 percent with that. We have been on him a little bit. In thefirst two games he didn't necessarily have to because of the situation, take the game over. He ran out of time a little bit and got in foul trouble in the six overtime game. And the second half of the Pitt game he didn't score even though, he had 14, 15 points and 12, 13 rebounds. He needed to take the game over. I have been telling him that. You are a great player, an All-American and you have to play like an All-American. He has played for us well, but you are right, today he was special and he made the lane a place nobody wanted to go and conversely scoring at the other end. I think we were up by four and we had three seconds left on the shot clock and Kemba makes a great pass and he turns and makes that
jump hook shot and gives us plus six or seven and gave us some breathing room. I have one thing to say. At 7:00 this morning, I talked to Jeff Hathaway for a half hour, had what I thought was a very fruitful conversation
up in Boston. That's all I'm going to say. I thought we had a very fruitful conversation. And he said go get Purdue. I said fine. It lasted about a half hour. And as I said, we are continuing to do the things on the outside we need
to do. My job today was to come and coach our basketball team, and the kids took care of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Locker Room Quotes
On being a shooter:
"Coach Calhoun called me in his office and told me he was behind me, he knows I can shoot the ball and he wanted me to keep shooting. I knew coming into this game they were going to try to stop A.J. (Price) and all the top gunners on our team and I just wanted to be there to kind of relieve them."
On playing in a football venue:
"I liked it. The depth perception was a little off for some guys but it felt fine for me. Once I hit the first one and hit the second one then hit the third one it was all good."
On getting off to a quick start:
"It is definitely important to get those starts. Once we start like that it is hard for teams to really beat us."
On Purdue's defense:
"They play tremendous defense. They get in on you, they bump you, they're scrappy. They are probably the most physical team we've played all year. We stayed poised out there and it worked to our advantage."
On the NCAA violation allegations:
"We didn't even talk about it. I mean, we were here to beat Purdue and that's all we talked about, Purdue."
On the teams rebounds:
"Coach always preaches we've got to beat them on the boards. Teams are so scared of our fast break sometimes they give us the boards."
On possibly being distracted:
"We feel really good. We haven't really thought about it. We just go out there and play basketball. We're just real focused on what we are doing and we can't let that distract us."
On today's performance:
"We have to go out there and play better then we did today, but we have to give Purdue credit for that. We can play a lot better, we are very excited. It wasn't our best game but we are definitely excited to move on."