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February 18, 2013

Tony Bennett

TONY BENNETT:  Just getting ready obviously to play kind of the measuring stick of the league right now in Miami.  Just watching them play, they've found ways when they haven't played great to be successful, so we're hopefully ready for the challenge, know we'll have to play at a very high level, and looking forward to it.

Q.  Of all the things that Joe Harris does well, what is something that you love about his game that may go unnoticed or barely noticed by the average fan?
TONY BENNETT:¬† He's a great encourager.¬† I watched him when our young guys came into the program, him being in his third year, and then when the freshmen came in, watch him take them under his wing, drive them around, make sure they're comfortable.¬† And he's really an encourager.¬† People might not see that.¬† I was going to say he's really tough, real tenacious, but I think you can see that in the way he plays.¬† But an unknown thing is how encouraging he is.¬† He's always patting you on the back, always touching you.¬† He just has a good‑‑ he's been raised well that way, and he wants to make people feel comfortable and encourage them.¬† And I think that certainly helps the young players, and it's a nice attribute of Joe's.

Q.  When he was injured last year, what has he learned from that experience that has made him a good player?
TONY BENNETT:  Well, Joe, whatever we've asked of him or whatever is required or needed, he'll do it, if it's trying to play the 4 spot and bang inside and rebound.  We'll tell him, don't even look at the rim, just move the ball.  He'll do that.  He'll do anything you ask.  And I think he learned while he was probably not full strength, you learn how important it is to impact a game in more ways than just scoring, and I think he's improved with his defensive abilities, those things.  There's been a natural progression.
But our game against Florida in the tournament, Bradley Beal, he's gone against some good players, but I think he realized that there's another level he's got to get to, and I think he's worked harder to become better in areas that maybe he was a little deficient in.

Q.  Question about when a team, I guess, falls off the track like you guys did a little bit on Saturday.  In terms of defense, what do you do to get a team back on track and focused defensively?  What are your practices like after a game like Saturday and going into Tuesday?
TONY BENNETT:  Yeah, while it was happening, we certainly weren't able to do it against Carolina.  Once they got rolling, we couldn't stop them.  You're never that far away from being where you want to be and sometimes you're not as close as you think.  I think the first thing starts with that your players, your team understands where they felt maybe it slid a little bit or what could we have done differently if you could have.  Sometimes you go against a team that's so hot, but what could we have done maybe to help us stay in that game a little longer, and I think you talk about that.  You have to have a knowledge of that, and then you go to work on it in practice.
With games pretty close together at this time of the year, it's not like you have a week to prepare, but you've got to use film and then you've got to be very sharp on the practice floor and make sure that the areas that maybe, as you said, you went a little astray on that you get back and you address those and you'll have a chance very soon to test it against a high‑level opponent, and that we will.

Q.  When you went back and watched the film of that UNC game, what surprised you about your defensive effort?
TONY BENNETT:¬† Well, we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.¬† When we turned it over, they got some quick buckets out of that.¬† Not that we took bad shots, but there's a stretch sometimes when you feel like the game is getting out of hand, sometimes you need to pass up a good shot to try to get a great one and try to be a little more patient at times.¬† Not always, but I think those are the areas where it's real subtle and it's not‑‑ it's just a little thing here, what we call little incisions that maybe early in the game you got a few easy ones, but there's times when you sense that you've got to possibly let your offense work for your defense and just be sounder and as tough as you can.¬† It's a battle every time you're out there to be in position to make guys earn shots, and we were just a little slow with a our reflexes, our reactions.¬† We were there, but we weren't necessarily bothering some of those shots Hairston hit or some of the other guys.¬† Again, due to their spacing and their offensive talent, but you've got to fight to make it a little harder and I thought it was a little too easy in stretches in the second half for them to get their rhythm.

Q.  We talked a lot about the defense, but the offense has really been clicking the last few games.  What's been going well for the younger guys, and what do you attribute that increase in scoring to?
TONY BENNETT:¬† Well, I think obviously we've shot the ball pretty well.¬† The spacing has been good.¬† When we played Carolina and I saw they were going with four perimeter players, there's some things match‑up wise that present some challenges, so I think that's helped us at times on the offensive end with a little better spacing, and again, when guys have either some room to operate off the dribble or just getting their feet set and getting some rhythm shots, and of course you've got to make them, but I think all those things together, Joe has been playing particularly well, all that stuff is added, and giving some guys some opportunities to get in rhythm and get some nice‑‑ have some nice offensive possessions.

Q.¬† One match‑up that really stands out on Tuesday's game is Jontel taking on Shane Larkin.¬† Can you talk about that match‑up?
TONY BENNETT:¬† I think our team defense has to be at its best.¬† If it's not, it'll be very difficult for us because of their size, their ability.¬† But yeah, Larkin is probably‑‑ I think he's starting to get the attention as probably one of the best point guards in America.¬† What he's done with his team, his quickness, his completeness is impressive, and if he can get going, you've seen what he does.¬† But they have other guys.¬† We've gone against Durand Scott for all these years and his ability to probe and score, and then their size inside, their ability to stretch it.¬† There's a lot of match‑ups that will challenge you.¬† I think they're very complete and they have a very good system offensively for them.
So obviously it always starts with trying to do a good job at the point of attack with Larkin.  My hope is Jontel will really be ready, but it's not any one guy versus their guy.  It's got to be our team defense and that will be our chance.  But again, I hope Larkin is getting the attention he deserves because he's having a heck of a year.

Q.  Speaking of that, you've seen Green in person and I'm sure you've seen tape of Larkin and Plumlee.  Who's your ACC Player of the Year?
TONY BENNETT:  When the ACC is finished, I think that will help me determine.  All those guys are certainly worthy candidates to get it.  I don't know if you can say one.  I think you wait until you get to the end of the year.  It depends on what you weight it on more.  You can make a case for all of them in different ways.  But depending upon who wins, and all that stuff, I think comes into play.  Those are three very good players and right now I wouldn't be able to say which one I'd vote for my Player of the Year.

Q.  I was thinking you might have voted for your own player for Player of the Year, but that wasn't my question.
TONY BENNETT:  Can you do that or not?  (Laughing).

Q.  If I am doing the math correctly, you've averaged close to 80 points for the last four games.  Are you okay with the pace at which your team is playing, or do you think you got speeded up to the point where it kind of hurt you on Saturday?
TONY BENNETT:  I think that before that we were at a decent pace, taking good shots and playing better defense.  I remember against Maryland I thought probably our offense bailed us out a little more.  Without the depth and where we're at defensively, we really need to tighten the screws.  We probably need to come up with a special performance defensively, and we're a little out of position that way.
I think I mentioned some of our inexperienced guys or our freshmen probably in that setting at Carolina struggled a little bit on the defensive end, so we need to be so diligent in that regard.
So as far as the pace of play, yeah, when we couldn't stop them offensively, Carolina in that stretch, I think that's probably where you've got to slow it down a little bit and get better shots at times without passing up good shots.  That's, again, who we are, that's why we've played some good basketball, but that's a fine line.  It's a hard one as a coach.  You ask any coach, the balance between not slowing it down too much where guys are restricted or feel hesitant, but having some patience and poise and then still having the assertiveness.  I think it's a feel for where the game is going and how you're able to guard them, and I think you sometimes have to use your offense a little bit as your defense if you feel like it's getting out of hand.

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