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January 26, 2014

Tom Crean


COACH CREAN:  I thought our guys took the disappointment from Tuesday night that they had from a game that they felt they could win, that we all felt we could win, inside of it and transferred that into some great energy and work the last couple of days to get ready for what we knew would be a desperate team, and we played with that same level of desperation.
And I don't think it's‑‑ never follow that whole must win theory or any of those.  It's about putting yourself in a position where you take the next step, and that's exactly what these guys did in this game.
When you have some tight games like we've had, it's very, very easy to get‑‑ especially for a young team.  I think this happened to us a little bit last Saturday when we weren't making shots.  It's real, real easy to get discouraged.  You want to try to have them understand there's a huge difference between being discouraged and being disappointed.
Disappointment is inevitable, you move right on.  If you get discouraged, you're kind of building your own wall there.  Our guys have done a really good job of moving on, short‑term memory, building what they need to build upon, and continuing to understand‑‑ not even close to perfect by any stretch.  I don't mean that at all.
When you've got two teams trying to win as bad as they both were today, it's not going to be pretty.  It's just not.  Both teams are trying to make it extremely hard for the other team.  But to continue to play inside of the game with the changing of defenses, with the way they were doing a good job of really putting three and four people around Noah a lot, Noah continuing to work extremely hard, and guys being the recipient of cuts and movement because there was so much attention being paid to him and Yogi.
Where a week ago we might have tried to force the issue a little bit, we might have gotten stagnant, today we continued to have great movement.  We continued to play out of corners.  We continued to make the next pass.  We didn't force action, turnovers.  Obviously, a few in the first half.  One of the keys to the game, they only had four points off turnovers in the second half.
There's no question that the rebounding and the getting to the free‑throw line were huge.  And the fact that we defended pretty well, you know you have to do that, but the game within the game was going to be the rebounding and the free‑throw line.  I thought we did a good job with that.
Bottom line, the players are improving, and with a lot more room for improvement.  It's a long season.  It's a deep league.  And if you ever get ahead of yourself or if you spend too much time in the last day, it can move on you in a hurry.  I know that sounds kind of cliche‑ish and corny, but that's the truth.  That's the bottom line.
That's what we're trying to get them to understand here.  Their game can get exponentially better with skills.  Their game continued to really expand when their attitude was strong and they have a real positive mental attitude.  We've got to continue to build towards that because we're very, very young when it comes to the emotions of the game, and the more that we learn from that and get hardened to it, the better we'll be.

Q.  Noah only scored four points.  Can you talk about his impact on the game.
COACH CREAN:  He did a fantastic job of just continuing to play.  Sometimes I don't think he understands just how much we want to go to him.  Today they did a great job.  We were having success with our drag pick and rolls in transition.  We hit him on a pocket pass, and there are three people waiting on him.  They know we want to throw him the ball.
The fact that he can step out, the fact that he can play at the foul line, the fact that he can make threes, that helps his game, helps our team.
But also the fact there was so much attention being paid to those two, it opened it up for other people, and the fact that Yogi just continued to play like an outstanding point guard throughout the game freed it up for him because Yogi in the first half managed the game at a high level, and in the second half, you know, was able to take it over at certain points.
That's what you want.  You want somebody that's always looking for what is the game giving you, not what do I want to bring to the game?  And I thought Noah and Yogi did a tremendous job of that, and the rest of the guys played off of that.

Q.  You talked about rebounding, them only getting four offensive rebounds.
COACH CREAN:  That was paramount.  They're one of the best offensive rebounding teams around.  Get a tremendous percentage of points off their offensive boards.  Had 25 offensive rebounds when they went to Wisconsin, if I'm not mistaken.  I'm pretty sure I'm right on that.  And Egwu was leading the league in offensive boards in almost four a game and only had one.
Big, big emphasis on us continuing to improve is not only‑‑ these guys, they're used to just going and getting the ball.  Troy is used to just going and getting the ball.  Stanford‑‑ Noah for sure, used to going and getting the ball because they always could.
Now you have to hit people.  You have to block out.  You have to hold your block out.  You have to stick and pursue and all the different things.  We knew we were going to be playing a lot of zone, and the most important thing was would we block out out of that zone?  The zone has been very effective for us the last couple of weeks.
That's what had to happen.  So whatever we were in for the most part, our rebounding was really strong.

Q.  Tom, what are some of the things you need to see in the next month or so to get your team in position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament?  What are you looking for?
COACH CREAN:  I'm really not looking at it like that.  I'm sorry that I can't give a better answer on that down the road because the bottom line is we have to just keep improving.  We have to keep improving our‑‑ and maybe this falls into your question.  Because I can't think that far ahead because we just don't with this.
We have to get better at making decisions, there's no question about that.  We've got to continue to play through those ruts in a game when it's not going right for the individual or they're taking things away.  We've got to continue to get the pace of the game to be a place which is best for us because sometimes the lane is getting so packed in right now and there's so much attention being paid to Noah and Yogi.
I don't want to say that it's just, well, you have to have a third or a fourth scorer that has to be defined.  I think we have to have numerous guys that can make those plays, much like we had tonight.
But the bottom line for us on offense would be continuing to be better with our decision making, not trying to make hard hitting, flashy plays.  And then defensively, can we keep building the concept of keeping the dribble in front of us?  Because if we can keep the dribble in front of us, now we can zone, now we can press, now we can switch, all those different things.
I think along the way, if we can do that, then we'll get better at game planning and be able to steal some games here and there.  That's really what I would see in the major areas for us, and hopefully that does play out for us down the road.

Q.  I guess talking a little bit more about that, it felt like there were times today when maybe shots weren't falling and putting little runs in.  Guys sort of recognized the situation a little bit better.  Slowed things down, looked for a better shot.  Do you feel this team is getting better at that?  I don't want to say winning ugly, but recognizing there are moments to just take a breath, recognize that things aren't going well, and just reset things.
COACH CREAN:  I'm not big on that phrase winning ugly because I think, when you're as good a league as this, any win is a big win.
I saw John Schneider talking about this with the Seahawks.  Did you see yourselves being in the Super Bowl this way?  He said, we know that just winning one game in the NFL is hard.  I think any coach is going to the look at it, especially in a league like this, that we earned that victory today.
Illinois is a very good team, and these games come down so much to just a couple of possessions.  Before today, we had had one game in the Big Ten that didn't come down to two possessions or less when you really think about it, outside of the Michigan State game.
So with that being said, yes, I think we're improving.  I thought we were improving after Penn State and Wisconsin.  You know, we got our heads down a little bit in the Northwestern game.
This is part of Bob's answer too.  As long as we continue to really strive to be better fundamentally, then I think we have a chance to improve, and right now I've seen nothing that would lead me to believe that's not going to happen.
And then I have to manage the game based on who is trying to do that inside of the game and keep the competition really high in practice so that we have another Austin Etherington that three weeks ago didn't get in the game against Michigan State, and now he's playing major minutes and he's a very valuable guy for us.  That you have another Jeff Howard that really didn't play for three years and now is playing in key moments.
Our program is always going to be about improvement level, and I think it's proven it with the guys that have left here to move on, and I think you're seeing it now.  How quick they improve and how quick it becomes consistent, now, that's a whole other story, but that's what you want to continue to work towards every day, and I hope we continue to do that.

Q.  You mentioned the zone earlier.  Just what made you decide to go to it and what made you guys so effective in it?
COACH CREAN:  They have a hard matchups.  So we're getting better at it.  We go back over even the Northwestern game‑‑ I should have played more zone in Northwestern.  There's no doubt about it.  And the times we played it in Michigan State was effective.  I think they scored once.  So those‑‑ I know sometimes it doesn't always get characterized that way, but that's what we're tracking.
We're tracking, okay, they're taking a tough shot.  Did we have bad rotations?  Okay, did they get an offensive rebound because somebody didn't block out?  We're getting better at that.  We pressed some today.  We went to some combination defenses for a while.  We were very‑‑ today we were very who was in the game, very game plan oriented today.
And we're improving at that.  A couple weeks ago, that would have been really hard for us to do that.  I go back to right around Christmastime, Illinois, Notre Dame.  We were very good at that.  We weren't very good at being in a game plan type of defense, and you kind of have to be because these teams have so many different people that can score and get to the rim.
When you've got teams like Illinois has that have the three‑point shooting and the people that have the level of ability to make those threes plus the ability to drive the ball, to create the opportunities at the rim at the foul line and those threes, I'm not sure we're strong enough yet, physically mature enough yet, to deal with all that.  We're just not.  Our bodies aren't there yet.
And so we've got to continue to mix the game up a little bit, and we feel good about the way the zones are progressing.

Q.  Stan's got three ten‑point games the last six games.  What are you seeing from him offensively that allows him to be so productive?
COACH CREAN:  When he slows the game down and looks for those nooks and crannies that are there‑‑ I've said this before.  He's like a running back.  He can find those holes.  When he tries to create them himself is when he's not as good.
I feel bad for him on that dunk.  I told him the reason I wasn't mad at him, he tried to do it with his right hand, where you talk about him a month ago, he didn't know his right hand was attached to his body, to be honest with you.
But he's getting better.  He's getting more confidence.  He can impact the game on both ends.  He can impact it on both ends, and he's getting better at shooting the ball, and I think eventually you're going to see him knocking down those threes.
We don't want to try to shoot our way into it in the game, but very good at getting to the basket, getting more fundamentally sound.  He gets more attempted layups, with the exception of maybe Yogi.  Noah gets shots, obviously, around the rim.  But shots around the basket, Stan probably gets as many as any, and he's not hitting a great percentage of those yet, and when he does, I think you're going to see his numbers go up even that much more.
But he's working really hard at it.  He wants challenges defensively, and so why is he playing better offensively?  Because he's playing better defensively, I guess I would say, and that's giving him more minutes.

Q.  You guys shot less than 41% and only got four from Noah.  Is this a game that, with those kinds of numbers, you would have won earlier in the year?
COACH CREAN:  Probably, for lack of thinking about it deeper, I would say probably no.  I thought Noah did some fantastic things, and we didn't give him much rest in the‑‑ he got tired a couple of times.  He got tired in the first half a little bit.  They were making a run, but then he came back in and did a good job.
The last thing you want to do with a young player, if they get fatigued, they start to lose concentration.  When they start to lose concentration, they foul.  We're not very good if Noah is going to be in foul trouble.  You have to continue to work through that.  He did a very good job of that the second half.
I think our team is getting better.  We're in the hardest league in the country.  We really are.  And you're forced to get better because everybody else is.
So we're working hard at it.  We're working hard at our offense.  We're working hard at our defense.  They're gaining more confidence because of it.  Games like this exponentially raise their confidence level, and we just have to continue to move forward with it.

Q.  It seems to be coming in fits and starts, but how do you see the patience of this team developing both from cutting down on turnovers and being more patient on shots?
COACH CREAN:  You know, there's a fine line because we need to make a certain amount of threes.  You need to be able to space it.  When you're not thinking you're going to make threes, you get Northwestern, you get a packed in defense, and we had some of that we dealt with today.
The game‑‑ there's a lot of flexibility in the game right now because, when they start to take something away, now you've got something else you can go to.  When you have something else you can go to, those players are capable of making those plays.  I think patience is, today especially, this isn't there, make sure we're getting it from there.  We're not getting it off the wing, let's make sure we're driving it out of the corner.
Just things like that, things we practice all the time.  The speed of the game is going so fast that you don't always feel that you can get it, but it's there.  You have to get it.
I think it's probably really just the fact they're playing so many more games now.  We're 20 games in, and we spend a lot of time on situations in practice.  We spend a lot of time on situations in film.  This week we even showed some other situations from teams around the country.
And I think all those things just help hopefully build a confidence level for them.  It doesn't get any easier ever.  We have to have a good week and get ready to go into Nebraska and come home for Michigan.

Q.  Does that go back to what you said about having a more patient mentality, understanding what you're capable of doing now?
COACH CREAN:  Not yet, no.  We're not there yet.

Q.  But you're better than you were?
COACH CREAN:  Absolutely, absolutely better than we were.  Where we can go with it, not yet, no, but there's no question it's better than it was.  It's just getting‑‑ it's like putting a lot of offense in.  They're not going to have it all right away, but if they have enough of it, then it's not foreign when you're adding two things in today.  We added two things today, and we scored eight points out of it, you know, this morning.
We couldn't have done that a month ago.  We couldn't have done that three weeks ago.  And it's still‑‑ the speed of the game still makes them get confused a little bit.  That's part of it.  But the more you do it, the more they understand that this is how we play, this is what we're trying to get, then you can point out, hey, we added these things this morning, did a great job, but we just got eight points out of.  What did we win by?
Suddenly, those things all matter.  Same things with the out of bounds and things like that.  They're not used to that.  But the bottom line is they'll start to see the value of it, and it will become easier because they're doing it, and it will become easier because they've had success with it.  That's why we hope we can keep getting better with it.
Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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