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March 20, 2015

Branden Dawson

Tom Izzo

Travis Trice

Denzel Valentine



MODERATOR: About to start with Michigan State.

COACH IZZO: My father told me nothing would be easy, and we kind of live on that, to be honest with you. I thought we played about three, four different games today. I thought Georgia came out and really played well early and did everything they do. What they do, we swear we weren't going to let them get to the line 25 times and we didn't, they got there 26. We've been a team that has been assists, we had 18. We did some of the things we do, they did some of the things they do. Very good rebounding team, I loved the way they rebounded and I thought they never quit. We made a couple of mistakes again, but for the most part if you added up the minutes we played well, there would be a lot of them. As they say, it's win and advance, that's what we're going to do and move forward.

MODERATOR: Questions for Travis, Branden and Denzel.

Q. For Travis, you're kind of emblematic of a Michigan State player. Going to your senior year you basically doubled your production. What is it about the program that guys always get better, especially by the time they're seniors? Trice?
TRAVIS TRICE: I think there's a lot of factors into this. Our coaches do a great job of developing us from freshmen to senior year, they're pretty good about spotting guys they feel they can help improve, but really it's your teammates honestly, when you're going against a Denzel Valentine every day and a Brenden Dawson every day, you have no choice but to get better. That's -- I owe it to my teammates.

Q. One of the Georgia players said Michigan State played like they've been here before. Did that experience help you, particularly in the last minute they made the run and you had to hit those free throws?
BRANDEN DAWSON: Yeah, as far as myself, Travis and Denzel, we've been in this position plenty of times and in the huddle Travis mentioned we've been in the position against Wisconsin where we had a big lead and we just didn't keep our poise. In this game we kept our poise and throughout the game and as far as myself and Travis and Denzel we just have to lead the young guys, we definitely have been in this position, I wouldn't say just against Wisconsin; we've been in this position plenty of times throughout the season.

Q. You pick up that second foul and have to sit for the final 14 minutes. Talk about what that was like in the first half, and in your second half you've been about as efficient as you've been scoring around the basket?
BRANDEN DAWSON: I was frustrated. When I got my second foul, I was definetely frustrated, but as far as my teammates and Coach Fife, they just picked me up, they told me in the second half I have to play better. I actually had three fouls, finished the game with three fouls but in that situation where your team needs you, you just have to play smart like Coach has been telling us throughout the season, play hard and smart, that's what I did, played hard and smart even though I was in foul trouble.

Q. Denzel, can you talk about 6-6 from the free throw line, what your mindset was in such a tight situation?
DENZEL VALENTINE: I just knew that I didn't play my best second half so I didn't want to let the team down. If we had a loss or something like that, I didn't want to say it's because of me. So I just went to the line like I'm going to make up for it and I just knocked them down.

Q. For Travis, Georgia said that Kenny Gaines was battling an injury. Were you aware of that, and did that feed into your aggressiveness going into the basket? Trice?
TRAVIS TRICE: I knew he had missed some game towards the end of the year because of the ankle but at this point in the season, I mean, all that goes out the window. You know he's going to come out and play hard and he's got a shot to play in the NCAA Tournament, so my thing was just sticking to our game plan honestly.

Q. Travis and Denzel, when Georgia came out in the second half and cut the lead to two, and they had a chance to tie, Matt made a nice defensive play, that spearheaded a run, I think Brenden Forbes hit a couple of 3s, Branden had and-1 in that stretch. What was going on on the court communication-wise? What do you think fueled you guys to answer their challenge and answer a run right when they were ready to cut it to 2 and tie it?
TRAVIS TRICE: Our thing was just sticking together. Basketball's a game of runs, other teams are going to make a run but it's how you respond. Our thing was huddle up and stick together. We've been in this situation before and there were times we kind of fell apart and we knew we he couldn't do that this time. We had to stick together.

DENZEL VALENTINE: Like Travis said, we just wanted to stay together, stay together and keep working, keep fighting. We can't control if our shots are going in but we can control what we do and how we respond. So we just wanted to respond in a way that let us to win the game.

Q. For Denzel and Travis, two months ago could you have survived a game where in the first half Branden's in that kind of foul trouble, and Travis, you got off good looks but missing shots. What's happened to you guys from your other pieces on this team, could you have survived that two months ago?
DENZEL VALENTINE: I don't know, you know. That's a good question. Give credit to, we're going to give credit to Marvin and Colby, they played big minutes for us, they came in and were ready to play early in the season. We wouldn't know what we would get but those guys have stepped up big time, not just this game but in the Big Ten tournament and a couple games late in the season, they stepped up their play, so those guys came in and played good.

TRAVIS TRICE: Like Denzel said, that's a tough question to answer but I honestly feel more confident now with our guys coming off the bench and some of our other guys, just the way they're playing right now, the energy and the focus they're doing has been great for us.

Q. For any of the guys, going on his question about how this team always gets better it seems this time of year. Is that the result of Coach? What do you think it is as to why Michigan State at this time of year is always playing at its best?
BRANDEN DAWSON: I would say it's just our focus. Coming into this game, we wanted to be different. We've been watching all the rest of the games and we saw that good teams, the Baylor and Iowa States, those guys just came out and I think they were too focused on just the seeding. Tonight Coach mentioned to us let's be different. So we just wanted to play better, we just wanted to come out and play hard and I think around this time is just our focus and we were just dialed in.

Q. Branden, you've obviously been through this before. What is it about this time of year that always seems to bring out the best in you guys?
BRANDEN DAWSON: Well, I'll just say just having a great coach as far as Coach Izzo and I would say our coaching staff, they do a great job of getting us prepared. We had an up and down season but I think our chemistry has been great, especially playing in the Big Ten tournament, I think that's when our chemistry really started to flourish. As far as the team, like I said as far as myself, Travis and Denzel, we just have to lead these guys and I think our chemistry has to keep flowing in those late game situations.

MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Izzo?

Q. Tom, there was a point this year where I think you just benched your entire bench, so to speak, you just couldn't get anything out of them. To get what you had out of that first half this year with Marvin and get that run, where is that group?
COACH IZZO: First of all, I benched myself a few games so I can appreciate that. They learned. Marvin hasn't played a lot of basketball, a lot of years of it so it took him a little while longer and we've got to remember like with an Alvin Ellis, he was out the first six, seven weeks of the season. The first game he sprains that ankle. He was out until right before Christmas. When you're not a great player, it's hard to come back from that. And then we couldn't get him time. It was Big Ten time and then we got him time by necessity because of foul trouble and that, I think they got a little better and I think they are practicing a little better. Matt has been really good, him coming off the bench, too. And today he had been really good up until today and just struggled a little bit today.

Q. You guys had a good run in the first half, got the transition going a little bit. Did that come out of defense or what? And that's with Branden on the bench. What was going well during that time?
COACH IZZO: I thought we turned them over a little better or they turned themselves over. One of our struggles has been keeping guys off the free throw line. Seemed like they did what they did well, didn't have that many turnovers, we only had nine, but we scored some baskets off turnovers, that was one thing. We put them on the line a little bit early and didn't defend very well, we started doing a better job of that. But I thought we got a running game going of makes, misses, rebounds, turnovers, and I thought that was the difference in the game in the first half. Give them credit. I'll tell you something, this is a very good team. I'm proud of them, not because my nephew's there. I'm proud of them because I've seen Mark go through some of the same things I went through, where people are questioning this, that and the other thing. We played a lot of good teams this year, that's as good a team as we played. They got in a little foul trouble, too. I do think the injury to Gaines was big. I watched him warm up and he was limping on that thing and he still got 12 or 14 points, but that kid's a hell of a player. I think that hurt. I thought we did a decent job on their two bigs. We couldn't re-bound with them, which is disappointing but I thought we did a decent job of walling them, we worked hard on that for three days. But that is a good basketball team. Tough, runs a lot of good stuff. I just thought our fast break was the difference in the game the first half and then in the second half the same thing, once they cut the lead we got a couple quick buckets off the break and that was the difference.

Q. In your running game, it's always been a staple of this team this year, a lot of years but is it better now even -- I mean, the half court's game a lot better, but is it better now than it was earlier?
COACH IZZO: I think it is, I think BJ's pushing a little hard, and I think Tum pushes it a little bit. And we have two wings that can shoot it. We had some bizarre lineups in there because of the foul trouble we were in, but I definitely think our running game is really good. The problem we have, we like to what we call blitz and break, run up, makes and misses but for most of the year, we did not have enough subs, and we were wearing Trice and Valentine down to nothing. Now we're trying to get back to running, I still don't have the substitution pattern I would like to have, but we're an interesting team. You saw a lot of good minutes and then you saw some bizarre plays and I think Georgia deserves some credit for that and we deserve some blame for that but we're doing what you're supposed to do in this tournament. We survived and we're advancing, and it's going to get tougher each game but I think we learned something from the past games, especially the Wisconsin game. Hopefully we'll keep moving forward here and our break is a big part of that.

Q. Coach, is there something that you would pinpoint as to the reason why Matt was so inefficient from the field tonight?
COACH IZZO: This is where you wish you were a politician, don't you, so you could be politically correct? Hell, no, I can't figure it out myself. I think he's having trouble figuring it out, too. He did some good things, he guarded pretty well, he blocked some shots. He got six, seven rebounds, but I don't know, I don't know. You know, I think I'll blame it on one of my assistants, that's what we do at this level. Blame it on somebody, sure as hell isn't going to be the head coach and you can't blame a player so one of my assistants is in big trouble when we get back.

Q. Tom, given that you've heard your players say chemistry's at its best so far this season, given that they're describing having learned lessons and are applying them to games now, do you feel like the potential for this team may be the highest that it's been?
COACH IZZO: I think it's the highest it's been this year, but I think it's pretty easy to see we're not a typical Michigan State team. We don't have maybe as much talent as we had. We do have -- I appreciated Branden, but we've had chemistry all year. We tell our guys you have to play hard enough, good enough and smart enough. For the most part, we play hard. A lot of times we play good. Now, the third one, that's got to fall on me because we're just not playing as smart as we need to play in certain situations, and it's cost us, between that and some free throws, it's cost us during the year. But we have played well enough to be in a lot of games and I do think that it was fun to listen to the players say, okay, remember what we learned in Wisconsin at halftime in the huddles they said it. That's encouraging because that means they're not treating the history like it's just that is the way it is, you treat it that you can't change it but you learn from it. I think we had enough guys that played well to win, we had enough guys that played poorly to keep my job and coach, and now in the next two days we have to figure out what we did right and wrong and somehow to stop one of these two teams we could play. I think this team has had good chemistry, maybe as good as we've had in a long, long time, they get along well, they hang together, they do everything together, we don't have the super star syndrome and it's been fun to watch them grow together. Sometimes, I've got to tell you, it's an out of body experience once in a while the things we do for no reason. Clock's on our side, we talk about it and we've made a few mistakes. I guess somewhere seriously I've got to take onus on that because it's my job to make sure they know what they're doing at certain times. We'll try to get better with that in the next two days.

Q. Tom, to me that first half was as physical a basketball game as I've seen and you let the kids play. Can you comment on the physicality, especially in the second half?
COACH IZZO: I know those are two physical guys we played against but they probably think we are, too. For me, going through what I went through in my 20 years here, I constantly say this is like belly bumping. This isn't physical at all compared to the way it used to be and thank God it's not that way anymore. But I would agree. I think we learned something at Illinois and then Purdue and then Indiana and Maryland and Wisconsin. We got tougher this year. We were not a very tough team, we were not. We've gotten tougher, but I would say that the proof's in the pudding. We might have played a little better, but that was a tough team we played against. They had men on those boards, they went after them, they did a hell of a job. That is a good basketball team, a well-coached basketball team and I think one that has -- he's going to do hopefully what I did. People were on my butt and we made it and all of a sudden we took off. I think he's got a lot of bright days ahead of us at Georgia.

Q. You said you wanted to follow without defending, that was one of the keys?
COACH IZZO: They shot 26 free throws so we did a hell of a job on that, but go on.

Q. Especially early on, Branden gets a couple. Was he maybe too keyed up, I think he bit on a pump fake, he helped on one, looked like he read what the offense was going to do? What were your thoughts?
COACH IZZO: Well, when you're too keyed up you sometimes can make mistakes or when you're not focused in on what the scouting report says, those guys are tremendous shot-fakers. Djurisic is unbelievable, I watch film after film. It's easy to coach that, and tell them this is what he is going to do, but when he's doing it on the floor I think it is different. Sometimes coaches don't appreciate that but I think it's harder than you think. After that first little part I think we did a decent job defending them, but, boy, when I looked out there and there was Marv and Colby, I said wow, just hold on and that's what we tried to do. Then we started building on it because of a couple turnovers.

Q. You kind of go into where I was headed. Marv and Colby at the end of that first half came in and played some pretty strong defensive minutes for you guys. Obviously at the end Wollenman had that foul, but can you talk about the job and the minutes that both those guys had?
COACH IZZO: It was phenomenal. We just had no choice. Colby is a doctor, he's in medical school so smart as they come and you really could -- he really understands things. And Marv is a guy that I think has grown as much as anybody. He was a kid that didn't play until he got to high school so he's behind in some ways. He's improving, he's listening. His roommate is Tum Tum and Javon. It might not sound like it, but I'm so excited that we're moving on because not only do you worry about the first game more than any game, but the first game against what I knew was a solid team -- I would rather play a team that's got crazy athletes and not as solid than I would that's kind of like us, that's solid, they can grind it, they can run a little bit, and I will say that a healthy Gaines I think might have made that game a little different, too. But we've had some injuries all year, we'll take it. I'm excited where we're going and looking forward to the challenge ahead of us on whichever team wins.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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