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March 27, 2015
MODERATOR: We're joint right now by student-athletes from Notre Dame, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Steve Vasturia, Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. If you have a question for the student-athletes from Notre Dame, please raise your hand.
Q. This is for Zach. As you recall going into games against Jahlil Okafor; what you felt going into those games, the challenge, how it felt, what you thought about, how is it alike or different from going against this Kentucky team with multiple guys that size?
ZACH AUGUSTE: It's kind of the same. I give a lot of credit to him. He's a great player, very talented, has a big physical presence as well. I know Kentucky has three physical bodies in there, it's just going to be another challenge for us, individually and collectively.
Q. This is for the upperclassmen among you. You may have a little more perspective on this, you've been through seasons before and I'm wondering as successful a season as you guys have had, when you try to imagine yourself looking ahead five, ten years and looking back on this season, do you think what will stand out the most are those successes, the wins or whether it will be something else, whether it's being together or someone on the team or a joker or watching the younger players get better?
JERIAN GRANT: Yeah, I think just being able to look back at this team. We've really come together as a family, as brothers. I think that's what's made us so good. We really trust in each other, we really give each other confidence so looking back, it will definitely be just being around these guys, and obviously the wins, too, but just the season we've had has been great.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: I think the experience overall. I think the experiences that we shared both on and off the court. I think when you look back on a season such that we've had with all we have went through, coming off of last season with this year with all the different storylines around it, you can't look at one thing you will remember the most. You will remember it all as a whole, I think. You'll remember coming together in the summer and going to Italy and doing all those things before the season started, and then you'll look at the season as a whole, and not many people were sure how we would perform and we had to believe in each other, and that's what we still have to do, but it's something that we'll remember, and then obviously you go through the successful season you've had, the so far successful postseason. All of that as a collective whole will be something that you won't be able to forget and memories that you'll have forever.
ZACH AUGUSTE: Yeah, I agree with both of them. I think you have to continue to remember all the hard work and everything that we have put in together as a team, and all those moments that we've had that we had to come together and focus, and continue to have some success.
Q. For Jerian and Demetrius. Because they're so dominant inside, it's pretty much predicated you've got to be pretty strong on the perimeter, which you guys are. Can you talk about, looking forward, what you guys individually think you have to bring tomorrow to try to crack that a little bit, break their game down a little bit and be successful?
JERIAN GRANT: Yeah, I think obviously we're going to have to bring our A game, but against a team like Kentucky, it's not just going to be the guards, it's really going to have to be everybody to bring their A game. As much as we want to play well as guards, it's going to have to be the whole team playing well.
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: Yeah, I agree. I think we need to bring our A game, I think we need to keep doing what we're doing, keep attacking the hole, keep getting guys open loose, keep knocking in our shots, just playing with confidence and having fun.
Q. For any of you, I don't know if you got the chance to get out there and watch any of the second half or catch a glimpse of the first last night, but when you watch a team that you're about to play dominate to that extent against a good team, what are the two or three things that go through your mind or are you unfazed by that?
JERIAN GRANT: Well, you just know you're going to have to bring your A game. When a team is that dominant, you can't mess around with the game, you can't come out and not be ready to play from the jump. Here this in NCAA Tournament, we have really came out and played really well to start the game, and that's going to be important.
ZACH AUGUSTE: Yeah, you've got to give them a lot of credit. They're a great basketball team, they're very talented, but at the same time, we've got to continue to focus on us and how we play.
Q. Pat, I'm sure you're aware of ND's history of shocking upsets, and the UCLA streak, et cetera. Does that give you any inspiration, does that give you any hope?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I mean you look back in history, we've been able to do it. I know Jerian and myself were first year players when we were able to knock off Syracuse when they were undefeated and ranked No. 1 but at the same time something that I and this team has preached on the whole year is that we've kind of been writing our own history, doing things the Notre Dame basketball program hasn't done in a long time and/or ever. So as much as you look back, you've got to still be in the present time and know that you're going at this, it's completely different. You can't rely on history to play its course. You need to write your own history, and I think that's something that I think we've talked about within the last 24 hours and something that we'll be focused on going at this with our best food forward, and really sticking together during it.
Q. Pat and Demetrius, if you guys could answer, a lot has been made obviously about Kentucky's size, especially inside, but does that almost ignore their guard play? And can you talk about, I guess, the challenge it will be to have success against the Harrison twins and the rest of their guards?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I think everyone talks about their size but if you look at Kentucky's team overall, they're a fabulous team. In the way they're unselfish, the way they always talk about how they have nine McDonald's All-Americans, and none of them really care about their stats; they care about winning. So they're the true testament of a team. At the same time, you've got to look -- and when we're in our locker room with each other, we have to think the same thing. We're a true testament of a team at the same time. We need to go at it with all five, all 13 guys that we have on our roster in order to beat such a team as Kentucky. And at the same time, you've got to have a little confidence. When you're able to beat Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights, as much credit as they deserve, you still have to have an inner confidence and stick together when it's going to be us against the rest of the world basically.
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: Yeah, they're really good. They've got tall guys inside, they've got tall guys on the perimeter, they're just really good all over. But our team has never shied away from a challenge. We know it's going to be really difficult, we know they're really good teams. We just embrace the challenge, stick together, keep working hard.
Q. This is for any of the players. In your opinion who's the best defensive team you've played this year? And of what you've seen of Kentucky, what are the similarities and differences between Kentucky and that defensive team?
STEVE VASTURIA: Yeah, I think the ACC, I think we played against a bunch of good defensive teams, like Virginia especially, but I think they're a little different in that they've got a lot more shot blockers, and getting in the lane and finishing around their size, it's going to be a little different, but I think that's where we play to our advantage, where we can spread the court and get in the lane and knock down shots from the outside as well.
Q. This is for Pat and Zach. You guys have only allowed 24 percent 3-point shooting the last nine games. Kentucky doesn't rely on it as much as a lot of other teams. They're obviously very big. I know Coach Brey doesn't like to double down on bigs very much, but is this a situation where you almost, you have to, to some extent in order to contain the four guys that they have that are 6'10 or bigger?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: I don't think we're going to change our game plan. I don't think doubling down is something that we're necessarily going to do because you've got to box them out and you've got to be in position to box them out. I think that's the biggest key. Obviously we want to continue to have that 3-point percentage go down because with the size that they have, if they're getting rebounds or they're scoring around the basket, and you add 3s, that's going to create a long night for us. So we have to stick to our game plan, stick it our defense and run them off the 3-point line and focus extremely hard on the defensive rebounding. That's going to be, in my opinion, what this game comes down to. If we're able to nullify their height to an extent, then maybe we will be able to get out and run, run the floor, do some of the offensive things that we've been so good at throughout the year, but it's all got to start on the defensive end and it all has to start on the attention to detail on with box-outs.
ZACH AUGUSTE: Yeah, I agree one hundred percent with Pat. It's going to be tough, it's going to be a challenge, but we know we're going to have to be on our own down there, we're going to have to be able to hold our own.
Q. Demetrius, could you speak to the role that Jerian and the other upperclassmen have had in your personal development as a player, because clearly you seem to be playing the best basketball of your career right now?
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: Yeah, they've been great leaders for me and for the team as a whole. They've really helped me develop into where I am today. Just really special to be able to play with these guys, to learn from them, because I hope to be a leader like these guys are some day. So I'm watching and learning from them, taking notes and stuff like that. These guys are so great. Great friends, great leaders, great teammates.
Q. For Jerian, do you feel like David going against Goliath here? I want to know, and for anyone else who would answer what you would make of that characterization; if it fits, if you like it or if you don't?
JERIAN GRANT: No, I don't think the rest of the team have really looked at it. From the outside, looking in, obviously they're undefeated. They beat teams pretty badly, but as a group we really don't look at it like that. We've played against some great teams this year and we're extremely confident going in, so we really don't look at it. Obviously it's going to be an upset if we do win, but at the end of the day it's not David versus Goliath, we have a lot of confidence going in.
STEVE VASTURIA: I think you have to give them a lot of credit, but like Jerian said, we're playing probably our best basketball of the year right now, and we have a lot of confidence, especially inside the locker room, so we're going to go out there and play our game, and we're going to play with our confidence and see what happens.
Q. For Zach, when you missed the Georgia Tech trip, how concerned were you that it was going to be maybe a longer term issue? And given some of the issues that you guys have had as a team with players missing time and really affecting your season, sort of how did you feel in that moment and were you concerned that it was going to be a major issue for the team?
ZACH AUGUSTE: It was tough. You know, it wasn't that majorly concerned for long-term; it was more short-term, but I've got to give a lot of credit to my teammates and my brothers. They helped me through it, they had my back through it no matter what. That's something that's so special about this program is that, you know, no matter what happens to us individually, we stay together as a team.
Q. Pat, what allows you to be effective playing against taller players? I mean, what's the secret to doing that?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Putting it all out there on the line. I think the biggest thing for me is to play as tough as possible. I pride myself on being a very tough player, and I pride myself on doing things for the guys up here with me and the guys in the locker room. I think at the end of the day, it's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog. It's all about how you go about your business, how you handle the things that you need to handle and how tough you can be with them. I think I've learned throughout this entire season. I've played the four for a lot of the season. Whatever the team needs, it's something I'm willing to do, and I've got a lot of practice at it over the course of this year, which will at least help me moving forward and help me in this game.
Q. Zach, you guys have all seen what happened when Daxter Miles made those comments and what happened to West Virginia. Is it kind of a tough balancing act to be confident, express your confidence but not come across as cocky and wake up a sleeping giant?
ZACH AUGUSTE: Yeah, I think we have to go into the game confident, and that's what I think we are right now. We're not really concerned with Kentucky; we're concerned about Notre Dame. It's funny, because not a lot of people give us a chance. Where we are right now, we made a lot of steps to get to where we are through a lot of motivation and determination that we have had in the off season.
Q. Demetrius, if my memory's correct, it may be a little bit fuzzy, but it seems like you got a little bit of recruiting attention from Kentucky during the process. Did you ever have a chance to talk about John Calipari much, can you comment about having the chance to compete against his team?
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: Yeah, he's a really great coach. He's done a great job with his group. I talked to him a little bit when I was in high school, but I go to Notre Dame. I go to a great school, I have great teammates, I have a great coach, so I'm just really happy I have another opportunity to put the jersey on and compete with my teammates.
MODERATOR: Any final questions for the student-athletes? All right, we would like to thank Demetrius and Zach and Steve and Pat and Jerian for joining us. We're looking for the first question for Coach Brey.
Q. Coach, have you considered what it's going to be like to have everybody outside the Commonwealth of Kentucky cheering for you Saturday night?
COACH BREY: We are America's team tomorrow, Al. There's no question about it. Got some great texts. And we love it, we certainly will take all that support. We've got a monumental challenge on our hands, but we play in the best conference in America. Going through the teams we had to go through in ACC play, I think has us very prepared to play against a great team like Kentucky.
Q. Mike, when Zach didn't make the trip to Georgia Tech, how fragile was that situation, especially given what happened with Jerian, and then the second part of that question is, just coaching at a school like Notre Dame where there really are no academic exceptions, you have to take those issues seriously, can you describe what that's like as a coach?
COACH BREY: Well, I think we were a little fragile then. I always felt we would get Zach back. It was a different issue than Jerian's situation, he had some work to do and he did it but he just wasn't going to be able to be with us. Thank God that was Bonzie Colson's coming-out party because he saved our backside down there and played fabulously. And I thought in the midst of that we discovered another weapon in someone off our bench that's continued to help us, and last night he was really good again. Certainly you've got to know when you sign up for when you coach at Notre Dame. I'm honored to be there, I love coaching there. I've always said coaching at Notre Dame allows me to be the teacher that I am. Our standards are different, we don't complain about it, it is what it is. I think in a lot of ways it identifies a clientele for me that's really a pretty unique young person that I love teaching.
Q. Was there ever an adjustment going to a place that has such a great football tradition? And have you ever talked to like Thad Matta or Billy Donovan who were in similar situations and who have also done pretty well in basketball?
COACH BREY: Not at all. You have to remember I came from the one AA of Notre Dame: University of Delaware. The Wing-T, Tubby Raymond, Delaware Football. So I was building a basketball program in the mid '90s and I said, I used to go to Delaware State and would go, man, if we get this thing going, I don't need all 30,000 of those people. I just need about 4,000 in the Bob Carpenter Center. So I've always looked at it, there's great energy around our campus. My son played college football at Buffalo. He's an assistant with Bo Pelini at Youngstown State. He was a football player. So I'm a football guy and I'm very supportive of them, got some great texts from Coach Kelly. We communicate all the time but Thad and I kid about that. We'll kid and go, hey, it's spring football, they don't even know our name, isn't it great? I would love to win three more games, and then they'll talk to Brian Kelly about his quarterback situation, and I'm going to go to Miami.
Q. How did the high level chemistry of your current team develop and evolve?
COACH BREY: That's a great question. We were talking about that last week. We started in the summer and kind of started with some sessions to kind of break down some barriers. We had Jerian coming back. I think some guys were -- felt let down by Jerian and we had to air some things out in a different kind of setting than just practicing how to guard a ball screen. But I've always said one of the great things, what really helped this team was we had a foreign tour. So I was able to coach these guys with Jerian back, Connaughton came back from the Orioles. We had 10 practices and then we went to Italy. I was able to coach Jackson and Auguste, which were going to be key guys. Connaughton was going to be there, Grant was going to be there, and Vasturia was going to be there; they're going to be fine. Jackson and Auguste had to be key guys. Well, I got to coach them as starters in July, I didn't have to wait until October, and I think what it did, it helped us get off to a good start and then we got confident. We beat Michigan State and Florida State at home. At Christmas we're starting to think, you know, we're not that 17 loss team anymore, we've got a chance at this thing. But the foreign tour was huge because you got more time with them. And my God, we needed more time after losing 17 games.
Q. You mentioned the rigors of going through the ACC and I think you guys are 8-1 against the Sweet 16 teams, Kentucky's 4-0. Is there any chance you're the more tested team, the more prepared for a high level game tomorrow?
COACH BREY: I think we are, there's no question about it. You know, given what we went through in that league, and especially what we did in our league tournament, to go through Duke and North Carolina on Friday and Saturday night, and the atmosphere will be the same because it was all Duke blue and Carolina blue in Greensboro, and I know it will be whatever that shade of blue is out here tomorrow. So it's -- I think it really has helped us, I think it's really prepared us for this atmosphere. And I loved in Greensboro how we just absorbed it and played fearlessly in it and we're going to have to do that tomorrow against a great team.
Q. Mike, you were on that Duke staff in '91 that stopped Vegas in its tracks. Do you draw upon that experience now? Do you share that with your guys?
COACH BREY: You know, I didn't share any of that with our guys but that's a good comparison, I thought about that. Vegas was undefeated. Of course they had blasted us the year before in Denver and it was kind of set up great for us that time around because, again, nobody was giving us much of a shot, maybe similar to this set up. I've tried not to compare it to other things. Like with this group, they've cut their own path. I want us to be loose in attacking just like we have been in the postseason.
Q. You like to defend the 3, you don't want to double down generally speaking. Can you afford to do that against a Kentucky team that really doesn't rely on the 3 per se and their bigs are so dominant? Can you afford to do that?
COACH BREY: You know, we're going to find out. I think that they don't -- I think still being aware of that arc, even though they don't shoot it as much as other teams we play, I think we have to be really aware of that because we can absorb 2s and I count on our offensive efficiency to eventually kick in. Now certainly it's going to be a whole other challenge for our offensive efficiency against their defense but we're excited about the challenge. You know, can we crowd off of some different guys on the perimeter which we started to do at the end of the Duke game in Greensboro to make Okafor feel just a little bit uncomfortable, but I don't want to sell out and have guys lining up 3-point shots. It's hard to absorb a bunch of 3s, then there's too many points on the board to overcome.
Q. Willie Cauley-Stein was saying sometimes he thinks people overlook Kentucky's offense because of how good their defense is. I wonder what do you see when you look at them offensively? And conversely, what don't people talk about your team defensively?
COACH BREY: Well, I think they're really skilled, they're a skilled bunch. Their perimeter is skilled, certainly they have footwork in the post with certain guys and they do have the ability when you jam it in too much to knock down timely 3-point shots, and that's where I think they're so darn dangerous. Certainly then they have the ability to get missed shots. Now, we played against a lot of teams that go to the offensive board. And because we're smaller, we absorbed 21 offensive rebounds in Chapel Hill in early January. We escaped. We absorbed 17 offensive rebounds against Michigan State. We escaped. I think we're going to give up some, but we've been able to withstand that because of our offensive efficiency. I think our defense is one of the things that is overlooked, we're much better. You don't get to this point without being able to guard and I think it really starts with Demetrius Jackson's ball pressure, him on the ball has helped us become a better defensive team but this group has been able to get timely stops. They're not great all throughout the game. I have a lot of guys playing a lot of minutes. I was walking in and it looked like a couple of Kentucky guys had a good sweat-up from practice. Well, all their guys play 20 minutes so they can practice hard today. My guys played the whole game so we played H-O-R-S-E today, that's all we did, that's all we could afford to do. So we go in and out of our defensive intensity, but in the last eight minutes, when we've had to get stops, we've really proven we've been able to do that, and again it will be tested at a high level tomorrow.
Q. Mike, college basketball's taken some heat lately for the style of play, the lack of scoring, what have you. I'm guessing that most players like to play your kind of style. My question is, why don't more teams play the way you do?
COACH BREY: We are carrying the flag for a lot of people, I think. There's no question, I don't know. That's a great question. We've recruited a certain way, we've built it a certain way. I've always -- Jay Bilas once said your guys play with a free mind. That was the ultimate compliment, about four or five years ago. And God, I hope that's true every year. I don't want to over-coach them, I want them to flow. Now, we recruit to that, skilled guys, basketball IQ guys. We give up a little bit of athletic ability and size but, boy, we've got a high basketball IQ and that really plays out for us. I don't know. We've got a lot of grinding teams now. Will the 30 second shot clock change that? I'm not sure. But you're right, and I hope recruits really are watching how we play because it is a fun way to play.
Q. You mentioned the ACC and the tournament specifically after what happened at Duke to come back and beat that team in the tournament in North Carolina, a team playing great. How important was that for your team to kind of erase what happened earlier?
COACH BREY: Well, it was huge, but three nights later we won at Clemson in a close one, in a dog fight, which I thought was fabulous after the way we got blown out in Durham. But we were 4-1 against Duke and Carolina this year. If that doesn't get you ready for playing these dudes tomorrow, I don't know what does.
Q. Also piggybacking on the ACC tournament a little bit, you got great games from both Demetrius and Jerian, is that something you're going to need again tomorrow? Do you really need them to play to their numbers and play to their percentages to be successful?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I think one of the great strengths has been our guards. I think I have one of the best backcourts in the country. One of the things people don't talk about, I've got more pro's than you guys think. They've got a lot of pro's, those other guys, but I've not more pro's than everybody thinks. Again, we don't get to this point without having some guys that have NBA futures, but Jerian and Demetrius together have blossomed into something even better than I could have imagined and they've really helped and supported each other but they're a heck of a one-two punch, and Steve Vasturia is the most underrated, not-talked-about guy, he guards the best perimeter guy, he makes every big shot and now he's driving to the ball and getting to the basket and getting fouled.
Q. Kentucky is capable of some devastating runs, and teams can kind of buckle under that. And how do you as a coach become comfortable with the way your team can flip the script on a run? I mean, the North Carolina game in the tournament they're up 8 and then all of a sudden you're up 8.
COACH BREY: I think for us, we've done a good job controlling tempo, and understanding how to play. I think our choices offensively in the postseason, we want to run, we started running last night. In Greensboro we were running and attacking and everybody thinks we're just this 3-point shooting team, but you know in Greensboro, we were driving the ball down everybody's throat, and then we made a couple 3s that were kind of dagger kind of 3s. So we can kind of play either way, but I think with them you've got to control tempo. Run sometimes and then sometimes a patient offensive possession where we really have to spread the floor and make their big guys come out and chase us where we spread people out.
Q. When you think about that Saturday night in Indy in 91, UNLV, is there something pregame, in game or post-game that comes to mind?
COACH BREY: You know what, just again, I'm thinking off the top of my head, one of the things we've talked about in the postseason starting in Greensboro is getting off to good starts, and we have been getting off to great starts. And my memory of that game is Duke, we got off to a great start and then you believed. And it's similar to tomorrow. You get off to a good start against Duke in Greensboro, maybe you can get this thing. You get off to a good start against North Carolina -- you get off to a good start against Kentucky in here tomorrow night, okay, we've got a shot at this thing.
Q. A lot of terms get used describing your opponents tomorrow night, one of them is unbeatable. First off, what do you think of that and do you use that?
COACH BREY: Not really. I mean, we're not going to get overly dramatic. I've got an older group. They've kind of been around together a little. We go over our scouting in kind of a classroom setting but we don't spend a whole lot of time. You know, we'll talk about it as a great opportunity. I don't think our guys get distracted with the following around them. I think again, because of the league we played in and having to deal with some of the programs that we've had to deal with in the ACC, I think helps us get ready for this tomorrow.
Q. You talked about carrying the flag for offense. Does it matter at all in your mind that you're able to have this game be a bit of a show tomorrow rather than one of those games where Kentucky allows 12 field goals in the game?
COACH BREY: Well, you know, I sure hope we can get into a flow. It's going to be harder for us to flow. We're the most efficient offensive team in the country. They're the best defensive team in the country. I think it's exciting to see how this thing plays out over 40 minutes. The one thing we've done better this year is when we're not flowing offensively, it hasn't affected us on the defensive end. Some of my past teams because they're talented offensive guys, if they couldn't get going offensively or we couldn't get going offensively, they wouldn't dig in defensively as much. This group is tougher and I think we're going to need that tomorrow because we're going to go through spells where we can't score on them, but we have to just get back and hold the fort as best we can.
Q. I go into this half wondering if I'm treading on ridiculous ground here, but I'm going to ask you this. Is this all about, this game, winning or losing to you, is it possible that your guys can go out there and deliver something along the lines of competitiveness, effort, whatever it is, standing up to Kentucky that even if it's not enough, will make you really happy?
COACH BREY: Well, we'll be very disappointed if we don't win. I know we're double digit underdogs. Our locker room, we'll be on the floor. Connaughton and Grant will be a mess if we don't win, no question.
Q. Seth Greenberg made a comment today, he said that you're so normal, you're abnormal. You're in a business along with a lot of other coaches, professional coaches. It's an ego-driven business. How have you been able to withstand that, I guess?
COACH BREY: Two things. I think number one, I always remind myself I'm the PE major and the high school history teacher on a daily basis and I don't stray too far from that. And maybe more important than that, it's where I work. At Notre Dame, there is a clear mission. It's different than other places, and I love it. As I mentioned earlier, I'm allowed to be the teacher that I can be so that some days I can be the loosest coach in America and the whole bit. It's a combination of those two things.
MODERATOR: Any further questions for Coach Brey? Thanks, Coach.
COACH BREY: Thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports