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March 13, 2016
UConn - 72, Memphis - 58
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student-athletes.
KEVIN OLLIE: It was just a great game. Guys really played hard. They deserved this championship. We did a lot of things in the off-season to create this momentum and just continue to pull each other together. I just want to thank these guys. First of all, giving honor to God and giving us this opportunity to coach this great university, and give me the opportunity to coach these great student-athletes.
It's been a thrill ride. We love Orlando, and we got three wins that we needed to get, and now we change our momentum and our direction and our focus over to the NCAA Tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Daniel, I believe it was yesterday I asked you a little bit about how the four-overtime-game against Cincinnati might have propelled you guys, momentum, confidence-wise. Do you guys feel like that played a role? You started that game, everyone thought you guys might be tired, but haven't let up since.
DANIEL HAMILTON: Yeah. I want to thank God as well first. And, yeah, we just continued to build on that momentum from Cincinnati to Temple to Memphis, three great teams in our conference, and we're just continuing to build that momentum and it all paid off at the end.
Q. Omar, you guys were on the team when they won the National Championship two years ago. You guys are going back. What does it means to get back to the NCAA Tournament?
OMAR CALHOUN: Well, to me, it means a lot. It's been a long time it feels like. Last year was disappointing but we knew when we started the season, we were going to work extremely hard to get back to the top. So we definite embrace this moment. All the praise goes to God, and we just want to make sure that we stay focused and the journey's not done.
Q. Shonn, obviously you guys have been through a lot of these battles throughout your career and throughout UConn history. How much did you rely on that as Memphis was coming back, to bring that lead back out, and finish this game off?
SHONN MILLER: Well, we've had leads before and the team that we're playing will make a run. We just wanted to stay mentally and physically tough and know that we needed a key stop at whatever point in time in the game, and we got those and got the win.
Q. With Omar, Phillip, you guys been there before. Is there anything that you have said to some of the younger guys that haven't been there to kind of help them give a little bit of insight of what it's going to be like going through each round?
PHILLIP NOLAN: Pretty much, it's a long season and we just got to stay focused, because you never know what's going to happen, we just got to be ready for a fight.
Q. Shonn, when a couple of the other big men on the team got into foul trouble, a couple other guys, what did you take it upon yourself to kind of keep the guys rallied when Memphis was making that run back into the game?
SHONN MILLER: I just wanted to do the best I could to not foul and just play whatever I needed to do for the team. Obviously, it was to be the five and just hold down the fort, whatever was needed. And I gave up a couple baskets, but we ended up getting the win.
PHILLIP NOLAN: He did an all right job.
Q. Daniel, I remember last year at this time in the locker room, what a difficult moment that was for you and it that was for you and I was just wondering, your thoughts a year later, obviously the result that you kind of vowed then that you were going to get.
DANIEL HAMILTON: Yeah, definitely. Last year we came her and we came up short. So this year we just wanted to come in and make sure we won it. Especially, we wanted to emphasize today, make sure we came in and was focused and not take Memphis lightly. We came out with a lot of intensity, and we came out with a victory.
Q. You guys have played a lot of games in a short amount of time. I'm sure at some point fatigue sets in. But if you see the likes of Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton and Shabazz Napier come back and support you, how big of a boost is that for you as a team?
STERLING GIBBS: That's a pretty big boost. They've pretty much set the stage. They have done so much for the program, and you kind of don't want to let those guys down. But at the same time, we're playing for each other, we're playing for our brothers, and we're playing to get to the NCAA Tournament and to go far in the NCAA Tournament. So, I think that not just playing for them, but at the same time, we were playing for each other.
PHILLIP NOLAN: And I can assure you that practice is a lot tougher than the last couple days.
Q. You held them to 23 percent in the first half on defense. What did Coach Ollie tell you guys in the beginning to get you guys focused on defense?
SHONN MILLER: It's really been our focus all year, just locking down on defense, and getting stops and stringing together stops in a row. So, we did a good job of that, and then once you get the stop, we got to get the rebound and push. And we also did that.
Q. Omar, how important was the bench today given the foul trouble and everything that was going on?
OMAR CALHOUN: The bench was definitely important. Every game Coach tells us to stay ready, tells everyone to stay ready, we're going to need everyone. So me, in particular, I just always make sure I'm staying focused and ready whenever my number's called, along with everyone else. Everyone was staying focused. Steve, Amida, everyone that came in, came out and contributed a lot to the game.
Q. Shonn and Daniel, the last three games here in the tournament, you all -- both of you pretty much played the roles of Batman and Superman for the team. How do you y'all think that that's going to carry over into the tournament, and how much time do you actually take to enjoy this moment before focusing on where you go next?
SHONN MILLER: Which one of us is Batman?
(Laughter.) No, you can go ahead.
DANIEL HAMILTON: We got to enjoy for today and then we are right back at it tomorrow. I know I'm going to go in the gym and get some shots up. Because Colorado, we got to go in there, and we got to take care of business, and we just got to take it one game at a time and one day at a time and prepare right, make sure we get lots of fluids because we played a lot of minutes and just continuing to make sure we're ready to play.
Q. Daniel, there was a time there in the first half you went on a 14-1 run, held them scoreless for over four minutes. Was there anything that you guys knew about Memphis potentially coming in that allowed you guys to do that, and then how much of a momentum booster was it to be able in a big game to do that so early?
DANIEL HAMILTON: Well, we're known as a defensive team. Our offense has been struggling throughout the whole season. It's been up and down. For us to hold them to a 14-1 run is not surprising because we play defense. But we just got to make sure we're in the gym consistently and make sure our offense is clicking on all cylinders and make sure we execute and just continue to play defense.
Q. Daniel, to piggyback off of the question before last, some people watch basketball more than others. Away from their own, have you seen anything about Colorado, heard anything about Colorado and what they do?
DANIEL HAMILTON: I haven't got a chance to really watch them a lot. Besides when my brother played them, I haven't got a chance to really watch them. But I'll make sure I watch film on them and know what they like to do. Because it's not like conference where we can go in and scout our opponent. So I got to go and watch film, meet up with Dave, one of the film guys, and make sure I know their tendencies and know what they like to do.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, gentlemen, and congratulations. Take questions for Coach.
Q. This program has a lot of history in basketball. Most of it being in the Big East. You guys have been in this game three years in a row. How does it feel for the program yourself to finally get that first American Conference championship?
KEVIN OLLIE: It feels greats. I haven't won a conference championship yet in my ten years as a head coach. To win the first one with this group, with all the up and downs this season, it really makes it all worthwhile. So, I'm really happy for our university, I'm really happy for our new A D, and president. And I'm really so happy for these guys, these players, because they have been scrutinized a lot. And for them to come together like they did and play so hard for these three games and go into four overtimes, it just really shows our toughness, our resiliency and what UConn is made about. And they are really breathing that right now. I thank God for them.
Q. I saw you making the rounds making -- going to all the different fans and people that are a part of the program that made it seem like you really wanted to have them a part of that. And just being able to have that UConn community all the way down here in Orlando, it almost seemed lake a home game for you guys.
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, it was huge. I heard the ovation when we got called out for starting lineups, and I'm just seeing all our alumni coming back and had opportunity to spend a lot of time with Ray and see Shabazz. Shabazz got here at 7:30 this morning from a flight from Portland. And to come here to our game, it just means the world to me. And then to see all our fans, our support that we have, that's what UConn's all about. That's UConn nation. I love them to debt. They are the true fans. We have some fans that's a little fair weather, but the true fans know what the Huskies do. And we might have some up and downs, but at the end of the day we're going to play our hearts out. So I really believe in the true fans that really love this program. No matter what we're going through, they stay with us and they stay in a very supportive mood.
I just am really proud to be their head coach. And it's a long season and, like I said, it's no good or bad day, it's all about character building days. So, I just really want to thank our guys. Because they hear me preaching all the time, so they could easily tune me out and shut me down but they never did. We always stuck together and that's a beautiful thing. And it makes champions.
Q. Midway through the second half, Omar hit a big shot, big three-pointer, and Memphis was making a run at the time. How crucial is it to have those guys like Omar and Phillip, guys that have been around when you guys won a national title a couple of years ago to have them make those kind of shots?
KEVIN OLLIE: It's not only that. That's a great observation, but it's also great to have them in the locker room too when we were going through our struggles. Because they were there in that locker room when we lost by 33 to Louisville, and we won the National Championship after that. I know they were telling the guys after SMU, we're going to be all right. They came through in a big way. I put Phil in the starting lineup, and he relished that opportunity. And then Omar has been -- I mean, I always say like an unpaid coach, just right there. Even when he's not playing, he's right there cheering his teammates on. I can feel his energy in the huddle. I guess you can say I'm -- the thought of him going like this all the time. So I guess I got to call his number a little bit more. So I guess he's telling me that when he makes a three. I'm glad he's out there with us. I'm glad he's battling. He's been through a lot these four years. Just to see him step up in that moment. And he's been huge in some big games for us this year, Ohio State and games like that, that we needed, he's been terrific. So, he's going to be always a fan favorite here, and he's going to have a special, special place in my heart and I'm very sad for him to leave.
Q. I saw you on the court embrace Shabazz and it reminded me of when you guys got hot and started clicking on all cylinders. Do you see any similarities between that team and this team now going forward?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, I think we're just playing our best basketball right now. We're clicking. We're playing great defense. Guys are stepping up and making good shots. That team, 2014, they really started to understand their roles at the end, and it took a game like Louisville for them to understand that. Boatright came to me before one practice before the tournament and was like, "Coach, I just want to play defense." I was like, "What?" I just never heard Boat say that, I just want to play defense. But that was like the mindset that we had.
And everybody just fell in their roles, and Rodney is doing a beautiful job. I'm putting him on the best player, and he did a phenomenal job on DeCosey. Tarrant was getting off a lot in this tournament, we put him on him. And he's really given us that ball pressure and kind of cutting that head off the snake. So, we're just going to keep feeding off of this. Daniel's playing great basketball right now, and we're just feeding off the momentum. But it's just a special time of year. This is -- our fans love this time of year. I love it as a coach. I've been fortunate to be a part of two National Championships in the last five years, and this is real special to win this conference tournament. We have been maligned a lot out there and in people's minds about not doing well in the conference and things like that. But our conference is very, very difficult. There's a lot of travel in our conference. So, it's not -- we're making no excuses, but our conference is tough. And to come out here is very gratifying to the players, and it was very gratifying to our true fans, too.
Q. Any early thoughts on Colorado? Is that one of the teams you thought was maybe in your range and about being --
KEVIN OLLIE: I wasn't even -- I wasn't even thinking about it. We wasn't even in the tournament -- what people were saying. So I just came down here, just focused on winning every possession. Not even winning every game, winning every possession. Really getting these guys ready to play. So that was my mindset. My coaching staff -- I told y'all this, I got the best coaching staff in America. So, we're going to get prepared. They're going to break down the tape. I'm going to be right in the war room with them. We actually call it the situation room, so we're going to be in the situation room. We're going to probably pull a couch in there and probably pull a couple all-nighters and get ready for Colorado and hopefully we can get through that one.
Q. Are you right now playing kind of the way you wish you had been playing all season? Is this kind of like the style of play and everything that you wanted to do? And just getting out of league play, too, with all the familiarity, is that a good thing as well, to get out of the league and play a team you haven't seen?
KEVIN OLLIE: To answer your first question, I just think that basketball team is like a puzzle. You get a puzzle and you look at it -- in the front of puzzle, it's like a beautiful picture on there. You open up the box, it's all kind of different pieces in there. So if you isolate every piece, you're like that piece don't fit nothing, or that piece is big, that piece don't fit nothing. But when you put it all together, it become as beautiful puzzle.
So you got to take it day by day. You can't isolate bad times. You can't isolate bad shooting days or I'm the worst coach or our players are the worst players. You can't isolate those things. You got to make sure you continue to perform, and perform through struggles and put that puzzle together. And this is our first puzzle. It's a beautiful puzzle right now. But everybody looked at that box when we got this team, Oh, this is the greatest team. Oh, we're going to the final 8. No, it's just a box. You've got to put the pieces together. So, we put the pieces together right. I love us playing our best basketball now. Now we are about to write another chapter going to the NCAA Tournament.
But it's a process through this. I've been through it. It's a process. I'm not going to get too high. I'm not going to get too down. I'm going to just continue to process and trust in it. And I just know our strength come from struggles and I had struggles my whole life. My strength comes from that.
Q. You answered part of it already, but so much of your philosophy is day-to-day building and then when Jalen hits, Friday, that shot, it just changes everything and potentially the season, how do you fit that in your own coaching spirit and coaching mind when you're building, building, building, and all of a sudden like a miracle comes?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, I mean it's definitely a wonderful shot, but we had to be in that situation to get that shot. It's a lot of players stepped up, a lot of things stepped up, in our favor, and the guys just stayed together. If you don't stay together, you're never going to get that moment. It's never going to arrive if you don't stay together. So, I was just so proud of those guys staying together and that's the fine line. If that shot didn't go in, we're the worst team. We were not qualified to make the NCAA Tournament. Everybody was going to say that. But we knew we had a good team. We're going to play to the final whistle to the final second and Coach Calhoun taught us that. I mean, that's what he did. That's what he taught us and that's what we try to breed through our players.
Q. What does it say about Daniel's growth in his game that he was able to overcome this, he had a rough shooting day today but he was still impactful. Most outstanding player of the tournament. Almost another triple double?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, he just played great. I know the young man's legs are tired. I played him 55 minutes, 56 minutes, 55. Then I played him pretty much the whole game against our next opponent. Then he came out and played in the championship game against Memphis. So, I mean, everybody's tried to stop him. And then he's doing everything, rebounding, he's getting assists. So credit him staying with his team and he's just really, really mature right now. He's stayed focused. He's getting really prepared for each and every game. Different than I've seen. He's changing his routine a little bit. And you can see with his focus in a game, because I hate taking one of my best players out and benching them. I don't want to do that late in the season. So, I told him, when he plays like that, he makes my job a lot easier, I can sit back and relax and people don't have to see the scrunched-up face and all that stuff, and they can see my beautiful smile. My mother says that, not me, my mother says that.
Q. What's the difference with the guys and their mindset now as opposed to when you're going through the up-and-downs? Is there anything different in the mindset?
KEVIN OLLIE: Not really, we got confidence. I mean it was just some trying times through the season, and they just kept playing. We all, you've been here throughout the whole season. Every time we had a down time they recovered very, very well. They came in and played, and they have been doing excellent in practice, in the film rooms. And it was just a matter of time. And the guys really stepped up this week. I'm very proud of this team. I'm very, very proud of this team.
Q. You said -- you mentioned how tough this conference has been and the different level teams that you have in here. How does that prepare you for the NCAA Tournament going forward for teams that y'all might not have season this year?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, it prepares us very well. We got a lot of teams that play different styles. A lot of our teams in this conference play zone. So we have seen a lot of zone this past year. Some teams play pressure. We play a little bit of both. And then when you got out of conference, they haven't seen you either. We just want to bring our style on the road. I think our style travels very, very well because we play defense. And like I say, I keep bringing his name up, that's what Coach Calhoun built in us. You play defense, and that allows us to win championships, and that's what we hang our hats on at the University of Connecticut. And I think that travels well. No matter where we're at, we're going to play defense, we're going to give our offense an opportunity to step up.
Q. At the beginning of the season when you brought your group of guys down here to this building for Media Day, did you have them with the court set up and everything did you have them envision coming back here in mid-March and cutting down the nets and how long will you let these guys enjoy this before you guys move forward?
KEVIN OLLIE: No, we didn't do that. We were down at Media Day. They knew we were going to come down here for the tournament. They love the arena. But Media Day is a little fun, and they were having a great time interacting with their brothers and also interacting with the other players on other teams.
But at the end of the day when we go back, every time after Media Day your competitive juices are flowing. Because summertime, you don't see the head coaches, you don't see the players. So when we get back, we like well we're ready to practice, we know the season is about to start. Know the conference is about to get to get going. It's just an awesome feeling to come back here. I didn't play in this building, but I played in Orlando. To see a lot of old friends is a special feeling for me to win this conference tournament here in Orlando.
Q. A lot of teams talk about building going through adversity, come out of it, and you make and you become better. But not every team is able to come out of it. When you do your recruiting and everything, do you look for guys who will be battle tested and will be ready to go through the Storm with you guys and be able to come out on the other end?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah. I mean everybody's not perfect. You got different guys, and we had two fifth-year seniors that came in this year. So, it's tough not having them being a part of -- being a freshman, sophomore, they had to come in and it took a little transition for those guys to really get their voice in the locker room and on the court. But that's something that you work through. That's something that I really relish as a coach bringing a unit together. And.
I just love the way we are playing. Adversity is what builds us. Like I said, I've had lecture over lecture with these guys on adversity and being tough, and I just think that's what really makes us go at University of Connecticut. Our pillar in our program is recovery. You're going to have to be able to recover from mistakes, you're going to have to be able to self-correct. And I think those guys are really getting that right now.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
KEVIN OLLIE: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports