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March 18, 2016
Providence, Rhode Island
Q. Angel, I was wondering about your impressions of Fred VanVleet and both of you are really good at running the pick-and-roll. Could you talk us through some of that, please?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I've always been a fan of his game. I've been watching him for a couple of years now. He's had a lot of success with that team, and he's been in the tournament as well. You know, like I said, I'm a fan. I respect his game, and it's going to be -- he's going to be a very tough opponent to face.
Q. Sheldon, you and Angel being fifth-year seniors, a lot of times you're going to be the older guys in the backcourt match-up. Tomorrow you're going to be playing two guys who are just as old, just as experienced. I wonder how you guys approach that?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: No different approach than any other game or any other opponent we're playing. We're going to try to win the game as best as we can, execute the game plan. A lot of people are talking about the match-ups of Angel and Fred VanVleet and myself and Baker, but it's bigger than that. It's not just about us against them, it's about us executing the game plan.
Q. Sheldon, can you talk about -- you've watched Angel play a lot and I'm sure you've seen VanVleet a lot, too. How would you compare the match-up of those two guards? How are they similar and different?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: They're very similar. They love to use the pick-and-roll, great competitors, been in college for a while, a lot of experience, a lot of wins, love to get into the paint and distribute to others, can be aggressive at times. I mean, I think they do everything alike, honestly, so it'll be a great match-up for both guys, I think. And I have tremendous belief in my point guard, so I mean, I'll take my point guard.
Q. Angel, how have you handled in years past going against a point guard who's going to come right at you, not going to be passive, is going to be aggressive from the opening tip?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: You know, that's what I love. I truly take a lot of pride on the defensive end, especially when you face a guy whose reputation is very good, who plays at a high level, and who I know is going to try to come at me, as you said. But at the end of the day, I trust my defensive skills and I trust the team's defensive skills, as well.
You know, like Sheldon said, it's really great to compare and to look forward to individual match-ups, but at the end of the day, it's really not just about me and him. It's about Miami versus Wichita State.
Q. Being that they were in Dayton, it seems like they've been kind of playing or at least thinking that they've been disrespected, given that they were the top defensive team in the country and all of that. Is there any of that for you guys? And I guess more importantly, do you guys need that to be motivated?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I personally never thought anybody would disrespect them. In fact, I thought a lot of people had them winning the two games that they did, just because they're really a really good team, have a lot of experience. They're well-coached, and they're a tough team. They really like to out-tough everybody that they play, so they're not going to be scared to play Miami. They're not going to be scared to play anybody. But we're not, either, so it'll be a great match-up.
Q. Tonye, Buffalo pushed you guys yesterday pretty deep into the game. What's it like to have a challenge like that maybe the first game of the tournament, and how does that get you ready for what's to come tomorrow and in the future?
TONYE JEKIRI: I mean, I didn't get to play much, matching up against Buffalo, because of the size. They were little, and they had to stretch 4, 5 guys. And I'm more in the paint and taking care of the paint, not going out there guarding little guys. I mean, my teammates, they really helped me out. And I think looking at games like the game we're going to match up against Wichita, that will be a good match-up for me. They have some good big guys, and they play more around the basket. But on my offensive and defensive game, I think it's going to be a pretty good game. And we have great guys who kind of make good passes and cut to the basket and spot up for wide-open threes.
Yeah, it's just going to help me and the team to go in and out during the game, and that's what we got from Buffalo, so we're looking forward to Wichita.
Q. Angel, you guys are two-and-a-half-point underdogs tomorrow. Is that something that motivates you or is that something you don't really pay attention to?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: That's something that doesn't surprise me whatsoever. I think throughout the year, we've been in a way disrespected. I feel like to a lot of people we haven't done enough to prove ourselves. But at the end of the day, we don't play to prove other people wrong. We play to prove ourselves right, because we know we belong here. This is March. This is March, and you see all the brackets getting busted and everything. The spread doesn't mean anything. I'm sure if we were favorites, they wouldn't care, either. They'd just come out and show what they've got to do.
Q. Sheldon, were you a little surprised to see where Wichita State was seeded? And what you've seen from them just to kind of see that they haven't been getting the respect from some outside that you guys know they deserve?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: Personally I feel like they're a great team. I don't think anyone disrespected them or looked at them as coming into the game as an underdog. They're a great team. They're physical, they're tough. Like Angel said, they try to outwork you. I'm not surprised about the Arizona game. I'm not surprised that they're here. Like I said, they're a great team. They have experience like we do, so they're going to be ready to play, and we're going to be ready to play, so it'll be a great game.
Q. Angel, how do you explain that there's been times this season where you guys have had a great high, the Duke game, and then a low with the loss to NC State or Virginia Tech, and then that low with Carolina? How do you explain you guys have had those dips?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I think more than anything, all of that is a learning experience. We play in a tough conference. Yes, we lost to NC State. But a lot of other teams lost to other places that we've won. So you can look at it however you want. I just look at it as a learning experience, and everything else really has been a very successful year for us. At this point of the year, whether we were inconsistent -- we were consistent or not, it really doesn't matter. It's March, and it's all about what you do now.
Q. Tonye, you're the only guy left from the Sweet 16 team of 2013. Can you talk about how is the mood, and what do you think about this team right now compared to that team from your freshman year at this same point going into the second game?
TONYE JEKIRI: I would say this team is more -- we've been challenged several times, but yet we bounce back to win games, games that we know, ourselves, we didn't really play good or rebound good, and we bounce back to win. Compared to my freshman year team, we had older guys who were like sixth-year seniors, but this team is more bound together, and we all get along on and off the court. That has really helped us.
Looking forward to the Wichita State game, I think we just are going to stay pulled together as we did against Buffalo. Because Buffalo was a pretty good team, and they brought us so many challenges, and yet we were able to stick together and pull out a win. I think the same thing, the same mindset. We're going to take into the Wichita State game. We're not expecting to blow through them or take a lead and hope that we keep it that way. We just think they're going to make a run, and we're going to make a run. And it's just going to come down to who pulls their team together more and sticks to the game plan.
Q. Sheldon, could you describe Angel's effectiveness running the ball screen, the pick-and-roll, and how important that is to your offense?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: It's very important. We do a lot of ball screen action on this team. Coach L loves that because we have so many great guards that can get into the lane and penetrate. Whether they score it or not, it puts pressure on the defense. And what Angel does is he just keeps his head up all the time, kind of probes off the screen, and that's why you see a lot of lobs in the half-court offense with him and myself and Davon. When he's coming off that ball screen, I'm ready to catch and shoot, ready to go back door. He's a great, aggressive player for us.
Q. Tonye, just wanted to get your thoughts on what Kamari was able to do and how much you all needed that last night and need another performance like that from him moving forward.
TONYE JEKIRI: Yeah, he has been a great teammate. Last night he really stepped up. We really needed him, and his athleticism of guarding the stretch 5 and the stretch 4 guys, he did a really good job.
And, on the offensive end, we always needed him to score a lot. And last night I think he did a pretty good job also of catching the ball and finishing around the basket. The same thing we're going to need going into the Wichita game because they're a very aggressive team in the paint. And we're going to need a lot of physical presence from him and from myself and the other two guys who guard, Ivan and Ebuka. And we've just got to try to outwork them and rebound as best as we could. We've not been doing a pretty good job of rebounding, but tomorrow's game, I think we're going to need that physical presence of his and of the entire team, also.
JIM LARRANAGA: We feel very fortunate to be here in Providence and playing tomorrow afternoon against an outstanding Wichita State team. We're very familiar with Gregg Marshall and the fantastic job he's done at Wichita State. Right now, according to Ken Pom statistics, they're the No. 1 defensive team in the country, and that obviously is something that we're going to have to address with our players as to how to attack them and how to score against their defense.
Q. Can you talk about Angel and VanVleet; how are they similar? How are they different? Obviously it's a match-up of teams, but those two particular guards, how are they similar and different?
JIM LARRANAGA: I think they are very, very similar. It begins with the intangible qualities that both players have. They're both very highly competitive. They both are terrific floor generals. They both can shoot the three and distribute the ball. They really keep their team organized.
But maybe the most important thing they do is they're both tremendous defensively on the ball. So guarding each other is going to be a real challenge for both of them.
Q. It's the tenth anniversary of the George Mason run. Did you look at Wichita State in the bracket and kind of feel like this was fitting to end up against these guys again?
JIM LARRANAGA: Yeah. Ten years ago we played Wichita State in the Sweet 16, so I really wish we were back in the Sweet 16 because that means we both won the second game on the weekend.
You know, one of the things that I think is very important for the fans to understand and the media to understand is that seeding at this point is meaningless. Wichita State was an 11 seed and had to play in the First Four. And they very easily could have been a 2, 3 or 4 seed coming into this tournament, had Fred not gotten injured. I think it's all about how you're playing now. And my team this year is very, very different than that George Mason team, and the Wichita State team is very, very different.
These guys have players who have played in the Final Four. They have the two leading scorers in the NCAA Tournament in VanVleet and Baker. They've got a lot of experience. They've got very, very good teammates around them, and they've got a great culture.
Q. You've seen this tournament every which way, lived it every which way, from Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp on. And I'm wondering if that thing you said yesterday about getting players to enjoy it is something that was learned over time. Is it especially crucial, do you think? Is it what every team needs?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, you go back a long way to bring up Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp and those guys. But, yes, I learned an awful lot when I was an assistant coach at the University of Virginia under Terry Holland. I learned an awful lot from Dr. Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist, who has helped me with my career and my coaching philosophy. And in talking to Dr. Rotella in 1999, my first George Mason team, to make it to the big dance, he told me I should clap for mistakes. I said, "What the heck do you mean by that?" He said, "The teaching part is over."
As a teacher, you want to work with your players and instruct them. Do that in practice, and the term he would use, "train, then trust." Once the game begins, you have to trust them. If there's a mistake, clap for them and let them put it out of their mind. You don't want to dwell on mistakes.
And as we moved further and further along in my coaching career, I tried to really embrace the idea that this should be fun. Because the more pressure you put on yourself, the tighter you get, and the less likely you are to play well.
So we tell our kids all the time, this should be a blast. Have as much fun as you can possibly have. But you have to understand what fun is. Fun is playing well. Fun is really executing your game plan and feeling good about yourself at the end of the game.
Q. You talked about how good Wichita State is defensively. What makes them so good?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, first of all, they may be the only team we've faced all year that's older than we are. They've got a lot of old guys, guys who have been around a long time. They've been in the program. They've learned the system, and they are able to execute that under all circumstances.
So that experience and toughness and grit that they have is achieved over a period of time, and it has to be earned through success. You don't get that by losing. You get that by fighting through adversity and still succeeding.
Q. Buffalo obviously pushed you deep into the game yesterday. When you start the tournament setting, would you prefer a push out of the blocks, or would you prefer maybe something easier to sort of get your feet wet?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, I never look at any game as being easy. I have a great deal of respect for my fellow coach and the opponent and believe that you have to play very, very well to win the game. The opponent has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. We found out very early on that Buffalo could stretch the floor and shoot threes very, very well. That forced us to make some decisions, and our decision was to go smaller and quicker and switch ball screens, which we didn't do to begin the game.
Those decisions worked pretty well for us, and we were able to get back in the game and eventually take the lead and eventually win the game. But I think in every game, you've got to look at it as how are you going to plan to win. And a lot of times you have to have plan A, plan B, sometimes plan C and plan D. And we're developing our game plan right now to face Wichita State tomorrow.
But our game plan against Buffalo included switching those ball screens. Had they missed those threes early, then we would not have made those adjustments.
Q. Everyone talks about Wichita State, how tough they are. How would you define their toughness?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, I think they're similar to a lot of teams that we've played throughout this season. I think Virginia is a very tough team, physically, defensively. Clemson is a very tough team physically. So I would say they're similar to teams in our league. And because of that, I think it's very, very clear why they've been so successful.
It doesn't matter what league you're in. It matters how good you are. That's why we refer so often to Ken Pom statistics. That measures you against everybody you play and everybody in the country. And Wichita State's No. 1 defensively, so that immediately gets our attention and earns our respect because that's a hard goal to achieve.
Q. After the game last night, Sean Miller advised Fred VanVleet to never let anybody tell him he couldn't play in the NBA. What do you -- look at Baker and VanVleet, seniors who -- actually their stock may have decreased the longer they've stayed at Wichita State, believe it or not. How does that work in your mind?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, the question really relates to how does the NBA look at college players? And right now the NBA scouts and the owners and general managers, presidents, look at youth and potential as what they're looking for to build their teams with.
I think there are some NBA teams that are younger than Wichita State. These guys have been around a long time. They're fifth-year seniors, and some of these NBA guys are 19 years old.
I don't understand it myself. I would much rather have a senior than a freshman. But the NBA would rather have a 19-year-old rookie than a 23-year-old rookie. But that has nothing to do with how good you are. How good you are is how well you perform under game conditions. Those two kids can play against anybody, against high major college teams or professional basketball players. Good is good, no matter what level you're at.
Q. So convincing your team that Wichita State is a 2, 3 or 4 seed kind of quality --
JIM LARRANAGA: I don't have to convince my players of anything. They've watched. They watched the first half last night, and they were like, wow, those guys are really good. I mean, that's clear.
Q. That seemed to have been an issue for the first two opponents --
JIM LARRANAGA: Why?
Q. It translates --
JIM LARRANAGA: Because you looked at the seed? You don't look at the seed and say someone is good. There's only 68 teams out of 350. I think all 68 teams have earned their way into the tournament. And the Missouri Valley Conference, under the leadership of Doug Elgin, has been a tremendous league since I've been following basketball. And over the last 10 years, when I was at George Mason and we were battling to get some national recognition, the first people I called was Doug and said, I want to play the best teams from your league. So we scheduled Creighton and Wichita State.
Very funny story: I called Dana Altman when he was at Creighton, and I said to him, hey, we need to play two very strong mid-major programs. And he said, no, we can't. I said, why not. He said, because George Mason because of who you are will not draw in Omaha. I said, why. He said, well, we have 12,000 season ticket holders, and they want us to play a big-name, high-major type program. Well, eventually, he couldn't find a high major to go to Creighton, so we ended up playing them. But we played them the year we went to the Final Four and the year after. And when we played them the year after, we had the third largest crowd in school history.
What I'm saying is people recognize good teams. Wichita State and the Missouri Valley produced a lot of great teams over the years. This Wichita State team is every bit as good as they were when they made it to the Final Four.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports