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March 15, 2017
Buffalo, New York
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We're joined by Wisconsin student-athletes, far right, to my far right. Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig. Gentlemen, welcome to Buffalo. We'll go ahead and take questions, please raise your hand. We'll get a microphone so our student-athletes know who we're talking to.
Q. Nigel, you heard them introduce you as student-athletes. What does being a student mean you to?
NIGEL HAYES: That we just participate in school, yeah. I don't know. It's just -- it's funny, but it's a term, so --
Q. Bronson, you guys have obviously been seeded far better in past tournaments. How much does that make a difference to you, you guys, coming into this tournament. Is this something you feel like you need to prove you're incorrectly seeded coming into this one?
BRONSON KOENIG: No, sir. I feel as a program, we've always been kind of underestimated. It doesn't really matter to us. It's nothing new. We are just looking to go, get a win, play our game.
Q. For any of you guys, the Big Ten seedings weren't great coming into this tournament. I know it's about Wisconsin and going as far as you guys can go, but do you take some -- I don't know, does it piss you off a little bit that the Big Ten gets seeds like they got?
ETHAN HAPP: I mean, I guess no. But at the same time, like we want the Big Ten to do well. A lot of people from the outside said the Big Ten wasn't very good, but really, it was just that there wasn't a lot of disparity from top to bottom, so -- there's a lot of good teams. It's not just that -- it's just that we didn't have one or two dominant teams throughout the Big Ten.
THE MODERATOR: Anybody else?
Q. For Ethan and Nigel, when you look at -- when you guys looked at Virginia Tech and saw they don't have a lot of big guys, do you guys instantly think, okay, this is going to be a fun game for us. We're going to pound it inside, good luck trying to stop us. When you guys have a good inside game like that, does it make you lick your chops when you see a game against a smaller team?
NIGEL HAYES: No. Not especially after you watch film. They have not as big guys as us, but they shoot the three extremely well, and three is worth more than two. They also are a good team which is why they're in the Tournament, and the type of defense they play make it difficult where it's not just one-on-one, where Ethan and I can take advantage of one of their smaller guys.
So it's going to be a challenge. And the same way that you perceive they're mismatched guarding us, they probably feel the same way. We have to go chase them around the arc.
Q. Ethan, do they compare -- did Virginia Tech compare to anybody you've seen this year? Is there somebody you can sort of -- look at film of, and get an idea what you're going to see?
ETHAN HAPP: Not a team that has that many weapons, that shoot the ball that well. But I guess the team that we just played, Michigan, is one that's kind of identical in some of the stuff they run. Obviously having one through four being able to shoot the three really well.
Q. For any of the players, when you guys are clicking in games like the Big Ten semifinals versus some of the losses you had later in the year, what's the difference? What's clicking for you as opposed to winning, like when you have some losses?
BRONSON KOENIG: Yeah. I think the difference is, just playing together, playing as one unit, and having fun doing it. There's definitely a disparity in games that, you know, where we lose compared to the ones that we win. We're not sharing the ball, the ball is not popping around as much, we're not playing inside, outside, which has kind of been our strength and our staple all year, and allowing our defense to lead into our offense. That's the things that we do in order to be successful.
Q. Nigel, you guys are as tournament-tested a team as there is. What do you think experience means in this tournament especially?
NIGEL HAYES: I think it helps deal with the distractions that come with this. It helps to deal with keeping your emotions in check. For instance, we have the know Trice on our team, Bronson is our starting point good. Trice will be filling his shoes once he's departed, so Bronson can share with him how to deal with all the attention that comes with this, how to deal with your emotions, how to go out there and and just play. I'm sure he'll be extremely nervous for his first game in the tournament. It's a big deal.
So we'll try to share that experience, that knowledge, and that comfort with the rest of us knowing that we're here, we'll can fun, but at the same time, we need to focus because we know we have a job to do.
Q. As mentioned, you're one of the most tournament-tested teams. How is each year fun and how is this year different from previous years?
ETHAN HAPP: I mean, this year's fun, just because it's -- personally, it's with a group of seniors I'm definitely going to miss next year. And I don't want it to be my last game with them tomorrow, or even this week, so we want to continue to play. And we have a lot of fun off the court as well, so that's what makes it a special team. But I think that Nigel was on the money when he said that us being in the tournament before, and those guys being in so many other years definitely helps us with the emotional part of it.
Q. For any of the players, what makes Wisconsin such a good defensive team overall and then why is maybe three-point deep, it's not a strong suit compared to other parts of the defense?
NIGEL HAYES: We practice defense all of the time. We do defense all of the time, all of the time. That's what we do in practice, is practice defense. So you're good at what you do often. Sometimes we get away from that in games and those usually result in losses for us, so if we can get back to those principles we worked on, we should be pretty good.
And as far as the three-point percentage defensively not being that good, just got to be better on our close-outs and contests. Got to get the toughs twos that we want. Obviously the three is the most efficient shot to take, so we need to definitely eliminate that against a team we're going to play tomorrow that shoots 40% or higher from three as a team.
Q. Ethan, where do you feel you've taken the most growth in your game from freshman year to sophomore year? Where do you see the most improvement?
ETHAN HAPP: I mean, I just feel like I'm getting more familiar with the game itself. I mean, if you saw, at the beginning of last year, I was not very good, and then I slowly got better with the more game experience I had. And now having more game experience into this year, I think just having time on the court, not only playing with my teammates, but also just seeing things, what to do and what not to do. I mean, I think overall, I'm just trying to take my game one step at a time to the next level, but we still got a long way to go.
Q. Okay. I want to recognize Patrick Herb who is over here on -- Patrick's here, the Wisconsin athletic communications director. He can help you in any other needs you have with Wisconsin. That being said, thank you for your time today. Good luck tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard. Coach, welcome to Buffalo. Let's get started with questions at this time. Would you please raise your hand? We'll get a microphone you to. And go ahead and get started. Start right here.
Q. This team has been to many tournaments, obviously. Have you noticed anything different this time about how players are embracing it?
GREG GARD: No. I don't think so. I mean, obviously, everybody that's in our program has been to tournaments every year. I think that's something that we constantly remind them of and make sure they don't take it for granted. To be a program that's gone to 19 straight NCAA Tournaments is an astonishing accomplishment. It's obviously a tribute to the players and coaches that have been here before us.
But that's one thing specifically with our younger guys that they understand that it takes a lot of work to get here. But I haven't noticed anything different. They've gone about the process the same way. I think they appreciate where we're at, and this is a reward for having a really good regular season.
Q. Greg, Ethan was talking earlier about a comparison between Virginia Tech and somebody you guys have already seen. He mentioned Michigan just because of the number of shooters that Tech has and it's similar to what you saw with Michigan. Is that a fair assessment and given that, is it a tough match-up for you because you guys have struggled defending from the perimeter at times?
GREG GARD: I think it's a tough match-up because they're a good team. Regardless of match-up, I think, when you get to this point in time in the year, if you're still playing, consider yourself fortunate. Most likely your opponent is going to be really good too. As I've said many times, all of the average to bad teams are on spring break right now, so I think comparatively, I don't know if there's anybody -- maybe some personnel things here and there. Seth Allen reminds me a little about Derrick Walton from Michigan, just how he controls the ball in ball screen situations and those type of things. But we're probably built a little differently in most regards than a lot of teams we've played. I'd have to go back through the non-conference and look at some teams there.
Buzz has done a heck of a job there in three years with how they share the ball, the way they can spread the floor with obviously a lot of shooters. That's going to put a stress on anybody regardless of any comparison or who you've played in the past. We'll have to obviously be extremely sharp in terms of rotations and things tomorrow night.
Q. You obviously coached against Buzz a number of times when he was at Marquette. How aware were you back then of his coaching quirks and oddities that he built his representation on?
GREG GARD: He's like Rain Man?
GREG GARD: I knew back that in 2002. Did you talk to Buzz earlier in the week, too? I just was with him for a little bit at our coaches meeting.
But 2002, I'm a first-year assistant in Wisconsin and we're playing in a tournament in Hawaii. Buzz at the time was at Colorado State as an assistant. We got together in my hotel room to share scouting reports. They were going to play LSU, we were going to playing Hawaii, so we were exchanging, third day in the tournament, some notes and stuff. Just the questions he asked, and the numbers he was pulling out of the air, you could tell he's was very inquisitive, and very detail-oriented. I gave him a couple of those looks like what the heck are you talking about?
But obviously, 15, 16 years later, look where we're both at. I knew then -- not knowing really who he was. That was the first time I met him. Then obviously years later, he ends up at Marquette, and then on to here -- or to Virginia Tech. So, he was sweeping floors at JUCOs in Texas when I was sweeping floors at junior highs in Wisconsin. So, he's had to work his way up. He's had to do it the hard way. He hasn't had anything handed to him. I have an appreciation for that because I think there's some similarity there's with my career trek and the places you've coached at and embraced and loved. I know he would say the same things about the places he's been at that are obscure and nobody really knows they exist.
You have an appreciation for that when you develop or come through those ranks. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for Buzz for how he's gone about his career, and the places he's gone to and who he's coached with, and how he's stuck with it and kept grinding. So, his number analytics are sometimes over my head when he's pulling out those numbers.
Q. And there's obviously a large disparity in tournament experience between these two rosters. Do you see that play out at all on the court when the game's happening or is it really being able to hand all of the outside stuff?
GREG GARD: Yeah. I think you get to this point in time in the year. Experience may have been a bigger thing back in November. Now we're through this point. They've played through a rigorous conference schedule. We have too. We've both seen tournament environments, so I think you can kind of throw that out. They've got some guys that have some experience in game environments. I think sometimes that's overblown because we've already played 30-some games each.
It will be a matter of who does what they've done well all year better for the 40 minutes all night. They'll do the things they try to do and have been successful at all year, and we'll try to counter with what we've been good at all year.
Q. In terms of what you've been good at all year, with the size advantage you have against Virginia Tech, you just kind of lick your chops and say let's pound the ball inside and see if we can take advantage of the size, and try to get them into foul trouble?
GREG GARD: They utilize what they do pretty well, in terms of their reaction in the gaps and their ability to put pressure on the post. And they defend -- they throw some different defenses at you, mix some zone combinations in with their man, some switching, and they will trap in the post here and there.
So we try to attack in terms of, there's a plan going into it, but also, we have to adjust to what is available, and that's why we like multi-dimensional players that can play inside, outside, and do a variety of things, and try to be a real balanced team and not be one aspect of the game or scoring dependent. We always like to touch the post. That's been a constant, a mainstay in our program for a long time. And that may be post players, it may be via cuts, it may be via dribble attack. And Buzz's term is "paint touches," and ours is very similar in terms of we want to get the ball to that high percentage area as much as we can.
Q. Greg, even the Big Ten Tournament your bench came through the couple, first two nights and last night didn't score. What do you think is the reason for that inconsistency?
GREG GARD: I think each game is a little different in terms of opportunities that present themselves. The second day in the Big Ten Tournament we played with a lead, so I was able to play a little deeper and intentionally give those main guys a little more of a break. When you have a 25-point lead, you're more likely to be able to play some guys down the stretch. I think, that game maybe went to that a little bit more. I had to look at who could take advantage of opportunities. Match-ups is one thing. Michigan, I just didn't feel we got into enough of a rhythm to go a whole lot deeper on the bench. I wanted to give our upper classman the best chance to try to get back and get caught up and win that thing.
So, it's a game-by-game decision in terms of who and how much. A lot of it is personnel-driven. Basically what I'm seeing on the floor. And obviously, I think Saturday's game, even to some extent Friday's game, because we had a lead there, that I could be a little more flexible with guys I'm putting on the floor.
Q. Greg, as good as you guys have been on defense this year, three-point defense maybe not as much of a forte. Why is that and what do you have to do better in that regard against Virginia Tech perhaps?
GREG GARD: I think one thing that kind of gets lost in the shuffle here is our percentage at times gets higher, than maybe we would like it to be, but also if you look at our attempts, they usually are the fewest. I think we give up the second fewest threes in the Big Ten, second to Michigan. I look at it, there's two ways to look at it. You look at percentage and how many threes they're giving up. We try to run people off the line and minimize the attempts. Probably I look at that more than what is the percentage that we're giving up, and different teams play it different ways. We don't extend quite as much so that allows -- sometimes we can compress things a bit more, and sometimes that allows us to have a higher percentage shot against you, try to take away other parts of the offense's ability.
So I know our percentage -- I know where it ranks, but I also look at the attempts given and there's a counterbalance to that either way.
Q. Aside from the tournament itself, what does it mean for you, being from Wisconsin, climbing up through the ranks from Wisconsin, different schools, just personally, what does it mean for you, you know, being able to lead the Badgers to another tournament?
GREG GARD: Well, obviously you take great pride in it, because when I was from zero to 23 or 24, the Badgers were never in the NCAA Tournament, so to come through that span of your lifetime and never see Wisconsin in an NCAA Tournament, it obviously has a special meaning right now. My kids know no different. I have a 15, 13 and 8-year-old and they've never seen an NCAA Tournament without Wisconsin in it. Having as you mentioned grown up in the state, and coached at three different schools, my last time in Buffalo was 1995, Platteville played in the Final Four and won a National Championship here at Buffalo State. That was -- when Buffalo came up on Sunday, that's right where my mind went to was '95 and the last time I was here.
So, you have those kind of memories and connections and relationships in the state. I think when you are leading your home state school, there's an extra sense of pride in that. Obviously, I know we represent the state and Badger fans and alumni across the country. But obviously, those in the state, it's a little extra special to it, because I'm one of them. I sat in that seat or watched it on TV or whatever for a lot of years and have witnessed how far the program has grown over that time.
Q. Greg, what do you see from your guys when you're clicking like you were in the Big Ten semis, versus some much the losses you had later in the year. What's the difference for you when you watch the game on TV or on film itself?
GREG GARD: Well, the ball moves. That's pretty obvious. The ball had moved pretty well. I thought it moved well on Saturday. Not quite as well on Sunday. We went through a little stretch where Koenig was banged up and missed a game. I think that impacted us offensively when you have a player like that that's not in rhythm or in sync, it has a tendency to trickle down to other guys.
But all of our better teams have had very good spacing, ball movement, have different guys that can score from different areas, being able to stretch the floor a little bit with bigs that can shoot the ball. That rhythm that we got into over the last three, four games is something we'll try to replicate offensively. Maybe not as much with last Sunday's game, but a lot of that also had to do with Michigan. I thought they did some really good things to us, and obviously, offensively, they were hitting on all cylinders so we were playing catch-up most of the game.
Just try to get in rhythm. Share the ball, take care of the ball. The ball moves pretty well. We don't over-dribble when we're in rhythm. And at times we're out, we over-dribble and pound it too much. So, try to stay away from that and more of the other.
Q. What do you remember about Buffalo from that Buffalo State tournament and what do you notice about the city this time?
GREG GARD: Well, there wasn't this much snow here, I know that. And I remember the gym being orange. He confirmed that back stage that it's orange and black. We played Steve Alford's Manchester team. At that point in time it the first time two undefeated teams had met for a National Championship. They came in 31-0, we came in 30-0. So, we took the team to an Italian restaurant which I find out now is out of business. Because I chatted with Coach Ryan, or traded messages over the week when it was announced we're coming here. He said hey take the team to, I think it's Carmine's. That's what we decided the name was now, but we found out it's out of business. But it was obviously great memories, because my second year coaching, we win a National Championship. I mean, got spoiled pretty quickly. It was a good time. Seems like a hundred years ago but it was fun.
Q. Greg, free-throw shooting not a strong suit for you guys. How much does that concern you going up to a Virginia Tech team where Buzz tries to go out of points to the line?
GREG GARD: Them trying to get points at the line and us shooting free throws are two opposite things though. They don't foul very much and we try not to foul much each. Specifically, the free throws have been two guys and they ironically are the two guys that get there the most, Hayes and Happ. They both have been working on it all year. Hopefully we've seen some progression in a positive way, in the last week, more in game environments. They've been okay during the year in the practice environment. It's been the game environment where we haven't been able to capitalize on it.
So, mainly, I want to make sure we're getting there, although I know they don't foul a whole lot and don't put teams at the line a whole lot and they try to get there a good bit. You look at -- you analyze numbers going back to the lady behind you's question, about Buzz's analytics, you look at free-throw attempts and those type of things. Numbers are similar in terms of the amount of times they try to get there. Albeit, it's different, maybe a different method to do it, but still trying to get the same result of making more free throws than the opponent attempts.
Speaking of '95, that team made 200 more free throws than the opponent attempted which may be a record. Hence, why they went 31-0. They were pretty good at getting to the line and converting there. So, yeah, that's just what we're -- we'll try to get there as hopefully as we can. Hopefully Ethan and Nigel can get in a rhythm and get some confidence going in a live environment.
Q. Coach, we wish you best of luck in the late game tomorrow against Virginia Tech.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports