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March 18, 2017
Greenville, South Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by North Carolina athletes Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry.
Q. You guys are leading the nation in rebounding margin like 13 -- plus-13 or something. But I think Jackson is the only guy average -- no, Kennedy, I think you're the only one averaging more than six. What's the key to you guys leading the nation by such a wide margin?
KENNEDY MEEKS: That's our main goal every game that we go into. We want to win the rebound margin. I think that's what leads to wins. I think that definitely gives you another opportunity at getting shots. So that's our main objective from the big men, especially. And I know we had the 2 and 3 men hitting the boards also. So we try to use our size to our advantage and fight around the box-outs.
Q. Kennedy, along those lines, given the pace of play that you guys play at, does that help the offensive rebounding be so successful, to do it against a defense that made it not set?
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think so. I think it throws the defensive balance off. I think it kind of puts them on their heels. And Joel is the type of point guard, Sev and Nate are type of point guards that likes to attack you, so that definitely opens it up for the rest of your team.
Q. Joel, Arkansas is a team that likes to play fast, they like to press. Is that kind of playing into your hands with the kind of athletes you have and the depth you have?
JOEL BERRY II: Oh definitely. We're a team that, if the other team happened to score, we try to get the ball out really fast and get it down the court. So even though they press, I think it plays right into our hands, because if we can get it out fast where they don't have to, you know, get into their traps and everything, that helps us out. We can get down the floor, and we had the guys on the wings that can be able to attack.
Q. Kennedy, I was wondering what you thought about Moses Kingsley? He had a really big game yesterday against Delgado, who's All-Big East. What do you think about going against Moses? What you think about him as a player?
KENNEDY MEEKS: He's a great defender, major key to their team. And our main objective, of course, is to try to get him out of the game as much as possible, attacking the ball inside, and it will open the things up for our guards and Justin and Joel for easy shots.
So, like I said, he's a great shot blocker. I think he's leading the SEC in shot blocks. So he's got to -- either pump fake or just go right up. So our main objective tomorrow is to play as aggressive as you can, try to get some things going for our team.
Q. Joel, less than 24 hours after tweaking the ankle a little bit, I'm sure it's not 100 percent. How are you feeling?
JOEL BERRY II: I'm feeling pretty good. I'm walking better than I was yesterday. I did a lot of treatment today. It's just a little sore. But overall I feel pretty good.
Q. Kennedy and for Joel, too, do you expect them to continue to play the way they played? Do you expect them to still press you and to still try to make an up-tempo game despite the kind of athletes and the way you play?
KENNEDY MEEKS: Yeah, I don't think they ever change their game plan at all. I mean, they do a great job of trapping. They do a great job of having defensive balance and their guards are aggressive. So I just think we have to do what we usually do, which is our press offense and try our hardest to get the ball up the court as fast as we can so we can get into our half-court offense.
JOEL BERRY II: I'll say the same thing. I mean, pretty much they've been doing that all year long. And I don't expect them to get to this point and try to change up what they're doing. So I expect them to stick with their game plan and continue to do what they do. And we just gotta be ready for it.
Q. Both of you, I think I've got the stat right. The 1 seed is, like, 111-17 in second rounds, so obviously pretty good winning percentage. How do you all approach that because there's been a few upsets but not many? As a No. 1 seed how do you approach that?
JOEL BERRY II: We don't pay attention to those stats. I mean, I guess those stats are for you guys, but for us we've just gotta continue to play. And we can't look at that and try to say that that will help us win.
But, I mean, we've just gotta continue to do what we do, and we gotta go into each and every game and just be ready to play. And this one is going to be a physical and aggressive game. And we just gotta be ready for that.
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think we want to go into the game all the time thinking we're going to win and we're going to be happy at the end result. So, like I said, our main focus is not to worry about what seed we are, what seed they are because they're a great team, they're here for a reason. We can't overlook them at all, and come out with the right mindset and focus on our scouting report and put everything we have into it.
Q. Joel, knowing what kind of game it is, do you look forward to tomorrow because you know it's going to be a back-and-forth, up-and-down game? And what is the key for you guys against their press and their tempo?
JOEL BERRY II: Yeah, I just think more importantly is just stop them from scoring. And if we can get some rebounds to where they don't have a chance to set up for their press, I think that's the first objective.
And then the second one is just getting the ball out fast if they do score. I mean, this is the kind of game I love. I like getting up and down the court. And it's going to be a fun game. And it's going to be aggressive.
But I think that we have the team and the guards to be able to withstand their press. And, like I said, if we could just stop them from scoring and just get our rebounds and get out on the break, that will play right into our hands.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're joined by Coach Williams.
COACH WILLIAMS: We were very pleased that we're still here, number one, but -- with the way we did a lot of things last night, realizing in the NCAA Tournament turns around pretty quickly ... doing sign language, I didn't know if it was a NASCAR or what was going on. I was ready to pit and quit if you needed me to.
We did feel good about a lot of things last night. Got them something to eat. Got them to bed and getting ready to practice here. We have no idea if Joel Berry, what his ankle's going to be like in another 30 hours or whatever it is. He's not going to practice today. He's been getting treatment. I'm hopeful that he will play. But just to wait and see.
The bottom line is I can't be Mr. Miyagi, as I said last night, and clap my hands and rub it make it better. We'll have to see what it's like. It was the only time I was hoping we played at 1 or 2 and when I got the notice we played at 6:00, the way I looked at it it's four more hours for Joel to heal. So I'm hopeful that we'll have him.
Q. Arkansas loves to play fast. They press. Does that work in your favor, just because of all the athletes, and you guys obviously thrive in the open court as well?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I don't know if I'd say we thrive because of all those athletes we have. We're good in a fast pace, which is the way we always play. The difference is if you play at a fast pace and you turn it over, it's not good. If we get the shot that we all want and go up and down the court, that is familiarity for us.
We do want a fast pace. Arkansas wants a fast pace. They really guard the Dickens out of you in full court. And we try to guard you in half-court situation. It's a different philosophy there. But we've got to make sure we're not careless, we're not casual, we're not cool. Those three C words I don't like at all. If you're careless, casual or cool when you're playing with them, you're going back home.
Q. How have you seen Justin's role emerge this year, and how has he taken to that being a leader and a primary scorer on this team?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, last spring, after the season was over with, we had several conversations going through the combine. Had some more conversations. And we focused on two or three things, and I think he's done a great job with it. He's really had a better focus, not that it was bad, but he had a better focus in the weight room. He's bigger, stronger, faster, quicker, all those things.
His shot is going in this year. So for us, I told him I wanted him to be more aggressive. We need him to rebound more. We need him to get to the free-throw a line more. Hadn't got to the free-throw line as much as I think he should have. And I think a lot of times, because he's got the little floater and everybody thinks it's okay because he still got the shot off. But I think he's done a fantastic job for us, understanding that we want him to score and need him to score.
I think he went through the four-game stretch there at the end of the season and through the ACC Tournament that he perhaps was trying to do too much or do what he had been doing but doing it quicker. And so just got to try to get him to settle down and just be Justin.
Q. You guys are plus-13 something on rebounding margin. What's been the key to that, because I think you only have one guy averaging more than six rebounds.
COACH WILLIAMS: We lost Brice Johnson last year, who was a great rebounder, led the league in rebound, had 23 rebounds in one game. So from the first day of practice we emphasized that we've gotta do a great job and rebound the basketball as a team.
We don't have a natural guy that just goes and the ball finds his hands all the time, like it did with Brice. We pushed the O in Justin, the three men on our team, that you've got to be able to go get some rebounds. We talked to Theo when he's a 2, Kenny Williams when he was a 2 that you've got to go get some rebounds for us.
Me, personally, for 29 years, I've really thought that that was the single most important factor in who wins the games. And so I've emphasized it forever. But we've had a couple of games this year where we didn't rebound it well and we usually got beat or struggled during those games.
Q. You said you're kind of unsure about the status of Joel for tomorrow due to his ankle. If he can't go or if his minutes are limited, how does that change things specifically offensively?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, Nate Britt, Seventh Woods, Stilman White, those guys have to share the time. None of those guys have done as good a job as Joel, shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Nate shot it well last night, I think made two 3s last night, was five assists on our chart, no turnovers. Stilman can shoot the basketball, Seventh has tremendous speed and quickness. If I can put all three of them together and have one player at the end, I wouldn't be that worried.
But Joel has been one of our leaders and not just by scoring or shooting 3-point shots, but the way he plays defense. But we can't go out and draft anybody. So we've gotta figure out somebody to play.
Q. What do you remember about the game against Arkansas in the second round in Jacksonville two years ago? And can that be any help in preparing for this, because they've got pretty much an entirely new team?
COACH WILLIAMS: I don't think it can give you much. Their whole team, look at their roster, on our scouting report everybody's a junior or senior there. Been through it. Some of those guys were playing at that time. But most of them were not, or half and half, probably.
But I know we won. I know it was a very aggressive game. I know I felt going into the game exactly how I feel right now, that we've got to attack, attack, attack, under control and not turn the ball over.
Q. Tomorrow, Duke is basically going to play a road game here against South Carolina because of the HB2 law. If you were in that position, what would be your reaction to -- because of that law, basically having to play a road game in the second round as a 1 or 2 seed?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, you know, a lot of times 1 or 2 seeds get to play a home game, us and Duke both, over the years. I just think it's a terrible law. That's the worst thing. It's not good for our state. I don't think we should be happy about it. It's an embarrassment, and those kind of things.
But we've gone on the road, played NCAA Tournament games before. It's part of it. It's what you do. I think we played Notre Dame at Notre Dame on Saint Patrick's Day one time, is that right, Artie? You're the only guy in here older than me. I wore my Masters green jacket just to tick everybody off and we won (laughter). I'm not a member at Augusta. I just had a jacket like that.
Q. You mentioned Stilman. He's had a very unique career. And obviously very unique experience in the middle of it. What was it like watching him come back to basketball? He said he barely touched a ball for two years, and to see him be part of these teams these last couple of years?
COACH WILLIAMS: It was. You think about it. You play and all of a sudden you're thrust into the magnificent spotlight of trying to go to the Sweet 16 with a guy who basically came as a walk-on kind of thing. And he really did a nice job.
I still say and believe that if we had been able to get to the Final Four it would have been one of the great stories in North Carolina basketball. Then he leaves for two years and he comes back and the first year he's back he's banged up and hurt all year. He had a foot problem while he was gone. It was still a thing that was bothering him a great deal.
This year he's really been something for us. He's led our scout team, blue squad, whatever you want to call them. Every day he's been a load for everybody to handle. And I told him, I said, you may be the only guy I really have not given enough time for what you deserve. And so one day I asked him, I said, "Would you rather me praise you a lot like I've been doing, or just give you more plus points to get you out of sprinting?" And he just looked at me and said, boy, Coach, that's a hard choice. But he's been fantastic for us.
Q. I'm not old enough to remember when South Carolina was in the ACC. But with that kind of historical perspective, you're playing an SEC team. They're SEC fans. You guys are North Carolina; they're South Carolina. Is the building going to be for or against you in your game tomorrow? What's your gut feeling?
COACH WILLIAMS: Oh, I gotta think -- I looked around yesterday, there were a lot of Carolina blue shirts in there. I think we'll have a decent crowd. I think we'll have more people cheering for us than perhaps there will be cheering for Duke in the other game.
Q. When you look at Arkansas's lineup, Moses Kingsley obviously stands out in the middle. But what have you seen from No. 0, Jaylen Barford, over the last couple of weeks of season?
COACH WILLIAMS: Jaylen, and I haven't seen much of him. I saw about three minutes of their game against Kentucky -- I think it was in the tournament; didn't they play Kentucky in the tournament just last week or the week before last? I saw three or four minutes of that.
But Jaylen, you know, I know the reputation, No. 1 JUCO player in the country, all that kind of stuff. He's really got a great ability to get the ball to the basket and finish. He can go in the medium post and shoot his turnaround jumper. 6'3", 210, looks like, and looks like he plays even bigger than that.
I think he's been extremely important to them. And he fits into that constant motion of harassment, havoc kind of mentality that Mike tries to push. He's been really good for them. He's a load for our guys, I can tell you that.
Q. You mentioned last night how good a job Mike has done with this team. Can you expand, what he's done well with this team?
COACH WILLIAMS: I've known Michael for a long time. I spent four, five, six years going to Arkansas playing in the college coaches golf tournaments, spending time with Nolan and Michael. Nolan has been a good friend, and Rose, their family, for me for a long time. But Michael coming back and replacing Nolan -- not replacing him, but that's what everybody thought. There were a couple of coaches in the middle there, too, I think. But everybody thought Arkansas basketball is back. And that was a pretty big burden for him to start with. But he's a guy that just sort of keeps plodding along, plodding along, plodding along.
He looks more like a sprinter than a marathon guy, but I happen to think he's a marathon guy who has really stuck to his philosophy, stuck to what he believes in, the way that he worked with Nolan when Nolan was the head coach.
He's added his own personal traits to it. But I think he's comfortable coaching that way. And I even saw -- might have been in their media guide stuff or maybe it's just off the paper -- I guess three or four kids who have committed to come there next year, all three of them the state of Arkansas.
He talked about that, their pride in Arkansas basketball. And he has a great deal of pride in Arkansas basketball and just done a great job, I think. Good guy. Good guy. His wife's a lot nicer than he is. But other than that he's okay.
Q. I guess, I know you guys have played a lot more tournament games, but this will be the third straight time Arkansas has been in the tournament and played North Carolina in the second round. I know you played them when you were at KU in the Elite Eight, I think it was. What do you think about playing Arkansas three straight times like this and kind of the North Carolina/Arkansas, because it's the sixth tournament game between the two teams?
COACH WILLIAMS: I'm not sure about the three -- we played them three straight ourselves? When did we play them again?
Q. '08, two years ago. They didn't go between '08 and 2015.
COACH WILLIAMS: Okay. I gotcha.
Q. So they've kind of run into that Carolina Blue law.
COACH WILLIAMS: We did it with Michigan when I ended up at North Carolina my last couple of years at Carolina, we played Michigan, we played Michigan, we played Michigan.
And I went to Kansas and they played Michigan again. That kind of thing. And couple of years ago we kept playing Kansas in Kansas City and Kansas in St. Louis. I wanted to play them in North Carolina one time.
But it's weird the way those things happen like that. But, again, I think I'm right in saying this, Nolan Richardson, his first clinic he did at UTEP after the passing of his daughter, he asked me if I would go and I went to that just because it was Nolan. The people in Arkansas they treated me fantastic.
And I was there a lot during those years playing in that golf tournament, spending time there. Bobby Wilson, you see advertising some weird thing help your golf game on TV. He was the pro there at Pinnacle. He's the long drive champion of the world for three, four, five years. And I've known Bobby and Mr. Hudson and Mr. Hunt, the Walton people, I mean WalMart people, excuse me, they were always good. And so for me, with Mike, we've been on a lot of trips together and he's a guy I really enjoy and have a great deal of respect for. So I don't really look at it as North Carolina/Arkansas. To me it's people I have a great deal of respect for.
Q. Luke was mentioning South Carolina. What are your memories of those days when they were just a big a rival as anybody else in the ACC?
COACH WILLIAMS: In those days big rivalries meant there was a lot more going on than everybody knew about. Now with social media, if they had things going on back then, there would have been guys that weren't playing for years or years or years or coaching for years or years.
It was a fierce rivalry. A very heated rivalry. There was a lot of things openly said between the two teams and yet you had Frank McGuire and Dean Smith who had a great deal of respect for each other.
But I was in school at that time. Some of the big-time games, some of the very violent games, things that went on during those games. I still remember one of the North Carolina players, and I know who he is, yelled "Contact, contact!"
And everybody stopped -- and I remember the South Carolina player, and I know who he is, but if you want to find out you've gotta do your homework -- going out in the middle of the court and stomping his feet trying to smash the contact.
I mean, that wasn't looked upon as that unusual, that kind of thing. So it was a big-time rivalry in those days. But Frank Martin has really done a fantastic job down there. And this place has a chance to be rocking for him tomorrow night, but they got their hands full.
Q. When you guys are playing well defensively, what are you seeing on the floor?
COACH WILLIAMS: I wish I would see a heck of a lot more of it. That's the big thing I've got. When we're playing well defensively, I think everybody is really focused, seeing the big picture, knowing what the other team's trying to do.
And five guys moving together. Every time the ball moves, five individuals need to move. And for us then you have to finish it with the box-out.
Last night, the ball was shot and one of our guys turned around and looked and the ball bounced over his head and I turned to the team, "What is it that we don't understand?" 91 practices, 34 games, and I'm still having to preach going to box somebody out. So I'd like those ideas of I hope that we have that scenario tomorrow, when we're playing defense I hope it's out there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports