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March 10, 2018

Mick Cronin

Gary Clark

Kyle Washington

Orlando, Florida

Cincinnati - 70, Memphis - 60

THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from Coach.

MICK CRONIN: First of all, I would like to congratulate Memphis on their season. 21 wins with your best player breaking his foot midseason, and one guy -- basically playing with two guys Rivers and Jeremiah Martin and everybody else brand new. So I was there 10, 11 years ago, which I told Coach Smith this summer we were talking about it.

The only thing you can do in that situation is improve throughout the year and that's what they had done, winning seven of their last eight and outplaying us for a big portion of the game. So congratulations to Coach Smith and his players. I thought that they got better all year and it's not easy to win; they won 21 games. And they gave us a great fight today, they made us a better team because of how hard they played and how physical they played and they're very, very competitive.

So it was a good win for us and hopefully we learned a lesson, that the other team, no matter what their record and no matter what the situation may be, especially -- tomorrow's going to be life and death against one of two great teams, but next week in our first-round game I told our team, you have to realize that team's coming to win. They're not going to care what your seed is. Memphis had to win two more to get to the NCAA Tournament. Whoever we play in the Tournament next week is going to have to win or they're going home. So we have to understand that that's the type of intensity that we're going to face.

Now obviously tomorrow will be playing for a championship against a Top-20 team, so we understand that what's coming tomorrow. At least we better.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes only at this time.

Q. Gary, can you talk about the first half shooting by Johnson and the impact that that had on you guys as you went to the locker room at halftime?
GARY CLARK: Well, coming into the game we knew that they had one guy that can get hot, and we didn't follow the scouting report. Even if you're there, it's not good enough. I think he hit four, maybe three or four in the first half.

MICK CRONIN: He was 4-for-4.

GARY CLARK: And when you let a guy like that just get comfortable, the rim gets bigger and he lit it up. So second half we just tried to adjust, not let him get comfortable looks and play together, know when you have him, don't back away from him at all; make it a harder shot, make him take a harder shot.

Q. Off of what Coach said, do you feel like you guys can take something from the way you played in the first half moving forward?
GARY CLARK: Yes, definitely. Like Coach said, no matter who it is, they're going to come out with fire. They're not going to care the seeding or who is on our team, doesn't matter, they're going to come out and try to get a W. A lot of guys careers are ending slowly. So you got to expect a team that they're not going to want to go home.

KYLE WASHINGTON: Yeah, I think you could learn a lot about this game, and life in general honestly, because we have to show that we're grateful for this situation and grateful to play this game because both of us, this is it for us. So I think we have to show our gratefulness by hustling every possession and making sure we know our assignments, getting it done on defense, rebounding and it starts with both of us, it starts with me, it starts with Gary.

Q. For both of you guys: The 21-2 run when you guys got it going there and the second half defense where they struggled to shoot 20 percent, that's more of Cincinnati basketball. But the 21-2 run, what kind of impression did that make on you guys?
KYLE WASHINGTON: We have been in that situation before, to tell you the truth, but we can't put ourselves in that situation. We have to come out from the gate with the sense of urgency and just knowing our assignments, like I said before. But we just have to come out with that sense of urgency like we're down 10.

Q. When you're down like that at halftime, how important is it to get off to a fast start like that in the second half?
GARY CLARK: It's very important. One thing we try to preach is the first five minutes, if we're up or we're down. In the first five minutes usually it determines how that game's going to go. We came out with fire. Coach said, "Eye of the tiger." So we came out defensively and everybody was locked in and knowing where the shooters were, rebounding the ball, keeping them from getting second-chance opportunities.

Q. Kyle congratulations on the win today. From a player's perspective, what would you and your teammates, what would you like to do a little bit better tomorrow than you did today?
KYLE WASHINGTON: Starting right from the beginning, not waiting to get in a deficit, not waiting to dig ourselves a hole. Coming out, reminding each other that this is what we're playing for and being on a mission honestly.

Like I said, it starts with both of us. It starts with Coach, we have to do what we have to do from the start.

Q. Kyle, you're always a guy that plays with a lot of emotion but today it seemed like you brought an even greater impact in that regard. Would you say this is one of the most exciting games of basketball you've played?

MICK CRONIN: Getting old, hard to remember.

KYLE WASHINGTON: I know, right. No, we have been in a lot of crazy atmospheres through my career. It's been crazy but maybe. I'm just glad that we won and I'm glad you asked that, because some people misinterpret that for cockiness, and not just for me but a lot of players. I think that's just people being grateful for the situation that you're in. Who gets to do this every day? We are extremely blessed. So you have to put that in perspective.

But that's just me being grateful for the game and grateful that I'm doing my job and grateful that my team's doing their job. So that's all it is.

THE MODERATOR: We'll excuse the student-athletes to the locker room and take questions for Coach.

Q. In the first half what was going wrong, I guess at both ends and what did you adjust at halftime?
MICK CRONIN: Well, like I said this yesterday, guys, first of all, it's hard to beat a team three times. They have won seven of their last eight. We're not making shots. So we miss 18 shots and only get two offensive rebounds. The stats will say three but Memphis knocked one out of bounds. Gary had two, nobody else had one. But Memphis played really well. They have won seven of their last eight. They made some really hard shots in the first half.

Coach Smith has done a tremendous job weathering the storm. I mean, whose best player breaks their foot and then you win seven of eight games? And then take the No. 1 seed and a team 29-4 and put them on the ropes, with a bunch of guys that weren't on your team last year. So you got to give them credit. Their coaches, their players. They played great basketball in the first half. They kept us off the backboard. It's not like we didn't try to rebound, they kept us off the backboard.

Sure, we don't want to ever come out, and the scouting report says Jamal Johnson's a great shooter and he's 4-for-4 and it's a little late when you let a guy get going like and you dig yourself holes it's hard to dig out of. Fortunately, you can see by the answers of the two guys up here, you see why we're 29-4. Just by listening to the things that they say and the kind of people they are. It's hard for me to mess it up when you have two seniors that are that intelligent and that good on the basketball floor, because they know how to win games. So as the game goes on they change it.

But the first half, sure I'm upset about things but Memphis played great and I think it's wrong to say anything else.

Q. (No microphone).
MICK CRONIN: Well, obviously I said we might not want to let Jamal Johnson keep teeing it up, and thinking he's going to miss. I mean Jacob was all over him to start the second half and his miss went halfway down and out. We were talking, I mean he was starting to get the Reggie Miller rule of you got to step into him and you can't even let him raise it up. When a guy's on fire like that, you can make the adjustment, not let him shoot or you can let him shoot you out of the tournament and you go home tonight.

The other thing is, we had ten offensive rebounds or nine offensive rebounds in the second half. We needed all nine of them to shoot 41 percent. So we haven't shot the ball well down here. But that comes and goes. Three-point shooting is like your high school girlfriend, it comes and goes.

Q. How important is it to you to win this tournament? Do you care enough about the final tomorrow?
MICK CRONIN: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that, do you know the two guys that just left here? That's what this is about. I've been lucky and fortunate to coach basketball at this level for a long time now. I think my 15th year as a head coach, but it's Gary Clark and Kyle Washington's last chance to win a conference tournament. They could have two games left in their college career. So to think that we're not trying to win the game tomorrow -- the tournament, winning the tournament, there's a game and they keep score for a reason. That being said, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington have never cut down nets after a game in their high school career or their college career, and we won the regular season on the road. We didn't come home and do it because I want them to be hungry to do it here. So if you're going to play, you play to win.

Now if you're going to ask me what it matters to a tournament committee, you're asking the wrong guy. I have no clue. It really shouldn't matter. This one, we want to win the championship, for our school, for our program, but mostly for our seniors.

Q. Having said that, what is the message going into the game knowing how badly these guys want to win it, just in terms of not putting so much pressure on themselves?
MICK CRONIN: Yeah, I don't think that -- I'm going to be honest with you, and because I give SMU and Memphis a lot of credit, I told them two things: One, tomorrow will be World War III to get the win, because we know how good Houston and Wichita State are.

Two, we learned a lesson about our first-round NCAA Tournament game in the last two games. The other team is going to try to win. Just because we beat them handily both times in the regular season, I think we were in shock that the other team actually came out with some confidence and wasn't afraid of us. And neither team was afraid of us. And that's going to be the same next Wednesday or next Thursday or Friday.

Now tomorrow's a whole different story. Because I know that Wichita State and Houston are far from afraid of us. Houston beat us last time and Wichita State probably can't wait to play us. If I know anything about their players and their coach, I'm sure that they can't wait to get ahold of us.

So college sports is like life, if you put in great effort and you have a great attitude and you're willing to work hard, you have a chance to win. If the other guy outworks you, you got no chance.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.

MICK CRONIN: You got it. Thank you, guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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