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March 22, 2019

Tony Benford

Tremont Waters

Skylar Mays

Kavell Bigby-Williams

Jacksonville, Florida

Q. Tre, did you guys take a lot of satisfaction, people thought you guys were falling apart with the coaching situation? Did you take a lot of satisfaction in the way you guys performed and basically leading wire to wire in that game?
TREMONT WATERS: Yeah, I feel like our team is definitely gelling with everything that's going on. I feel like we're getting a lot closer together, and we're just going to take it one day at a time, like we've been doing. That game is behind us now and we've got to move forward to Maryland, and know we have to take it one day at a time, one play at a time and just do what we've been doing.

Q. Until you actually play somebody else from the SEC, did you take note of the fact that the SEC actually went 4-0 yesterday? Florida was a 10 seed and won. Are you rooting for the other teams, if you're not playing them, in the conference?
SKYLAR MAYS: I think we as players who went through the conference understand how tough the conference is, and I think it's good to see all these other teams do well and survive and advance, and I think it just shows how tough the SEC is. You know, we want the best for the league.

Q. Skylar, maybe you could address how has the transition coaching-wise worked in games? Are you hearing different voices? Do all the assistants have a ton of input? Logistically how is it working, how is it different?
SKYLAR MAYS: It's definitely different just hearing a different voice as the head guy, but I think Coach Wade gave all the assistant coaches somewhat of freedom throughout the year, so it's not foreign for us to hear Coach Heiar or Coach Armstrong outside of Coach Benford. I think these guys do a great job of listening to everybody and taking the big takeaway and applying it on the court.

Q. Kavell, Maryland has got a couple of big guys, almost two of them twin guys. How difficult do they look on tape to match up with?
KAVELL BIGBY-WILLIAMS: It's going to be a pretty good match-up. Obviously they're great players, and like I said, I'm looking forward to the match-up. I know they're physical, big, long, athletic, so it's going to be a good match-up, but I feel like me and Naz, we're going to be prepared for them.

Q. Tremont, when Will was coaching, he seemed to signal a lot of plays during the game and communicating with you a lot. Just from watching the last couple games, doesn't seem like anybody is doing that from the coaches. Are you doing a lot of the offense kind of on your own, what y'all have done all year? You're basically calling it?
TREMONT WATERS: Yes, obviously in the huddle Coach Benford and the coaching staff are giving us plays to run and just basically on the fly, either I'll call the play or Skylar will call a set just based on what we see. It's just a read that we make pretty much throughout the game, and if things break down, Coach Benford calls a play.

Q. Is that working well?
TREMONT WATERS: Yeah, as long as we keep winning, it's definitely working.

Q. Kavell, who did you think was the biggest, most physical SEC team that you guys went against this year? And is it going to be a similar experience to playing Maryland?
KAVELL BIGBY-WILLIAMS: I feel teams like Alabama, Florida are pretty physical, Mississippi State with all the big guys on there. There's a variety of teams that are pretty physical, but those teams were probably the ones that stood out the most to me.

Q. Tre, you had seven assists yesterday, you did a good job being a floor general. How important is it for you to lead the team and not turn the ball over?
TREMONT WATERS: Well, as a point guard I feel like that's my job. When we first started the season Coach Wade pretty much said that the ball is like the state of Louisiana, and if I turn the ball over, then it's not good for the state and obviously for our basketball program as a whole. That just goes to show that like we have to take care of the ball, obviously, if we want to win. So that's just my job. I believe I live up to it, and I'm going to continue to do that for my team because they deserve it and we deserve it.

Q. Back to Tre, you were talking about how you've taken over a little bit of the play-calling, but is it new that after a time-out that you break the huddle and then have your own little huddle as a team? Is that something new or is that something you've done all year?
TREMONT WATERS: No, we've pretty much done that all year. We pretty much go out after we hear the play called and the defensive schemes and everything and based off what Coach is saying, we go out and just say it again, so we keep it fresh in our minds, so we know what we're doing when the play starts.

Q. You guys shot a lot of threes. I know you're not playing Wofford, but have you seen Fletcher Magee shoot? And I wonder if you're envious of the freedom he has to shoot threes all day long.
SKYLAR MAYS: Wofford was actually the first team I played in my college career, so I'm very familiar with Fletcher Magee. And he's having an unbelievable season and accomplishing great things. I watched them yesterday, they beat Seton Hall, so he's a terrific player.

Q. Skylar, have there been points in games like this last game where y'all's lead went down a little bit and then Florida where you lost the lead where you were thinking, I wonder what Coach Wade would do at this moment or what he would do at that time?
SKYLAR MAYS: I think all the way throughout the game, I try to think what would Coach Wade do, not just when things get a little hectic. But there's not really a game that I can remember where we had a big lead and we got back close and we were able to pull it out. I think the Florida game we had a good lead and it got away from us.

But that's something that we definitely have to do a better job. The great thing about us is that we're able to get a big lead in the beginning and now we just have to work on sustaining it.

Q. Kavell, the match-up with the front court is going to bring a lot of attention. What have you seen out of the two bigs, and then how important is it for you guys to get quality minutes out of Emmitt and Darius in a match-up like this?
KAVELL BIGBY-WILLIAMS: It's important because they're physical bigs, well skilled. They can post-up and make plays inside the post and also on the perimeter. Having those other guys come in to bring minutes is going to help us a lot.

Q. Tremont, you had a great first half and then kind of in the second half it tailed off a little bit. What changed, and how do you put together a full 40-minute quality game?
TREMONT WATERS: Well, yeah, obviously going into the game we had a great game plan, and as the game went on, we kind of slowed down in transition, and I feel like that was our biggest letdown. For me I wasn't pushing the ball as much as I should have in the second half, and I feel like shots just weren't falling, so that was it.

Q. Coach, the SEC went 4-0 yesterday. Five years ago, four years ago they only got three teams in the tournament; last year eight; this year seven. Yesterday's games 4-0. What would you say the state of this conference in basketball is right now?
TONY BENFORD: Well, it's a tremendous league. I think that's a testament to it right there, going 4-0. I've been coaching a long time and been in some great leagues. I was in the Big East when they sent 11 teams to the tournament that one year where UConn won it. I think our league is comparable to any league in the country and similar to that league back in the day, where every night you have to come out and play great basketball.

I attribute it to great coaches, got great players and got great environments. Every gym, every arena you go to, you're going to play in front of a sellout house. So I think it's just a tribute to the great players and great coaches and great fans in the SEC.

Q. Just got out of the locker room, and Skylar pointed out it doesn't show up in the stats sheet, but when Emmitt dove into the media row in the front row, he just gave his entire body; didn't care. He didn't get the ball, but it almost said it kind of fired up the team, Skylar said. What do you see from Emmitt and also the team that they'll give everything, break a body bone, whatever it takes for LSU?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, Emmitt brings a toughness to us. You talked to him, he never shuts up. But no, he's got a great personality, and that's his game. That's his role on this team. He's going to do all the intangibles, and he's going to get all the 50/50 balls. He's going to take charges and he can finish at the rim. He's just a great teammate for these guys. He's great to coach. I love coaching him, and he's always got a smile on his face, and we're very fortunate to have him.

He needs to play well tomorrow because he's going against some grown men tomorrow.

Q. Tony, you've been in this game most of your life. You're sitting in the chair you are now because your boss was accused of paying a player potentially. Do you believe that college basketball players should be paid?
TONY BENFORD: That's a good question. I mean, I think this thing is -- changing rules have made a lot of changes to try to help them as far as giving them different stipends and things, to try to help the athletes because some of them come from tough environments. I mean, I'm kind of on the fence on that. I'm not leaning one way or the other, but I want to make sure we take care of the athletes. I think you have to make sure they have everything they need to be successful, and I think we're trying to do that through the different stipends that they're getting right now.

Q. The team had its doubters coming into the tournament. Did you sense that that motivated your players, and did you feed into that at all to keep them motivated?
TONY BENFORD: Well, the thing I really preached to these guys is they know we can only control what we can control, and that's just getting better every day with our preparation, our focus. There's no doubt they had an edge to them because obviously they know the noise is out there, but I've tried to -- just got to keep blinders on and have tunnel vision and focus on the task at hand and that's to prepare like we were preparing for Yale, that's the task to prepare for Maryland, a very quality Maryland team.

That's what we try to do, just try to stay in the moment right now.

Q. What particular challenges does Maryland pose for you tomorrow?
TONY BENFORD: Well, first of all, I think Mark is a great coach. He does a tremendous job. When you look at their numbers, especially on the defensive side, they do a great job. They're one of the top teams as far as scoring defense and field-goal-percentage defense and one of the best rebounding teams in the country. You look at Bruno, I think he scares you once you look at him. He's really good, a good player. Then Smith is playing really well, and Anthony got a great quality point guard.

But what it's going to come down to I think it's very simple: It's going to be who wins the paint and who wins the rebounding battle. I think it's going to be that simple. They're really strong in the paint and we're pretty strong in the paint, and we're good on the glass and they're good on the glass. I think the point guard play is going to be huge. Tremont and Anthony, that's a great match-up. So I think it's going to come down to that, paint and rebound, who plays best at the point guard position.

Q. I know you've said a few times that all the assistant coaches and you are helping a lot. Which coach would you say during the game is working most with the offense and with Tremont?
TONY BENFORD: Well, I pretty much cover, do most of the offense, okay. Coach Heiar really concentrates on the defensive end, and then Coach Armstrong he'll handle our substitution. It depends on the game. Like tomorrow's game against Maryland, it is Coach Armstrong's scout, so he'll do a lot of defensive stuff for them and then handle the substitutions, too, and Coach Heiar will help him with that.

So we kind of do it by committee. One thing with Coach Wade, he delegated that, too, even when he was here, we split our scouting reports for different opponents and whoever had that scout had a lot of input on the game plan, on what we're to run offensively and what we do defensively.

Q. But Tremont is doing more himself, right, than when Coach Wade was here?
TONY BENFORD: I would say probably a little bit more because Tremont -- we trust Tremont because he knows -- not only Tremont but Skylar, too, with those guys as far as they have a feel sometimes on what to run. I'll may make a call to run this, and if he sees something else, he can change the call. I have no problem with that because we trust him with the ball.

Q. Follow-up to that, how does your prep change now that you have three coaches working on it instead of four?
TONY BENFORD: Well, that's a good question. We have not changed a whole lot, okay. One of the things we tell our players is to narrow our focus. We have to really concentrate. What we've done again as far as our scouts, Coach Heiar had Yale, Coach Armstrong has got Maryland, so he'll lock in on that, and then myself, like we all look at tape regardless of who we play, the upcoming opponent, the coaches, we all evaluate tape. So I've looked at Maryland about four or five games and I have a pretty good feel for what they do offensively and defensively and different tendencies and stuff like that, so we're doing it by committee.

Q. Tre had a great first half and then kind of tailed off in the second. How do you bring out a full 40 minutes from him of quality basketball, and is that something you stress to him going into tomorrow night against a tough point guard like Cowan?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, good question. I think with Tre, I really thought he was focused. Not only Tre but I thought all our guys were in the first half yesterday. We talked about it as a staff and we talked to Tre about it. I think going on out in the second half, we've just got to kind of stay aggressive. I thought he was a little bit passive in the second half. We want him to stay in that attack mode, and that's what he's got to do. I thought he pushed the ball in transition. He was very aggressive in transition in the first half. The second half I didn't think he was as aggressive, and we wanted to be more aggressive. And we may try to run some different plays for him to try to get him going.

Q. Picking on a couple of questions ago, how did the division of labor change without Will? How much does each guy have to do more of to make up for it?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, well, I think the one thing is -- one thing with our staff, we've all got a great relationship with our players and we spend a lot of time with them as far as that. Spend a lot of time with them as far as the responsibilities of the scouting reports, like we say, and preparing for the next opponent, we're all doing that. One guy may have the opponent and then I -- we all are doing that.

As far as going back to the game plan, as a head coach I'll try to prepare that game plan and be more detailed in exactly what we have to do, and I try to do that as a head coach.

Q. I just want to know, how well do you think the team is adjusting to your system currently?
TONY BENFORD: Well, it's not my system. I haven't changed a whole lot. That's the one thing I learned when I became the interim, keep it the same, keep it the same because there's no reason to change it. We went 16-2 winning the SEC, so there's no reason to come in here and say, hey, I'm going to run my offense and stick my chest out. It's all about these players, so I've kept everything the same.

We have the same playbook. Everything is the same as far as what we've doing and as far as sets what we're running offensively and what we're doing defensively. And like I say, Coach kind of delegated a lot of stuff to our guys, so the other coaches are really helping in that preparation, too.

Q. You talked about the paint match-up being key; can you just give us a little bit more on Kavell and Naz and what kind of players they are and whether they're ready for it?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, that's a good question. There's no doubt I think Kavell is our most experienced player obviously, and he's had a great year. I mean, he has improved a lot. He sat out last year. Transferred from Oregon and stood out. He's gotten bigger and stronger and he's one of the best shot blockers in the country and he's gotten better offensively. You saw last night he made a great play against Yale where he blocked a shot, he ran, got a lay-up on the other end. And that's what he's got to bring, that energy that rim protection he's going to really have to bring it tomorrow and really defend his position and hold his ground, especially against Smith and Bruno.

And then Naz has been great to coach, guys. I mean, like I say, he's in great shape. He's smart, very smart player. He's got a great skill set, play inside, outside, and he can rebound the basketball. So he's got to do a great job defensively on Bruno or Smith and then we've got to have him score in the paint and also be able to make some jump shots for us tomorrow.

Q. Does he have a green light to shoot?
TONY BENFORD: Pretty much. We'd like to corral that. I like him to shoot close to the basket sometimes, a lot more, so we talked about that.

Q. How much harder would this be if you didn't have a point guard as mature and trustworthy as Tremont?
TONY BENFORD: That's a really good question. It would be a lot more difficult. Because the thing with Tremont, guys, is as a coach sometimes you get in your players' way, and some coaches do that. I think when you have a guy -- the better your players, the less sets you have to run offensively.

You've got to trust him because he can go make plays. Sometimes he throws the ball somewhere you didn't want it to go, but he's going to be aggressive and he's going to make the right decision the majority of the time, so he makes it a lot easier.

Q. For guys like Naz and Kavell, this match-up, how much is on the line for them to really show out on a huge stage against two talented front court guys like this?
TONY BENFORD: Well, they've played against some quality big guys in the SEC. PJ Washington is pretty good. He's a pretty good player. Grant Williams, Schofield, those guys are good players. But it's important because if we don't win, we go home. So this is the most important game of the year for us, and they understand that. There's no more tomorrows. We've got to play well tomorrow or we go home. But I think our guys will be ready to play, and we're looking forward to the challenge.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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