March 31, 2023
Houston, Texas, USA
Semi-Finals Pregame Media Conference
COACH HURLEY: Obviously, in full, the game getting as close as it is now, obviously the anticipation, the excitement. Just excited to play a great game against a great team. We know we have to be at our best to advance and play for a championship. Obviously we get some shots today and all the preparations in. And it's time to go out and play.
Q. How is Jordan feeling right now? What does he have to do maybe over the next 30 hours or so to be ready tomorrow night?
COACH HURLEY: I think we've got like three doctors on this trip with us. So you hope that we could navigate it. We obviously isolated him. Started to not feel well last night. For him to miss today obviously tells you he's not in a great way.
But obviously you hope that -- you hope that we contained it in time. We moved him out, moved his roommate out and obviously kept him away from the team. Hopefully it just doesn't continue to spread, and hopefully Jordan's good to go, or at least give us something.
Q. Obviously Adama's fasting has been something you've had to accommodate during the tournament. Walk me through the variables of this specific tip time for he and the others who are fasting, and what that's been like for you to navigate as a coach?
COACH HURLEY: For me as a coach, navigating it was more like panic. And I don't know much about diet and nutrition and human performance. But we've got a great strength coach and athletic training that have been able to get up with him early and get some food in him. And then obviously the late tip time helps us more.
It was a bigger challenge out west because we were playing so early, and it was like really in the middle of him probably being at his weakest in terms of those things. I think it's probably the tip time is best-case scenario for us.
Q. What do you think Rick Pitino coming to the Big East does for the league, and what do you expect it to do for St. John's?
COACH HURLEY: I would say not just St. John's, but having a strong Georgetown and a strong St. John's means a lot. It's great for the league. Those games have been like at best Quad 2 games and at worst Quad 3 and 4 games, and programs of that stature, in terms of the brand, it's important for overall strength of the league.
I think it will make the games more exciting, more eyeballs on it. Viewership will go up. Excitement for the games will go up. I don't think the league gets as much credit as it probably should get as being one of the top basketball leagues in the country, top two or three every single year. But a strong Georgetown and strong St. John's will help with that.
Q. What do you expect him to be able to do at St. John's, obviously a very tough job?
COACH HURLEY: It's got unbelievable tradition and history, and you have MSG, and you have a basketball-focused conference, and obviously his background as a coach. I don't think it's going to take him long to have them potentially back in this tournament, especially with how quickly you can do things now with the portal.
Q. Players talked a little bit they felt like since maybe the Big East tournament you've eased back on them a little bit in terms of the intensity. Did they have to earn your trust to get there, or is that a feeling that you just get because of how much is riding on every one of these games?
COACH HURLEY: I think it definitely does become a trust thing when you really believe in the group and they've shown you enough quality at both ends of the court and on the backboard. And you feel like they finally understand what your identity is. And you've been through so many of these wars together that you -- generally, when the calendar turns to March, you really begin to back off and just make sure you keep your team fresh.
If you're still coaching mistakes this time of year, you're in trouble. So it's definitely got a lot of faith in the group. It's interesting they said that, too, because I thought today's practice was probably a little harder than it should have been.
Q. Ten seconds left in the game, you haven't had to worry about it lately, but ten seconds left, you're down one, who's your guy?
COACH HURLEY: Are you serious, Joe? (Laughter) I think the good thing about the group is we've got -- I wouldn't say we necessarily have a guy we could give the ball to that's going to be a breakdown player, somebody that -- a Kemba type of situation where you give him the ball and get out of the way and step back. I don't know that we necessarily have that.
I think for us it will be who has it going, who has the matchup. And I think for us we'll have to execute something that we run offensively. That's kind of how this group has been designed. But we've got some guys, confident shooters. Obviously Jordan. Jordan or Joey or maybe Andre getting to the rim or throwing it to Adama inside. We've got places we can go.
Q. As this journey has kind of progressed, I think maybe an outside, noncollege basketball person just assumes it's UConn, this is what they do. But for people who follow the team kind of on a day-to-day, it's been a journey, it's been a process and wasn't easy when you got there. With no disrespect to anybody who was there before, you could you quickly tell us how tough it was? Because the program was coming off back-to-back losing seasons when you took over.
COACH HURLEY: It was a complete -- not much foundation left in place. Again, I think you get that KenPom sheet the first staff meeting to start talking basketball, and it says 170. And you start looking at who was 165 and who was 172. And UConn shouldn't be in this neighborhood. And obviously it's culture. It's work ethic. It's talent. It's rebuilding the psyche. And while you're doing it, you're getting everyone's best shot. When you're rebuilding Rhode Island, no disrespect, you're not getting everyone's best shot.
Even when you're down and you have UConn across your chest, you're still everyone's -- it's still a Super Bowl for the other coach and the other players because of the history and tradition. So while you're trying to make that climb back up the mountain, you're starting over.
History and tradition doesn't help you win anything. It just probably makes your opponents want to beat you more and it adds a little bit more pressure going into every competition.
I'm proud of how we've gotten here. This was pre-portal. It was pre-NIL where you could just -- back then you had to develop a culture, develop young players. A recruit had to believe in your vision. You couldn't necessarily purchase it.
So, yeah, I'm proud of how we've gotten here. We built the program. And we still continue to do it the same way. Majority of this team and majority of our teams in the future, it will all be young players coming in, developing, and then supplementing them from players from the portal that fit us. Not the other way around.
Q. After going out in the first round the last couple of years, sounded like yesterday you had like I guess a serious self-evaluation of a lot of things in the program or just the makeup of the roster and what you needed. Is that something that you would typically do every year, or was there maybe a heightened level of urgency of, listen, if we're going to not repeat this every year, we really need to have a deeper examination of what got us in this situation?
COACH HURLEY: Normally I would take a couple of days off and be away from the team and take probably more time to think things through. But coming out of that New Mexico State game, the COVID year, back in that bubble, that was a different type of experience than you could possibly imagine if you weren't involved in that situation. So that was, to me, a one-off situation.
But last year we felt the flaws in roster construction, really, in terms of how we put the group together. So really that Monday I was in that office at 7:00 a.m. ready to meet with the staff, ready to meet with the players, and I knew exactly what everyone's role needed to be. I knew exactly what we needed to get in the portal.
We just had to get better offensively. We had to become more explosive from the perimeter. We needed more perimeter shooting. And I failed the team the year before not constructing the roster properly. And I wanted to address that while it was fresh in my mind. That's how we did it. The other coaches did not want me to do it. They thought I was too emotional to make decisions, but I knew exactly where we needed to go.
Q. Beginning this season you questioned about what your toughness was going to be like. How has that developed and where is it now?
COACH HURLEY: Listen, I don't know that this is like the toughest team I've coached. But I think it's a pretty tough team. I think it's a really hard-playing team that's part of our identity. Obviously Andre Jackson gives you incredible toughness. No one plays harder than him. Adama Sanogo, he gives you incredible toughness.
But I do think this team, it's just a balanced team. It's a team that's really good on offense, has a lot of variety on what we do on offense.
We re-found our identity defensively, and we're a really good rebounding team, one of the best in the country. You know what, now that I say all that, yes, this is a really tough team because you couldn't do all those things well unless you're really tough.
Q. Why were you so certain you knew so soon after? Why were you so certain you knew how you failed the team? Was it just based off one or two games? How did you know?
COACH HURLEY: You just knew how hard it was at times for us to score because of spacing. Spacing in different positions didn't give Adama the room to operate in the post. There weren't driving lanes. We weren't able to play with as much skill as we play with right now, and you just felt it.
That semifinal loss to Nova where we couldn't play well offensively, and I don't know how many points we scored in that New Mexico State game. But I know it was painful, painful to watch, and it was my responsibility.
And so really roster construction and getting the right personalities in your locker room is critical, too. Those are two things you learn I think every year on this job and get better every year.
Q. You just mentioned having the right personalities in the locker room. How would you describe or define the vibe of this team right now going into this game, maybe how it's changed from a few weeks ago, or is it almost like the optimum of what a coach wants in a vibe?
COACH HURLEY: Yeah, I think these guys are competitors. We come to UConn to do big things. It's a group that has a lot of confidence right now but has that strong respect for our opponent, Miami, but also has that mentality where we know the quality that we could get to on the court when we're at our best defensively, rebounding, being the hardest-playing team and then moving that ball offensively.
Just the group is very confident. And when you have guys like Andre Jackson and Donovan Clingan and Joey, Karaban and Adama, it's a live group. The guys, they've got a great vibe. Joey brought some of the California vibe, so that's good.
Q. This matchup with Miami features really great guards on both teams, and Miami's got three guards from Miami, they're three of the top six scorers in the NCAA Tournament. How are you preparing for those three guards who can score at such a high level?
COACH HURLEY: Prepare without a lot of sleep, man, I've got to tell you, with Pack and Wong and Miller, it's the greatest defensive challenge we've had this year because it's the best collection of guards we will have faced, with Poplar, who is playing great. And then the best rebounding physical center that we've seen.
Obviously, we've got to force them to beat us more from the perimeter over the top. We can't allow them to get to the rim. We've got to avoid them getting to the paint, to the free-throw line as much as possible.
We've got to keep them out of transition. We cannot have live-ball turnovers. We've got to make them score 5 on 5 in the half court versus us and really shrink the court in places we can shrink the court and be aggressive in places we want to be aggressive.
Q. With three of your players participating in fasting for Ramadan, how do you navigate that as a coach? And if it does, how does it impact your decision-making?
COACH HURLEY: I think it's -- I think it affects how you think about substitutions a little bit, with maybe trying to maybe not give Adama as long a run. But I think a lot of that just falls on the medical staff, strength and conditioning coach, Coach Gavin. And like I said I said, we have three doctors here and two trainers. They should be able to figure it out.
Q. Beginning of the season you guys started off really hot, faced adversity in the middle of the season, but in the middle of the tournament been one of the most dominant teams throughout the tournament. How did you weather the storm, and what's the key to that dominance?
COACH HURLEY: Great locker room. Great culture. It started with some people before Andre. This was like Isaiah Whaley and Christian Vital and RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin and Tyler Polley helped build a culture to get this thing going, and then they passed the leadership mantle on to this man over here. He just kept that team together.
Andre is equal parts like lift people up and then also rip their you know what. He's a high-level leader. He's got all the tools in his bag.
This guy kept the locker room together. He kept the team together when we were struggling. And that's how we're able to come out on the other side.
Q. You guys entered the tournament as a 4 seed, having to knock off some higher competition. But since then it's been a crazy tournament so far. You're the highest remaining seed with some people calling you the favorite in this tournament. Any mindset shift in the locker room or just maintaining the same mindset you've had all season?
ANDRE JACKSON JR.: I still feel like we're the underdog. I feel like we've been that the entire year. I feel like we came into the season and a lot of teams, a lot of people just underrated us. We still play with that same chip on our shoulder.
Q. How has the rest of the locker room and the rest of the players on the court picked up if there has been any slack from Adama and the other players that are fasting currently?
ANDRE JACKSON JR.: I think everybody is ready to just step up in whatever position they need to. I think we've got a lot of guys with a lot of experience. Everybody's really ready to step up whenever is necessary.
But I think Adama has done a really good job to this point with fasting and also being able to play. So I think all the guys have done a great job of stepping up in their roles and their positions.
COACH HURLEY: It's a group that stepped up for each other the whole year.
Q. Like you said, UConn is one of the toughest teams, one of the best rebounding teams in the country. You talk about Norchad Omier being one of the best defensive rebounders UConn will face all year. How do you manage Norchad's physicality and ability to pull down boards while just being 6'7"?
COACH HURLEY: Listen, if you stand upright against him, if you don't get a real low leverage, he'll absolutely bury you. I haven't seen a rebounder go after the ball and track it and trace it and positional, and then he really attacks the ball like his life depends on it.
Obviously our centers have a tremendous challenge, Adama and Donovan. But guards also have to get in there, too. You have a chance to get down there and chip him and make it challenging for him to get to the ball. With two people, you've got to take advantage of doing that as well.
Q. In their last game in the Elite Eight, Jordan Miller had a perfect game, Christian Laettner-level performance. What will you focus in on to make his life a little more difficult and force him into taking tougher shots?
COACH HURLEY: It's tough because he's a three-level scorer. Obviously he's lefty. He's slippery, super skilled, and he can also pass the ball. You just have to make his catches as difficult as you can and show him a lot of different looks.
I think against teams, when you get to this point, it's the best of the best could survive a tournament like this get to a Final Four.
We have to show him multiple looks. One thing that he sees for an extended period of time, he's going to eat it up. So we're just going to have to mix things up and make things as tough as we can on him because he's a great player and he's probably one of the most underrated players in the country.
Q. You'll be playing a Miami team that's come off two very different styles of games, one against Houston in which they were forced to shoot from the perimeter, hitting 11 3s; one against Texas where they didn't make a 3 in the second half and only shot eight in total. What type of game are you looking to get this Miami team into to help your team?
COACH HURLEY: Obviously you go in with a game plan, without getting into too many specifics. There's things that are relative to our identity. There's a style of play that we've established that we're going to stick to.
Obviously from a game plan perspective, you don't want to give up a lot of like rim 2s. They're an excellent driving team. And we can't foul them. We do not want to put them at the free-throw line. So beyond that, I can't invite you all the way in.
Q. You're facing one of the more tenured coaches in the country in Jim LarraĆ±aga. What are your thoughts on him, and have you all spoken at all prior to this matchup?
COACH HURLEY: I've known Coach for a while. He's a Molloy guy and a New York City guy. And my dad and obviously us being in basketball our whole lives, we've known him for a long time.
I've got a lot of respect for Coach and his career and the way his teams have played. And the fact that he's gotten to this Final Four multiple times in his career speaks to his quality.
And I got to know him on the Adidas trips when I was at Rhode Island and he was obviously with Adidas as well. And we developed a friendship, and he's been good to me in my career. So obviously we want to beat other's brains in, but obviously I have a big amount of respect for him.
Q. Andre, you guys have obviously been dominating this tournament. You steamrolled through Gonzaga. Do you feel there's been a different energy or different routines for this tournament, or do you feel you've just hit your stride as a player?
ANDRE JACKSON JR.: I think we all hit our stride. And we all understand what's behind it. We know if we lose one game, your season's over. We're playing with a desperation like it's nothing we've played before.
And so every single time we go out there, we know it could be our last. Really trying to do every single thing possible to stay out there on the floor and try to survive with each other.
Q. Five years of playing college basketball, do you use the experiences you had to try and help the players share some stories that you had, and also you had family? So can you tell me if you use some personal experiences to help the players?
COACH HURLEY: I think a lot, when I coached the guards, and when I give them little bits of things to look for that I saw as a player. When you grow up as a point guard and your dad's a Hall of Fame coach and your brother's a two-time national champion, seventh pick in the draft, one of the all-time -- Kimani argues with me on this, but my brother is the greatest or most decorated point guard in college basketball history if not the greatest.
So just being in that household, you pick up a lot of the intricacies of great guard play or understanding the game in general. I try not to draw on too many of my experiences as a player. I try to draw maybe a little bit more on just my experience as a coach.
I've been a coach for a long time now. Almost 30 years. And my brother, I asked him just a little bit on the way out, I asked Bob about the Final Four, just going from his freshman year when they played UNLV, it was the last year they played it in an arena. And that following year it was in the stadium -- or the dome, excuse me, in Indy, just what that difference was like.
Q. Andre, what's your favorite thing about Coach?
ANDRE JACKSON JR.: I love a lot of things about Coach. Probably the standard he holds us to every single day it's just like you've got to bring your best because if you don't, he's going to let you know it.
It's always great when you have somebody to hold you to that standard because you know you're going to get better in an environment like that. I probably say that's my favorite thing, even though sometimes it's my least favorite.
COACH HURLEY: I was going to say if that's his favorite thing about me, that's crazy, right? (Laughter).
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports