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March 24, 2006

Lamar Butler

Folarin Campbell

Jim Larranaga

Jai Lewis

Tony Skinn

Will Thomas


JIM LARRANAGA: Well, first of all, we're having a hell of a lot of fun. This team is good and loose and excited about playing basketball. They have great friends on and off the court and I think that helped us being back here in D.C. with so many fans. In fact, I didn't see it myself, I got out a little bit late, but our players walked out on to the court before you are allowed to start shooting, and our students were up in the high section, kind of what they call the nose-bleed seats, and they were doing "George Mason" chants an hour before game time.
Having that kind of support from our student body and from the community, the George Mason community and the Fairfax community, even the whole D.C. Metro Area has kind of adopted this team, the tremendous exposure it's gotten, and we're all just loving it. It helped us get off to a great start. We were up 9-0, forced them to take an early time-out, and although, you know, we were never able to really like hit them with a knock out punch, the credit for that goes to them of staying with the game and fighting back and keeping it close.
But these guys made their free throws down the stretch and were able to come away and move into the Elite 8. That sounds awfully good.
Q. Lamar, you hit the first shot to kick things off, I just wanted you to speak to the fast start that you all got off to?
LAMAR BUTLER: Last game against Carolina they got out on us and we wanted to come out tonight and get out on Wichita State. We didn't want to take any blows tonight, and that's what we did with our defense.
Q. For Tony, you've been on quite a ride emotionally I'm sure the last two weeks, with what went down at the end of the season and now your chance to play with your team and take it deep into the tournament. Can you talk about the emotions of this last experience for you?
TONY SKINN: Man, it's been fun. It's been a roller coaster. But I'm just trying to enjoy the moment, keep trying to play well, trying to put everything that happened behind us and right now this ball team is playing great basketball and we just want to keep that rolling.
Q. Lamar, coach talked a little bit about the excitement, the crowd, but did it make you guys nervous getting early in the game, or what was it like? What did it feel like?
LAMAR BUTLER: This team is probably the loosest team I've ever played on as far as game preparation. Coach already does a great job of keeping us loose in practice, dancing, singing, claps, we were loose tonight and there was no tension whatsoever throughout the team.
Q. Could maybe Tony talk about the defense, it looked like it really took Wichita State out of what they wanted to do and having a second look at them, how much did that help tonight?
TONY SKINN: Definitely Wichita State is a great team. When we played them up there we knew what they was capable of doing. We wanted to come out and set the tone for the defense, we came out and jumped up on them, had a 9-0 run and that set the tone for the game and took them out of their offense a little bit. They fought back but we were able to hold on to the lead?
Q. Jai and Will, this is the third consecutive game that you guys have limited what the other team's big men have done, what's the key to that and what are you guys doing so well inside?
JAI LEWIS: Just make sure we front the post. That's the main thing for our defense, fronting post. We know if we can keep the ball off the low post our big man is not going to score. So we're just working well together helping each other out.
MODERATOR: Same question for Will.
WILL THOMAS: We just play five against one, whoever has the ball, and the other four is inside the lane helping when I'm fronting the post. So Jai is fronting the post and we just help each other.
Q. Lamar, if you could just, if possible, recall your emotion, I think with a few seconds left, you got a pass and just kind of hugged the ball and you just seemed about to explode. Could you recreate the feeling?
LAMAR BUTLER: I just recall everyone saying we weren't even supposed to be here and now we're in the Elite 8 and it was just an adrenaline rush from my head down to my toes. Was an awesome feeling, I looked at my father, he was smiling from ear to ear. They were smiling; my brother, my mother. It was an awesome feeling?
Q. You have raised your game to a new level in this tournament that maybe you have not seen before, 16 points tonight led all scorers; what are you doing differently this tournament to really raise your game to another level?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: I mean, all of the focus is really all on Tony Lamar, Jai and Will. I just try to make sure I hit all of my open shots and that's what I've been doing is helping the team out.
Q. Can you take us through the three 3s early in the game and how much in rhythm you felt shooting the ball tonight?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: I've been working on my jumpshot lately, just going into the gym and trying to work on it and it's been paying off. These last couple of games I've been hitting big 3s. At the beginning of the game I was left wide open and I just took the shot and they just happened to fall.
Q. When Wichita State started to make that second-half run, did you feel forced like you had to change your game plan at all or your defensive scheme or what you guys were doing on the offense?
TONY SKINN: No, I mean, we jumped out on them early but we knew they were going to come back. Basketball is a game of 40 minutes. We played well for the first couple of minutes and we knew they were going to make their run. We didn't need to change anything, we just have to play the way we've been playing all year and just stick to the script?
Q. If you could talk about your defense again WSU's three-point shooters, they have been really good up until this point.
LAMAR BUTLER: Well, I watched Ogirri against Tennessee and he was just going off. I didn't see the first game but Coach told me he was just having a heck of a time. I made sure tonight I was going to limit his touches and chase him off every screen. The big guys did a good job of showing if I got hit by a screen. It was just an overall team good effort, Ogirri, to Couisnard, we were just chasing and we just didn't give up tonight.
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: When I was chasing Couisnard I decided to back off and give him a little jumper, I'm familiar with him, we played him once and I realize he likes to go to the hole. I just tried to back off him a little and let him shoot a couple of 3s. I had help from the big fellas to block a shot but it was just great team defense. It wasn't me by myself.
Q. Are you guys at a confidence level where it's like no matter who wins the second game tonight, if it's UCONN or Washington or the Miami Heat that you feel like you can probably win anything?
LAMAR BUTLER: We're just all having fun. Whoever they put us up against, Coach is going to make sure we prepare and are ready to play. It's like we're not supposed to be here, so we're just having fun and playing well as a team.
Q. It's been less than two weeks when the selection show came off and at that point you talked about proving to people that you belong. In your wildest dreams could you ever believe you'd be one game from the Final Four?
TONY SKINN: Yeah, definitely, all year we've been kind of trying to prove ourselves all year and we got the chance to matchup with the MVC, I think we did a pretty good job. Once Selection Sunday came and we got picked, you saw what all the critics were saying about we didn't deserve to be in the tournament, but we knew we were capable of playing with anybody in the country and we just needed a chance to go out there and prove ourselves. My teammates went out there against Michigan State and played a great game and came right back with it against North Carolina. I just think the confidence level has just risen and we've had a chance to show the country basically what we're capable of as a basketball team and we've got an opportunity to show and we're making the most of that.
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: To add to that, I just feel like every time we go out on the court, we have something to prove, like Tony said, against Michigan State, we felt that we were supposed to be in this tournament and we beat them.
North Carolina, it was a tough ACC team, so we felt we could play with them so we also had something to prove against them and also against Wichita State was a battle of Conference, the Valley versus CAA so we also felt we had something to prove. We feel like every time we go out there we have something to prove, so just go out there and play hard.
Q. If it's been crazy on campus this week, what are the next 36 hours going to be like?
JIM LARRANAGA: I hope more fun, more of the same. I think one of the things about being in an environment like this, is that there is so much around us. Even though we know it, we're really not distracted by it.
I said this the other day, one of my assistants, Bill Courtney, text-messaged me and said, "What are you going to do about all of the distractions?" And I text-messaged him back, "What distractions?"
We're having so much fun, it's not like we're in a situation where we're nervous or have any kind of fear. These guys have played basketball their whole lives. They enjoy being with each other and they enjoy executing the plan on the court. As long as we can just continue to do that, anything is possible.
Q. Jordan Carter is a guy who did not even play in the last tournament game; how big would you say his three-pointer was?
JIM LARRANAGA: He was great, let's make no mistake, not just the 3-pointer, but everything he did on the floor tonight.
One of the things that happens, and as a coach, you have a lot of decisions before the game, during the game. And the other day I started thinking about Tony being a senior. He didn't play in the first game, didn't start in the second game. By not starting him, I brought him off the bench and that kind of left Jordan Carter out and Jordan has been doing a really good job.
So I met with the coaches yesterday. Tony didn't know he was going to start until last night at 9:30. But before I did that, I called Gabe Norwood into my room, and I said to him, "Gabe, you've been sensational, but I feel like I owe it to Tony to put him back in the starting lineup and let him finish this senior year out in the lineup." He started for 29 of our 30 games. The only game he didn't start was because he was late for the shoot-around.
Gabe, so team-oriented, such a smart kid, he was all for it. He said, "Yeah, whatever is best for the team, whatever is best for Tony."
I called Tony in, and when I told him "I'm thinking about starting you," his response was fantastic. "Coach, do whatever you think is best for our team."
I said, "Well, what I think is best is you're going to start and play your butt off." And he smiled from ear to ear and just gave me a big hug and said "Thank you."
What that did then was put us back in our normal rotation, and Jordan got a chance then to step in early and try to keep at least one quick guy on the floor to guard the ball, and Jordan and Tony are the two fastest guys on the team. So when Tony needed a little bit of a breather and went to Jordan to keep the pressure on the ball, he did a great job defensively. When they collapsed on Will -- Will is his roommate -- Will threw it out to his buddy, Jordan stepped up and hit a huge 3. I do think that got us back thinking positively again, because I thought there was a stretch in the second half where we got a little bit frustrated because we could not score. We were not scoring regularly like we had early in the game.
Q. You've coached a lot of talented teams at UVA but is this the best team and closest team you've ever had, because Jordan stepped up and then you had Sammy step up the last game and you even got good play from Tim Burns in the first game.
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, first of all, this team is very close. They are a close-knit group. They hang together all the time on the court, off the court.
I'd like to think a lot of our teams are that way, though. What maybe separates this team, I've been a head coach for 20 years, I think one of the things that separates this team is we have so many well-balanced weapons, and by that I mean, we don't have one go-to guy on the inside, Jai; we have two, because Will can do the work inside. We don't have one three-point threat; we've got several. And now with Shag shooting it, you have Lamar, Tony and Folarin Campbell stepping up and shooting threes. Shag is Folarin's nickname, by the way.
So that balance of three-point shooting pushes the defense out and away from the basket and good interior scoring from Will and Jai, and then you have guys off the bench like Jordan, Sammy, Chris, and of course Gabe, so we've got depth, too. And they are all so committed to the defense. That's been the biggest difference from last year to this year is last year we were a very good offensive team, but very inconsistent at the defensive end of the floor; this year, we can defend.
Q. Could you talk about George Mason's perimeter defense, why it was so effective tonight?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, as Lamar mentioned, having played them one time and having videotape of the way we were guarding, we were able on Tuesday -- we took Monday off -- so on Tuesday, we spent the practice time during our game preparation, we have different segments of practice. One practice, one is assigned to defending the opponent. Chris Caputo, my assistant does a great job of preparing our green team, the second unit of simulating our opponent. We showed our guys on the tape before we took the floor how they got so many 3s. They do a great job of screening. We showed them how we could defend that better and then we try to do it. Tuesday we did it okay, but still, not the way we wanted.
Then James Johnson is our defensive coordinator and he really got on the guys on Wednesday. Hey, this is good, but it's not the caliber of defense we can play. And our guys started to recognize that we were a little slow. It's like we were defending them when they shot and instead of defending them before they shot it. Try to take them away from that rhythm 3, and from start to finish, I thought tonight we did a fantastic job at that. And my assistant coaches, Scott Cherry, James Johnson and Chris Caputo get an awful lot of credit for that, breaking everything down offensively and defensively. Scott takes care of the offense and he just told the team, "Listen, they collapsed." It's going to be tough on our big guys. Guards are going to have to step up and hit some 3s tonight like we did in the first game.
Q. With that, were you surprised that after you hit 11 3s out there that they did continue to collapse and you were able to hit seven in the first half?
JIM LARRANAGA: Well, I think again, if they came out, Jai and Will would have hurt them. But kind of as a coach, things that work for you all the time, you're reluctant to change. I was even reluctant to change the lineup back to Tony because it was working with Gabe. But you make decisions based on the best information you have at hand, and Mark Turgeon is one heck of a coach and his team has played great. They play in a great league and as Folarin said, the Missouri Valley was very deserving of the bids they got, maybe could have even got one more.
But our league didn't get the respect that we know it deserves. I'm not saying that what they did was wrong. I'm just saying that when we competed against Old Dominion who is now going to be in Madison Square Garden playing in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament and I think that's the first time in CAA history we have had somebody get that far; our third place team might have gotten there if they had not had to play Old Dominion.
Hofstra had a huge year, won like 25, 26 games and then you add how good Wilmington is, co-champs with us for the regular season. And again, if you ask me, VCU and Northeastern had great years. We had a great league and it prepared us very well for this tournament and I think that's why we're doing so well.
Q. Can you smile, Coach?
JIM LARRANAGA: (Smiling). That was pretty good, there.

End of FastScripts...

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