March 27, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
COACH TOM IZZO: I give credit to Duke the first half for taking our game and taking our best part of our game and really taking it to us. I mean the rebound difference the first half, I thought we did a decent job of defending. But every time we missed a shot, they got it. That's been our game all year. You have to give them credit because they must have prepared, worked on it. At the same time, you know, again at half time we just talked about doing some different things and I have to give these guys a lot of credit for bouncing back in the second half, battling back, making the rebound totals more even. Because of that, we got our game going a little bit more. They didn't get as many second-chance baskets, we got a lot of second-chance baskets. We did a good job the second half. But that's why they're a great team. They got it done for maybe 40 minutes and maybe we got it done for 25 or so minutes. They did a hell of a job.
Q. For any and all of the players, how much did Duke's defense contribute to the missed shots and how much was it that they were open but missed? And what were the problems?
MATEEN CLEAVES: First of all, we have to give Duke a lot of credit for the defense they played. They played very good defense. I think they did a good job, team defense all around. I think we missed some shots we should have hit. We had open shots we just didn't go for. But you do have to give Duke a lot of credit for playing the way they played.
MORRIS PETERSON: I think early on, we missed some easy shots. But...
Go ahead and repeat that.
MORRIS PETERSON: Duke came out and took some things out of us. I know we missed good shots early on, and against good teams you can't miss open shots.
Q. It seemed like a couple key possessions you cut it to three and then to four and then they came back and made it three. I mean how big were those two threes for them towards the end? You cut it to three and then to four.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Those were big shots. Langdon hit one, Avery hit one. Two of their best players hit big shots for them. Like I said, they were big shots. I think we're -- one shot away from making a run. Every time we went on a little bit of a run they answered with something. That shows how good a team it is, how good they play.
Q. Mateen, I was wondering how that charge you took from Brand compared to your collision with Najara (Oklahoma) last week?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Wow. I don't know -- I don't know how -- I mean -- take no more charges at Brand or any one hand with Najara. Both of them were tough. I happened to get Najara the thumbs up. He was tougher. But like I said, I don't want to take any more charges to get to Brand either.
Q. Antonio, what were your thoughts when you walked off the court the final time? And Tom, what were your thoughts when you saw him walk off the court?
ANTONIO SMITH: I thought, I mean, I thought this team gave their best effort this year. So we have nothing to be disappointed in. And, you know, we could hold our heads up high, walking off the court. And it was just -- I really enjoy just waving to the fans for the last time. I mean we went out, we overachieved this year. A lot of people thought we couldn't do a lot of things. We just set our goals a lot higher and it seemed like we achieved on them. We have nothing to be disappointed about.
COACH TOM IZZO: I'm thankful to have the seniors that I have, especially Tone, Dave. They've given me a lot of great memories, and they've given our fans a lot of great memories. They went down the way we came in, fighting.
Q. Along the same lines of coach and players, you played one of the most dominant teams within recent years, six points both times. Obviously that's disappointing. Does that make you feel proud about your team, to compete so evenly with Duke?
ANTONIO SMITH: It does. You know, if they are considered one of the best teams, you know, ever, it seems like we always just continue to play them close. We feel like we know we have a challenge, just go out there and give it effort. It shows what -- we just have to have confidence in ourselves and continue fighting every game. I hope that can carry over to next year.
MORRIS PETERSON: I think one thing I'm proud about this team is that people were down on us and we always believed in ourselves. We always gave 100 percent when we stepped on the basketball court. I just think both of the games, we were one or two plays away from making a run and it's just so unfortunate that that happened.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Duke, you know, is a very good team. Like he said, I think we're one or two plays -- we're proud of pulling it off. We're not happy with just losing by six points. We came to the arena to win the game. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't win, but we're not happy about showing up and losing by six points. You have to give Duke credit, they hit the shots and they're a very good team.
Q. This is for all of you along the same lines. You weren't given much of a chance in this game. You got off to a tough start. Now that you're within three points, the full and the upset, fairly late in the game, can you talk about what you guys were thinking at that time, or the excitement of that moment?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, I mean, you get so close. You know. I mean you can kind of see it. You feel it, you feel it coming back. We got so close, we couldn't get over that hump. Like I said, we didn't come here just to give them a good game. We came here to try to win and we were so close. Like I said, we were one or two plays away from probably pulling it out. But like I said, I'm not satisfied with losing the game, but you know, I'm very proud of the guys and I'm very proud of our season.
Q. Mike, this is for Antonio, Elton Brand today, he looked like a different player than the first time you faced him. He's big and strong and tough in the middle. Could you talk about him and trying to guard him?
ANTONIO SMITH: It was very difficult. If he got the ball down low, he's going to score all the time. We tried to double-down. He was making passes out to the shooter so we had to readjust to that, too. It seemed like once we thought that we had him one way, the other players really stepped up and knocked down some big shots. That made our other players second guess if we should double-team or stay out on the shooters.
Q. This is for Mateen. Down the stretch, first of all, you've carried your team all season long. It looked like down the stretch maybe you were forcing it just a little bit. Did you feel a lot of pressure on yourself personally down the stretch, the last ten minutes?
MATEEN CLEAVES: No, I didn't feel any pressure. You know, I've been doing all year, I've been taking the shots. I'm going to continue taking those shots. It's kind of funny, if I don't make them, people say I forced them. When I make them, people make me out to be a hero. So I'm gonna keep taking those shots and that's what I do. I take the shot every time down the stretch. That's my job. So I mean, I'm gonna keep taking those shots but I don't feel like I force it. I've been taking them all year.
Q. Coach, from a psychological standpoint, how important was the start that Duke got off to again? I mean you got down 21 to 4 the first time you played them then you're down 20 to 10.
COACH TOM IZZO: We went into the game, as every coach does, a couple of keys. One of the keys, we thought we had to stop their three-point shooting. I thought we felt we did a great job with that. We felt we couldn't turn the ball over. Nine turnovers is very good against a team like Duke. And we thought we had to, you know, control the boards. I think two of the first three baskets they got were on offensive rebounds. So that was what was discouraging. It wasn't the, you know, we had some shots that we missed. But I think one of our players said it best. We cut the three, they're all-Americans all stepped up. Brand came back again. Trajan hit that big three from the left wing; that was a critical, critical shot. And then Avery hit the one, you know, kind of right on and then he hit it. And that's why they're the number one team in the nation.
Q. Coach, did you get more open shots than you might have expected and when you play a great defensive team is it sometimes even when you're open you're kind of looking for that defender? Does that interfere with hitting the open shot?
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, I think it could. I think they're so athletic that they're always running at you. Even though we had a couple real open looks that we missed there weren't a ton of them. I'm just so impressed with the job they did because nobody's done it to us all year of preparing, the preparation must have been incredible. Not that we're incredible, but I mean we do have a strength of rebounding. And they did such a great job of that, you know. I think they defended us well. There were a couple open looks but they're so athletic, and they just pumped us on the board that time.
Q. Tom, looking back what are you going to remember with the game on the line offensively with about eight, nine minutes left and then you had a long drought and only scored about four points in seven minutes, what did Duke do particularly during that period?
COACH TOM IZZO: They defended us awfully well. We had a couple of just free plays, remember the outlet, Mateen just went right through his hands. You know, we just -- we didn't come up with the big plays this time; they D and they deserve to win because they came up with the big plays. And, you know, I don't know what else we could have done. I thought we got some looks that we wanted, Jason Klein had two great looks in that period from the three. For the most part, shots he made all year, he knows they're good looks, it just didn't go in for him. And there's nothing you can do about that. You know, I wasn't disappointed with that. I was disappointed with our first half, because I thought we got away from what made us so good. And yet I also think Duke took away what made us so good.
Q. Coach, have you seen both teams, you talked a little bit about what you think they have to do Monday night. Maybe touch on two or three points that they have to do well.
COACH TOM IZZO: I think just like us, they better rebound well. I think they have to contain Brand. They have a couple more big bodies to put in against him. And Antonio said we made a decision that we weren't going to double a lot in the second half, we're supposed to double some and we blew some assignments. But because you pick your poison, you want to get killed inside or you want to get killed outside. We felt the two was better to give up than the three. I still think the game plan was pretty good other than the final outcome. So I think Connecticut's going to have to, again, not turn the ball over. You got to get a lot of -- you got to get a lot of breaks when you play Duke. They just got so many different people to bring at you. I think Khalid El-Amin is going to have a great game. Avery is every bit as good as they've made him to be. I think he's done a great job with Avery, bringing him along this past year.
Coach, thank you very much. Congratulations on a great year.
COACH TOM IZZO: Thank you.
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