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March 13, 2004

Taliek Brown

Jim Calhoun

Ben Gordon

Emeka Okafor


JOHN PAQUETTE: Emeka Okafor, Taliek Brown, Ben Gordon, Coach Jim Calhoun. Coach?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: First time anybody's ever asked me to speak (smiling). It all becomes rather natural. I don't have a stat sheet in front of me, nor do I need one. We've had a difficult week, starting up in Syracuse with Emeka's back and then last night with Charlie's leg, just a lot of things. 1990 we were fortunate enough to win, beating Syracuse and Georgetown. I still say it was one of the great moments coaching along with the National Championship. I still feel that way. The National Championship might have been first, but that was certainly the second greatest thing I think that happened at UCONN basketball. Six times later, these kids put on a performance that their coach is so proud of them - just incredibly, incredibly proud of the way that they looked at the score -- I've watched Pittsburgh now for three years, and three great games with them. They're a tremendous basketball team. Jamie has done a tremendous job. They're as tough and physical a basketball team as anybody's ever going to face; yet our kids persevered. We lose Emeka with a couple - two, three - to go. Yet the kids hung in there and believed the whole way through, as we did at the start of the year when we said, "Our goal is to win the BIG EAST Championship." We didn't do it regular season; better team beat us. Whether we had Emeka or didn't, it didn't happen. We got here in New York, and once again, the kids did so much. You know, all the Xs, Os, stat sheets really don't make all that much difference. We came back, we fought, played great defense. Guys who haven't played as much stepped up big-time here. Ben, I'll still see that play, I think, all night when the ball was blocked. He didn't get dissuaded, grabbed it, put it back up. Just a tremendous play. Taliek with his guts, I love when he goes behind his back like that. It's absolutely a thrilling moment for me (laughter). I had to get one critical moment in for him. I love him so much that I have to do that to him; he knows I still love him. Emeka, to really come in tonight to try to help his team win a championship. He's going to get his sharpness back obviously next week and for the NCAA tournament. The first one was great. This one was equal to it. The ones all in between were wonderful, but this is really special.

Q. How much did Ben's shot remind you of Ray's a couple years ago? How much does he remind you of Ray?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: He likes playing here. We may move all of our games here, I think. That's a Freudian thing, I'm going to have him for a long time. But the point being is that I think, and I've always told him this, what big-time players do, what truly great players do, I think if you look at the pros, the guys who are the great players are guys who win games. They're two games in this tournament that he just basically went out and made shots to win, just to win games. Just as Emeka won the game at Villanova, he made the plays to win games. Once again, I think it puts him in that category of the great players that we've had here before. To break Allen Iverson's record here, with three straight wins for us, is very special. Pittsburgh has probably given us a tougher time than anybody has in the league certainly over the past three years; yet we've won two championships against them. That makes it even more special from our respect, for Jaron Brown, Page, Krauser, Troutman, the whole team. They're a terrific basketball team.

Q. Given all that this team has been through throughout the course of this final week, would it be an oversimplification to say you don't win this without Ben Gordon?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: No question we don't win it without Ben Gordon. I think George Blainey said it best to me, he said all the expectations ended a couple weeks ago. It took that long, but they ended a couple weeks ago and we felt liberated. We're now going to get to what we think is our time of year - and hopefully it's gonna be. This week has been. Hopefully, the weeks to come we've got a chance, like a whole bunch of other folks, we have a chance to do something very, very special. I never underestimate sometimes the weight of expectations; things that don't always go right. We dressed eight scholarship players tonight. When Charlie couldn't go, we were down to seven. I think that people don't realize just what these kids are made of, just how they've grown through the adversity. I think what's happened to us through the season is something that's going to hold them in great stead not only basketball, but otherwise. It really is a tremendous lesson. Sometimes it's great to have your picture here and all the adulation being thrust upon you. But with that becomes 20-point wins aren't enough. We were 27. A couple games ago, we were 24-6, people were saying we haven't done all the things we were supposed to do. It was a good season for most people, and I think that there was a wearing effect of that. I think we were able to liberate ourselves and just play basketball.

Q. Ben, how did it feel when they called your name to get that trophy?

BEN GORDON: It felt great. I don't even have a lot of words I can explain it. I don't even know. I was just happy to win, man. To get the MVP and everything like that, it's the best time of my life.

Q. Emeka, can you talk about your back. How did it feel to be back out there? How do you think it will react next week?

EMEKA OKAFOR: My back wasn't really the issue this game. It was my first time really playing hard in like a week. I didn't spasm up. I wasn't in any pain. I was just kind of getting back in the flow.

Q. Emeka, when did you decide to play tonight?

EMEKA OKAFOR: Woke up in the morning, felt good. I felt it was a big game...

BEN GORDON: He's lying (laughter). He told me - he told me, "Yo, we make it to the championship, I'm playing," (laughter).

Q. Coach, let me ask you, half second to go in the game, Ben's on the line. Do you ever think, "Just miss the shot on purpose so the time would run out"?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: The theory being simply is they always can't make the play once you hit the basket. The other school of thought is that crazy things -- I've seen guys hit, we all see it once in a while when a guy takes a hook shot, makes a three-pointer and you only had a two-point lead. I never want to take any points off the board. If you can get three, God bless you if you can make the three. Obviously, they didn't have a chance to do it. It certainly was suggested by a staff member talking about "should we" or "shouldn't we," yeah. Once again, to get a rebound and throw it, it probably might take five seconds before someone else even touched it. I never take points off the board if you can get them.

Q. Seems like Armstrong and Tooles did a great job for you the last five minutes of the game, defensively, especially when Okafor fouled out. Can you comment on that.

COACH JIM CALHOUN: No question. Shamon, we put him on Jaron Brown who is probably one of the toughest players we play in this league. He's a tremendous basketball player, an old-fashioned basketball player as Troutman, as a lot of the kids on their team are, by the way. I have great respect for their basketball team. He stepped up. Hilton was shaky early. When it came down to the moment of truth, he stepped up. That's going to bode well for us in the tournament. It's going to bode well for his future certainly because he stepped up, made crucial plays. Twice he got his hand on the ball. Those are the kinds of things that win championships. I tell the kids sometimes, "Some nights it's five seconds, some nights it's 40 minutes, but you're going to have to contribute for us to win a championship." Everybody did tonight.

Q. What will you be focusing on to prepare for the tournament?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: What we'll be focusing on right now is getting some rest. We just played three games in three days. We will go back tomorrow, hear the announcement. Then on Monday, when we know our opponent, we'll really be working, trying to get Charlie back, Charlie Villanueva back. We'll be making sure Emeka is getting into more flow at a reasonable pace. Once again, that's why I have so much respect for him, because a lot of guys would protect their reputation. Obviously, as I said before, he's the best basketball player in the country. That was the least of his worries, coming here tonight and not being in the flow of the game. He lied a little bit to you, as Ben indicated, but he didn't lie to himself. He wanted to make sure his teammates won a game whether he got two points or 20 points. So we'll get the guys healthy, and then we'll get ready for some fun. We've worked really hard all year. I've always treated the tournament as fun. You have to go and enjoy yourself, play the best you possibly can. If the team's good enough to beat you, so be it. We're pretty good. I'm not John Kerry saying, "Bring it on," but what I am saying -- now you know who I'm voting for (laughter). Guy from Boston, an Irishman. Regardless, I think that we approach postseason play maybe a little differently than other teams. We try to enjoy ourselves. It's fun. It is something that we have earned our right to be wherever the committee puts us. We're looking forward to it no matter who we play.

Q. Coach, can you talk about six BIG EAST titles for your school. You tied Georgetown. Talk about the accomplishment.

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Well, the best way to say it is Chris Smith, Nadav Henefeld, Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall, Caron Butler, Khalid El-Amin, Emeka, Taliek and Ben. Right there you got six. I'm very fortunate enough to have coached those kids.

Q. There's always a shot at finding the one that makes the difference. Did you think Rashad Anderson's three he made when you were down seven to cut it to four with 6:14 to go...

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Put us right back in where we needed to be, right in the hunt, so we wouldn't have to worry about time. What it did, it took time out of the equation. If we don't score a three right there, even a two, would have made it a little more difficult. The three took the time out of the equation because we knew we'd get the ball back at least twice more because of the time on the clock. So the three was very important for us, yeah. I would say the three was the one that set up the great ending these guys put on.

Q. Can you tell us what you're thinking on that possession when you're down 58-57 and what you see when you make that drive, Ben?

BEN GORDON: Yeah, Coach drew up a great play (laughter). Rashad set the screen for me. We actually had a mismatch. One of the big guys was on me. I was gonna shoot the jump shot. I saw it open, I just drove it to the basket, kind of got undercut. Put it up, it went in. That was a great play drawn up by Coach (laughter).

COACH JIM CALHOUN: You'll still start next week (smiling).

Q. Taliek, can you talk about the tremendous comeback that your basketball team made down 11 against Pittsburgh with eight minutes to go against a Pitt team that is so tough with a double-digit lead?

TALIEK BROWN: When you play against Pitt, when you're down 10, 11, it feels like you're down 20 because of the way they play and the way their offense runs. We just worked hard out there, never gave up. We never thought the game was over, we attacked it like we were still in the hunt. Got it down to 2, 3, played defense, 1, then hit the shot and we're up.

Q. Last night you said (inaudible)?

TALIEK BROWN: They cool with me, now (laughter). They all right with me now.

Q. Ben, can you talk about growing up in New York, being center stage when you win a BIG EAST. What's going through your mind when the buzzer goes off?

BEN GORDON: It's hard to explain. It's never happened, you know what I'm saying? I'm still on a high right now. I probably won't realize what happened until tomorrow morning or something. I can tell you just growing up in New York, coming and winning in The Garden, winning the MVP, it's the best feeling I'll ever have.

Q. Ben, you and Julius Page had a lot of good battles. He's won some of them, but you went off on him. What was the difference with this?

BEN GORDON: I mean, you know, he played great defense tonight. Every shot I took was a contested one. Nothing was easy. But after the 11-minute mark, I kind of decided that nobody's gonna win or lose but me. I knew I had to take the game over somehow and get something going for my team.

Q. Coach, you mentioned having fun. In the past you said this conference prepares you for NCAA. You had many intense competitions this year. Do you feel the BIG EAST...

COACH JIM CALHOUN: I think we should get seven teams. I think it's a terrific, terrific league. We have battled everybody in the league. We have been fortunate enough to go to Carolina, we lost six-second mark to Carolina. We beat Oklahoma at home. We played some pretty good people. I'll tell you what, this conference is an incredible conference physically. It's an incredible conference talent-wise. Just something about trying to beat a BIG EAST team. Last year they put four in. All four of us were fortunate enough - we were good enough, better word - we were good enough -- we left our brothers home, they left Seton Hall and BC home, which I think was tremendously undeserved. You can have mulligans occasionally. We'll give them a mulligan. They can, instead of six, put seven in.

Q. Ben, with Emeka's back problems, did you feel you were strong enough to carry this team?

BEN GORDON: I mean, I had no choice. I knew that was the only way we'd get to where we wanted to go. I've kind of been playing up and down this year. I knew this was the best time of year to have my best performance, so...

EMEKA OKAFOR: Just for the whole -- me and Ben, we're roommates on the road, so the whole time I was just telling him, "Domination." Just stuck that in his mind. Out of the blue, I would just say, "Domination." That's what he did. He came out here, he played hard, he dominated.

End of FastScripts...

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