March 9, 2002
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, that was a tough, tough loss against a very good team. I really feel great about my own team because they showed such heart and character. What else can you say? I mean, it was a great college basketball game. I'm just sorry we were on the losing end. Would have been nice to see Brandin's half court shot fall in there. That would have been a pretty nice ending. Didn't work out that way. So, we're moving on to the big dance now, and we're just going to bounce back. I think we won 12 of our last 13 going into this game. This is a great conference. This was a great venue. What a great college basketball atmosphere. I think everybody got their money's worth tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Ben, just update on us on Brandin.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Brandin's going to be fine. We'll go back tomorrow. They'll do just like they always do. When I came from northern Arizona, I mean, the cost of an MRI was like so expensive we were lucky to get one down twice a year. When we have a stubbed toe, they do an MRI. We have the best sports medicine facility in the country at the University of Pittsburgh. Freddy Foo (phonetic spelling) is internationally renowned. We have the best medical care, period. So, I'm confident, just talking to Brandin. He came in at the end. I just didn't want to, you know, he was sore. We went with the fresh bodies there. Didn't want to force it. He wanted to play. I had to like, you know, tell him no. But we'll go back and do the standard MRI for stubbed toes and everything else at the University of Pittsburgh.
Q. He averages 36 or 37 minutes a game. Can you talk about how compromised your team is?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, he's the Player-of-the-Year in the confidence. He will definitely be on somebody's all-American team, if not a lot of them. So, any time you lose your best player, you lose Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, that's who he is to our team. I was so proud of the effort, the way our guys kept fighting without him. When you lose your best player, your point guard, your quarterback, you know, our team showed a lot of character. We had some, you know, tired bodies out there. It was a heck of a college basketball game. And my hat's off to the University of Connecticut. What a great program and a great job Jim Calhoun does. You know, we're just going to move on now and hopefully get a two or a three seed and be playing at Melon Arena come Friday.
Q. Do you know what exactly happened to Brandin? Looked like he slipped?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I really don't. I don't know what happened. I think he just planted and felt a little sprain or whatever.
Q. Can you tell us what you drew up in that final 1.7. Was it for Brandin to take that shot?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Yeah. It looked good, right? So, I'll take credit for that. It was run to perfection. We almost made a game-winning shot.
Q. Did he have to do a good selling job to let him come back in the game?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I have unbelievable confidence in Brandin Knight. I said that I have 1,000 percent confidence out of 100 in Brandin Knight. So if anybody was going to make that shot, it was going to be he. And, you know, you saw it rim in and out. You know, I thought we had some great performances tonight, especially the guy to my left, Ontario Lett. As I alluded to last night, we are so lucky to have Ontario. It was just a stroke of luck. It was God blessing the University of Pittsburgh basketball program that we were able to get Ontario. He fell right to us. He's been just unbelievable all year. He's a big reason why we have 27 wins and we're Big East regular season champs. And we have a lot more basketball to play. It's obviously disappointing to lose the championship game in double over time but we're going to bounce back. These guys have great resiliency. We'll be fine.
Q. Ben, you guys played great defense all night. Ben Gordon got free for some points at the end. But he was stifled during the game. Anything specific you did with him?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Not really. Tell you what, there were a couple shots in the game, his three was big there when they made the run back. I think the toughest shot of the game for me to swallow was Caron Butler, the left elbow, right in the same spot where he had the ball, doing a little spin and going up and shooting the guy in his face. Caron is a great player. You know, obviously it's their advantage to have the coMVP from the University of Connecticut in the game at the end. Also their advantage that our coMVP, Brandin Knight, was not. But what can you do?
Q. Ontario, you were very animated. I saw you stomping around when you got the best of them inside. Were you guys trying to unseat them and tell them, "You're here, and this isn't their league anymore"?
ONTARIO LETT: No, we just come out and tried to play with an amount of excitement and enthusiasm. Get ourselves going, get the crowd going. Help the team, helps us play defense. If we down, we need to be picked up. I try to bring the energy. That's all. We just was trying to bring excitement and get ourselves going.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: This guy has so much fun playing basketball. We have, you know, when we have our season-ending banquet here at the end of the year, we have highlights of him dancing after he scores. He was dancing tonight before the game. I don't know if you caught that or not. He's got some good moves. He's very quick and very graceful for a guy 265. He has so much fun. I wish I could have that much fun when the game's going on as Ontario does. He's all about enjoying what he's doing.
Q. I know you mentioned you had confidence in Brandin. Did he ask you to go in?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Yes, he did.
Q. Last minute, second overtime, you were only down two. Looked like you were going to get a stop. Taliek hit that shot?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: That was a heck of a shot. A tough one. I think there was two or three seconds left. He was one for eleventh in the conference this year from three at nine percent. You got to have some breaks. That was a good break for them, for him. It shows a lot of guts and character on his part to step up and hit that shot; no question about it.
Q. Ontario, can you talk about how the players reacted when Brandin went down? Did you talk amongst yourselves?
ONTARIO LETT: Yes, we said we had to do it for Brandin and everybody. Nobody hung their head. Everybody picked their self up and backed their game up. We knew our leader was down. It wasn't a disappointing time right then, because that wasn't the time. Everybody had to be a man and just pick their game up. We was going out to win it for him.
Q. Ontario, talk about how physical it was inside. Looked like that all night long.
ONTARIO LETT: I mean, the league is physical, the Big East. It's another game, another physical game. We knew it was going to be physical. That's how I like it and we like it, being physical. I think that played to our advantage.
COACH BEN HOWLAND: We're very fortunate to have the officials we have in the league. That's a Final Four national championship crew. (Inaudible) I'll take that every day of the week. You don't have to talk to them. They do their job. They're just there working. They're the best. So we're very fortunate. This conference has the best officials and they do let the players decide the game in the country. So we're fortunate on that aspect.
Q. (Inaudible)one of the more extraordinary defensive stops that any of us will see with the ball game on the line?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Our guys have been playing great defense all year. That's why we are where we are right now. You know, they do it almost every possession. And, again, we had a great stop at the end of regulation. We had a great stop at the end of the first overtime. Taliek hits an unbelievable shot. I mean, you know, someone has got to lose. Unfortunately, we were on the losing side for the first time in a while. We just got to bounce back now. We're so excited about going to the NCAA tournament. This is a program that hasn't been there in nine or ten years. We're having a brand new facility that's two months from being done that's the nicest on-campus arena in the country. We're only being optimistic and positive. We want to go in and make some noise in the NCAA tournament. We're going to take two days off, we'll take tomorrow off, we'll take Monday off, we'll watch the selection together as a team tomorrow. We'll prepare for whoever we've got.
End of FastScripts...