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April 2, 2005

James Augustine

Luther Head

Roger Powell

Bruce Weber


JOHN GERDES: Congratulations to Illinois. We'll ask Coach Weber to make an opening statement, then the first questions go to the student-athletes. Coach Weber.

COACH WEBER: I think the key, the first key, was the defense. Our guys did a great job. Deron did a great job, along with Luther, in different stretches, of not letting Garcia get going. Really disrupted them. We thought -- we watched the film of Memphis. They were the team that gave them the most trouble. Memphis fought them. They were aggressive with them. We tried to simulate that. I think overall we played good defense, other than maybe some flared threes and their big guys getting by us, for the most part, great defensive effort. We talked about our big men being major factors. Roger stepped up, of course great second half. James rebounding. Jack Ingram, Nick Smith, our big guys were very productive. We talked about taking care of the basketball. One turnover at halftime. Got a little lazy with it, second half against their press. Then we talked about our bench being a major factor. All those things, along with boards, rebounding, we had a big margin. I think all those things became the keys, X factors in the game, gave us a win. We put April 4th on the board six weeks ago, seven weeks ago, and we are playing April 4th in the national championship. We are very excited.

Q. Luther, I believe you guys attempted 19 three-pointers in the first half. I was curious if that was because of an inability to get the ball inside or was that the plan, just to try to shoot over that zone?

LUTHER HEAD: I think these are just shots we was able to get. We a team that takes the open shot. Threes was mostly open, so we just decided to take 'em. It's not that we took 'em on purpose, like we came out and knew we was going to shoot 19 threes. We just took the shots that came to us.

Q. Roger, can you talk about your dunk off your own missed three-pointer, and also just how you seem to really get into the flow of every offensive possession in the second half.

ROGER POWELL, JR.: You know, I always got to thank the Lord Jesus Christ all the time. I mean, it just was going, you know, in the second half. It was really a blessing. Like I said before, I really did pray at halftime. Seemed like it worked, I guess. I mean, it was just bouncing my way. On that tip dunk, I just knew it was going to come off like that. I don't know why, I just knew it.

Q. Luther, coach touched on it, but what was the deal with you guys being able to shut down Garcia and, Dean, what were you doing specifically to control them?

LUTHER HEAD: We just tried to contest every shot. They're both good players. Larry O'Bannon is a good player, too. We just tried to contest each shot that they shot up there and just hoped they missed.

Q. James, it appeared there was an emphasis to go inside early the first half.

JAMES AUGUSTINE: We talked about the three pointers. We looked at that on the board. We wanted to get it inside. Coach saw some things that were open, that the bigs weren't doing, kind of drew it up on board and it obviously worked. We were flashing a little too high, we were flashing to where they were guarding us. We had to flash to an open area. It worked out for us. I mean, Coach Nottingham, Coach Weber did a good job of seeing it.

Q. The fact that you guys pretty much saw that 2-3 zone early in the second half when they threw it at you pretty much sealed the game, let you guys go on from there? The fact that you guys saw that two-three zone in the second half, did that lead to your run middle in the second half that led you guys to propel you on to victory?

ROGER POWELL, JR.: I mean, yeah, it helped. They had to go man. When they went man, they had really big match-up problems.

Q. Roger, what was it like for you sitting on the bench because of the foul trouble in the first half? What was going through your mind? You said you prayed at halftime. What specifically did you pray about?

ROGER POWELL, JR.: First of all, when I was sitting out, I saw Nick getting some baskets, you saw Jack and James really playing well. I was just excited for them. The second half, coach said it's time to get going. I just really prayed for the Lord to really give us strength, like I always do, you know, to just give me confidence to get out there and just play at a high level.

Q. Roger or Luther, coach talked yesterday about how he told you guys to smell the roses and enjoy this. You guys have spoken the last few weeks about the tension of winning every time. You played real loose tonight from our view. Have you just come together right? Why not more tension this game?

ROGER POWELL, JR.: I think the maturity is a big part of that. I mean, we played all year, you know, with I guess the streak behind us, there was a lot of pressure from that. There really was no pressure today because we've had to handle that, you know, playing, not having lost a game, and people want us to keep winning. So I think the maturity and being able to play with that pressure helped us for today. That's why we were able to play so loose.

Q. James, we know that Luther and Roger are the two seniors who start on the team. Can you tell us if you saw in the second half moments where they were being leaders and what they looked like?

JAMES AUGUSTINE: Well, I think their play just showed that they were leaders. I mean, Luther was the one that got us in the streak, hit three or four big threes. Roger, I mean, obviously he hit that first three, missed the second one, but when he gets that rebound, you don't really see that often, shooting it from the three, running it all the way in there and dunking it. Just the plays that they make, I mean, obviously show their leadership. I mean, playing good defense, I mean, locking down the guards, locking down the bigs. I think it obviously shows.

Q. You tied a record today for victories in a season. You're in the final for the first time in Illinois history. The thoughts that are going through your mind.

LUTHER HEAD: Just to keep going. I mean, we feel good about what we did and what we've accomplished. But we don't want it to end. I mean, whoever we got next, we want to go and play hard against them so we can finish it off.

Q. Luther, had you ever seen Roger go off on a scoring streak like he did in the second half? Particularly when he missed the three and dunked it, was that kind of a sign that this was going to be your day maybe?

LUTHER HEAD: Yeah, he went through a stretch where he just took the game in his hands and he just took on the scoring. We got in the locker room, I asked him what made him follow that shot up. He just said I don't know, something popped into his head that it was going to be missed. I'm happy he did it.

Q. Roger, in the last few seconds of the game, you were standing there, both of your arms in the air, pointing to the sky. What did that mean? What were you thinking there?

ROGER POWELL, JR.: I was pointing to Jesus. That's what I was doing. I was just thinking, I was really thankful. I did it last game. We won against Arizona. So I felt I needed to do it again today.

JOHN GERDES: James, Luther, Roger, thank you very much. Congratulations. We'll take questions now for Coach Weber.

Q. Coach Weber, how does Deron so consistently shut down players that have a size advantage over him like Francisco?

COACH WEBER: One thing I found with Deron, as a freshman, I was not here, but he really took pride in defending, along with, you know, distributing the ball, running the show. Last year he was a good defensive player. Really was upset when he wasn't named Big-10 Defensive Player of the Year. I think Kenny from Purdue was. This year he's become a much better offensive player. Really slipped. We got on him. What we found as the season progressed was that if he's on somebody that's good with the basketball, he concentrates. If it's a good player, he really takes pride in stopping them. He's almost worse when we put him on the fourth or fifth best guy because then he relaxes and loses sight of his man and the ball and gives up easy baskets. He's a smart player. He's got a big body. He just never let Francisco get going. Our bigs did a good job also of helping, every time he came around, the bigs were there. And the other thing we emphasized which disrupted him was our pressure on the ball. We always talk about rushing the passer, just like in football. If the guy is sitting out there with the ball, you got to be tracing the ball, making it tough. Now that gives the guy an extra second to get through a screen which might mean the difference in stopping somebody.

Q. Do you have any rules as far as who can take the threes and in what situations?

COACH WEBER: I think it's obvious, we don't. I mean, we all shoot 'em (smiling). I think that's part of being loose. You know, we didn't want 19 threes. We thought at halftime we didn't attack the zone as aggressively as we should have. Our big guys, you know, all week we practiced on, you know, screening the zone, stepping, flashing. We weren't sure if they would go zone because we were a good shooting team. We thought they might start man, then go to zone, mix them. He basically stayed zone until he got behind. We thought once we got to him, made them go man, we could run our plays, get the ball inside, get our quick-hitters. You know, I didn't want 19 threes in the first half. We discussed it. We cut it back, we had 11 in the second half, which is a better number. Somewhere 20 to 25 is a good number for us.

Q. Going back to the point about Deron playing defense on the other team's best player, are there risks involved when you put a guy who is so important to you offensively, do you worry about his offensive efficiency taking up that energy?

COACH WEBER: The only thing I worry about is foul trouble. He got two fouls in the first half. We hung with him, got it under three minutes, then we took him out just trying to save him. Sometimes he just gets those casuals, you know. He's so smart as a player, but then he'll get these casual, stupid fouls. We need him in the game obviously. But as far as, you know, he has great energy, loves to play, he doesn't want to come out. You know, of anyone, he doesn't look like a great athlete because his body, got a little pudginess to him, but he is a very good athlete, he can run forever.

Q. You said you would be happy if you guys came here and just kind of played a vintage game like you had played. Was this it? Did you feel that?

COACH WEBER: It wasn't perfect. We talked about being aggressive, getting after it, playing Illini basketball the way we played all year. I think defensively we did. We got on track a little better offensively in the second half, got better ball movement, got some inside touches. Obviously, Roger making a couple shots made a difference. The ball is bouncing our way. I think it was our aggressiveness. We attacked them. When you attack a team, the balls usually bounce your way. Arizona attacked us. It seemed like they got every bounce in that second half. We made the miraculous comeback. You know, overall, I thought it was a pretty good game, especially in this stage, the meaning of the game, I thought it was a pretty sharp performance for our guys.

Q. I know first Final Four is very special. Did you allow yourself to think about that, were your nerves any different? Is it just like another game?

COACH WEBER: Well, that's what I told the kids. It is another game. I understand it's 47,000, but we've been on the center stage all year. We've been No. 1. We've had some of the best-rated games on different networks all year. Everyone's watched us. Blank it out. I talked about just being a ball player, whether you're playing one-on-one in the park, you're playing three-on-three in the gym. You got to play the same way you do with that. I'm not sure it got to them. But that was something we emphasized. You know, I'll tell you, I enjoyed it when we got up, whatever, 13, 14, it got under a minute. I was excited because I knew we were in the championship game, and that's been our goal.

Q. Deron plays great defense, dishes nine assists. Wasn't concerned about trying to force baskets or anything. Can you talk about that mindset and how valuable it is to have a guy who is truly willing to just win and not really care about his numbers?

COACH WEBER: Well, you know, we've talked about it all year. That's what makes him special. He wants to win. That's all he cares about. He runs the show. You know, I think people don't appreciate it because he doesn't have the numbers. But the true basketball people understand how good he is, whether it's NBA scouts, opponents, they understand that he makes our team go. He's the foundation of our team. He is a very special player. The true point guard is a rarity nowadays, and he is truly a solid point guard.

Q. Could you talk about how you stuck with Luther Head last year when he had his problems and what he's blossomed into this year.

COACH WEBER: Well, you know, with Luther, one thing, I'm thrown into the lions. We had some problems early in the season. If I turn my back to these guys, you know, I may lose the program, may lose 'em all. I believe as a teacher, as an educator, what is education? It's helping kids change, adjust, grow. And that's what we tried to do. I've said it for a long time, Luther's a good kid. You saw it in his play. It bothered him that he screwed up and that he was embarrassed. And I think that's a great sign of somebody that is a good kid. And he's a good kid. He offered to quit. I said, "No way." He said, "What do you want me to do?" I said, "Change." And that's what education is, changing. He's changed, he's grown up. He's on track to graduate if he takes care of business this semester and the summer. He's got a chance now to maybe get drafted. He's done everything we've asked.

Q. Talk about the offensive explosion of Luther Head and Roger Powell in the second half.

COACH WEBER: We got better ball movement. We got it inside. Once you get it inside, you suck 'em in, now we're getting it to the open shooters. We told them after halftime, we don't mind shooting the threes, but we wanted rhythm threes. I think that's what we did. We spread them a little more. Then once we spread 'em, we were able to get some inside touches. You know, Luther came up big. They played like seniors, him, Roger, Jack Ingram, Nick Smith, the seniors carried us. I said way long time ago, our juniors are great, but we are no better than our seniors. Our seniors will determine how good we are. I think they stood up big tonight and made a difference, and they got us to the championship.

JOHN GERDES: Thank you, Coach Weber. Congratulations.

COACH WEBER: Thank you. See you Monday.

End of FastScripts...

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