March 5, 1999
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
JIM CALHOUN: Obviously, the pace of the game tonight was much more to our liking and it was created by our defense. Last night, we just couldn't get them turned over. Tonight, I thought we did a terrific job of really containing them. Clogging down the middle, and then igniting everything off our fast break, and we got some tremendous battle minutes, certainly, from our bench tonight. When Rip had his second foul, the decision not to play was somewhat simple because we felt as long as we can keep the cushion, we would be just fine. Frankly, we built on that. Rashamel Jones, E.J., Souleymane, just tremendous off the bench. Obviously our guys, Ricky and Kevin, and Khalid just played absolutely terrific. I thought we were very good tonight, and that kind of paced-game -- I think we initiated that paced-game and I was happy to see us doing that following that game last night, a game that wasn't at that pace.
Q. Kevin, do you sometimes feel like you maybe get overlooked or taken for granted?
KEVIN FREEMAN: No, I think those guys help me out a lot. A lot of defenses just concentrate on those two guys, and when they give me the ball fastbreaks and things of that nature, they help me evolve as a player.
Q. How do you explain yesterday, you said that you really weren't bothered by the fact that you were overlooked. How do you explain that you put together two tremendous back to back games after this?
KEVIN FREEMAN: I did look to play harder. I didn't see I didn't use it as motivation. I just said I didn't play -- didn't make the Big East tournament. I never use that as a motivational factor. I said I didn't play good because I didn't make the Big East team. I just tried to play. They got me the ball and I got it in spots where I wanted and it and I got fast break finishes and I felt very comfortable today, more than the last game.
JIM CALHOUN: Is that who played? Obviously, we had wars. It was 120 minutes of war against Miami and St. John's. Those three games could be capsuled in simply they were probably as tougher, physical games between those teams. We beat Miami by four. We beat St. John's, I believe, two or four and lost to Miami at home by two. And all the games, quite frankly played somewhat similar in sense of style. Both teams trying to establish their own defense, run off that. And once again would I see no difference. The game you're going to see in a couple minutes out there is going to be very similar to that. I have no idea who is going to win because they are tremendously evenly-matched teams. The think the top three teams in our league, once again, could get to Florida as I said last night, I have no reason not to believe that. The only thing I heard today is that we had ran out of gas, and I guess we stopped in that filling station on the way over.
Q. Was it especially important to get the offense going off the bench?
JIM CALHOUN: It was. But just the way that Souleymane comes in and blocks a shot, and just the way that Rash fills the lane and plays a wing after playing small power forward for us at times. E.J. Gives K a few minutes here and there. Ricky hits a couple big shots, and just the confidence that we played with, and that's what we really need. Barking at Ricky last night, he needs to be the offensive player that he was tonight. And those shots changed the face of the basketball game. As a coach, now I see, go out and play him. I don't think there's any question that the way the bench performed allowed me to play my ace in the second half, or at least hold him somewhat, Rip, while these other two guys took care of business.
Q. Where it does it come from?
JIM CALHOUN: I think yesterday, they will probably tell you the same thing, I don't think we played particularly well yesterday and Seton Hall did a tremendous job of controlling tempo. But that still didn't leave any reason for us to score 57 points and be struggling as much as we were from the floor and not being able to create good shots.
Q. Going back to the Syracuse game in Hartford, some of your kids learned about playing without --
JIM CALHOUN: That game, there's no question about that, because we don't learn anything from that game except to go home quickly. That's the only game I would say -- simply I told the team, forget about it. I don't forget about games, particularly losses. I got on quickly, bang, and it was over and we had our personnel and we just couldn't adjust to the way things played out. But during the stretch, the past month, if you asked me what's wrong with Connecticut -- losing an All-American like Richard Hamilton, when you have Kevin sometimes not practicing, Ricky Moore, Jake Voskuhl injured, you want the same team. And I don't care how you slice it. We weren't the same team at times. And clearly I think over that period of time, particularly in a full court set, some of our kids certainly have become better basketball players. Souleymane sometimes had a tough time. Emotionally, I think he helped our entire team.
Q. How gratifying is it to you to see Rashamel stepping up?
JIM CALHOUN: I was so particularly happy for him because I thought he did a wonderful job defensively and run our basketball team. Somebody asked the question of Kevin before about, Kevin, you stepped your game up. What I said last night was based upon the first 26, 27 basketball games, Kevin Freeman is a terrific basketball players. He's had 20-point games before. He's a very good basketball talent and I agree with the other question, sometimes he is hidden by two great players in Khalid and Richard, and that's why we have a pretty good record right now. Once again, I'm very happy when Rash does it. Souleymane, it kind of reaffirms sometimes that those kids who don't get minutes stay with us and are ready to treat it when they get their opportunity.
Q. Khalid, you guys haven't played much basketball in the last month but (Inaudible)?
KHALID EL-AMIN: It definitely gives us a tremendous lift going into the championship game. We didn't play our best basketball, and we just wanted to come out today and have a better showing emotionally and physically. Yesterday we just were in a slump.
JIM CALHOUN: And today we wanted to come out and have a better game and give us some confidence going into the championship and that's what I think this game did for us.
Q. Khalid, it seemed like your quickness on defense really intimidated them. They didn't get anything going on offense.
KHALID EL-AMIN: Coach emphasized that yesterday in the shop talk. Giving the help when it is needed and we definitely did a good job and paid a lot of attention to detail.
Q. Did you not see the adjustments of Syracuse, especially after last Sunday?
JIM CALHOUN: They did beat us by the zone and they saw last night us struggling with the zone; so I don't know what adjustments that Jimmy was going to make in the matter of four or five days. We were still -- as someone just mentioned, quicker around the perimeter, which can bother a team because the only guy we try to attack is Jason. Everybody else -- Jason is the guy we need help on, and everybody else, we singly attack and make them put the ball on the floor which takes them out of offensive flow. We're not going to be a big basketball team. We're not big. Jake is our biggest player. We are a small team. We're not going to become quick, either; so it's difficult for a coach to make adjustments in a five, six-day period. Jimmy's team, played good man-to-man and stood by his 2 to 3 zone. It looked like last night we had no idea how to solve and -- I would say primarily -- they try to press and both times he's tried to press against us and we have done a very good job of exploiting that press.
Q. Did you make -- describe the fulfillment you feel right now, completeness of the day?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, this was a very complete day for me. I felt good going into the game. Obviously, with a -- I'm not sure she needs that tag from her grandfather, but certainly it is a very fulfilling day. And you mentioned about Rashemel, are people standing up it's certainly a good day for me and we'll go out and celebrate afterwards.
Q. Tomorrow you're paying for another Big East tournament title how could you compare this team this year to last years team at the same point last year?
COACH CALHOUN: A tad bit better, but we're a different team. We're older. Different people playing different roles, and I just really believe that when we get healthy and become a whole basketball team again, everyone said, you struggled, do that RPI all the time. And those last ten games we're 8-2 in the last ten games and we lost a game without Voskuhl and Rip Hamilton and we lost a two-pointer. So, we actually haven't been slipping that much. I always get the feeling because I keep having to dissect our team as we get more healthy, we're a better basketball team tonight because we had Voskuhl, particularly in the first half when he dominated physically in the middle and as we get healthier we're going to be a better team, clearly.
Q. You guys were obviously able to get the game at the tempo as you wanted. Did the defense set up the tempo for you did the defense set up that pays for you?
KHALID EL-AMIN: We noticed in the last game we played against them at Syracuse, we're able to get up quick and get the ball going and make them hustle back on defense, which they don't really do well. We really want to exploit that and every time down the court, coach encourage you to do it; you have to do it and you want to do well. But we definitely did want to exploit .
COACH CALHOUN: The word want, as opposed to have to.
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