March 6, 1999
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
JIM CALHOUN: Looking at the stat sheet, -- but I probably don't really need to do that. I think the kind of energy that we brought out tonight and the beginning of the first half and certainly the beginning of the second half was the type of energy we're going to need next week. We talked to the kids a great deal about playing with a great deal of passion this time of year because, if, in fact, someone is good enough to beat you, make sure they don't beat you; don't lose a game. And obviously, on Thursday we came close to losing a basketball game and that's going to happen 10, 15 times next week, because you're all going to write stories about that. Some of them will get beat that way. You need to make sure you dictate the situation as best you possibly can. If that's not good enough, so be it. The other day someone asked if it was a wake-up call -- I'm not sure it was a wake-up call, but clearly, I think two things have happened. We understood the energy situation; and secondly, we got healthy. We're a healthier basketball team. Richard Hamilton was a much better basketball player than he was a week ago. Won 9 of the last 10 games. People have questioned why we haven't played as well. I'm not disputing that, although we did in the process beat Syracuse last Sunday. I thought we had a good win in Providence. And bottom line the opponent really -- St. John's, is a terrific, terrific basketball team. I think an awful lot of you covered a great, great college battle here awhile back. And from that point -- by the way, we got hurt, and weren't quite the same. Obviously, we're back to, I think, being close to ourselves and we look forward to next week.
Q. What allowed you to do what you did tonight?
JIM CALHOUN: Simply, you know, I don't know -- Hamilton is pretty good and he needs to be healthy to play the way he's capable of playing. And with Jake in the middle, our defense changes. And I would say this: I didn't do a lot to make Souleymane that good. I'd like to tell you that I had a great talk with him. I said," Hi, Soule. How ya doing? Good luck tonight". But I think the safety of having Jake there, and the guys will tell you the same thing, we feel more healthy. We have no idea what's going to happen next week, but we need bring our energy. We need to get healthy, we're closer to being healthy now; and obviously, that allowed us to do the things that you saw a month ago when we were running good, fast break, and running a good deal of energy on offense and very quick. We made no great changes. We ran the same press today that we ran against Seton Hall. We wanted to get into the same game we did and Seton Hall didn't. Today we kept it on and kept the energy. I thought the best thing -- we stayed home, lesson we learned from the first game and rebounded and not get killed on the offensive glass, and then we still had plenty of time to run. And I think that adjustment helped the kids a lot and they did a great job of keeping it in the box and releasing the fast breaks.
JIM CALHOUN: It means that an awful lot of good players come to Connecticut from Chris Smith to Ray Allen to Daniel Marshall to Travis to Khalid, Kevin and Rip. I've been blessed with having some tremendous players play for us. Coach Beynon said good teams with good players find ways to win games. Being an eastern guy, it's very special to me, but the reason it happened is because we're tremendously blessed by having some tremendous kids willing to play the way we want to play.
Q. Can you talk about Kevin?
JIM CALHOUN: I think Kevin had nothing more remarkable than the sense he showed more of what he is, but we've seen this every day in practice. He did average 12, 13 points a game. He did come in as the second leading offensive rebounder in the league. And one of the reasons we come into this tournament at 25-2 is Kevin Freeman. One of the major, major reasons. We feel that way very, very seriously. And he's terrific, terrific basketball player. Obviously, when we were struggling a little bit, it ignited us to where we are tonight.
Q. Was that first 8 minutes, was that as close to as good as you can play?
JIM CALHOUN: I can think of segments of games. Of the first six or seven minutes at Stanford. I can think of the last ten or 12 minutes at Michigan State. I certainly would put this first eight or nine minutes here and also the first four or five minutes at the second half if we could ball that, I'd like to take that with me next week someplace.
Q. You mentioned being an eastern guy, do you care if you stay east tomorrow night?
JIM CALHOUN: I just care about looking at going someplace and finding out who is there, who we have to play against to get to where we want to be. And really, I've always been a bracket guy much more so than geography. I'm from Boston and that's all great and that kind of stuff, but I prefer to see who we have to play to go where we have to do. This is not a vacation. This is something we are going to go out and have some fun with, but we've some particular goals we want to accomplish.
Q. Coach, and then the players, any word on what your granddaughter is doing tonight?
JIM CALHOUN: The major adjustment last night first words were play Souleymane and so tonight I did. I adjusted.
Q. Is he different as a grandfather now?
JIM CALHOUN: The answer to that question I'm sure is definitively no.
Q. That first few minutes, what did that feel like? It looked like you were all very much on the same page. Could you just talk a little about what it felt like?
KHALID EL-AMIN: I think we know we had to come out and have a quick start. We wanted to win it, start off and have -- have the adrenaline have the energy and definitely had the momentum on our side. We knew it was going to be very, very important that we do that. So we wanted to come out and have a fast start we boxed out and ran, pushed the ball ahead and we definitely made some good passes.
Q. Kevin, could you talk about how you feel about being MVP and what significance that has for you?
KEVIN FREEMAN: It's a great feeling right now. It's something you really can't explain. Not making one team really hurt me. And this is probably the best thing that can happen without having them vote over again; so, it feels pretty good.
Q. Khalid, a 19-point game is probably difficult to point out big plays. Can you talk about the 3 in the first half?
KHALID EL-AMIN: They really have started to, I guess, take the momentum late in the first half. They cut our 17-point lead down to 8. There was five seconds on the clock and Coach just drew a great play. I finished a shot. I made the shot but it was definitely a good play, a good decision by Coach by drawing that up.
Q. So is it was the play for you to take that 27-footer?
JIM CALHOUN: No. It was 32.
Q. What was the play?
JIM CALHOUN: The play was he wants to have more playing time to make sure I put him in at the end of every single half. Right?
KHALID EL-AMIN: Right.
Q. Rip, in the first half St. John's looked like they were going to make a run and each time you pulled down and hit a 3 yourself. Can you talk about those situations?
RICHARD HAMILTON: The one thing I do, every time I'm on a basketball court, since I was little -- a guy hits a jump shot in my face, the first thing I say is I'm going to get it back. And they -- I got the ball and -- open spots, and I made my job a lot easier, the only thing I had to do is get the ball.
Q. You had a marvelous run at Connecticut, a lot of games, and never went to the Final 4. How much pressure is there on you guys to get there and get it done?
JIM CALHOUN: Same pressure as to win tonight's game. Same pressure on Thursday and Friday. I can tell you right now, if our team is good enough and we get to the Final 4, I'm not going to be a much better coach, and if he won't get there I'm not going to be a much worse coach. You might write that, but I can guarantee it. If we get the Final 4 now, I can guarantee I'm not going to be a much better coach. And if we don't, I'm not going to be a much worse coach. I don't have control of everything in life. This team is certainly good enough to make a serious run at 28 and 2 showing that. I thought these games were pressured. I'm sure the next thing for us is fun, and we have some goals in mind just as we did during the season and this weekend.
Q. Can you follow-up with that?
RICHARD HAMILTON: I think it's a fun kind of pressure. Since day one, we've been practicing first for the Big East regular season championship, then the tournament championship and then the NCAA championship. So we don't, you know -- I think one thing we want to do is we want to try to win it for ourselves. A lot of people say: What if you don't make it. We don't worry about none of that. As long as everybody comes together, good things can happen for us.
Q. Did you see anything in St. John's eyes that inspired you to make you want to go --
RICHARD HAMILTON: We knew coming in it was going to be a challenge. They are a great team. They have got great players like Ron Artest, Bootsy and things like that. One thing we knew we had to do was come out and step up. We took it upon ourselves that the only way we was going to win was play together as one and that's what we did.
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