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March 12, 2008

Jim Boeheim

Paul Harris

Arinze Onuaku


COACH BOEHEIM: I thought defensively we did a good job until the end of the first half, and we gave them a couple of baskets that changed the momentum a little bit. But the second half we just didn't do a good job reacting to where Stokes and to where Reynolds were. And they got wide open looks and they're going to make those.
We got some good looks on offense. We missed some shots around the basket area. And you really just can't do that. We have to score points to where we're not going to stop anybody the whole game. I just thought offensively we made some bad turnovers, and some of that is certainly Villanova's a very good defensive team. But the open looks from the three-point line really were I thought the difference in the game today.

Q. How disappointing is this knowing that you probably needed to win to get to the Big Dance?
COACH BOEHEIM: We needed to win a lot of games. After last year we probably needed to win two or three games probably compared to even get close to where we were last year. But that wasn't the thought.
We knew we needed to win. After the Pittsburgh game, we knew we had to win at Seton Hall, we knew we had to beat Marquette. We certainly knew that we needed to keep winning. I don't think one win would have been enough by any stretch of the imagination. So we just couldn't quite get the job done.
I'm proud of these guys, and I said this after the last game, we played with seven guys. They battled hard. I think that there's a certain level of energy that when you play as many games as we have, as many minutes as our guys have played, particularly Jonny and Paul at the guards spot they've given a lot, and I don't know if they have enough energy to play as hard as you have to play back-to-back and in these circumstances.
I've been extremely impressed with what Jonny, in particularly, has been out there a lot of minutes in the last ten games. And this is, obviously, a very difficult conference to play those kind of minutes. I think it wears on you, you know, I think that that's certainly been a factor in some of the mistakes that we do make late in games. I think guys get tired. When you can't rest somebody, that's very difficult to ask. Particularly guys that are coming from high school, playing high school last year, now we're asking them to play 40 minutes and be the guys that carry the team. I think that's an awful lot to ask of young guys.
I look at what Connecticut struggled with last year. They had a couple of upper-classmen as well. And it's just a struggle in this league with young players. We had no upper-classmen. We had two sophomores, Paul and Arinze, who did not play last year, and Paul played 15 minutes or 17 or 18 minutes a game.
And I think what these guys have accomplished, I'm pretty proud of what they've done in this league this year. I think the league is tougher this year. I think it's a lot tougher. We've had to play pretty shorthanded. And I think they've come through it better than I might have thought at one point in time.

Q. Just to continue your thought about how tough this conference is, did you see this coming when the conference started to get bigger? How much harder it would be for you to compete?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, it was always hard. I don't see any difference. It's just there's more teams, but it's no different in terms of heart. I mean, when we had nine teams, we had six go to the tournament. And you played those six teams, you played five of those teams if you were one of the six twice. So I don't think it's any harder. It's just hard. But I don't think it's gotten any harder at all. It's always been hard since the very beginning. Some teams had to catch up. Connecticut or Seton Hall, took them a couple of years to catch up, so there might have been a couple two, three, four years there it was a little bit less balanced. But once those teams caught up, you know, you had six teams. Five or six out of nine going to the tournament. The other two teams going to the NIT. It's always been hard. I don't see it any harder now, it is hard.

Q. Just to follow up, you were competing against five teams back then. Now you're competing against a cast of thousands?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I think the difference is when there's nine teams, if you have a couple of teams that struggle a little bit, six teams can win 20-something games. With 16 teams we've got seven teams that won 20 games this year. I think that's a lot. That shows how strong the league is. But that's still less than half. Whereas before, two-thirds of the teams were winning, or more than half, anyway, were winning over 20 games and getting to the tournament.
So I think in the 18 games you're going to get a couple more losses. But it's really no tougher, it's just there's more teams.

Q. You just mentioned about how young this team is, and how proud you are of what they've come through. With the NCAA Tournament being the publicity monster that it is, how do you get these guys to appreciate what the NIT is?
COACH BOEHEIM: Everything is the NCAA. In my mind and their mind it's if they're not in the NCAA Tournament, it's not a good year, period. That's just the way it is. I think the bottom line is that's what kids should want to do, and that's what their goal should be, and that's all they should think about. I've talked to them a little bit in the locker room today about the opportunity that we'll have to play in a tournament, play in the NIT, whatever it is, that that can be good for us.
We've learned a lot. I think this team has gotten better. We played extremely well against Marquette, and we played extremely well against Pittsburgh, two of the good teams in our league in the last two weeks. And we have to use whatever is ahead of us as an opportunity to get better.
I expect them to be disappointed. I'm disappointed. But I think you've got to step back and be realistic in terms of what has happened this year and what we've done. Last year we won 21 games. We had the 55th best schedule in the country, which isn't terrible. But this year our schedule is 7 or 8. We've come close to winning. Came close to winning 20 games with this schedule. So our schedule has been much tougher, and these guys have hung in there.

Q. Talk about how the experiences of this year having to play so many minutes, how has it helped your development as basketball players and what have you taken out of it?
PAUL HARRIS: Well, you know, last year I came in playing like 17 minutes a game. I was at the 4 spot. Now this year Coach asked me to play the guard spot because of the injuries to Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf. It kind of was a tough adjustment playing 39 minutes, sometimes 40. But I mean, you just do whatever you can for the team.
ARINZE ONUAKU: Coming off last year I didn't play at all, so this is really like my first go around. I mean, you just use every game to try to learn. I mean, playing every minute, you've got to know when you can conserve your energy and you've got to go hard. And each game you go out there and you just try to win every one.

Q. For both of you guys, what will you do on Selection Sunday? Will you bother watching or just stay away?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, even if we had won, I still wasn't going to watch it because of what happened last year. I watched it, and I thought we were going to be in. So I told myself no matter what, I'm not going to watch it regardless.
ARINZE ONUAKU: I'm on the same schedule as him. Same as him.

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