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March 15, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Pelphrey if he'll give us just some overall thoughts on the game and then we'll take questions just for the three student athletes and then we'll finish up with Coach.
COACH PELPHREY: First of all, we have tremendous respect for Tennessee and they've been the best team in our league and one of the best teams in the country all year long. Nothing has changed with that.
I love the way we played with the pressure they put on you offensively. Defensively Coach Pearl was outstanding. He's the winning he's coach in our league, and we knew it was going to be a very, very hard fought battle. It was.
But I was very proud of our guys for competing. Even when they got down nine points there, I'm not sure how much time was on the clock, they found a way to dig down and get some stops, started cashing in some free throws, got some huge, huge plays in terms of scoring the basketball and then was able to play it out.
The back-and-forth, there was a lot of it there down the stretch. So I feel like -- I obviously haven't had a chance to look at the stats sheet too much here yet, but I feel like for the second night in a row we had a chance -- when there came chances for us to be tough, we were able to be tough tonight.
I tell these guys all the time that you never know when your time is coming. Michael Washington doesn't play a whole lot right now, and with the way things are going, especially we got in foul trouble and going offense, defense, and we talked about over on the bench with the way those guys were driving the ball to the basket, maybe they'll get a charge, he gets in there, and huge play.
Steve obviously -- there was not a lot of stuff being run at him, but when he got a chance to do his thing, he did it. That's what a team does. The way those young men in the locker room responded when he walked through the door was remarkable. To me that's the coolest thing about the whole deal. Certainly very happy that we won. It will be very difficult tomorrow, but the way they were a team today was the thing I was the most proud of.
Q. Steven, did you expect to take that shot, and how difficult was it getting it over Chism?
STEVEN HILL: I obviously did not expect to take that shot or any other shot that late in the game (laughter). They gave it to me and time was running out, so I kind of threw it up there and put it in.
Q. Steven, on that front, is that a shot you practice a lot, though, in practice? I mean, that one shot in particular, the turnover?
STEVEN HILL: You know, not really, maybe in horse for fun or something like that, but that's not really my go-to move. But it went in, like I said, so I can't complain.
Q. Steven, your obviously known for your defense. What does it feel like to make a game-winning shot to knock off the fourth-ranked team?
STEVEN HILL: It felt good, a little redemption. I didn't really play too well on defense today, so it was nice to get at least one bucket.
Q. Charles Rhodes, let me ask you this: Tennessee really had difficulty keeping you guys from just backing them down and scoring inside, getting putbacks that kind of thing?
CHARLES THOMAS: It's one of those things Coach talked about. Obviously the power forwards and the bigs haven't really been holding their own in the SEC play. A lot of people have been kind of hard on us, including the coaches, and we just wanted to respond.
Q. Did Tennessee play you differently than they did in Knoxville? Coach Pearl talked about how they wanted to front you and didn't really front you tonight?
CHARLES THOMAS: No, I don't think so. I think to be honest it was the same defense. I think today was just more intensity and more will to win.
Q. When Tennessee made that run what's going on in y'all's huddle? The momentum is on Tennessee's side.
CHARLES THOMAS: What was going on in the huddle? A lot of intensity. Coach got in our face and really challenged us to come back. Tennessee is a team that runs. We knew it was going to come down to a last-second play, a one possession game, and we came out with a victory.
STEVEN HILL: Like he said, we still had some confidence. We're a veteran ballclub. We hadn't cashed in yet, so we wanted to continue to try to go out there and get some stops.
PATRICK BEVERLEY: The biggest thing for our basketball team was stay focused and don't let your face change and just keep fighting. Collectively we did it as a team. No one person really did it. We did it collectively, and we just are really excited about this win.
Q. Charles, for you personally, two good games in a row after you had gone several without double figures. Where does it come from?
CHARLES THOMAS: It comes from my teammates. It's not about the individual, it's always about my teammates and my coaches having confidence in me all year long. They wanted me to become the Charles Thomas of preseason. I credit Patrick Beverley with really challenging me and Coach Evans. Everything that I did would have been all for naught if we came out with the L. We came out with a victory and I credit the team for it.
Q. Patrick, what changed defensively for you guys after that time, 73-64? It seemed like you guys just got after it more. What exactly was it you guys did? Was there anything physically you did in particular?
PATRICK BEVERLEY: Coach Pelphrey tells us all the time to compete. That's what we did. We didn't want to lay down. We didn't want to back up. You have to give Tennessee a lot of credit, No. 4 team in the country. They have great players and great guards and great bigs. We just wanted to stay in there and compete. We understand the game of basketball is a game of runs. We were fortunate to make our run towards the end.
Q. This is for Steven. Coach Pelphrey said it was an amazing scene when you walked in the locker room after the game. How did your teammates greet you?
STEVEN HILL: It was the best greeting I would have imagined. They were all crazy, jumping all over me. It was impressive, the kind of emotion they put forward. It was really special.
Q. For all three of you, can you just explain the difference? In Knoxville it was a completely different game. What happened this game versus that game to make such a difference? Was it just in your style or the motivation of losing that bad there?
PATRICK BEVERLEY: First of all, I think it's real hard to beat a team at their home court. We played them there, and it's really difficult to beat a team in their backyard. We competed and played well at a neutral site.
Our defense was the key, and we got stopped towards the end and just played offense.
STEVEN HILL: To build on what Patrick said. We feel in Knoxville we played good for 20 minutes. Tonight it was a key to play good for 40 minutes and compete the whole time.
CHARLES THOMAS: I agree with both of them (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, fellows. You can return to the locker room. We'll continue on with questions for Coach Pelphrey if you'll raise your hands.
Q. Can you talk about when you see Lofton take that shot, what's going through your mind? Obviously the night before or I guess it was two nights ago -- you know what I'm talking about.
COACH PELPHREY: Yeah, just goes to show, it's a game. It's not played on paper, it's played on a court. It's bizarre that -- if I told you that this game was going to come down to the last two offensive possessions and Arkansas's Steven Hill was going to take the shot, Tennessee's Chris Lofton is going to take the shot, I don't know if you thought that the results would be like this. It was that close. If either one of those roles get reversed, which it easily could have, it's a different feeling right now.
So as excited as you are about the win, you understand that the margin between winning and losing is very, very small. So we're very humbled by that.
But yeah, he's awesome. My dad told me about it when he was in high school and the championships. He went to my teammate's high school there in Kentucky. My dad told me back then, the guy -- I was in south Alabama, I couldn't get him to south Alabama, but the game never gets too big for him. The bigger the game, the bigger the moment, he's got a lot of people. We're just very fortunate tonight he didn't get us. It came out of his hands beautifully, and I thought it was in.
Q. Can you comment on two things; one, Charles Thomas the last couple games, where that came from; and also, you said yesterday that you couldn't keep winning if Sonny Williams doesn't get hot, and he did, I guess, the last six minutes, but just those two things.
COACH PELPHREY: You know, it's a long season. I don't have all the answers with Charles. I think that any time Charles plays well we're going to give him credit for that. If he doesn't play well, I've got to take credit for that.
You know, the last two games he is -- when he plays like that it really, really helps. I thought he was awesome tonight. He was big, big time competing, being strong and physical around the basket. At times he's rushed things and looked like he had two or three thoughts going through his head at once. Tonight he had good purpose and composure. Boy, what a special night he had.
You know, that's what it took for us to beat this team. Let's not get carried away here. We're not a top 4 team in the country. I'm very proud of my guys and we're going to continue to strive to be better. But we needed a shot from Steven Hill and we needed a big time performance from Charles, and we got great play and contributions from everybody. We'll give Charles credit for that.
Sonny, he was there when things got the worst, he was there. I'm proud of Sonny. Sonny is our toughest guy on the team. That may shock a lot of people, but no matter what goes on, good or bad, that kid never changes. We've all got our snapping points, and Sonny doesn't. Whether it's bad calls or whether it's shots not going in or the frustration of not being able to get some shots, being a first team only guy and not being able to play at the level he wants to play at, he just keeps playing ball. The lobs that he caught -- if he had to jump over the backboard to get it, he was going to get it in. He made a huge jump shot there in front.
I love Sonny Williams. He's very, very coachable, and I just -- I don't know how much longer we can go to the well without him. What is this, three in a row, where he's not got double figures? But who knows, it's really allowing some of our other guys to step up and make plays. It's pretty cool for them.
Q. I can't remember, I don't think you called time-out after Smith hit the shot that put them up 91-90. What was the strategy on that and just how shocked or surprised were you when Steven hit that shot?
COACH PELPHREY: I don't know what happened. The game -- Sonny scored four straight points and I think we went up three, and he was exhausted. And I had Darian in there and he was exhausted. I didn't want to go -- that was two misses in a game, and I ended up having to take those guys out, and then they had the possession that lasted forever down there.
I was concerned because later in the game when I subbed out for offense-defense, I didn't have a time-out to get those guys back in the game. I said, we're going to win it right here, and we turned around and gave him a lay-up. I felt like there was the two-minute mark when Sonny got us up, try to call a time-out, try to get the right guys on the floor so we can play some defense.
The last play there, I don't really like calling time-outs. If I would have had one I would have called it to get two of our better offensive players on the court. Gary did what we wanted to do, Pat got up there, tried to wiggle loose off a pick-and-roll, Gary kind of fell down, and I'm sure he saw some demons from the past, and he was able to hang in there and get it to Steve. He cut to the basket, and everybody just kind of stayed attached to their guy, and Steve had the courage to step up and try to make the play.
I'm proud of him for that. Everybody can be happy for a guy when it goes in, but they had the courage to go back to play and look around, be scared, I don't want to shoot this, let me find somebody else. You see that on occasion. Everybody was like, go, Steve, be aggressive, cut it loose. I wanted those guys to compete today and be aggressive. You never know until you try. I think that's really important. We're all going to fail along with success, and that's the best thing we did was keep competing.
Q. So you were out of time-outs?
COACH PELPHREY: We were out of time-outs.
Q. Good thing you didn't call it then.
COACH PELPHREY: That's a good sign. Thanks for the credit.
Q. The guys all talked about at that moment when it was 73-64 you were in the huddle and you challenging them. What went into your thinking in challenging them and how do you feel about how they responded?
COACH PELPHREY: The answer is twofold. One, I thought I was speaking the truth. It's just amazing when you think of Chris Lofton, you think of deadly three-point shooting. He was beating us with his driving, getting fouled, handling pick-and-rolls, getting other guys shots. He was killing us with his driving. I told him when it came to time-out, I said, guys, I don't think you have it tonight. You need to congratulate Tennessee right now. You don't have it. Chris Lofton is beating you right now, and not with his threes, with his driving. I said, I just don't think you've got it. I said, you can't win the game unless you start guarding.
Part of that was motivation. I wanted to get their attention. Obviously they know that I'm never going to stray from the course. I was willing to try about anything at that point in time to get them to lay it on the guard. We went to zone. Fortunately for us we were able to get a few stops and Darian showed up there and scored the ball, and Charles scored the ball. Those guys did a good job of executing offense and getting it where it needed to go and converting some free throws. But that was the conversation, if we don't start stopping them it doesn't matter how many points we score, we're not going to be able to pull this off.
Q. You've been a part of some great ballgames. Considering this stage, where does this one fit in?
COACH PELPHREY: Well, you know, I haven't really had a chance to reflect on it yet. Obviously my thing to the team was as soon as I got in the locker room, I was very happy for the way they competed. Again, my most special moment so far in this whole thing is to see the way all of them reacted to Steve. From the last guy on the team -- Beverley may have been the first one to get to him. The guy didn't get through the door two seconds until he was up in the guy's arms. So that's still a very special thing for right now.
As time goes on, it may mean something different. But unless we back this up tomorrow with another performance of competing the way we have the first two nights, it'll certainly change the way we feel right now. Yes, we know how fortunate we were to win. We're very, very appreciative and humbled to have the opportunity tomorrow. It will mean a tremendous amount if we can back it up with another performance tomorrow.
Q. You just alluded to this. Obviously your team was pumped up to play No. 4 ranked Tennessee, but now tomorrow even though this is the SEC Finals, how do you keep your team motivated to continue this against Mississippi State or University of Georgia?
COACH PELPHREY: Oh, I don't know. I don't pretend to have all the answers. There's a large part of me that says, hey, listen, fellows, you were here last year and weren't able to finish the deal. We've already talked about that before we huddled up and said our post-game prayer. Vincent Hunter, our leader on the team, mentioned that. We weren't able to pull this thing off last year.
I think the seniors need to show some leadership and it needs to come from within. I think our job as a coaching staff right now is to make sure these guys understand that we have a game tomorrow and we've got a short period of time to get the game plan in. But I think they'll be motivated to play.
Like I said before, my whole thing is -- it was interesting because when I was a player at Kentucky and we'd go and play in atmospheres on the road that was just rock-star status, so to speak, because it was the biggest thing on everybody's schedule. And then when they'd go play the next game, they'd lose. We're at Arkansas. We need to back up a great performance with a great performance. To me that's where character, that's where team's heart, that's where understanding who you are and how fortunate you are to have a chance to lace it up and you're only as good as your last performance, I think those things mean something to me. I don't want it to be a situation where you get up and you play against a really good basketball team, and we get to tomorrow -- listen, they both beat us, okay, so it'll be just as hard tomorrow as it was today, and we're going to need good fortune.
Winning and losing is something we all want to do, but whether we do or not, let's make sure we go play the right way and compete.
Q. Can you talk a little more about those match-ups with Mississippi State and Georgia?
COACH PELPHREY: There's problems with both of them, two tremendous coaches. I mean, my days with Coach Felton go back to the Sun Belt. I mean, what heart and courage and resiliency his team has shown. I don't know what's going on right now, but they've had to play two games in one day right here. So I've got a lot of respect for Georgia. They handled us as well as anybody did this year.
Mississippi State, my favorite guy in the league, Charles Rhodes, man, he brings it every night, competes. Jamont Gordon, there's nobody else like him in the country, and there's nobody else in the country like Varnardo. I love the other guys, Stewart, Hansbrough and Turner. I think they've got a toughness to them.
I like both teams. We've got a lot of problems both ways. I think this time of year you've got to be able to rebound, get yourself some fast breaks, and offensively you've got to get the right guys shooting the ball and take care of it. Those will be some fundamental things regardless of who we're playing that we've got to do.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
End of FastScriptsâ€¦