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March 19, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll open up the floor to questions.
Q. Dominic, you guys were in this tournament, of course, last year. What's the difference between this team right now and your attitude going in compared to how you guys were last we're?
DOMINIC JAMES: You know, we got the experience now. You know, this is our third straight year for guys like me, Ousmane, Wesley, and Jerel. And obviously, you know, when Lazar Hayward plays, I feel like he understands entering this tournament, how important it is for him just to be poised and being the leader. Last year he was a freshman. And for any freshmen playing in the NCAA tournament, feel like you are probably a little bit nervous, and it's first-time experience for you.
But I feel like the experience and the maturity of this team, you know, coming in this year, is going to play a major factor in how well we play tomorrow again Kentucky.
Q. Dominic, can you talk, Ramel said earlier how he views Kentucky as the underdog. Do you have the same view or how you are your views that?
DOMINIC JAMES: We're not getting caught up in the seedings or who is the underdog or anything like that. We respect the fact that we know that they had to fight to get into the tournament. You know, if that's their motivation coming into this game, well, you know, that's on them.
But we got the motivation that we haven't had a quality win in March. We haven't won a tournament game since I've been here. That's our motivation. I mean, each team has to have some type of edge coming into any game for added motivation. If that's their war cry, then we got ours, as well.
Q. Wesley, for you, it's your third year in this tournament. And you guys were just talking about how Lazar's done. But for you, it seems to be, you know, something a little more where you're the guy that they look to to get hot early. Do you feel that way in this offense?
WESLEY MATTHEWS: I never real thought about it like that. I mean, with this, the offense, anybody can get off at any point and time. Just the way we play, we push the ball, we throw it ahead, everybody touches it. If I get going early, then I think that opens it up a lot for these three guys. Because now the focus is more -- now they have to focus on everybody. I mean, I'm not out there searching for my shot. I'm just taking what's given to me, and then hopefully that's enough.
Q. Question for Dominic. Some people say they remind them of Pitt. When you look at them on film, is that the way they strike you?
DOMINIC JAMES: Kentucky?
DOMINIC JAMES: Man, I wouldn't say that. Obviously, you know, they got strong guard play. Pitt had strong guard play. They do got a presence down low, as well.
But, I mean, I feel like that's the best thing about the Big East, because you get so many different styles. They may be similar -- may be similar in some ways, but I really wouldn't put them in comparison with Pitt, me, myself personally.
Q. How good are their guards?
DOMINIC JAMES: Good. Very good. We've been watching a lot of film. Ramel Bradley his ability to get into the paint and his ability to shoot the ball. I feel like his game compliments Crawford along with Jasper. They play well together and give each other open shots. Obviously, that's the reason they've been so successful in getting to the tournament.
Q. Wesley, the first half of your Big East season, and the second half, it seems like they were very different seasons. For those of us who didn't see you play as much, what changed for you guys the second half of the year, and how were you able to come on so strong?
WESLEY MATTHEWS: Just being aggressive, I mean, a whole 'nother mentality, just attacking, you know, putting defense in the forefront of my mind, rather than offense. I mean, our team is predicated on getting stops, you know, turning you over. Because defense is our best offense.
So I think when I come out with a defensive rebounding, mentality, I mean, that instinctively just makes me more aggressive. Then that carries over to the offense.
Q. Was the effort a question defensively, or what was the problem?
WESLEY MATTHEWS: Effort's never a question with anybody on this team. It's more of a, you know, just locking in and knowing what it takes to get it done, and that's defense.
Q. Lazar, this is your second year. You said you guys talked about how different is. What have these guys next to you, and also Coach Crean, how have they approached you as the season's gone on getting into the Big East tournament and now the NCAA tournament?
LAZAR HAYWARD: We pretty much have the same approach. You know, coming in to important games. You know, it's really not a hard thing to get me going for games like this. And I think the good thing about, you know, us being here again and trying to get our first win together is, just like Dominic said, we're a mature team, and we're so eager to win. You know, this team is just -- it's a whole bunch of winners on this team. And that's a really good thing to have when you are going into a game like this. And you know that everyone's going to give it their best shot. So it's great thing to have.
THE MODERATOR: Ousmane, as the lone senior up here, would you like to comment on that.
OUSMANE BARRO: Like this guy says, we've been here for three years straight, and we haven't had a win yet. So as a team, we're just trying to give our best shot, and, you know, make sure that we get a win. But we got a great opponent in front of us, which is Kentucky. So it's going to be a good challenge for us.
Q. Wesley, do you have any memories of that 2003 Marquette/Kentucky game? Just wondering if you watched it having grown up in that era?
WESLEY MATTHEWS: I think we all watched it. We all remember it. Yeah, I mean, it was a good game. You know, just being a basketball fan at that point, you know, it was just exciting to watch, especially with it being Marquette.
THE MODERATOR: Anybody else up here watch that game, have any memories of it?
DOMINIC JAMES: That's probably the first time I really heard of Marquette. I feel like that's the first time Marquette became a household name to the entire country. I know it's great to follow in the footsteps of guys like Dwyane Wade and Travis Diener and Steve Novak. I feel like those are names we all know and reasons why we all came to Marquette.
Q. I just wanted to follow up. Did that game have a lot to do with your coming to Marquette?
DOMINIC JAMES: Just like I said, for myself, I know it did. You know, I feel like it just goes to show that you trying to rebuild a program, and, I mean, you go back to the history of Marquette, you know, the '77 team and Al McGuire and trying to rebuild a program and be a part of that. I know that's one of the reasons why I came here, along with these guys that were recruiting when I was coming in. And, you know, just to be a part of that and trying to get back to that stage is something I want to be a part of.
Q. So you were a high school, what, junior or senior when that game was being played?
DOMINIC JAMES: Sophomore, going into junior year.
Q. At what school?
DOMINIC JAMES: I'm from Richmond, Indiana.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions. Seeing none, we'll thank the student-athletes for coming up here.
THE MODERATOR: All right we're joined by Marquette head coach Tom Crean. We'll open it up with a statement from the coach then open it up to questions.
COACH CREAN: We're honored to be here. It's our first trip to Anaheim. It's our first trip to the Honda Center. But it's our third straight trip as a unit to the NCAA tournament and we're excited about that.
You know, we've got a great tradition at Marquette, and we know that we're playing a team, absolutely one of the best in all of college basketball. And this is the first time since 1980 that a Marquette team has gone to the NCAA tournament three years in a row. So that's something that we're proud of inside of our program, which means absolutely nothing tomorrow.
We know we're going to have a great battle with Kentucky. They are game tough. They know how to win at home. They know how to win on the road. They know how to win on a neutral court because they have great physical and mental toughness. They play with the passion that Billy Gillispie coaches with, and they play with the intelligence that he coaches with. They're a very, very smart, cerebral basketball team. The more you watch them on film, they know how to play early on the clock. They know how to play deep on the clock. Offensively, obviously their defense has gotten better as the entire year has gone on. They can put great pressure on the ball. They have outstanding help. There's really not a lot of weaknesses.
The one thing that's been such a tribute to the way they have played this year, and the way Billy has coached them, is ever since -- you know, from the films we watched from when Patrick Patterson went down with the injury, they've kind of reinvented themselves a little bit with the perimeter play in the sense, the perimeter guys had been great all year long - Crawford, Bradley, Jasper, have been outstanding, but they even opened up the floor that much more. I think that's a real tribute to how good they are and what they're capable of. And they found a way to win a lot of different ways this year.
Q. Tom, I mean, you guys play a very intense defense. They run the clock all the way down. I mean, is that a concern to you for, you know, maybe these guys getting tired at all early on or anything like that?
COACH CREAN: No. I think we've just got to stay mentally sharp. And we've got to build intensity as the clock goes down. Because, again, they can score quick. They can get out on the break and make plays. They're not a deliberate team. They just -- they know what they want to do. And inside of that, you know, there's not a lot of situations that they have not encountered this year that they're not or that they haven't been successful with.
So, no. We've just got to stay disciplined. We've got to stay in an attack mode, and we've got to stay really alert and sharp as the game goes on, and our depth has got to be able to do the same thing when we go to the bench.
Q. Tom, can you just tell me, when you talk about Kentucky having to reinvent itself, from just a coaching perspective, how hard is that to do three games from the end of your regular season?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think it helps when you have the perimeter players they've had. But when you watched their earlier films, Patrick Patterson was such a big part of what they did with getting the ball into the post. And they still seemed to have run the same things out of their two-game offense, it's just -- the floor's opened up that much more. And I think that's -- you know, that's what great coaches do, like Billy is. You just figure out ways to win.
But as solid as their offense has been, is disciplined, and as attacking as it has been, they've won because they defend at a high level. I mean, you can see that. There have really been no changes there. I mean, they really defend. They guard the drive. They guard the dribble. They guard the pick-and-roll outstanding. Their help defense is very good. Their four and five men do a really good job of protecting each other and helping each other and covering for each other in situations.
So as their season has gone along, the defense has continued to strive and improve. Then, obviously, when they had the change with Patterson, their offense just -- you know, it was able to spread it out a little bit more.
Q. Earlier your players were talking about how improved Lazar has been. How important do you think that will be this time in the tournament compared to last year when he was a freshman?
COACH CREAN: I think every game he's gone through this season has been big for him, when he's been successful, and even when he's not been successful, because it's experience. He played a lot for us last year, but there was not nearly the responsibilities that he has this year. And he's been a guy that's improved since the time he got to Marquette.
I think having played in an NCAA tournament game of the year is good, but I think the big games, you know, we've played so many big games, as you know, in the Big East. He just came off three last week in the Big East tournament. I think obviously, Kentucky is game tough, and I'd like to think that we are as well because of all the battles that we've been through. And Lazar's been a big part of all that.
Q. Talk about the Big East, I mean, a few years ago with restructuring the Big East. Everybody talked about how difficult, there would be years when NCAA level teams didn't get to the tournament. Eight teams, about right, this year? Obviously Syracuse was close.
COACH CREAN: Syracuse, when we played them, there's no question we felt they were an NCAA team coming out of the game. Eventually, that's going to happen in our league. There are going to be nine or ten teams who are going to get in because you won't be able to say no. There's too much quality. For there to be eight teams says a lot, not only about the depth of the league, but of the quality of the league. And also, you know, looking at what South Florida did with taking Connecticut to the wire, beating Syracuse, Rutgers wins, they took Notre Dame to the wire, but they beat Villanova and Pittsburgh when they were ranked. You can go down the line. That's what makes it such a great league, as the SEC, as well.
We're proud because in the new Big East, in the first three years, there's been three teams win ten or more winning the conference. Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Marquette. So we feel like we've had a chance to go through some battles and earn some victories, and hopefully that will help prepare us as we play a great team tomorrow.
Q. When you talk about being in the tournament three years in a row, in reality, basically every game you played in the conference is an NCAA-type game?
COACH CREAN: The intensity level sure is. I know there have been many times this year we said, okay, that felt like a final-32 game, or that felt like a Sweet 16 game. And you try to get that in your players' minds, that that's the intensity level those games are all about, knowing that any game you play, if you are playing with intensity, you are playing with passion, you are playing with energy, and you're executing under pressure, that's what you have to be able to do in the NCAA tournament. I think that's a big reason that Kentucky had the year they had, because they seemed, when you watch them on film, to really understand those values of how you win. And Kentucky did not beat themselves.
I think that's one of the greatest tributes to the process of change that went on at Kentucky this year, with a new coach is, they got better. They really were able to win and put teams away because they knew what to do. You got to go through that change.
I mean, we didn't spend any time looking at November tapes or December tapes. You know, it's totally different team, totally different. I think it's their toughness physically and mentally, along with that experience of going through a tough league.
Q. These two teams have a pretty good history in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, you're aware of that because you are a part of that history. Are the players even aware of that?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think they are, because they had a chance to see the game. You know, that helped with recruiting. But the only people that were around, our security director Leonard Hardison, our doctor Darin Maccoux, and our priest, Father Kelly. But Father Kelly has been around since basketball was invented, so he's seen a lot of games, Al McGuire, the whole thing. But that was a special day when we beat Kentucky. It was an incredible game. And we knew what kind of team we were dealing with. We had great confidence that day.
So I think any time, you know, Marquette and Kentucky, I'm sure Kevin O'Neal would say the same thing, he played Kentucky when Rick Pitino was there in the NCAA tournament. Every time there's been a Marquette/Kentucky game, it's had a special feel because we know how good they are and we know what their tradition is all about.
Q. Were there any kids on your roster who you were recruiting them that , that game, came up or they said -- Dominic was telling us that kind of put you on his radar screen?
COACH CREAN: I'm sure it did. It was still -- the seniors would have been people that would have been juniors in high school when we played that game that we were recruiting for the following year. Obviously, when you beat a team like Kentucky, I mean, I think they had a 26-game winning streak. When they had been behind, it was all of eleven seconds that year. So, you know, when you win a game like that, you are beating a great team. Especially on the stage it was on and the way Dwyane Wade played that day and the way Robert Jackson played. I'm sure it helped.
Any time you are in the national spotlight, it's going to help in recruiting, there's no doubt, and there was no bigger spotlight for us than that point.
Q. Obviously, getting to the semis in the Big East was big for you. How much does that translate now to the NCAA tournament, where these guys haven't had a chance to win yet?
COACH CREAN: We'll see tomorrow. I think the most important thing is that the more big games you play, the more, you know, pressure packed games you play, the more confidence you build inside of those games, the more it helps you as you go down the line. And I think that's the only thing we're focused on. You know, we're not focused on last year. We're not focus on two weeks ago. Last week a little bit, because we played three games in three days and there's things to take from those games. There's things we did very well. There's thing didn't do as well. Those are the things we've tried to build on.
So it's not as much as getting ready for the NCAA tournament as it is getting ready to play a really big game and make sure that we understand the process we have to undertake to get ready for that.
Q. Tom, I just wondered about pace of the game and how Kentucky's been trying to tempo games. As you guys, as I understand it, like to run, how important is pace?
COACH CREAN: I think when you get to this time of year and you're in the NCAA tournament, you've obviously won enough games, and they're never the same. You know you can win them in a fast pace. You can win them in a slow pace. You have to be able to do your best to get to your tempo, but you have to be able to play at the tempo the game is being played at.
I think Kentucky has been able to do that. I think we have been able to do that. And I think most teams that would be in this time of year have done that. And every once in a while, you are going to have a team that gets into the conference tournament and wins and again, they're a great story, and that's fantastic. But for the most part, this tournament is about teams that have done it over the course of this year, and there's a lot of different ways to do it. And we've got to be able to play whatever way the game dictates itself tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions? All right. Thank you, Coach. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH CREAN: Thank you.
End of FastScripts