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March 19, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Brian Butch and Michael Flowers of the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten. They have a date to play Cal State Fullerton in the fourth game tomorrow night.
Q. This is for either of you, Brian or Michael, with the balanced scoring on this year's team compared to last year's team with Tucker and Taylor, is this team better suited to make an NCAA run with the balanced scoring?
BRIAN BUTCH: We hope we do better than we did last year. We have a great balanced team here. That's the nice thing about this team. It's been there all year. Different people have stepped up big in big games and helped us win.
So the way we've been playing recently here, too, we feel like we can make a pretty good run.
Q. We've all seen you on TV. So I got an idea about your guy's playing style, but I want to hear in your words. What's Wisconsin basketball?
BRIAN BUTCH: I think the first thing we concentrate on is on defense. Sometimes shots go in; sometimes they don't. You guys have seen enough basketball to realize that. But no matter what, you can have defense. And I think that's kind of where we start is on the defensive end.
And then on the offensive end, you know, what we really concentrate on is playing together as a team, making that actual pass and finding the guy that's wide open to hit a shot. And we know that everybody out on the floor can hit some big shots for us because they've done it all year long.
MICHAEL FLOWERS: Pretty much Brian said it all. We go out there. We have a game plan. We stick to the rules of the team. We're very disciplined both on offense and defense, and we play to their percentage. So we get fouls. We get to the free throw line. We look for a good shot, sometimes that calls for us to run the shot clock down. If so, so be it. We try to make every possession count and try to keep from turning the ball over.
Q. Brian, how difficult was it for you last year to watch Wisconsin go out on in the tournament without you and how much did that motivate you in the off-season to get ready for this year?
BRIAN BUTCH: Yeah, it was definitely difficult. As a young kid you grow up dreaming of playing in the NCAA tournament. That's a dream you always have. To have an injury take that away from you, it's frustrating. But I realize that it's kind of what happens and you gotta move forward.
So as soon as the off-season came, I kept on trying to get better so when I was in the position this year, I'd be able to help this team.
That's what I did. And so to answer your question, I was pretty motivated to keep on going. It also helps as your senior year. Your last hurrah in the NCAA tournament. You want to go out there and play the best basketball that you can.
Q. Speaking of the NCAA tournament, maybe you've heard it; I hope you haven't. But seems like Wisconsin constantly is everybody's high seed to pick to lose. For both of you, do you get sick of hearing that?
BRIAN BUTCH: It's one of those things where for us, we just worry about playing basketball. We realize that people, they get paid to say stuff and to direct where people are going to win and what's going to happen. But for us and what we've been concentrating on all year is just worried about winning basketball games.
I think when we stay focused, we're a pretty good team. I think our record says that. So it's just to stay focused, really, and concentrate on the task that's at hand.
MICHAEL FLOWERS: I mean, that goes to show you that we weren't even supposed to win our conference. We weren't supposed to win Big Ten tournament championship, and I mean on paper, you know, a team's supposed to be the team, but in reality that's why you play games.
We've proven ourselves and a lot of that has to do with not everybody is exposed to Wisconsin basketball, even in Madison people couldn't watch us because of the Big Ten, the network. So it's exposure and a lot of people are familiar with North Carolina, Duke because they're in the media all the time, and we're a sleeper in that sense. So hopefully we open some eyes in this tournament.
Q. I don't know if you're aware, but your elbow injury from last year has been seen over 130,000 times on YouTube, I was wondering how many of those views were you and have you seen it and how have you bounced back from it?
BRIAN BUTCH: I have not seen it (smiling) and I don't plan on seeing it, to be honest. It was pretty ugly just the way it felt. I can only imagine how it looked. I tried to actually look at it once during the off-season as soon as the season was over, and it got to be right before I got undercut. And I had to turn my head.
So I haven't looked at it yet and I don't think I ever will. It's one of those things as an athlete you put it behind you and don't look at it. That's what I've tried to do with it.
Q. Before you found out who you were playing, what did you know about Cal State Fullerton and what are some of your concerns about playing them, for both of you?
BRIAN BUTCH: Well, the first thing that we really looked at was we realized they're a very athletic team. They're going to offer us a lot of challenges. Playing in the Big Ten, it's a great conference. But when you get outside of conference, you know, you get different challenges.
That's where our nonconference schedule is so good. Our coaches do a great job of scheduling nonconference games where you get a variety of teams. So we've had a chance to play some of these teams who like to run and are very athletic.
Q. What did you know about them, about Cal State Fullerton?
BRIAN BUTCH: Before that --
Q. Before you found out who you were playing, had you heard of them besides baseball?
BRIAN BUTCH: No, that's about where we heard of them (smiling), from the baseball team. But after you realize how good they are at baseball, our coaches were able to get a great scouting report together for us and I think their basketball team is really good, too, this year.
So we realized that's going to be a tough game for us, that they're really good. They've got a lot of great players and they offer a lot of challenges for us that we'll have to take care of tomorrow.
Q. Michael, what did you know about Cal State Fullerton before Sunday?
MICHAEL FLOWERS: That they come from a predominantly strong conference. They won it. So that means they know how to win games and they deserve to be here just like everybody else.
Q. Brian, you talked about defense earlier, 30 wins last year. Is this team better defensively than last year's team? If so, what changed? I know the principles are the same with Bo Ryan, doesn't really change, but it seems like you're leading the nation in scoring defense this year. Has anything changed?
BRIAN BUTCH: I think we are better defensively, I think we've got five guys every time we're out there that really, you know, don't want to have -- don't want to make the mistake for the teammates, for your teammates. If I make a mistake I know the rest of the guys out there realize it was my mistake. And next time I don't want to be that guy to make a mistake.
And I think that's the way that every guy out there approaches it. So, you know, you just have -- it's got to be in you to want to play defense. I think all five us out there, whoever it is, realize how important it is for this team's success, too. I think those two variables are probably the biggest things for us to be successful we have to play good defense.
Q. Brian, I don't think you probably see too many six-five centers. What kind of advantage does that give you and what challenges does that present for you?
BRIAN BUTCH: Well, yeah, and that goes back to our nonconference schedule. We've seen some guys that have been smaller. So it helps us out a lot there.
But at six-five they're definitely quicker than what we've been used to the whole Big Ten season. That's going to be a challenge right there, first and foremost. It's one of those things where we realize they're going to be quick, they're going to be doing some things we're not used to.
We've got to make sure we move our feet as six-eleven, slow white guys, it's one of the challenges we've got to be adjusted to.
And then the advantage, you know, I don't know if there is that one thing that you can say is an advantage. Any time you've got a guy that just comes down to the heart of the guy. I mean, six-foot guy can stop a six-eleven guy from getting the ball much more easier than I think a six-eleven guy can stop a five-eleven guy from going to the basket.
Q. Michael, I wanted to ask you about your guys' defense over the last 25 games. You haven't allowed over 70 points. Can you just talk about how vital your defense has been through the season, most of the season?
MICHAEL FLOWERS: You know, that goes back to preseason, early time in the season where practice doesn't involve a basketball. Just defense. A lot of fundamental drills.
There's an old saying: Offense sells tickets; defense wins championships. This team this year had a high priority, high goals to winning championships, and so far we've been focused on the defensive end and been real successful with that. We have two trophies and now we're trying to go for a third.
Q. From afar, Bo Ryan seems like a crusty old guy. What's he really like?
BRIAN BUTCH: (Smiling) I think Coach is great. He offers a lot of knowledge. He's been in the game a long time. You know, you see the scowls, you see the faces he does through during the games. I think that's just his passion to win.
If you look at us, I'm sure we have a lot of different faces and different expressions, too. So it's just the willingness to win and the desire to win that I think people see in Coach that get misunderstood at times.
MICHAEL FLOWERS: He's just really, really passionate. That's why I wanted to come here to this university. As you all know he coached at Platteville, and no discredit to them, but Platteville isn't known for recruiting the top athletes around the nation. He was able to be successful without having the top talent in the country. So now that he actually does have talent, he's taken his coaching game to another level. And he's had great success at Wisconsin. And that goes to show how determined he is and the will he has to win.
Q. Michael, I'm just curious what you've seen on film looking at Fullerton's Josh Akognon. He's obviously a pretty productive scorer for them.
MICHAEL FLOWERS: He knows how to use his teammates. He knows how to create on his own. He's going to be a handful for all five of us. We are going to have to be able to maintain and contain him and force him into bad shots. If we are able to get him to have an awful game, then that's going to put us in a great position to come out with a W.
And it's going to be hard-fought 40 minutes and we're just going to try to discourage him, take charges on him and get a hand in his face when he pulls up for a jumper and anything to disrupt their flow.
And I know he's a key for them. He's the heart of the team. If he's going and their team is going, if we stop them, then they're going to have to adjust and try to beat us with their second and third option.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.
4:45 session features the head coach of the Big Ten champion, Wisconsin Badgers. We'll ask for an opening statement being here in Omaha at the Qwest Center then questions and answers.
COACH RYAN: I wanted to know whose idea was it to put "speak up" here on each one of the mics. That's a good idea. (Laughter).
Coming to Omaha, getting a chance to play in the NCAA tournament again is just a thrill to have watched our guys develop during the year and how they have a chance to play some more and I hope we can play for a while because I want to be around these guys a lot longer.
We're happy to be here. It's a great city. I've heard a lot about it. This is my first time in Omaha. I've not been disappointed. Whoever was in charge of the weather, you did a pretty good job today. And I did see all the Southern Cal people and the Fullerton people they had winter parkas on and here we were out in shorts and T-shirts from Wisconsin. But it's good to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Coach, you've obviously had a lot of success since you've been at Wisconsin. What would you say is the impetus behind that success? Maybe one or two or three key elements to getting that program where it is right now.
COACH RYAN: Well, I think just the young men that you get in the program are the guys that you believe in and as I've always said, there's never been a guy that we've given a scholarship to that we didn't want.
Now, there are people that go elsewhere and say, well, I don't like this school or I like this school better. All's I know is I'm coaching guys who wanted to be at Wisconsin. And while they're there, they work extremely hard. They pass knowledge on to the younger guys each year. They let the freshmen know this is how we do things because they'll get a chance to do that when they're sophomores and juniors and seniors.
It's just been a lot of guys coming together and believing in the right things. And I've been very fortunate to be in the situation like that at an institution such as Wisconsin, because I get fairly local guys who want to be there.
Their families can follow them. They enjoy one another. And you've heard it so many times about family atmosphere. Well, I've seen some pretty dysfunctional families. But our team's not dysfunctional. They're very clued in to each other's wants and desires.
And they've shown that by the way they've played.
Q. I asked the players the same thing and they had good responses, too. But do yourself or your team, do you think, ever get sick of the fact that it seems like a lot of times Wisconsin is everybody's sexy high seed to lose?
COACH RYAN: I don't know. You put the pressure on me when you say the players already gave good answers. So automatically you lost me. Because I probably won't.
I have no idea. You talk to people that I don't talk to. I've never talked to anybody that had nothing but good things to say about our team and our kids and our program.
I've never heard the other. I don't go on the Internet. I've never blogged, never been on a blog or whatever it is. I got too many other things I'm busy doing trying to help our guys succeed in my position.
So did you say sexy? (Laughter). Haven't heard that either.
Q. This classic offense versus defense type of matchup, is that kind of the matchup you like or is it something that scares you a little bit?
COACH RYAN: No, I've seen them on tape. They play defense. Very good defense. Helping recover. Bob's got them doing the things that help you win 20-some games in a season. And win your conference tournament and so on.
And our guys can score. Our guys try to get good shots. I don't look at it that way. I just look at it as each team's going to get X number of possessions and you just have to make the most of them and that's how we look at it. We don't present it to our players like, oh, this is this and that's that.
It's the same way we've approached every game.
Q. Bo, can a balanced team without a real go-to all-American type guy win an NCAA championship anymore? Recent evidence would suggest that's not the case.
COACH RYAN: I don't know. I haven't dissected the winners and said, okay, they had this guy and they had that guy. I know they've had some pretty good players because we played against Shawn May. We played against the players at Dixon and those guys at Maryland.
I've seen some teams that had players emerge in tournaments, and the people that didn't know any better, they would say, oh, that guy was a prominent player, that guy should be an All-American, that guy is pretty good. That's happened where players got hot and maybe they weren't as well known coming in but by the end of the tournament people knew a lot about them.
And who steps up for us or any other team, we'll find out after 40 minutes. So to me it's okay. I don't feel any differently going into a game now than I felt going into games before, whether it was Division III national tournaments or Division I. I've seen teams without really great players win. Maybe more so on the Division III level. But recently I'm sure you can say, well, this team had this All-American, yeah.
You know, there's a lot of guys playing in the NBA that lost in the first round, too.
Q. I think you have 10 players from Wisconsin on your roster. Can you talk about the talent level in the state of Wisconsin over the years, maybe how it's evolved in the last 20 years or so?
COACH RYAN: Yeah, I get asked that question all the time. I can only speak from the '70s on. I know in the '70s when we were running basketball camps, when I was an assistant at Wisconsin, a lot of the coaches coached two or three sports.
And basketball maybe was, okay, as soon as football season is over I'll coach basketball, or whatever the case might be.
But now, you know, the coaching is better in high school. They go to more clinics. The coaching association has grown to a record number of over 3,000 members. So basketball in high school and lower levels is a lot better in the state since the '70s. There are more players that are getting the opportunity to play. And a lot of them are choosing to stay close to home. Because they feel they're programs that can accommodate what they want. Where maybe in the past they left for a reason.
You can't worry about the ones that aren't there. I just I think I floored a guy at Minnesota when I told him the only recruits that we don't get that we go after are lactose-intolerant, because we're the cheese state (laughter). I kind of got the same reaction from him. (Laughter).
And you know, basketball is better in the state, at all levels. The AAU guys do a great job, because I don't think we have in Wisconsin any of those guys that are bad for the young people, I think they're all doing it for the right reasons. So it's pretty good.
There's a lot more clinics. A lot more -- I know more coaches come to our practices than ever before when they can. So that's pretty good.
Q. Could you talk about your team embracing your defensive principles and just how successful they've been in the past 25 games, they haven't allowed 70 points, can you just talk about how they've embraced that?
COACH RYAN: Well, they've always tried to play defense to the best of their ability. In some games it's not because of lack of effort. If a team is hitting some tough shots. If a guy gets hot, then you try to cool him down and do some things.
There's some good players out there that can score. The team we're playing has a bunch of them. There's a lot of teams in the NCAA tournament that have a lot of good scorers.
It's still about points for possession. So a team can score 70, 80, 85 points but if there's 90 possessions in the game, you're still playing pretty good defense. So it isn't about that final number all the time. The nice part about us leading the nation in defense is that our points for possession shows it, too in the number of points that we're giving up.
So that's even better. And they know in order to have a chance to be successful it starts there.
Q. What concerns you the most about Fullerton?
COACH RYAN: Just the fact that they're another one of those teams that's won recently. They win their tournament. They're confident. They can do a lot of good things on both ends of the floor. And they're doing it together.
I see some different guys scoring for them different times. They might have three guys that say, by numbers, they average X number of points. But if you look all the way through, they're pretty balanced themselves.
So I think they're confident. I think they're well-coached. I think they understand what's expected. So any time you're playing a team that's in that position, you know, they're always going to be pretty good.
Q. Most of us around here knew Cal State Fullerton had a pretty good baseball team but didn't know much about the basketball team.
COACH RYAN: I figure that's why they sent them here.
Q. What did you know before turning on the tape about them? Anything?
COACH RYAN: A little. But we're taping games all the time. As soon as we got back from the Big Ten tournament, we were putting stuff together right away, and it just goes so fast. It's like anything else. You have respect for your opponent and you say, okay, these are the things they do. They're doing the same thing when they're looking at us.
And then you play the game. And it isn't any different than any other game during the year except if you're not on the left-hand side you go home. But we don't obsess about that. We don't talk about it. We don't even talk about that. We just talk about what we can do.
Q. Bo, Brian suffered a pretty devastating injury last year. How far into the off-season or the preseason was it before you stopped being concerned about how he would bounce back?
COACH RYAN: Well, in talking just to the trainer, doctors, the people around the program, as long as Brian wasn't a wrestler, because when you dislocate your elbow, there's a certain torque that wrestlers use when they take people down, I don't know what it is, but they said as long as he's not wrestling he can play basketball with that when it's healed. I go, good, because I don't think he's wrestling.
And good thing he redshirted his freshman year. I mean, what an opportunity, because some people get injured their senior year and never play again.
So he got a chance to come back. And he's made the most of it. And he'll have his master's.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts