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March 21, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll open up the floor to questions.
Q. Jerel, this is for you. Could you talk about your commitment to defense. And I understand you sort of take it upon yourself to get people going and to make sure you're playing hard and trying to shut them down on the defensive end. Where did that come from? Is that the way you look at your role or at least part of your role?
JEREL McNEAL: I mean, most importantly I think it's just the biggest key for us to win games. We're a defensive-minded team. If we're not putting pressure on them and trying to turn them over and getting big stops down the stretch and things like that, we're not a very good team.
We're not a team that's going to come out and outscore anybody 100 to 90. That is not the type of team we are, so I do take it upon myself to come out and just make sure everybody's locked in defensively and doing the right thing so we can come out and get stops then start running our fast-break and try to get easy baskets.
Q. Dominic, how important would you say guard play will be tomorrow?
DOMINIC JAMES: Very important for us especially. You know, we've been combatting other teams' advantage, especially in the post you know with our guard play. Going down there and compensating for our lack of height. But we got a guy down low that is really battling.
Lazar Hayward and Ousmane Barro stepping up and making big plays for us. We know we're a guard-oriented team, and it's our job, especially on defense, to help those guys out, and on offense to put them in positions where they can be successful and score the ball.
Q. Coach Crean put such great emphasis on toughness. Can you talk about how that carries over on the court, maybe even during practice?
WESLEY MATTHEWS: I think it's pretty evident. I mean, you can see it every time we play, every time we step on the court that there's a toughness factor that all of us, you know, we instill in each other and we bring out in each other.
I mean that's the way we play. That's the way this game is played now, with toughness and intelligence, and that's what we pride ourselves on.
Q. Can you talk little bit about the size that Stanford will present for you guys tomorrow, how you plan to combat that?
LAZAR HAYWARD: I mean, you know, it's pretty obvious that, you know, they have two seven-foot brothers. And, you know, those guys work really hard, and they play hard, but so do we. And we got to do a good job of blocking those guys out and stopping them from getting easy points, but they also have to guard us. So, you know, it's just going to come down to who works the hardest, and I wouldn't choose anybody over Ousmane to go into battle with.
OUSMANE BARRO: Like Lazar said, its going to be a big challenge for us because we never played, like, two seven-footers in one game, so it's going to be a battle down there.
Q. I'd like to ask Dominic to follow up on that same theme. Even though guards don't play seven-footers man-to-man, they affect the game. How do they affect a guards game and how can you counteract such height and skill in the paint?
DOMINIC JAMES: Obviously we want to make this an up-and-down pace game. We want the tempo to compliment our style of play. Just like they said, they got to play both ends of the floor, you know, and we know they're going to be factors on both ends of the floor.
So combat their size with our athleticism and quickness and things like that. So we definitely got to execute in that matter. We got our advantages and they have theirs, but it's going come down to who executes and who exposes each other's weaknesses from start to finish.
Q. So you want to go back-and-forth tempo?
DOMINIC JAMES: Most definitely. We want to control the tempo. We don't want it to be a slowed-down game. We want it to be up and down. We want to expose some of their weaknesses. We want to have our quickness and our athleticism and use that in our favor.
Q. Jerel, along that same theme, how do you think that will affect your game tomorrow, what you can do to combat with -- both when you are playing defense and they're pounded into the post like that and also on the boards? How do you think that you will be able to help out there?
JEREL McNEAL: I think more importantly we just got to come out and play the way we always play. It's going to be a real big challenge for us, just because of their height and size, and they have a lot of big guys.
But we got to come out and battle and try to keep those guys off the boards and do what we can on our low-post defense. So I think if we keep them from getting good position and, you know, easy baskets throughout the game, that we'll be in pretty good shape.
Q. A minute or two ago you were saying that when you were talking about this challenge of facing the big guys on Stanford that there's no one you would rather go into it with than Ousmane. Can you describe what it is about him that makes you feel like he's definitely the guy for the job?
LAZAR HAYWARD: Well, you know, because I know Ousmane will always give 110%, and he's going to always play his best. He is very tough. It's evident when we're playing our games. And the toughness that Ous brings out in me, we play really well together. When I'm playing really tough he plays well. So, you know, we bring out the toughness in each other.
And I think that's what we're going to do tomorrow.
Q. Ousmane, how will this compare with going up against Roy Hibbert?
OUSMANE BARRO: I mean, it was tough. He is like 7'2." He is one of the bigs in the Big East, so it was quite challenging for me, but it was just another game.
Q. I assume he was matched up against you. What did he do to shut you down?
OUSMANE BARRO: Roy Hibbert?
OUSMANE BARRO: I don't think he shut me down. The main thing was following our game plan and staying with the game plan. That's real big when we play them throughout the years, and especially four weeks ago when we played them at home. We just had to stay with the game plan and tried to execute our game plans.
Q. Jerel, is there a different mindset that goes into playing the first game, being the favorite or a lower seed at least, and the second game? You know, now you are playing probably a favorite or at least a lower seed in Stanford.
JEREL McNEAL: Nope.
I think the most important thing that you got to remember once you get to this time of year is that, you know, there's a field of 65 teams. Everybody earned their way in here. There's no easy games. I mean, you look at some of the scores around the country you see that. There ain't no easy wins at this time of year.
We didn't look at ourselves as a favorite against Kentucky. We won't look at it as being the underdog in this game. You got to come out and do what you do. That's the most important thing. You got to come out and be the team that you are and play the way you have been playing all year that got you to this point. If you do that, you can't ask for much more. You toss the ball up and see what happens. That's what's going to happen tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions? All right. Thank you, gentlemen.
Coach, the floor is yours.
COACH CREAN: First off, we know it's going to be a monumental challenge to match-up with Stanford on size alone, because not only do they have the Lopez twins who are just dynamite and play so well together, but they have numerous other players that make plays and make contributions. They have their starters, they have outstanding depth. They know exactly what they want the do. They're very -- they're creative offensively but also very disciplined in what they want to do.
So we've got to make sure that we do not become mesmerized by one or two people, that we do not stand. We've got to have great weak-side defense. We've got to have the ability to put pressure on the ball.
You know, I don't know what the pace of the game is going to be, but we have to be able to play inside of it, whatever it is. And our guys are very, very excited. I mean, very respectful, and the films that we've watched I think we have a great understanding of just how good the PAC-10 is when you watch Stanford play UCLA or watch Stanford play USC or Arizona, and we feel like our preparation of being in the Big East has been very good for us to come out here and have an opportunity to play a game like this and compete at a high level.
Q. Tom, for guys who haven't seen you play a lot, how have you done in match-ups when you have been in a disadvantage like this in size?
COACH CREAN: Well, we've played against some really, really good big people in the Big East. I mean Luke Harangody as a center was the player of the league in our -- of the year in our league. We've play against different combinations -- Rob Kurz is a really good player at Notre Dame. We never played against a team that would have two seven-footers like that. We've had our times that we've been very good.
When we've been disciplined with our schemes when our ball pressure has been good, when we understood what we wanted to do down into the post, we've been good. When we've been a step slow or our ball pressure hasn't been as good or we've allowed weak-side rebounding to become a big factor in the game, we haven't been as successful.
That's probably one of the biggest problems we had when we played UCONN. We challenged Hasheem to beat us, and weren't too good on the weak-side board. We had our moments against Roy Hibbert a couple weeks ago. We had 21 points, but I thought he had to earn every one of those points, and he is an outstanding center. Again, we've had our successes, we've had our minuses, but we've had a lot of experience.
Q. Just to put you back on that question. You place such a premium on toughness going against two seven-footers. How do you expect that to manifest itself in toughness, even more important in a game like this?
COACH CREAN: I think the mental toughness is certainly going to be equal to the physical toughness that you have to have, because we've got to be able to play possession-by-possession. You've got to be able to talk pass-after-pass. You've got to be able to, you know, close out, get down into the post, get into a weak-side rebounding stance, all those different things that go into it.
You know, there's a huge physical element to that, but there's an even greater mental element to that. I think when you play in a league like the Big East or the PAC-10 you become used to that. And so, you know, I'm excited about our team. I know they're confident and excited to play, and, I mean, they're looking forward to the challenge.
I mean, we know it's going to be a huge challenge, and it's far more than just the Lopez twins because of what they do on the perimeter, how tough their guards are. I don't know Trent very well, but I would venture to say he puts a pretty strong premium on toughness, and they really appear that way when you watch them on tape and even in yesterday's game.
Q. Tom, Barro, when he was in high school and he was recruited, he wasn't playing for his high school team. Can you describe a little bit about how you guys caught on to him? What impressed you about him and where you were able to make a connection and see him and evaluate him?
COACH CREAN: Sure. Actually he never played a high school game. He never played in any organized basketball competition. He did some men's league things, I think, when he was in high school, but I got to know him through the gentleman that brought him to the States, Loren Jackson, who was the coach at Julian high school at the time and just had an opportunity over a couple years to watch him grow and develop and watch Loren just do a fantastic job with him.
I mean, he treated him like he was as good as any player in the country, and he never played a game for him. Whether it was 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning workouts, whether it was practice-after-practice, you know, after school, you know, I mean the team would practice, then he would do more work. And every chance we had to see him, we just saw that spirit. He was a hungry, hungry learner.
And there was no doubt in my mind that with his personality, with his attitude, with his work ethic that we were going to try to sign him if we could. And I think it pretty much got down to Louisville and ourselves, and Louisville took Brian Johnson. I very much think he could have ended up at Louisville if they hadn't signed Brian Johnson.
We were able to get him, and he's been a starter. He started a couple games as a freshman and has pretty much been a mainstay in our line-up for the last three years.
Q. He said that he had been a soccer player in Africa and that when he arrived in Chicago that was the very first time that he was introduced to basketball. I mean, did he look like a guy who had only been playing the game for a very, very short time when you were evaluating him?
COACH CREAN: Oh, no question. When you looked at him, you looked at him in just size an upside. You certainly didn't look at him in skill value at that point, but he was always a little bit better every time we saw him. And our looks are somewhat limited unless it's the summertime. So when you would see him, and you might see him a month later, you might see him two months later, there was always something he had added to his game.
He had a real eagerness to learn. And the other thing that was impressive is how his body was changing, because he was finally lifting weights and things of that nature. But he's had a real interesting upbringing, and he's been a joy to have in our program. And what's even more amazing based on, you know, what he didn't have as far as background academically, he's going to graduate on time in May. And that's really, at the end of the day, will be the most special thing, because we know where he was and his background versus where he is right now. So he's grown in every area at Marquette.
Q. Tom, let's say you are able to mute Brook Lopez inside. What scares you most then about Stanford?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think they know how to win. I mean, they're not going to beat themselves. I know that's one of those old coaching, you know, sayings. But they're just too good. They make the next pass. They cover the boards extremely well. They can make open shots. I think when Taj Finger is in the game he is as dangerous as anybody. He plays so hard. He makes things happen. You know, he is always in perpetual motion. I don't think there's any one thing that you can look at and say, okay this has to be done for us to win. I think its more than that.
And I think we're going to have to be solid, more than solid in a lot of areas. Weak-side rebounding, our ball pressure, how we play the post, our transition defense, you know, really. But, again, when you come out of the Big East, it's not like you go into the Big East and think, okay, we're going to win this game this way, or we're going to do these two things and we can win.
You know, you have to be really strong and you have to be very much in a possession-by-possession mentality to win. From what I see, I think the PAC-10 is exactly the same way.
Q. Tom, you guys -- when people play you, you know they're going to face a good defensive team and a team that's tough. How much of that is because of McNeal, as far as him setting an example? And, also, I saw he was defensive player of the year in your league last year. Did he slip this year, or is that just one of those things?
COACH CREAN: That was two words, Hasheem Thabeet. He was one of only four -- I think I could be wrong on this statistic, but one of four nonbigs to win that award. I could be wrong. I know John Linehan won it and Allen Iverson as a sophomore. He didn't slip. Hasheem Thabeet changed everything in the lane, and rightfully so. On our team Jerel does a great job defensively, and so does Dominic James. Dominic can guard the dribble. He is outstanding. Wesley has improved tremendously on defense. He can put pressure on the ball.
Our big guys have steadily improved. We're not great up front and we're going to have to have great team defense to be successful tomorrow, but they've all improved. Jerel has not slipped. He's only gotten better. And one area he's really gotten better is off the ball.
Q. I understand Dominic's been a little bumped up this season, little injuries here and there. How important has he been to this team and that he has gotten through these things and stayed on the floor through this time?
COACH CREAN: He's shown great mental toughness throughout the year. The injury he sustained in the Seton Hall game back in January was needless; it hurt his wrists. He played with that for well over a month, and it was tough to do that because he was having such a great year.
But what he did is he never complained; he dealt with it. He never tried to get out of practices. I mean, I was very conscious of his minutes and very conscious of the contact at times. He didn't like that. He wanted to be in the action, never missed games because of that.
And then he had an ankle injury, he got the flu before the Louisville game. It wasn't till 4:00 that afternoon for a 6:00 game that we knew we were going to have him. I didn't start him in that game, and it was never the same. Our team has relied on him for a lot of things; The number one thing is his spirit.
And he's got a great spirit. An outstanding toughness, and you see him you can see the physical strength. He's got very good mental toughness, and when he's been at his best is when we've been at our best.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions? All right. Thank you, Coach. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH CREAN: Thank you.
End of FastScripts