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March 22, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with the Tennessee student-athletes. Take questions now for the student-athletes.
Q. Tyler, what would you say, what aspect of your game would you say has improved the most just over the course of this year?
TYLER SMITH: I'm just trying to find my teammates. Coach just told me to make plays. I can't really say what's my strength. I guess get to the basket. I'm just trying to get my teammates open shots.
Q. This question is for Chris, both Tennessee and Butler, if you look at the situation are coming in with maybe a chip on your shoulder, I know you guys felt like you deserved a number one seed and I know Butler thought they should deserve higher than a 7 seed. That being said, can you touch on just how competitive it's going to be tomorrow, two teams really trying to prove something?
CHRIS LOFTON: Yeah, it's going to be a grind-out game. A physical game. I can see that. Both teams are playing with a chip on our shoulder and we're out to prove something. So it should be a great game.
Q. Talk about this, Tyler, you weren't there last year but Chris and JaJuan were, talk about playing Butler last year and what you got to do this year to be more successful than what you were last year.
CHRIS LOFTON: I think last year we overlooked Butler. Being from the Horizon League and then we found out that it doesn't matter in college basketball, that all teams are great. Butler's a great team and they showed that last year and they showed it this year.
So, we just know that we got our hands full and we have to play a great basketball game and control the boards and play great defense.
JAJUAN SMITH: And, as a team, we just felt like we didn't come ready to play last year against Butler. We were well-prepared from our coaches, we just didn't perform up to our ability, and now we know what we got to do with them and we're going to be ready.
Q. For Tyler, how does your role change when J.P.'s at the point versus Ramar?
TYLER SMITH: I'm still the four-man. Regardless. J.P. makes plays just like I do, it's just another playmaker out there on the court looking for an open man. So I don't think it changes it much. J.P.'s just finds the man like I do.
Q. Coach Pearl talked about how Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell are they very different at the point guard position? What are some of the differences between J.P. at the point and Ramar at the point?
JAJUAN SMITH: Their games are all different from each other. But when they're at the point they know what they got to do and we can read either one. We know how to play with our three and we have just been working on that all season long getting prepared, and I think coach is going to put the better point guard on the floor for our opponent. They can't matchup with them so he's going to put the best one out there on the floor.
Q. Chris, you mentioned playing Butler last year, when you hear them referred to as a Mid Major, having played them and seen what they can do -- does that sort of go off in your head when you hear that?
CHRIS LOFTON: Yes. These mid majors are really taking over. Mid Majors are the future, I think. They're great basketball teams and they have players that get overlooked, but just having the ability, and they play to their best of their ability. I think that's what Butler is. They got great players, great solid role players, and just they can do a lot of things.
Q. Chris, do you remember how Butler defended you last year and what player was on you and if you expect them to be on you tomorrow, as well?
CHRIS LOFTON: Not really. I remember I got in foul trouble and didn't play most of the first half. We got beat, so that's the only thing I remember.
Q. Chris, how is your hamstring?
CHRIS LOFTON: It's fine. What happened to it?
Q. You said yesterday that it was a little sore before the game.
CHRIS LOFTON: Oh, yeah, that was nothing. No, that wasn't a big deal. That was just -- I pulled it during warm-ups a little bit. It wasn't that big a deal.
Q. For any of the players, what has Coach Pearl told you about Butler? Obviously, you've seen them up close, you played them last season, but I guess -- what did he emphasize in his preparation speaking to you guys?
JAJUAN SMITH: He just told us we're going to have our hands full from the beginning to the end. And we got to come ready to play our best ball game and it's going to take a special performance from each and everyone of us.
CHRIS LOFTON: Just to be ready to play for 40 minutes, because they're going to make runs, we're going to make runs and the game's not going to be a blow-out. We just know that we have to play for 40 minutes and our best basketball.
Q. Tyler, is your role with the Tennessee team pretty much the same as it was last year or how different is it?
TYLER SMITH: Last year, I was kind of like a go-to guy if our main man wasn't on. So, this year we got so many weapons that I really just let the game come to me and don't take as many shots as I did last year or have the ball in my hands as much.
Q. JaJuan, they shot 15 of 33, yesterday, what do you guys going to have to stop that?
JAJUAN SMITH: We're going to have to communicate with each other and ball pressure and try to make them put the ball on the ground. Because that's their specialty. They like to shoot the three-ball like we do so we got to man-up and rebound and limit them to one chance.
Q. Chris, did you see any of the Butler's game last yesterday? They had Streicher really shut down South Alabama's top guard, top scorer, did you see what he was doing well?
CHRIS LOFTON: Not really. I saw the highlights of the game. I really didn't watch it. We didn't have it on in our hotel, but we know that Butler's a great defensive team and we know that we have to do a lot of things to score.
Q. For Chris and JaJuan, Butler has two great guards and in Graves and Green, they play off of each other pretty well. Can you guys talk about that, what you guys have been able to do for Tennessee this year and your communication on the court that lead to victories?
CHRIS LOFTON: The guard play's real important during the tournament time. They have the ball in their hands, and the guards, they try to make plays and on the defensive end and offensive end, the guards are key to the game.
JAJUAN SMITH: We've seen them in the past, they're two great players and we know what they're capable of doing. But we also want to be in that category, too. So, it's another chance for me and Chris to step up and make a name for ourselves, also.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you, guys. We'll have an opening statement from Coach Pearl and then take questions.
COACH PEARL: I have the distinction or pleasure or I've had the opportunity to play against this system, I think on ten occasions. And it is as challenging a system of basketball to cover. I think what Butler does on both sides, offensive and defensive, Lee is as good as there is. The Phoenix Suns get a lot of credit for the things they do in the NBA as far as their offense is concerned and their ball screen stuff and it's well deserved.
I think at the college level, Butler's been doing this for a long time. And they do it as well, spreading and ball screening and terrific intelligent plays. And the thing they don't get enough credit for is their defense. They help one another tremendously, they build a wall, make it very, very difficult to penetrate and they don't beat themselves up by fouling.
So, it's a team with great history, tradition, the Hinkle Fieldhouse, one of the great places to coach and play, and so it's an honor to be playing them at this time. Not often, I don't know when in the last -- in the history of this tournament you have a two teams with 30 wins in the second round. So you got two terrific basketball teams.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now take questions for Coach Pearl.
Q. You mentioned the two 30 game winners, actually, it's never happened in the history of this tournament. Should this be labeled like the Snub Bowl because I think both teams ended up with seeds that were kind of startled them.
COACH PEARL: Yeah, but you got to see, you got to beat great teams on the road to the Final Four at some point. Butler was ranked 10 in the country. That would put them in the first three lines, I would think. And for them to fall all the way to seven was something that I'm sure that they were a little surprised at or disappointed in.
For us, I thought we were, based on what we had done and the body of work, I thought we were a one seed. I can tell you the committee does try and pick the best four teams to be at the one line and I don't know that we are. If I was in that room, and you said coach, who are the top four teams in the country, I would not put Tennessee there.
For a number of different reasons, if you want to talk about whether Butler or Tennessee deserve to be as far, as what I think the math is all about and the body of work and that, we both did everything we possibly could to put ourselves in better positions to see another 30-win team in the second round.
Q. 15 of 30 from 3-point range yesterday. Butler, how tough of a matchup is that for you defensively?
COACH PEARL: They're a nightmare to match up with. Now, Butler's 22-0 when they hit 8 or more threes. And they made nine in the first half yesterday. Campbell had 8.
It's a wonderful offense. When you get -- whatever offense you run, when you put four guys out there that can shoot it, it just makes the defense so challenged. And it does spread you out.
So we're going to obviously have to do everything we can to try to take that three ball away. We have defended Butler well in the past. They're better this year than any Butler team I've played. And again, they do a great job defensively. They're fifth in the nation in scoring defense. And they have held 14 opponents down below 55 points. And last year they held us to 42 or 46 or something like that. 44. Okay.
Q. Kind of a two part question, one, Butler often is referred to as a Mid Major, you wonder what goes through your mind when you hear a team that's had the success they had described that way; and then secondly, given the way seniors are sort of a dying breed in the game, when a team like that can put five of them out on the floor at the same time what kind of advantage does that give them?
COACH PEARL: They got five seniors, they got guys in grad school, they have doctors on there. It's just an amazing collection of experience.
I love the Mid Major tag. I was proud of the Mid Major tag when I was a Mid Major. Because it separated you a little bit from the if you want to call them high majors or the BCS conferences and that didn't mean we couldn't play with them, and certainly I think the way Butler's built their system, it's built to beat the most talented teams based on what they do, in fact, I would say that what they do works against more traditional size, than it does even in their own league sometimes, where they see smaller players that are able to matchup with what they do better.
So for me, I think it's great that Butler's carrying the banner for the Mid Majors or that Western Kentucky or Siena or all those teams that Davidson, you know, I mean I wouldn't be at Tennessee if I didn't take Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 as a Mid Major the last, I guess that was the last time a 12 seed has advanced to the Sweet 16. There's a chance that one could go this year. So I think we all root for the Mid Majors. And all root for the underdogs at this time of the year. I always do. Not tomorrow, not tomorrow, but I tend to always root for the underdog.
Q. A lot of young coaches early 30's, two here at this site, you were a young coach at one time probably, do they have an advantage in the extra energy, do they have a disadvantage because of the lack of experience?
COACH PEARL: The only advantage they have over me is they might be smarter than I am or they might be better coaches, they maybe were better players. Those young guys don't have any more energy than I do. I promise you.
Q. Talk about how their style might give a high major with a bit more size more problems, but what exactly do you mean?
COACH PEARL: Because of their ball screens and their flare screens and they're exit action, they take advantage of bigs that aren't as mobile. And it's just a very, very difficult, it puts a lot of pressure on your big people to have to get out there and guard that ball screen action. Like American did to us yesterday, when they ball screened us and we hedged, we weren't in a very good position to rebound. And then of course American did a great job going to the boards themselves.
Q. Would the with the game that Chris had yesterday it was definitely off his normal game and with the guard that you're going up against tomorrow, what do you say to him, how do you shake him out of that?
COACH PEARL: The best way for me to shake him out of it is to say nothing to him. Because he, Chris pays very close attention to what you say and if you make too much of it, it can distract him or bother him.
I sent Chris a message today in our walk through by some things that we want to try to do to get him open. And I don't have to say it, really don't need to say anything else other than we'll call on him again, because he's delivered for us all season long.
The only -- I'll take credit for some of that in the sense that I put Chris on Carr a great deal. Chris has become an improved defender. And there are times when I believe that Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith are our two best on the ball defenders. And as a result of doing that, I probably wore him out and he was not able to offensively be able to do what he normally does because of all the effort he had to exert. And so that's a great question, because you're right, now I'm challenged tomorrow by Green and Graves who are certainly going to be as challenging as Carr, you know, what to do about that. So let's just say it's a good challenge.
Q. Tyler Smith was talking about how he play as different role for you guys than he did with Iowa. You have so much, he has so much talent around him here he just let's the game come to him. But sometimes would you prefer that he takes charge more and tries to trust maybe force isn't the right word, but take charge and do more?
COACH PEARL: Yeah, like for example the last possession of the first half Tyler came off a down screen and he had an open look, but it wasn't a great look. And even though the clock was running down and it was probably going to be a last shot, maybe a rebound situation, could have been an offensive rebound, he turned it down and handed one off to JaJuan who got a bad shot. And so there was an example of Tyler being unselfish, but at the same time maybe not aggressive enough for his own stuff.
When you lead your team in field goal percentage and you lead your team in assists, it becomes a challenge for you because we rely on him to get guys the ball. And at the same time we have tried to put the ball in his hands in certain situations to go win us basketball games. And he has.
I just think he's a great teammate. He is a great teammate. And he doesn't put himself in position to fail very often. If he doesn't have a good look, he's going to get somebody else the ball. Part of the evolution of Tyler Smith this year was him doing just setting his teammates up completely in the early portion of the season and then finding ways himself to score. I will tell you this: That as the tournament goes on and here we are, you know, in a situation where we're playing against a terrific team, your best players have got to step up and make plays. Because everybody is challenged. Everybody's challenged. So Tyler is going to have to probably do even more against Butler than he did against American.
Q. You tried J.P. Prince at point guard yesterday, how do you feel that worked out? Do you think he'll play a lot more there tomorrow?
COACH PEARL: I'm planning on playing J.P. at point. 40 minutes for Ramar and Jordan, that's just too many minutes. They have not played well enough at the position to warrant the minutes. And I tried Jordan in the first half with J.P. and I tried Ramar in the second half with J.P., and it's an interesting time of the year to be doing it, I did it in the Kentucky game as well, it didn't get as much notice, but I did play J.P. at point guard in the Kentucky game. I went back to Jordan at the Florida game and Jordan delivered and made some big shots. But Jordan's 4-40 in his last 40 threes and they're good look, Jordan is getting great looks. But you got to make them. Not just take them. So we're going to -- my job is also to get the best players on the floor. And while J.P. he only had one assist and three turnovers, he made some plays defensively, he took some charges, he actually had a couple of other balls that could have counted as assists, but somebody may have put the ball down on the floor. So getting my best players on the floor is really why J.P.'s playing some at the point. And I'm hoping that it was the right decision.
Q. From having studied Butler, what do you anticipate they do, will do defensively against Chris and who do you think would guard him?
COACH PEARL: Butler has got a great team defensive philosophy and Graves will probably take Chris, but he'll have a lot of help. Because they have got great help principles.
We have seen them before, Green tends to matchup with point guards and Graves tends to matchup with shooting guards. And that's how I think they will go.
They will jump out on Chris and make him put the ball on the floor and then have a lot of help in there behind the ball pressure. Any kind of ball screen they will probably switch it or hedge it and recover. But Chris won't come off a hand off or a ball screen without a hand in his face.
The difference is Butler just won't extend much beyond the 3-point line. They're going to build a wall one step beyond the 3-point line and make it difficult for you to penetrate.
THE MODERATOR: Okay thank you, coach.
COACH PEARL: Thank you.
End of FastScripts