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March 22, 2008

Tom Izzo

Kalin Lucas

Drew Neitzel

Goran Suton

Travis Walton


THE MODERATOR: Congratulations to Michigan State. Coach, if you just want to begin with some general thoughts on the game.
COACH IZZO: Well, it was a tough game. I mean, a tough game. It's a very good Pittsburgh team. I thought we got in a little foul trouble with Raymar. I thought our bigs battled. These guys just did an unbelievable job of preparation. Travis with his defense, and Drew shooting the ball, Kalin directing, and G had a little in there, too.
The preparation these guys did in two days was as good as any team I've been with. I'm really proud of them. Yet we beat a very, very good team.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach. We'll take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Drew, could you talk about the difficulty of getting your shot off with the way Pittsburgh was playing tonight.
DREW NEITZEL: They're a great defensive team. We knew that coming in. Two great defensive teams out there battling. I just wanted to stay patient. I got some open looks in the first half and knocked them down. Coming out the second half, they really tightened up on me, really contested my shots. Didn't get a lot of good looks until, you know, the end there where I hit a few in a row.
But you got to give them credit. They were trailing me hard. They did a great job.

Q. You held Pittsburgh without a field goal for 9 minutes and 39 seconds. Talk about what kind of went on with that.
TRAVIS WALTON: Our coaches do a great job of preparing us for every team. We had a great scouting report, two-day preparation we had and our team did a great job, you know, sacking in on the gas. They couldn't drive on us. Our bigs did an unbelievable drive of changing our pick-and-roll defense, as far as feathering instead of stepping up how we usually do. Just an unbelievable job from the coaches and from the team, our team effort.

Q. Goran, in the second half when you got that 10-point lead, looked like you stepped it up a bit. Talk about what your mindset was there. Yesterday your coach wondered about his own team's toughness. Talk about whether you had any question about it.
GORAN SUTON: We knew that Pittsburgh was a great offensive rebounding team. At the same time they had a mismatch on me with Sam Young. On the other side, I had a mismatch on the offensive end, too. I took advantage of it. I think the guys did a great job of finding me down low, feeding me. I just did a good job of executing.

Q. Drew, I guess earlier this year you've had the rap of being a little tentative with your jumper. Talk about letting it fly late in the game.
DREW NEITZEL: Yeah, I just wanted to be aggressive. That's what this team needs from me. Coach has been preaching that. My teammates have been telling me that. They've been giving me the confidence to keep shooting whether they're falling or not falling, just to stay aggressive.
This is it. This is my last run. So I don't want to have any regrets. I just want to go out there and be aggressive and play the game the way I have my whole life. And that's aggressive, take shots. When shots aren't falling, my teammates, they have my back and continue to encourage me to keep shooting.

Q. Kalin, how important was it for you to get your shot going? Talk about the play at the end rushing the length of the court to get that last layup.
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, I think in the first half, you know, I think they was denying Drew a little bit. My teammates were finding me for open shots, I was curling where I was trying to come off screens. My teammates were finding me.
As far as the second half, when I went coast-to-coast, my coach just tell me when I get the ball to push it, so that's what I did. I just pushed the ball up the floor. I seen an open lane to the basket.

Q. When Drew made those three shots back to back to back at the end of the game, even though he was slumping, do you still look to him as your leader?
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, you know, Drew is a big-time shot guy. He came through for us last year. He came through for us this year. No matter if he misses his shots, he gonna find a way to step up for us, if it's giving the pass to a big or a guard. Today he stepped up and knocked down shots for us that was big time.
A big-time player gonna step up in big-time moments. He's showing that he's a big-time player and stepped up in a big-time moment for us.

Q. How satisfying is this victory a week after the disappointment of Wisconsin?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, this is a great victory for - Pittsburgh as far as up talking about how tough they are and how tough we are. We kind of similar. The question is, could we be as physical as them or who's gonna win that type of game.
We did a great job. We won the rebounding game plus 11, that's a credit to our bigs and guards getting rebounds. Our coaches did a great job of preparing us. It's satisfying to our team, you know, to get to the Sweet-16. But playing a game like Pittsburgh in doing a great job that we did in the one-day prep.
DREW NEITZEL: Like Travis said, there have been questions this year about the toughness of this team, you know, how physical we can be. I think Pittsburgh is, you know, one of the most physical teams in the country with their big guys inside, Fields is a very physical point guard, uses his body very well. We did a great job of matching their physical play. We stayed aggressive. We didn't back down. I think that's what we needed.
Everybody bought into what the coaching staff was telling us in the preparation. We went out there and executed.

Q. Drew, talk about what was going through your head when you got the ball by your bench? You had missed about seven out of ten. That's when you kind of took over.
DREW NEITZEL: To be honest, I just stepped in and knocked it down. You know, throughout the year, I've gone through some ups and downs as fas as my shooting and things like that. You know, I just changed my mindset and have, you know, just been more aggressive. You know, no matter if I miss five, ten shots in a row, that's what I got to do is keep shooting.
My teammates have done a great job of finding me. Naymick made a great pass right in my shot pocket. It was a step-in shot. That's a pretty consistent shot for me.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, congratulations. Thank you.
We'll continue with questions for Coach Izzo.

Q. There was a stretch where Suton hit a jumper, making moves in the pivot. It works out. Are you comfortable with all that going on?
COACH IZZO: I really am. You know, I'm very comfortable. I told you, he's got great offensive skills. We just got to keep him playing at a consistent level. Because he's got post moves, he can shoot a 15, 16-foot shot. He's a great passer.
You know, I'm not going to lie to you. I just need a little more energy, you know. I'm going to keep searching for it until I get it or he's gone. He's making progress. Did some good things tonight. I mean, real good things. I was proud of him tonight because that was the most physical inside team we've played, no question about it. Very well-coached, too.
He had to do a helluva job and he did a helluva job.

Q. Yesterday a couple things you said sort of made us wonder if you had questions about your team's toughness. Did you and how were they answered tonight?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, yeah, you know, I have. I've been pretty honest with the media about that. You know, I just -- remember, you're talking to a guy who coached some guys that were maybe as tough a team as there's been in the last 20 years, if you ask me, as far as physically and mentally tough.
And, so, I think it's one of the reasons, you know, that we had some upsets and things like that. We really talked about it a lot last night and yesterday afternoon and showed film. We showed rebounding films of them. My staff did an incredible job, you know. I can't tell you how good my staff was. They were just unbelievable. We got a lot of things done in these 20-minute sessions we have. I'd have to say that, as they said, we showed you, Coach. I'm going to love that for tonight and then I'm going to tell them to show me again next weekend.

Q. You said one of the areas of improvement you needed was from your bigs. Did you think you got that tonight?
COACH IZZO: I did. I thought D even did a good job. Naymeck did a great job. He's had two good games in a row. I said before the game, I said yesterday to the media, you know, the dribble penetration, of all things, I mean, that's a 60 some percent free-throw shooting team. Give them credit. They went in there and knocked down free throw after free throw after free throw. We started feathering on ball screens, we felt we couldn't give up that penetration, Fields is so good. We did a decent job of that.
Our bigs helped and got back, yet Blair is a load in there, still made some big plays. But I thought all in all we did a pretty good job on him.

Q. Tom, what was the game plan against Sam Young? Was it just a night where he didn't shoot well or were you doing something defensively to frustrate him?
COACH IZZO: To be honest, we had a little bigger guy on him that was a little slower. He started driving us in the second half.
I don't think so. I think he missed some shots, to be honest with you. He's really a good player. He's one of the best forwards we've played against. We try to -- we couldn't put six eyes on him, but we put about four and a half. We tried every time he got the ball to just kind of sag some guys in there because we knew we couldn't cover him one-on-one. What really hurt us is Morgan getting in foul trouble. He played five minutes the first half and, I don't know, if he even played 20 for the game. 'Cause that was the matchup we thought we could use a little bit. At least they're similar in athleticism.
We couldn't do that. So I think it was a combination of Suton, of our guards helping. But I don't think he had a great night. I think he's a great player that maybe missed some shots that I've seen on film he's really made.

Q. You talked after Thursday's game about how happy you were to have the rest of team step up when Neitzel was perhaps a little off. How happy are you to have him do what he did tonight?
COACH IZZO: I'm happy for our team 'cause I've said all along, even back in December, you know, when he had a couple games, don't kid yourself, we need him. He's our guy. He's the guy that we have to have making shots.
But I was really happy for him because it's been a little bit of a tougher year, you know, with everybody on him, with everybody defending him well. For him to respond like he has the last two and a half weeks, three weeks, is awesome.
So I'm happy for our team, but I'm really happy for Drew. It's an example of guys that work hard, good things will happen. He's the all-American boy that good things are happening, at least so far.

Q. Drew seemed to say that he struggled with his confidence, aggressiveness. Did you still have confidence in him? Did you like the fact he took those three shots at the end?
COACH IZZO: I love the fact he took those three shots. Everybody condemns me for being hard on my players. I've been hard on Drew, I can promise you that, but for the opposite reasons most people think. He's passed up shots in my mind all year long. The last couple weeks he hasn't passed up any shots. He's got to shoot it. Those guys are starting to learn to get him the ball in the right spot. I'm telling you, if he's open, he can knock 'em down.
We're still going to go as far as he takes us. It's great to have Kalin getting better, growing every day. We still have to get Raymar in the thick of things, keep him out of foul trouble. But Drew Neitzel made some big-time plays tonight.

Q. Can you comment on ID?
COACH IZZO: I think he did a great job. For a kid who hasn't played maybe two minutes in a month, we've used him, we've gotten a chance to play against some bigger guys. ID, you know, he's starting to use his size. He got some rebounds. Still misses a shot here and there. But I thought his size, his length maybe bothered them a little bit. And he's physical. So he's not afraid of getting banged. Strong kid. Another kid you got to be happy for 'cause he's just an incredible guy.

Q. Looked like you were emotional again after that win. How emotional has this week been for you when you think about a week ago how tough that loss was? What does this mean for your program to have a seventh Sweet-16 in 11 years?
COACH IZZO: Well, I'm jacked. I'm jacked for the guys. As I said, when you push guys so hard, sometimes you kind of feel sorry for them. Thank God I didn't let that get to me too much because this is what it takes, you know. I mean, the sessions we had, again, and I told my guys today before we left the hotel, I was proud of them for hanging in there with me because it was drive, drive, drive, drive, drive. In fact, the last second, we even went over the missed free throw again in our film room. Sure enough, they just didn't miss any. You got to give Pittsburgh a lot of credit. They didn't miss any free throws. We thought that was going to be an important part of the game.
I just thought they trusted what we said. We told them to be back at 9:00, they're back. Be back at 10:00, they're back. Be there early in the morning. They're there. They're a little driven, and that's exciting to see.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

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