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March 18, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the student-athletes from American. We'll open up the floor for questions.
Q. Garrison, when I'm looking at your stats, freshman, sophomore year not a lot of minutes. What changed other than minutes from your sophomore to your junior season?
GARRISON CARR: Uhm, honestly, just the fact that a lot of players in front of me graduated. But I came in with a different mentality. Instead of trying to be an offensive player on the team, I focused on my defense. Coach Jones is a defensive coach. Once he saw that my overall mentality had changed, that I could be the best defender on the floor, he really appreciated that and it shows in him giving me more minutes.
Q. Brian, talking to Scottie Reynolds, he said he grew up around you, playing AAU ball, really familiar with your game. Is familiarity going to help you at all with these guys?
BRIAN GILMORE: Yeah, perhaps it will a little bit. You know, we've had the ability to watch Villanova on TV all year, just because they're such a good team, playing in the Big East, playing against such great opponents. They had a lot of TV time.
It made us a little bit more familiar with them going into this week's matchup. But more than anything, the scouting material that the coaches have given us, breaking down film, will give us more of an advantage than anything else.
Q. Garrison, you said your mindset changed after your sophomore year. What kind of turned the light on for you? Was there a telltale moment?
GARRISON CARR: Well, basically it was that I tried to just get on the floor with my offense, and defense was secondary, and it took me two years to find out that that wasn't going to work. So I finally just was like, defense is what's going to do it. I had been communicating with coach a lot more over the summer going into my junior year; I mean the defensive part. Also the fact that a lot of people were leaving were the two main reasons I was able to get much more minutes last year.
Q. Brian, coach talked about last year some of you were affected by the spotlight, being there for the first time. Talk about the difference this year going into this game, the approach, whether there is a more settled feeling with this group?
BRIAN GILMORE: Sure. You know, I think a lot of you guys have heard it. Coach Jones mentioned he didn't watch the film from the Tennessee game till about August, which as we all know was a while after the tournament. He was taken aback by how many of us were kind of with a deer in the headlights look. I think it's pretty much true. There were some of our teammates who were just kind of caught by that big atmosphere that we hadn't been in.
This time around I think we're prepared for that. We know this is another big stage. Obviously it's our last go-round as seniors. We can't afford to be taken aback and on our heels like we were last year. We have to be the aggressors from the start. I think now that we know that, we kind of have more of a feel going out onto the court, 18,000, 20,000 fans out there, us being the underdogs, getting the fans from other teams, stuff like, that knowing that will give us more sense of ease out there and let us play our game instead of kind of having our jaws dropped by the awe of the crowd and all that stuff.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the road success you have had this year, how much that might help. Why have you had so much success on the road and how might that help you tomorrow?
GARRISON CARR: Well, in terms of road success, I think a lot of it just has to do with the experience on the team, having seven seniors, and five seniors who start. I mean, we've been here for four years. We played many games on the road over the course of our careers. We really wanted to be road warriors earlier on in the year. That was our motto kind of. Because we knew if we were able to make it this far, once he got to tournament play, in the Patriot League, you might not necessarily have home court advantage. So being able to play well on the road is the sign of a champion. That's the sign of good teams. We were able to do that this year. It was something that coach had emphasized from the start of the season, by putting so many road games in our schedule.
Q. I heard you mentioning about how being the underdog, having other fans behind you, can you recall an NCAA game that you were at or watching where you saw something like that unfolding and you got a rush from it, Yeah, this would be great, UConn is going down?
DERRICK MERCER: I actually don't recall. But last year I know a lot of Alabama fans were kind of rooting for us and hoping that we pulled an upset with Tennessee. I think they had a little thing against Tennessee. So we had a couple Alabama fans rooting for us, which was great.
But I don't recall the last NCAA tournament besides that.
BRIAN GILMORE: I think for us, one of the bigger keys was, you know, watching that Belmont-Duke game the night before. We weren't in the arena. Couldn't really tell who was cheering for who. You got to believe there were a lot of fans in there that weren't Duke fans, that were pulling for Belmont. You know, that being another 15-2 seed, definitely gave us a little energy the night before going into our game.
Q. Could you talk about your matchup against the Villanova guards, what kind of problems you think your quickness can give them.
DERRICK MERCER: I think it's going to be a challenge for both Garrison and I. We usually don't go in and play against players with that type of caliber, like Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds. But I think with our quickness, we could be able to stay in front because those two guards are the type of guards that like to get in the paint, hesitation dribble, just try to make plays for their team. They are also excellent shooters. But I think with our quickness, we'll be able to stay in front and just try to contain 'em.
GARRISON CARR: I agree (smiling).
Q. Derek, who is the tougher coach to play for, Coach Hurley or Coach Jones?
DERRICK MERCER: I really can't answer that question. Both coaches are extremely tough. They both work hard, trying to get you to be the best player you can be. They definitely helped me develop my game.
Q. Garrison, back to Birmingham for a second. When you're within a point, five minutes to go in that game last year, what was the feeling like for you and your teammates?
GARRISON CARR: Well, I think when I remember back at that time, when it was such a close game, the game was almost over, I think me and everyone else on the team had a lot of confidence at that time because we were right there with them for 35 minutes of the game. Everyone was telling us that we were going to get blown out, whatnot. Like Derrick mentioned to you earlier, all the fans were for us, so they were against Tennessee. They were cheering us on. That moment was really great. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. Because Tennessee, being a good team, made a run and were able to get a solid lead and pull it out.
Q. At the moment you just talked about, could you see even a little tension on the Tennessee players' faces?
BRIAN GILMORE: Perhaps a little bit. But, like Garrison said, I think one of the things that make them such a good team is they are poised and they did make that run that we weren't able to sustain. You know, that was kind of the difference between them being a good team and them being a great team.
But at the same rate, I think they were back on their heels a little bit. They probably didn't expect with five minutes left it was going to be such a close game. But, like I said, eventually they made that run and we couldn't withstand it.
GARRISON CARR: Yeah, like Gilmore said, being we were a 15 seed and they were a 2, they probably thought that maybe the first half we'd be able to stick with them. But being it was late in the second half and we were right there, they were actually feeling a little bit nervous from my standpoint, or it might have just been me feeling confident in our abilities to win.
But, I mean, unfortunately we couldn't pull it out and they got the W.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
We're joined by American head coach Jeff Jones. Coach, we're going to ask you to open up with a statement and then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH JONES: Well, we're excited to be back. This never gets old. You know, our team I think is mindful of having had the opportunity a year ago and determined hopefully to go out tomorrow night and compete and play our best basketball.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. You talked the other day about addressing the players concerning the big stage, the setting, how it impacted you last year. I assume you got around to having that talk. Talk about what the players thought about it, their mindset going in this year.
COACH JONES: I guess I don't really know what they thought of it. You know, it wasn't a formal thing, but it was something I wanted to address to make sure that they know it's okay to have some butterflies. But, you know, we came here to not just play a game, but to try to win a game. And I think, in all likelihood, maybe I didn't need to say that. But in light of I think some of the jitters that we saw a year ago, that I should at least make the effort.
I think our guys are focused. If you look at the progression this week in terms of how we've played, how we've practiced, I think it's a building process. And I'm certainly hopeful and expectant that tomorrow we will come out and give it our best shot.
I think we'll be excited to go out and compete against obviously what is an excellent basketball team.
Q. Obviously with your focus so much on the game, I was wondering if have you had a chance to reflect back at all when you came here as a junior and played in the Final Four in Philadelphia back in '81 against Carolina and Al Wood.
COACH JONES: You had to bring up Al Wood's name, didn't you (laughter)?
I didn't think about it that much, until we were driving up 95 yesterday, and you see this big, beautiful place, and you see, sorry, I don't know the name of the baseball stadium - but the baseball stadium and football stadium. You have that tiny little knowledge over there. I mentioned to some of the coaches and players in earshot, In '81, that's where we played the Final Four. That was an exciting time. Unfortunately, Al Wood had a ridiculous game against us, kind of continued what he did during the regular season against us. But that was a great memory, a great experience playing in the Final Four .
Q. I was talking to Garrison a minute ago. He didn't play much his first two years. He said the main reason was he had guys ahead of him. He talked about some things you talked about with him. What changed between his sophomore and junior seasons?
COACH JONES: Well, I think the number one thing is there were a bunch of guys that graduated. He had an opportunity. And up to that time he was splitting time between being a backup point guard behind Derrick Mercer and also playing some minutes as an off guard.
He and I met at the conclusion of his sophomore year and basically agreed that a couple things needed to happen. Number one, he and I needed to have better communication. So he came in two or three times a week. He'd get a box lunch from the cafeteria, come in and have lunch between classes. We'd talk some about basketball, but some about things that had nothing to do with basketball. And we just tried over the course of the summer to continue keeping those open lines of communication.
I think the second thing was that we agreed that he and Derrick Mercer needed to play together. Most times, whether it be in practice or just in pickup games or whatever, those guys played against one another. And he wanted the opportunity. He was smart enough to realize that Derrick was kind of entrenched at that point guard spot. But there were an awful lot of minutes that were going to become available or had become available at the off guard spot. He wanted to see if those two guys could develop some chemistry and become a small but effective back court. And obviously that's exactly what happened.
He's always been an extremely hard worker. But I think that off-season and into the following fall, he worked even harder. I think finally, whether he was excited about it or not, he realized he better work defensively to be able to get a shot, because he hadn't been a particularly good defensive player up to that point. I think he worked to make himself at least a solid defender.
Q. I don't know if there's something you can quantify in terms of actual points, but when you're an underdog as you are, you're going into a game like this, you get to the eight- minutes-to-go mark, you're still in contact, the whole arena gets behind you, can you give us a sense of what that is worth to your team?
COACH JONES: I think there definitely is an advantage. I also believe - and this goes back, I mean, years and years ago when I was an assistant at Virginia in 1984, the year after Ralph Sampson left, we got into the NCAA tournament by the skin of our teeth. We hit a last-second bucket. I think the first-round game was against Iona that, then beat Arkansas maybe. However it happened, we were just kind of barely getting by. But what we realized is the further we went, we just needed to hang in there. The longer you're within striking distance, the more pressure is on the favored team.
Having learned that lesson, and I know Jim Larranaga, when Mason made their run, shared that same philosophy: the longer we're in, whether you're in or staying close, the more pressure there is on that favored team.
Now, having said that, last year we did exactly that against Tennessee, and they proved down the stretch the last 4 minutes and 40 seconds, they proved why they were such a high seed. They made the plays that counted. So you've got to give them credit for it. But I thought our team did a good job. We did all of those things. We battled, we stayed close. We took a big shot from them. They seemingly had -- I think at one point it went to 9, but we came back to cut it to 4 or 5.
The crowd, the other folks there that weren't wearing the Volunteer orange kind of started getting on the underdog's bandwagon. But we weren't able to pull it off because Tennessee, quite honestly, was too good. They made the plays that made the difference.
Q. I wanted to know if you could talk about the guard matchups tomorrow, how your quickness might affect them and how their size might affect you.
COACH JONES: Well, from a quickness standpoint, I think even though they're taller, they're just as quick as we are. I don't know that we necessarily have a quickness advantage in the back court matchups. But I do think that those matchups are going to be key, and we've got to do a really good job I think of defending them and staying in front of their guards, of those guys that penetrate, Fisher and Reynolds especially. But they put the floor on the ball so well from so many different positions, I think for us to have a chance we've got to, as we say, build a wall.
I don't know that it's realistic to think or hope that we can stop a guy like Scottie Reynolds. But we certainly have to make him work for everything he's got. He's just so strong attacking the basket. He scores by driving the ball. But he gets to the free-throw line. He sets up other people. We've really got to do a great job of trying to stay in front. Then they set the ball screens. They're so effective with that because their guards are so good. But if you load up on the ball screens, you load up on the guards, all of a sudden you have Cunningham or Clark or some of those other guys picking and popping, and they're just so effective in that midrange. I mean, Cunningham is just deadly at 16 feet after setting a ball screen and kind of settling in.
Those guard matchups are really, really key. We're going to have to do a great job I think; A, of staying in front and stopping them from attacking the lane, and B, at the offensive end, we've got to take care of the ball. The turnovers for them very often lead to quick points. They're a very aggressive team, and they're looking to make plays defensively just like they look to make plays offensively.
Q. Two years in a row, for a program that had not made it to the NCAA prior to last year, what does that say about the program and what you're building?
COACH JONES: Well, hopefully it says we're making progress. Back in the locker room, we were talking about how we've been so close a number of times and I felt like had accomplished some good things as a program, but we hadn't crossed that one threshold. We were able to do that last season. To be able to get back here again this year hopefully validates that and kind of sets the bar higher for our program.
You know, there's a lot of good things that happen when you're successful. Our goal, our intent, is to make sure that we keep working to keep this thing moving forward. We feel like we've got a great situation, terrific school, terrific location, and a program that is moving forward in a league where we feel like we can be successful.
Q. If you could maybe pinpoint in your opinion what maybe the three overall biggest strengths of your ballclub are.
COACH JONES: I would say number one, probably, we've been able to just be very, very solid defensively. We're not a spectacular defensive team, but I think we've got some guys that understand what we're trying to accomplish, and we do those things collectively.
I think probably the second thing would be the experience that we have, given the seven seniors, just kind of hanging in there. I think that has been a characteristic of this group that when maybe things don't go well, we're not all of a sudden coming apart at the seams.
And then third, probably the ability, certainly at times, to shoot the basketball. If we can shoot the ball well tomorrow -- that's assuming we can get open shots, but if we take care of the ball and get good shots, hopefully we can put the ball in the basket with some regularity.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH JONES: Thank you.
End of FastScripts