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March 22, 2009

Tom Izzo

Kalin Lucas

Goran Suton

Travis Walton


Michigan State – 74
USC - 69

MODERATOR: We're joined on the dais by Michigan State student-athletes from my far left, Goran Suton, Kalin Lucas, and Travis Walton and Head Coach Tom Izzo. We will begin by taking an opening statement from Coach Izzo followed by statements from the student-athletes.
COACH IZZO: It really is the players' game. And these three guys, they exemplified everything we wanted to do today. G did a heck of a job on Gibson. Travis hit shots and Kalin ran our team and made some big, big plays. Big kick-outs.
And, you know, we got a little shaky at times, but that's because it is a good team. That is a very well coached, a very good basketball team, with a lot of mismatches and a lot of issues and a lot of problems they gave us. And I was amazed by how physical they were.
I think the job on Gibson, and you have to give G a lot of credit, was a big, big factor in the game. But we just had some -- we had foul trouble, too. We had different guys step up.
I feel fortunate to win, but really excited to win, because it was kind of like our Iowa State game where I know Tim wasn't there, but he had built that team with the toughness he did. It's kind of reminiscent of that game, just a war, and I am just proud of these guys. It's their game.
MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kalin, could you tell us what happened on that sequence there at USC's end where Hackett had the ball and then he didn't?
KALIN LUCAS: Hackett, you're talking about -- when what?

Q. The play late in game the where Hackett seemed to be going in for the tying basket and all of a sudden you had the ball in your hands. Run us through that sequence.
KALIN LUCAS: I don't know if it was me or if it was -- I don't know if it was me or if it was one of my teammates that did hit the ball. But, you know, I did come up with the ball. And then after that the next thing you know, you know, we were down on offense. And then after that they fouled one of us.

Q. This is for any of the three. You guys knew that you had the advantage with the depth, and you almost evened the playing field because of your foul troubles as far as your depth. Whenever you guys had to respond, you seemed to respond. What does that say about this team? And what does it say about the fact that you guys had 20 assists to go with those 22 field goals?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, you got to take your hats off to them. Like Coach said, they had a heck of a game plan on us. They had a triangle two and box and one, but they left some of us open and we knocked some shots down. Kalin Lucas but the ball in my hand a couple of times on the money and Chris Allen hit big shots and so did Durrell Summers.
I think our depth paid off in the end. Their players came in and stepped up also. They had some players that came in, No. 5, he came in and made some big plays and stepped up in the absence of Gibson.

Q. Travis, did you go into this game thinking you would reinvent yourself as go-to guy? And how much did it mean to you to kind of carry it when things were getting a little dicey?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, I have to take my hat off to the Player of the Year in our conference, Kalin Lucas. Time after time he put the ball in my hands at the right place, you know. When you are trying to make a shot, especially for me, you want the ball right at your shooting position. And time after time when he was getting pressured and he was coming down, when the clock was ticking, he put the ball in my hands at the right time.
And, you know, I missed a couple shots early and he came up to me and said don't stop shooting the basketball, keep shooting, and I listened to him and they fell through today.

Q. Kalin and Goran, can you talk about, you know, how a guy like Travis can help you keep your poise in a steady game when he's sitting shots like that?
GORAN SUTON: I think of Travis as the engine of this team. Whenever he goes, we go. And whenever he is bringing the energy and he is down and locking up, you know, we were down and locking up. And, you know, he's our leader and we just follow what he says, what he does. And he's great at it. And I think, you know, he can make some big plays and he showed that today.
KALIN LUCAS: I do agree with Suton. Trav played big for us today. One thing we try to do is just create. And we did create it for him. And knocked down some big shots for us.

Q. Travis, you spent so much time yesterday talking about your defense. Is that to throw off USC at all, and to have an offensive game like this in the tournament, how much does that mean to you?
TRAVIS WALTON: I think it's big for what we're trying to get to.
You know, we have a special team here. We always talk about a scouting report for another team can be hard, you know, because you have to prepare for Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers, Korie Lucious, go on and on.
Me as a defensive stopper, like I said, I practiced on my shot and Kalin put the ball in my hands. And I had confidence and I shot them and they went in.

Q. This is for Kalin. So Travis isn't hitting shots early and you go to him and say keep shooting. He's not your go-to scorer typically. Why did you do that?
KALIN LUCAS: He was wide open. He was wide open. So one thing I did was when I did create, you know, he was open. And, you know, he did miss some shots at first, but I just went up to him and told him keep shooting, you know. He kept doing that and he started making shots.

Q. Kalin, when they came out with the triangle and two, you may have been expecting No. 20 to guard you. And did it change your mindset, first of all, as box and one and then triangle two, does it change your mindset as player, do you have to shift into being more of a distributor knowing there will be more of a crowd around you? Did you have to do it differently than any other game of the season?
KALIN LUCAS: Yes, I did. One thing Coach already told me was they was going to run a box and one or was going to run the triangle and two. My main goal, one thing I had to do is get my teammates involved and I think that's what I did as point guard.

Q. Goran, what was your strategy tonight against Taj Gibson? And why do you think you were able to shut him down like you did?
GORAN SUTON: I knew he had the advantage of quickness and speed over me, so I tried to beat him to every spot. Try to be physical inside. Just front, front him using my hips. And, like I said, be physical with him.

Q. Travis, you -- seemed to be playing like you don't want your college career to end anytime soon. Talk about your mindset going into the game and what you felt you had to do and did you even surprise yourself with what you did?
TRAVIS WALTON: Like I said, I didn't want my career to end on the note where I feel I can't give my all or I've not given my all to this team. You know, I feel this team has a lot to grow. We still have a lot of growing to do. So we made big plays. It wasn't just me, it was Kalin and, you know, Draymond Green stepped up for us big-time. He had big rebounds, hit some big free throws for us.
So, you know, I think it was a whole team effort of not wanting our seniors to kind of end a career with this type of game. And also, you know, our seniors not wanting to lose.

Q. Travis, on that note about Da-Da, can you talk about what he and Delvon did at the free-throw line toward the end of the game, the kind of mettle that they showed hitting those shots?
TRAVIS WALTON: It's huge. It's funny because you come into the season and you talk about Day-Day and Delvon, you know, shooting free throws and they are one of the worst free-throw shooters. And you see them in practice hitting free throw after free throw and Delvon getting better every day. And today he stepped up and made some big free throws.
And, you know, Day-Day is one of those type of guys that talks to you and talks a lot of trash. And, you know, toward the end of the game he came up and made big plays and big free throws for us, and that was key.

Q. Travis, can you just talk about the last few minutes, the defense and what you guys were able to do to really, you know, make things tough for those guys?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, it was a great team defensive effort. I think in the first half it was up and down. And the type of game that people thought we couldn't play, and we went away from our defense, was kind of playing bucket for bucket, you score, I score.
I think in the second half, especially toward the end, we had some intense huddles. Coach said all we have to do is make some stops, get some stops. I think at that seven-minute mark, everybody came too the huddle and there was 7:36 left, said we got to make some stops right here.
And I think from there Day-Day came in and made some big rebounds for us, some other players came in and stepped up and made some big defensive stops and we came down and made some big shots, also.

Q. For any of the players, could you talk about the emotion of the last seven or eight minutes of the game? It was anybody's game at that point, and it was obviously back and forth a lot and it looked like there was a lot of tension and emotion out there. Could you talk about what was going through your minds?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, whenever you're playing at this level, trying to get somewhere special that only 16 teams will get to, there is going to be emotion, there is going to be tempers flaring, everything. You see the coaches on the sideline stomping, running up and down, calling the plays, telling you to get back on defense, slow it down on offense.
It just goes with the play. Playing at this type of level, playing for something special. So that last seven minutes it was anybody's game, you know. And they would have made big shots and they had some defensive stops, also. But, like I say, you have to take your hats off to us and our coaches that did a great job of knowing every play call they had. And toward the end I think our depth kind of took care of the game for us.

Q. I'm curious about whether it's the big dance or sandlot; it's a team game, but a lot of conversation goes on about personal matchups. And I am wondering about the center position. Is there anybody in particular you do or don't want to play against?
GORAN SUTON: No. I mean, I don't really care who I play against. You know, I'm up for any challenge. I think Taj Gibson was a challenge. Not just for me, but for all my teammates. And, you know, you have to give credit to them.
But down the road I would like to play the North Carolina game.
MODERATOR: Okay, guys, thank you very much. We're going to excuse the student-athletes back to the locker room. We continue with questions for Coach Izzo.

Q. Tom, like we kind of asked them earlier, the 20 assists with the 22 field goals, which obviously means team play, there was always guys taking different roles. Walton scoring was a defensive specialist, Green doing what he did at the line and getting rebounds, Summers who is not a big rebounder getting you a bunch of rebounds. What does it say about this team where they kind of stepped up in different roles to get this win?
COACH IZZO: Very unselfish. As I look at these stats, and I didn't realize that stat when I was in the locker room, that was incredible. But like Travis said, Kalin, we knew they would put -- we thought they'd put their best defender, who was Simmons, on him, and when they didn't, we almost figured we had planned for a box and one, triangle and two, as they told you.
As I told Travis, it was one of our last meetings, it seemed we had a hundred of them, but he said the last one may have paid off, because that's what we talked about, the triangle two, box and one, and some things we would run against it. And I think we had some things that did work.
And I think he was also right that guys were sharing the ball a lot. We were getting it inside. They collapsed real well. Like I said, they are very well coached, they do a lot of good things. And, yet, we had some kick-outs and some open shots. And we found the open person, and that was big.

Q. Tom, can you remember in your career a player kind of coming out of nowhere to have an offensive performance like that in an NCAA tournament game?
COACH IZZO: It's funny. I told my team the other night I talked to a friend of mine and he said, you know, one play can make the difference in a game and one game can make a difference in a season. And, you know, when I talked to my team all the time now during tournament time, I always try to go over things that have happened.
Because when I talk about Cleaves, I talk about Magic, all the things in the past, some of these guys weren't born then. So when you can get right to the point, and the point I used was the kid from Memphis the other night. He's averaging ten minutes a game and 4.4 points and hits ten 3s, you know, if doesn't hit those, they lose.
And I said that's what the tournament is all about. Somebody has to step up and somebody has to do something they're not capable of doing in some people's minds. And today I thought we had guys that did that.

Q. Can you just talk about, you know, Travis Walton being kind of a glue guy for this team and how important it is to have senior leadership and such a steady game and even game.
COACH IZZO: He is a glue guy. And it was funny as we were walking up the steps I was about to tell him that we weren't guarding as well, and he turned to me and said, Coach, I gave up three shots, that's ridiculous.
It's always prettier when a player can tell a coach, compared to when a coach can tell a player. It goes back to my oldest theory in coaching that a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team.
That's what Travis does. He can see and understand the game. He is tough enough to take some abuse and also tough enough to give some out. And for me, I am the type of guy that I can enjoy that and I enjoy the challenges and he enjoys the challenges.
So I am proud of the fact that he did it, but I am also proud of Kalin for getting the ball. He's back to seven assists, one turnover, and I thought made some great plays.
And, you know, Trav wasn't even saying come to me or this or that, just letting the game come to him. And he was the best in the huddles, as he always is.
And we had some guys, Raymar getting in foul trouble. And I gave G all that credit and find out he is 1-10 and I might take some of that back. But at the same time the job he did on Gibson was unbelievable. But it wasn't done by himself. I thought we sagged pretty well. And, you know, we gave up something. I thought it was a great move by Tim. He puts in -- I can't remember his name now, No. 4, Washington, who is a strong, tough kid. And I think because he thought we were going to be good on the boards, and that kid had a heck of a day, but part of it is because we put a man and a half on Gibson, so it wasn't just G.

Q. Tom, they start the half, the second half 10-2 run and then I believe you have a 10-0 all sophomore run there. Summers three, Allen three, Lucas with a couple boards. How important was that stretch and just to have those three guys all kind of playing off each other at the same time?
COACH IZZO: You know, that's another thing that happened, you know, when have you a player-coached team you kind of listen to them. And, you know, we weren't going to shoot today. A couple of players came to me because Durrell was struggling, as everybody knows, and I think it would be good, we got a half hour of time, from 11:00 to 11:30, and he said I think the guys wants to shoot. I said if the guys want to shoot, I'm all for it. So we came over and shot.
And Durrell and Chris hit some shots, and some key shots in that time. And I think Durrell maybe more than just the shots, the rebounds he got today, and I told him, hey, if you're not making a shot, you know, I can live with it as long as you put the effort in defensively and rebounding. He gets eight boards, and that's a lot of boards for a guard.
I think in some ways, you know, the sophomores grew up a little bit today and understand the intensity of things. And even though the point when Chris kind of didn't come to the ball and travel through it and they picked it off and went down, and I reiterated my statement that one casual play can cost you a game and he responded.
And I think that's all you want as a coach, is the people you coach to respond to what you're telling them and then it's easier to tell them.

Q. Tom, again back to Gibson a little bit. What was the key to being able to control him? Obviously you got him in foul trouble, but was the strategy just to kind of go at him and make him work on the defensive end like you did?
COACH IZZO: Two strategies. Number one, way wanted to go at him, you're right. We wanted to go at him. But they make it difficult, because they're about as good a defensive team in ways that we played against, too. They really swarm the ball well.
But the other thing we wanted to do is get help from other guys. We had Delvon really helping in there. Depending who they had, we went by personnel and who we were sagging off. And I think that speaks voluming of a team, too, that in one day they can get through all of that and figure out who they have to guard, who they don't. They did a great job, USC did, with the out-of-bounds plays, and I thought we handled that pretty well.
I'd say there are a lot of players that deserve credit, but I think there are also some assistant coaches and video guys and managers that deserve a lot of credit. Because for the last 40 hours it was an interesting hotel.

Q. Coach, just looking at Kansas, they got a big guy in the middle that had a triple-double today, 10 blocks. And they have Sherron Collins. Quickly, it seems like a different kind of team that you're going to have to get ready for here and maybe just some early thoughts.
COACH IZZO: Are you into ruining the party or what? Nah, I understand that. We played them, you know, in January. And I don't know if we were as good then, I don't think they were as good then. You know, Bill has done a very good job with his team, too, considering how much he lost.
And there's know question, they have an inside and an outside threat, too. Collins is an incredible guard. And it will be just another wicked day of prepping, you know, for a week. At least it's a team we have played, and we know them a little bit. And we have some film, of course, on them.
So I played against Bill, our teams have since he was at Illinois. Good friends, we're on a board together. And I know it will be a dogfight again. But I'm just so excited to be in Indianapolis and get this team to a Sweet 16 that I don't care who we play. We could play the Celtics for all I care.

Q. Tommy, you did talk about knowing that it's going to take players giving efforts that maybe you didn't expect to succeed in the tournament. That said, were you surprised at all by Travis' shot-making, not just the points, but when he was making those shots?
COACH IZZO: Well, Jud Heathcote would tell you it is all good coaching. But I am not a liar. It is not. I was shocked that he did make some of those shots. And I can just imagine what went through Tim's mind. I can imagine what went through the guys' mind in the Memphis game.
I mean, there are certain times when guys just step up and do heroic things. And, you know, we had a motivational tape today about how to make yourself, make your team legendary, you know. And I always talk about having memory-making moments. And there's no question that of all the players on our team, Travis wants to keep playing probably more than anybody. He's the only recruit in the years that have been here four years that haven't gone a Final Four. And I think that drives him.
But I was surprised. I am sure Tim was. I am sure their players were. I am sure, if you are honest, our players were. Because he really hasn't shot the ball well lately. And the other guys, Durrell especially had a big game. And that's what you have to have, you have to have guys step up. Because we played a team that is -- man, I really like that team. I mean, they have got mismatches all over. And, you know, Gibson, it took an army to keep him off. It wasn't one man. And so we feel very fortunate to win.

Q. At the start of the season there was a lot of high expectations on the team, then came the injuries, then the illnesses, the media started to call this team inconsistent and you yourself called this team fragile. What does it mean to get to the Sweet 16 with this team?
COACH IZZO: All it did is tell you the truth. It was a little inconsistent, it was a little fragile, but I always ended it by I know the reason why. Just that it was hard for all of us and we are still fighting through some things, to be honest with you.
To get this far, to win our league like we did and to get this far in the tournament, because contrary to what you think, as you have seen by teams that are already out, it is not just about being good enough. You have to be good enough, and then you have to play good enough and then sometimes you have to be lucky.
If I look at a day like this with Trav hitting all those shots, maybe we were lucky a little bit, too. And I don't mind saying that. That's just part of what has to happen. I've moved on in this tournament enough to know it is not all on skill, it's definitely not all on coaching. There are so many factors that come together and the harder you work, the more those come together.
But, they still have to come together. And the team we played today, to be honest with you, was as good as any team we played except North Carolina probably. But we were so bad that night I am not even sure how good they were. They were just a lot better than us. But this team could compete with anybody in the whole country. And I was just impressed and happy to be moving on. And thank you all. See you in Indy.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

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