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March 29, 2009

Tom Izzo

Kalin Lucas

Goran Suton

Travis Walton


Michigan State – 64
Louisville - 52

BILL BENNER: We are joined by Michigan State University coach and student-athletes. We will begin with an opening comment from Coach Izzo.
COACH IZZO: Well, I'm really proud of these guys. We looked at Louisville on film, and that is a great basketball team. They did not play as well today. I think we had something to do with it, but not total. That's the way basketball goes.
I think they've had an incredible year. But I said to our media that, you know, we still have a ceiling to get better. I said that for about a month now because of our injuries. I still think we have a ceiling to get better. I feel a lot like Jay Wright said the other night: we're still making some improvements. Thought our defense was great today. We didn't really rebound as well the first half. The second half we rebounded better. I thought the second half we decided to open it up. After using our press breaker, we were going to try to blitz, which means we're just going to get it and go a little bit more. We did that, got a couple of breakaways.
G in the middle was great. These guards did a great job of getting him the ball in there. That's where we felt we could get it. He operated in there. It was just as big a win as our school has had because we're going to Detroit. That's been a dream and a goal since the day they announced where the Final Four was in 2009.
BILL BENNER: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Tom, the critics said the Big-10 couldn't compete against the Big East and especially Michigan State could not take down Louisville. What do you say to those critics?
COACH IZZO: You don't think I'm going to sit here and rip 'em, do you?
I mean, I understand. I got more class than that. No, you know, I understand the whole thing. You know, Louisville's a very, very good team. Last year everybody said, -- Bobby Knight picked Pittsburgh. I was saying to myself, Me, too. I loved the way they were playing. They played great. Just happened on that day we were able to beat 'em.
I understand that. I must admit, though, we've been fighting all year for some credibility. I don't know if this does it or not, but it was definitely a big start because we beat a very, very good basketball team.
So take nothing from Louisville. They're as good as advertised. On this one day, we were a few points better.

Q. Goran, looking back a few years, in Maui you were crying after not making some shots, triple overtime against Gonzaga, now the MVP. Talk about coming full circle.
GORAN SUTON: I remember the Gonzaga game like it was yesterday. A tough play. Probably one of the games that is going to go down as one of the best games that's ever been played. I could have been a hero that day. I wasn't. I got pushed by my coaches, motivated me. I worked hard. My teammates worked hard to get here.
You know, I think I've done a lot of growing up since that day.

Q. Travis, could you tell us what your emotions were after the game. You were down there on the court. Looked like a pretty intense moment for you.
TRAVIS WALTON: I was thanking God. We pray. I pray. Woke up at 7:00 this morning and prayed and prayed and prayed. He delivered for us. Like I said, we believe in each other. Our coaches did an excellent job. One thing coach does is stick to his promises. He said, You get me through Friday, I'll do my best to get you through Sunday.
My thought was, he had to stay up till 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning. Today we came down, had a great plan. Our walk-throughs, we had different things. Came back with a different plan this morning saying, You know what, we going to do it this way, that way. I know he stuck to his promise, what he was going to give to us. So I was thanking God for blessing me around the man like that who is going to stick to his promises and give our team everything he can give if we give him what we can give. That's what I was basically doing, thanking God.

Q. People were talking about parades in other cities after they won tonight. Nationally you weren't getting respect. Talk about the disrespect factor and how you used that?
KALIN LUCAS: To be honest, we really wasn't worried about that. Our main goal was we was going to come out tonight and we were just going to play tough.
Players play, but tough players win. That was our mindset today, was just to go out and out-tough 'em. That's something we did do today.
GORAN SUTON: I think we did a good job of sticking together, not letting outside distractions, outside media influence us.
We knew we still had a lot of room for improvement. I think those guards did a helluva job of handling the pressure and getting me the ball in the middle.

Q. Goran, when you were growing up in Bosnia, did you even know about the Final Four? What brought you and your family to East Lansing?
GORAN SUTON: I did not know about Final Four until actually I was leaving Bosnia. I think what brought me here is, you know, just the effects of the war, and after-war situation. Everything that's happened back there. We kind of looked for a new beginning, for the opportunity for a better life.

Q. Kalin, is any of this at all surreal for you? You're the next Michigan State point guard to help take this team to the Final Four. You're embracing Magic Johnson on the court, going to Detroit to play a Final Four. Has it all sunk in at all for you?
KALIN LUCAS: To be honest, not yet. You know, right now just, you know, one thing, you know, you know all year, we want to take one game at a time.
But, you know, tonight, you know, our main focus was we got to play a hard 40 minutes. We played for a hard 40 minutes, we did what coach, you know -- what coach and the coaching staff told us to do. We knew we was gonna win this game today.

Q. Travis, you heard it so many times about every senior recruited by Coach Izzo making it to the Final Four. You sidestepped the question, talked about focusing on the games ahead. How much pressure were you feeling to keep that going? How does it feel now?
TRAVIS WALTON: Pressure. Pressure is what Michigan State is about. You know, coach always tells us about his story, two years into his job, he had pressure to deliver. He delivered.
I had pressure. Seniors had pressure. Our underclassmen had pressure to deliver this last class and get 'em to a Final Four, so coach can go on the road, anywhere he go, and recruit the No. 1 player in the nation, to the player that's unknown and say, You know what, I know you watched the Final Four on TV, I know you dream about going there, I know you do. If you come to Michigan State University, we gonna get you into a great academic arena, and the last thing, we gonna get you to a Final Four.
And now he can say that to every person, look them in the eyes and not have to say, There was one player I did not get. He can say, I got every player to a Final Four that gave his all. If you come and work hard for me, do what you're supposed to do, we're going to get you to a Final Four.
Thank you, coach, and our coaching staff.

Q. Goran, in regards to the first half, coach seemed like he substituted you in and out, gave you breaks. You excelled in those periods of time you were in. Had one thrown at your feet, got it off the glass for a field goal. Things were going your way. Can you comment about your first half play.
GORAN SUTON: I was a little tentative in the first half, especially the first five minutes. I didn't realize how open I was. I didn't look to shoot the ball. Those Louisville guards kept coming from everywhere.
You know, coach pulled me to the side and told me to shoot the ball or he was going to take me out. I had no choice but shoot the ball. I didn't realize how open I was. The shots were falling down. But, I mean, I think that's the effect of hard work, the shooting we did over the summer.

Q. Kalin, how far is your home from Ford Field?
KALIN LUCAS: It's about 10 minutes.

Q. So this is a home game?
KALIN LUCAS: Yes, it is a home game (smiling).

Q. And the Louisville press never turned you over once. Talk about how you guys handled that.
KALIN LUCAS: Oh, no, first off we already knew they was going to come out. We knew they was going to press us. So, you know, we do have great guards that can dribble and we can handle pressure. So, you know, if it was me or Travis or Korie Lucious, one thing we did do, we handled the pressure well.

Q. Kalin, your coaches talked about this. As a Detroit guy, what does today and next week mean, not just to you but the city and state, in light of everything that's happened there?
KALIN LUCAS: Man, you know what, it's crazy. It means a lot for me. It means a lot for the team, the coaches, coaching staff. You know, it does mean a lot for Detroit. You know, we just gonna come out versus UConn and we gonna play 'em aggressive because, you know, they are a great team.

Q. Kalin, when you banked in that three, did you call it? Was there any sentiment of, I think things are going our way? You looked at the Louisville side, they were like, What's not dropping for them right now?
KALIN LUCAS: No. You know what, I didn't call it.
COACH IZZO: Thanks for being honest (laughter).
KALIN LUCAS: To be honest, I didn't call it. Earl Clark is very long. When I did shoot the ball, you know, he's real long. That's all I try to do, is just throw it up there. You know, it went in. God was with me on that shot.

Q. Travis, what are some of the things specifically that you were able to do to beat the press, take apart their zone?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, first off Louisville is a great basketball team, maybe one of the best defensive pressure teams in the country. So, you know, it was tough to kind of see, you know, watching over the games and seeing how they, you know, kind of dictated the game. Also seeing how they kind of blitzed teams in the second half. Our coach was saying it was more of a man-to-man more than a zone press, even though it looked like a 2-2-1, it was more man-to-man. We decided to put the ball in our best player's hand and bring the ball up against the pressure. If things not going right, put the ball in my hands or one of our other good guard's hands. We can all kind of dribble the basketball.
So the coaching staff was kind of confident, you know, and making kind of good decisions, you know, taking care of the basketball.

Q. Travis, talk about another Detroiter, Durrell Summers. Those of us that have been in practice, he stays a long time, practices. Talk about Durrell, what he meant today?
TRAVIS WALTON: Durrell grew up today. He became a man. He did something in our huddle today that was bigger than them shots he hit, that was bigger than the defense he played. You know, he showed some emotion. He showed some fire. You know, so today he grew up to be a great player, no matter how he play in the Final Four. He grew up today to be a man.
We showed and coach acknowledged, you know, what he did. He grew up today. What he did for our team today in making those shots was huge. He always step up in big moments. He did it in the Texas game. He did it time after time when Raymar was out. When he was in his little slump, if you call it, it was just a matter of him just keep shooting, you see him after practice shooting, shooting, never giving up on himself, because coach calling plays for him even if he not shooting well. He our shooter and he deliver good today.

Q. Preston Knowles was kind of animated early in the game, getting up in your face. Did you feel Louisville was overconfident or underestimated you, especially how they beat Arizona so bad?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, Louisville played with swagger. They play with confidence. If I was the No. 1 team in the nation, 13-game winning streak, All-Americans on my team, first team all Big East, Earl Clark, lottery pick, top five, top 10 pick, I have that type of swagger and confidence.
They play with emotion. They play with getting the crowd into the game. With him clapping, yelling and screaming, that's how they play. I was not thinking they overconfident, nothing like that. It's just how they play. It's how they enjoy the game. Different people enjoy the game downhill. Some people not vocal. Some people keep a still face. Other people, intense. They are the type of people that are intense. It got us intense also. Got us into it, the crowd into it, the referees into it, got the game going. It was exciting.
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, Travis pretty much said it. He did.

Q. One of Coach Izzo's favorite words for a week or two was fragile when describing you guys. I don't think you can say that any more. But describe how that maybe motivated you into the confident team you have been here in the tournament.
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, no matter how long we gonna be here, coach gonna always say we fragile. That's what coach gonna say because he demand the best, he demand perfect. He want us to be the toughest team, want us to out-rebound every team. If you want to get a to a championship, you got to do those type of things. Our team is fragile in different ways. Maybe to y'all he thinking he saying fragile as far as being tough and stuff like that. But fragile mean a lot of different things.
Today he grew up. We been tougher this whole week. We always been tough on the boards. Maybe fragile is not what you think fragile is.

Q. Kalin, you're going back to Ford Field where, if you remember, several months ago you lost by quite a bit. How eager are you to get back there and leave that city with a better impression?
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, you know, I think everybody know, you know, three months ago when we played there, we lost to North Carolina. You know, it was an embarrassment. We did lose like by 30. You know, one thing we told ourself was we told ourself we was going get back there. Right now we are back there, so we just gonna have to come out a game at a time and play hard for that 40 minutes. That's how we did today and that's how we gonna do when we play UConn.

Q. Travis, when you came to Michigan State, your relationship with Tom at times was love/hate. It was certainly not always great. It's grown to almost a father/son relationship. Talk about how you've learned to embrace his fragile comments, getting in your face.
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, I think when somebody love you and when somebody want you to be great and want you to be greater than you think you can be, it's gonna be tough. He gonna be tough on you. If your parents want you to be great, they not just gonna let you do whatever you want to do. They gonna be on you. They gonna make you cry, gonna whip you, do at although of different things. Coach not whipping us, but he put me at the end of the bench one time when I was a freshman, not starting some games, doing a lot of different things.
But I think, like you said, it grown to be love. Even though I get frustrated with him sometimes, he get frustrated with me, I think at the end of the day, whenever we done going at each other, I apologize to him or he may be like, You know what, you was right, Travis. I think that's kind of the relationship that we grown into, respect each other for what we want to get. He wants to get as much as I want to get. He probably want more for me than I want for myself. I love him. I'm pretty sure he love me the same. We're going to hopefully continue to ride each other and ride this team and everything else.
BILL BENNER: We'll continue with questions for Coach Izzo.

Q. Can you talk about a couple of the young guys, Korie Lucius, Draymond Green, the trust you've developed to play them in key situations.
COACH IZZO: Well, I really do trust my young guys. The reason I trust 'em is they've been through the wars every day. Our practices get pretty intense because we have a variety of good players. Whenever you have competition in practice, Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton can put some pressure on you.
Korie Lucious has to go through that every day. One thing we did about, I don't know, December, once we got kind of our team back, we moved Korie Lucious and Draymond Green to the scout team. They just weren't getting enough reps in. They made our scout team better. They got better. There was some convincing for them to accept that, like it was a demotion. Really I was looking at it like it was an opportunity to get better. And they embraced it. They've gotten better. And I thought today, you know, definitely Draymond is making giant strides and Korie has made some. It's not like Delvon hasn't. We just got to get Delvon through this little bit of wall he's hitting. If you went through what Delvon Roe went through for the last year and five months, you'd hit a brick wall for all the things he's gone through.
I'm proud of all three of 'em. As one of my assistants says, you know, I love our freshmen. My equipment man says that. My trainer. They get a little immature once in a while, but all in all they're great guys. They go to class. They do their job. They want to be players.

Q. What maybe you saw on film that made you believe or realize you could exploit the high top of that zone that Louisville has and their success doing that?
COACH IZZO: Well, the way they extend it. We played against Syracuse's zone a few years ago when Carmelo was there. We kind of ran some similar things. So I guess experience helped me a little bit.
But the way they extended, there were some openings in there. G was right. I didn't pull him out for any other reason to ask him what the hell he was doing in that five minutes. He was getting the ball, turning, catapulting it towards the basket. You know, we talked all night that we thought there was going to be some shots there.
Once he settled down, he wasn't good there, he was awesome, he was great. At the same time, Kalin did a good job of getting it to him and then spacing out a little bit. One thing we're trying to do a better job of is spacing. We thought if we get the ball moving a little bit, because it's hard to pass in against them, they're very long and athletic, so we had some kick-outs that were a little bit better. I think those two things helped us when we got it in the middle.

Q. You've said that experience at the Palace when you played Syracuse and Iowa State was one of the greatest moments of your career because you felt like you took over the state. Do you have any idea or can you anticipate what this experience is gonna be like this week, getting in Ford Field? Mark Hollis, your friend, is talking about having thousands of States' fans filling up the whole area. What is that going to be like for you?
COACH IZZO: It will be a proud moment. When I took this job and dreamed about where I could take the program, where we could take it, it's these kind of things, it's these kind of events. Winning games is not as exciting for me any more. It's nice to win games, but I'm not breaking anybody's record. The guys with 800, 900, this he can rest assured, I ain't coming after them.
At the same time I enjoy playing for championships. I enjoy playing late in March. As I said to you guys last week, I enjoy finishing practice and the sun's still shining. That means you're playing at the right time of year.
In Detroit, let's face it, every state's been hit this year. It's been a tough time. But ours has been hit maybe as hard as anybody's. I'm just hoping we're a silver lining in what's been a little bit of a cloudy year for us. I'm hoping that we're the sunshine, I'm hoping we're something to embrace, be involved with, and I hope they all support us because, you know, I haven't even had time to think about UConn. But they got a guy that is fairly big and does a pretty good job, and a coach that's fairly ornery and does a pretty good job. So it should be one helluva game.

Q. Yesterday you were talking about wanting to do a lot of things with the program, bringing it to the elite levels of the Carolinas and Dukes. What does a win like this do to perpetuate that goal?
COACH IZZO: I think, you know, the more Final Fours you go to, the more Elite 8s, the more you're playing from Sweet 16 on says something about your program. And consistency, I think, is what everybody looks for. If you can consistently do it. I've said it a million times, I still do believe it. Kansas might have outplayed us the other night for most of that game. You have to be a little lucky and you have to be good enough. But if you're not there, you can't be lucky. So you've got to be around it.
Consistency doesn't mean you're going somewhere every year, you're winning a conference championship every year, but it means you're in the fight. You got to be in the fight. You know, we still got a long ways to go when you look at those programs. You look at Kansas. You look at Kentucky. They've done it for a lot more years.
But, you know, when I saw Irvin, when he flew over here, he was coming on Friday, business reasons, didn't get there. I told him, Just hang tight out there, see if we can make it through. No, no, he flew here.
I think that's what we're trying to grow here. When I get calls from guys from Europe that are playing over there that are sitting up in their sling box watching this thing at 4 in the morning. Those things are important. When you get a chance, and maybe the last step is when you get a chance for your state to embrace you, and you embrace them, those are how you grow tradition and you make legends, and that's what I'm looking to do.

Q. What were you going through at the end of this game? You mentioned Irvin, embracing him, seeing your parents. Talk about your emotions in the wake of this victory.
COACH IZZO: Well, I swear to you, I couldn't believe with two minutes left, I kind of said, God, we can't lose now, can we? Then that little devil that pops up on your shoulder said, Yeah, you still can. So I just kind of hung in there.
But I did take a glimpse back about 30 seconds left. When you see your family there, my wife and two kids, and my sister, my parents. You know, when I see Earvin with his dad, and so many other fans that drove down. That's a special time. I mean, it's what you hope to do. You impact somebody else's life. You give them a reason to feel good.
You know, a lot of people don't want to be role models. I'm not one of 'em. I want to be that guy. I want my team to be that person. I want everybody in East Lansing to feel good about us. And I want people around the country to say, You know what, that team played hard, they didn't talk it, they walked it. So I thought about those things as I was standing up there on that stage, looking out at the unbelievable facility. It was special.

Q. Travis alluded to the fact that you came up with a new game plan like this morning. How significant was that? Did you scrap everything?
COACH IZZO: No, I don't scrap -- I scrap a lot of things, but I didn't scrap the whole game plan.
You know, I did watch film on Louisville last week. I'm pretty honest about that. I didn't watch it as intensely. I found a couple of game films late last night that I thought helped break the press a little easier, a little safer. I just said if we can get through the first five minutes, we knew they were going to come out and play their tail off, try to impose what we do well, just like we were going to try impose what we do well. We just changed it up. We got it into G and back to Kalin and decided that, you know, we're going to still attack it, but we're going to figure out how they play it, what they do. Rick is so good at changing things, making adjustments.
Then the second half we said, we're going to blitz it a little bit, we're going to try to get the ball out quicker now and maybe they won't be as prepared. We got a couple long layup and dunk, a quick three there that one time that was big. So that was the only adjustments. We just made a couple tweaks. I mean, it was nothing that anybody's going to care about, to be honest with you.

Q. Korie hit a big three. Good substitutions helped in the first half. You talk about the first five minutes of the second half. Travis talked about the crowd getting into it. Your thoughts going through your mind if that first five minutes and what did you talk to your team about?
COACH IZZO: You know, I was disappointed in the way we came out, if you want the truth. One of the guys I told that to was Summers. There's nothing greater. Travis maybe alluded to it, but there's nothing greater for a coach, as is for a parent, when you demand something of somebody and they respond. You know, as he said, you grow up. You can call it whatever you want. That's what I give this team credit for. Am I as tough on 'em as they say? No. It's not at all like you really think or like they sometimes want to think.
Do I hold them accountable? Yes. We weren't very accountable. We were supposed to run some stuff right off the bat. We didn't run it. We gathered our thoughts, gathered ourselves. The timeout was right. Then we got our stuff together. I thought we played pretty good from then on.

Q. All year in practice from early on until now, even when you weren't playing practice teams, you would play five on nine, five on ten, is that maybe why you are successful at tournament time, because you practice for everything during the season?
COACH IZZO: Funny you say that. Tom Crean came over to my hotel last night and he said, Did you practice five against seven? I said, Yeah, we did, but it was a little harder because it was right after that game and getting back at 1 in the morning.
You're right, we've done it all year long. When you play a team like Louisville, you better be practicing more than five or seven. They're so athletic. Those guards play so hard. Then they've got length behind. Rick, he coaches and teaches the things he does as well as anybody in the country. So, you know, we feel fortunate. We hit some shots. The press gave us some trouble. We didn't turn it over a lot. We made some lucky shots. They missed some. That's what I told my team was going to come down to. On this given day, we did that.
Do I think we're better than Louisville? Not really. I think Louisville's awfully good. If I look at all the teams we played, I mean, they're every bit as good. Did they play as good today? No. I'm sure he feels that way. I'm sure we had a little bit to do with it.
But, you know, you just have those days, like we've had those days.

Q. Could you imagine winning this game by double figures with no points from Raymar Morgan? Did you feel like the Summers shots he hit kind of changed the game, opened the game up for you?
COACH IZZO: I really did. We hadn't been making some shots. We hadn't been shooting so well. I told you before the first game, if Raymar Morgan doesn't play well, we're probably not going to win. That probably shows you how dumb I am. He didn't have a great game. I'll give him credit, though. He didn't like the mask, he pulled it off. He has a definite break in his nose. I think that tells you a little bit. Yet we need Ray more still. He's still got a lot to give. That's why we were good, though. We got a lot of different people that can step up. Today we had a couple that did. Chris Allen was one of them, too, in a lot of ways.

Q. You said earlier you wanted to impose what you do well early. I'm sure you saw the stat sheet at halftime, two offensive rebounds, 14 missed shots. If my math is right, you missed 14 shots in the second half, 11 offensive rebounds in the second half. Did you go to that at halftime? Did you see a different effort?
COACH IZZO: You know I went to it at halftime. That was an easy one to just get all over them about because that's a related thing that Louisville probably went in and said, We're not going to let them do this. To their credit, they didn't.
In the second half, I thought we got our guards more involved with some of those rebounds and Day Day did a great job in getting some and G did too. They weren't all clean rebounds. We knocked a couple loose. G came up with baskets or free throws like that. I think Summers and Allen deserve some credit for that, too.
A lot of guys helped us win that game. A lot of guys helped us rebound the ball better the second half. But they missed some shots. We didn't miss any. They didn't get as many opportunities. They missed some shots. We got more opportunities. That's a very good rebounding team. Very tough team inside. They run some nice stuff. Boy, that lob in the second half, that gave us fits, that flare screen, really hurt us on that at the end of the first half.

Q. You and G have had a special relationship for a while. What did it mean to see him play the way he did today, MVP? How much of a full circle has he made in this is career here?
COACH IZZO: Well, you'd have to follow us a lot to know he's made a complete circle, a full 360, plus 360, so it's a 720. Changed his body. Changed his demeanor. Changed his shot. He's always had a great mind and a great understanding of the game.
But he has worked hard. He's still starting to fall in love with the game. Hopefully he's got some basketball left in him, not only for this year but beyond. If he does, he's still got to keep working at it. But I'm so proud of him and Travis. To be honest with you, Marquise Gray did an incredible job on the bench telling me stuff, ID. Those seniors all came through in different ways.

Q. As you've come to know Goran over the years, having brought him in, what are some of the things you've learned about Bosnia, about his upbringing, some of the stuff his family had to deal with?
COACH IZZO: All he tells me about Bosnia were the bombs that were dropping.
You know, I have a great appreciation for kids that have gone through a lot because I think in saying that, when I'm trying to make basketball life and death, they kind of teach me a lesson more than teach them one. They've already seen life and death.
Goran I think is a little more laid back than I'd like him to be, but at the same time he's been through a lot and understands what real trauma is, what really is important in life. So I've learned a little bit from him.
So as all coaches do, we teach, we learn, and we move on. I'll be a better coach having coached Goran Suton. Hopefully he'll be a little better player having me for his coach. It will be a heck of a deal.
So all in all, I guess I'll close by saying, you know, we're ecstatic. We're ecstatic with the win. But we to feel fortunate. That is a good basketball team that did not have one of their better games. If you watch them on film, they're incredible. I appreciate Rick and the way he handled it after. He was great. I hope their players go on and do good things and I hope we have luck next week in Detroit. Thank you.

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