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March 16, 2011

Jio Fontan

Kevin O'Neill

Nikola Vucevic


VCU – 59
USC - 46

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by USC coach Kevin O'Neill and student-athletes Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH O'NEILL: That obviously didn't end the year the way we wanted it to. I want to credit VCU. They played a great game. They more than proved they belong in the NCAA Tournament.
And we just didn't play well. We never got any rhythm. We had 15 turnovers. Shooting 39 percent for the game. We never really got on track.
And defensively we weren't great like we usually -- we needed to be great, great tonight. And we weren't.
I do want to say this: I'm really proud of my team. We have endured many, many things over two years of sanctions and guys being ineligible, guys being hurt, guys leaving, guys graduating, losing four out of six guys from -- and 70 percent of our scoring from a 16-win team last season. Jio not being able to play ten games.
All those things these guys have endured and they have played hard and got us to the NCAA Tournament under circumstances that are almost impossible to do that.
I'm really proud of our team. I want to thank our seniors who did such a courageous job over the course of the year. When it looked like our season was dead in the water, these guys came back and played hard and did their job. It's unfortunate we didn't play well tonight in the tournament. But we did get to the tournament, which says a lot about our team and a lot about our future.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Nik, obviously you guys talked a lot about it leading up to this game, the plan was to try to get the ball to you often and run the offense through you. Why didn't that work out like you guys hoped?
NIKOLA VUCEVIC: They did a good job on defense. They took me out of the game. They had a guy on me the whole time. And they didn't let me get in my comfort zone and try to make plays. And they just did a great job of getting me out of the game.
And it was tough for me to get in a rhythm on offense. And you gotta give them credit for that.

Q. Nik, you guys have talked about it a little bit before that this was a style that you thought might give you trouble just because of they're so deep and they can fly a lot of 3s and stuff like that. Coming in when they started getting going in the second half and hit some 3s and you were losing players left and right to foul trouble, did things start looking bleak there considering your guys' lack of depth and whatnot?
NIKOLA VUCEVIC: What was the question?

Q. When they started to make the run in the second half with their style and hitting some 3s, did things start to seem bleak, your guys' lack of players and your losing to foul trouble?
NIKOLA VUCEVIC: They got on a good run in the second half. We didn't respond well. Then we got into foul trouble. We didn't have players that could come in and sub those guys.
But, I mean, they just did a great job of playing us. They scouted us real well. They knew most of our plays. They did a great job on both ends of the court. You gotta give them credit for it.

Q. Jio, why do you think you guys lost tonight? And what kind of emotions are you feeling right now? Is it frustration, disappointment?
JIO FONTAN: They came out and they performed like they wanted it more. They got on a couple more loose balls than we did. The pace of the game was more in their favor than it was in ours.
And it's just unfortunate. We came out, things didn't fall our way. Shots didn't fall our way. We didn't control the pace like we wanted to.
And they're a great team. They've got a great coach. Their style of play coming in, subbing a lot of guys in and out, worked in their favor today.
And I don't have a good taste in my mouth obviously about this performance, but like Nikola said, I'm glad our team got to bundle up and get here. And just thank the university for the support they gave us, thank our fans for coming out and supporting us, and me, I personally I thank K.O. for this opportunity to play on this team and to lead this team.

Q. Jio, you guys were up 22-19 leading up in the end of the first half, then they had a 3, then they come out and blitz you guys at the start of the second half. First of all, what did you guys talk about at halftime and why weren't you able to execute? Kind of that, coming right out of the break, what did they do to allow them to kind of handle that right out of the break?
JIO FONTAN: I think the first half defensively we did a good job. Holding the team to 22 points, like you said, in the first half, it was a good job.
I think in the second half, you know, the game of basketball is the game of streaks. And unfortunately their streaks are a lot of 3s. Consistent back-to-back 3s. And trading those for 2s like we were, we're a team that scores more in the paint, and giving up back-to-back 3s and not guarding the 3-point line like we should have, myself shooting some shots that weren't within the flow of the offense, that weren't right for the moment in the game, it led to some bad plays and some that I definitely regret and wish I had the moment to take back.

Q. I know you guys have tried not to use this as an excuse, but it looked like from our vantage point anyway that you were tired toward the end of the game. Did you guys feel that fatigue was a factor, either of you?
JIO FONTAN: We had the same -- been playing the same seven guys the whole year. Got here with seven guys. There's no excuse. We've been the same amount of minutes, the same court. It isn't anything different. I think we just didn't get it done today.
It's no excuse to use that we don't have guys coming off the bench. We've been winning with these guys, and they did a great job. I don't think we should take anything away from them and blame it on any negatives we had going on. They played great, and we came up short.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

Q. Jio just said right there that he felt they wanted it more. Did it seem like that at all to you? I know you talked about worrying about whether the guys were maybe too happy to be here considering it was impossible for them to get here last year.
COACH O'NEILL: I don't think they wanted it more. It just comes down to this. If we don't play -- I've said this all year long. We have a very small margin of error. And if we don't play to the best of our abilities and we can't establish Nik on the inside, we have trouble winning.
I mean, that's just the way it is. And on paper we hold them to 33 percent and under 60 points, you think you're going to win that game. But we never offensively got -- we never turned the ball over. And we had two travels early in the game.
We had a ball bounce off a guy's face early in the game. We had a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us. I think part of it is we don't have a ton of guys who have ever played on this stage. Their team played in the NCAA Tournament last year, and they reacted like they had and had experience and we didn't.
I can assure you our guys wanted to win and have wanted to win all year long and have really fought their tails off every single day. I couldn't be more proud of our group. We just didn't have it tonight offensively, in particular, and just didn't get it done.

Q. Your team seemed to struggle getting second-chance shots and baskets, only five offensive rebounds. What adjustments did you try to make in the second half to get some more and why didn't they seem to work out?
COACH O'NEILL: Our adjustment at halftime wasn't -- I liked where we were at halftime. I liked 22-22. I'm cool with that. So the only thing I told our guys is we needed to keep controlling the tempo, which we didn't do, we tried to speed things up a little bit and it really hurt us, and we needed to make sure we were as good defensively in the second half as we were in the first, and we weren't.
You're 44-40 or 44-41, whatever, intentional foul, ball on the side, you've got a chance to make a move, and then from that point on we had a bunch of missed free throws, a bunch of key turnovers.
And offensive -- we don't win games offensive rebounding. We just don't. They outrebounded us because we did not guard rebounds tonight, we did not track the ball down, we did not -- we were a step slow to everything for whatever reasons.
But, again, that's the game of basketball. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. We didn't have it tonight.

Q. Do you think that the lack of depth finally caught up to you a little bit tonight?
COACH O'NEILL: I'll say the same thing Jio said. We've been playing this all year long. This isn't anything new for us for two years. I mean, last year it was seven guys, maybe six and a half. This year it's six and a half, maybe seven.
Maybe the season caught up to us a little bit. Maybe the pressure. I don't know. I just know that I couldn't be more proud of our group of guys. I'm sure they were frustrated. I was frustrated. They were frustrated. Everybody was frustrated.
But, again, I couldn't ask more from a group of guys than I've got. They're first-class guys, give us a first-class effort. They represent the university first-class. And I can assure you they gave they're best tonight. They just didn't have it.

Q. You've been stressing a lot the last couple of days about how important the tempo was and how you wanted to kind of keep it at a slower pace because that's what your team is more comfortable with, so why do you think you weren't able to slow it down? And at times it seemed like you got a bit more erratic and the game was moving a little more quickly than you would have liked it to.
COACH O'NEILL: We had the game at a perfect tempo the first half, but for whatever reason, the first five minutes of the second half we thought we had to try to make plays early in the break and early in possessions and things like that.
And that really I think got us off kilter. And I don't blame our players. I think sometimes players think it's 22-22, I gotta make a play. Well, I don't give a damn if we win 27-26, I'd be comfortable with a 5-4 second half.
I think we kind of tried to do things in -- we meant to do the right thing, but we kind of changed the tempo ourselves, and because of that they were able to take advantage and knock down some open 3s and get us playing a little faster than we wanted to.

Q. You stressed all week that you understood that the players were going to have nerves and as long as you kind of went past it with defense in the start of the game. Why did they keep going? Seemed like even in the second half guys like Donte and when you put Garrett in they were still suffering from nervousness.
COACH O'NEILL: They've never been here before. For lack of a better word, they're virgin NCAA players. They haven't been on this stage. They haven't been out there. It's like anything else, when you do it for the first time, there might be some bumps in the road.
I think experience makes us all better at everything. And we're an NCAA inexperienced group for the most part. This is Jio's first time playing in the tournament. Mo's first time, Garrett's first time. Nik played sparingly. Marcus played sparingly. Donte didn't play in an NCAA Tournament game, Al played in a couple games for North Carolina.
We had a group of guys that for whatever reasons hadn't been in those situations, and as a group we didn't react very well tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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