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March 26, 2011
Connecticut Â– 65
Arizona - 63
THE MODERATOR: We will now take questions for Connecticut.
COACH CALHOUN: Well, I've been fortunate over 39 years to have a lot of teams do a lot of different things but never could I imagine the team winning 9 games in tournament play in 19 days. Against some, I think, ends up being six, seven ranked teams, the circumstances tonight where we just played two road games and Arizona's fans were wonderful for their own team and certainly San Diego State was.
But these brothers, these -- this unique group of young guys have just given me a thrill beyond compare, Emeka Okafor is in our locker room right now and his team was a powerful, older team and experience and had rolled through, we had one tough game against Duke, but won a national championship and that was special and the first one was obviously very special.
But this is -- our march in the past nine games I haven't experienced anything like this and the resiliency and we've had lulls, we had a couple tonight, we had some lulls and we had some Derrick Williams, too. So I want to congratulate Sean. He's a terrific, terrific coach, and I thought he did a great job with his team.
After Kemba, Derrick might be as good of a player that we've played against, he was hampered by fouls early and came back in the second half and played wonderfully for them.
Our kids have done this, it seems, day after day after day, found answers to win. We were happy when Derrick Williams moved outside. We didn't know all of the sudden that he would make a three, they had one up to that point, they had two back-to-back which hurts us, but we responded exceptionally well and made some plays, and whether it be Napier with steals up to Jeremy, it's almost surreal.
It's not surreal in so much, we are the 9th place team in the Big East, by the way, so I've heard people call us "the big least" the large gentleman that called us that, the 9th place team in the "big least" is now in the Final Four.
I think we came from a very good conference and the kids would reaffirm us, that helped to prepare us, Arizona would be terrific in our league, San Diego State would be terrific in our league, we understand that, but we think we're well prepared, plus I truly believe that this is the most unusual group of kids I've been around, and I've had tremendous groups and tremendous kids, and I'm not saying one is better than the other, but this is the most unusual group of young guys that have.
I don't know where it stands in NCAA postseason play, but it's got to stand somewhere these nine games because I've never seen a team do what these kids have done.
Q. Kemba, two years ago a young guard came off the bench and changed the Missouri game in the regional final and I think you're familiar with that. How much did Jeremy remind you of that guy today?
KEMBA WALKER: He was big-time today! Honestly, we needed everything that he did for us. He did everything perfect, one, he scored the baskets for us. He got big stops. He grew up today. He grew up today.
Q. Kemba, you've been hearing this kind of question a lot over these nine games, but you actually got an extra 10-second break today, they took you out an extra 10 seconds. Did you feel it at all today?
KEMBA WALKER: Did I feel what?
Q. Nine tournament games in 19 days?
KEMBA WALKER: No, I was fine. I was a little out of breath at that point, but I wasn't tired, like, out of the game. I was fine, I just needed a little rest.
Q. Can you briefly describe your mindset when the ball went up against DePaul on March 8th? I know you wanted to be here, but at that point, like Coach said, ninth place in the Big East, what were your expectations at that point?
ALEX ORIAKHI: We played DePaul, and I didn't know what to expect after losing 4 out of 5 and everybody's confidence was down, but we had two great practices before we went off to the Big East tournament and Coach said I'm not going to quilt on you guys, I'm not going to let you quit.
We just got after it, and I think that changed everything. From the Big East tournament we've been playing our hearts out from DePaul to now, and it's been workin' for us and we've been able to win.
JEREMY LAMB: Coming into the Big East tournament one of our problems was energy. Sometimes we would have energy in practice and different stuff we do and then we couldn't carry it over to the game.
When we played DePaul we had a lot of energy, and I know we just -- I just tried to focus on trying to get my energy up. From there I didn't know how far we would go or what exactly would happen but I was just like, you know, let's just play hard and at the end of the day I want to look in the mirror and say "I played my hardest" whether we win or lose, and we've just been playing hard and outworking other teams.
KEMBA WALKER: They said everything, there is not much for me to say.
Q. Kemba, can you just describe what it's like to watch the opponent take two 3-pointers that could win it, and what's the feeling when you hear the buzzer?
KEMBA WALKER: Um, it was scary, honestly, I was nervous. Derrick, he was great the whole second half. His shot went long and somebody tapped it out and then Jamelle found himself open and when it went up, I said it out loud, I said "Game time!"
I thought it was going in, honestly, because he had just hit a big shot and everything was in slow motion. He missed, and MoMo got it. I thought he was going to go up with, too, but the buzzer went off then, and after that I seen my teammates running on the court and I was excited!
Q. Alex, can you take us -- you guys lost to Notre Dame on a Saturday, you had a Sunday morning practice, I believe. Can you just fill us in on what was that like and why that seemed to turn things? What happened during that practice?
ALEX ORIAKHI: Well, that practice was definitely one of the hardest practices I went through. I felt like a freshman again. We went after it, did the little things as far as rebounding and coaches wanted us to get back to playing as hard as we can and that's what we was able to do in the Big East.
It was those two practices that really turned everything around, 'cuz Coach said, "I'm not going to quit on you guys," and I think we bought into that.
Q. Alex and Kemba, they put that run together, and they go up by 3, I know it was a time-out and they made two free-throws to make it 3. At that point they've got the crowd, all that momentum, and just two nights ago they had just blown past Duke. Where does it come from to have that big knock out 10-0 run right after that? Where does that come from?
ALEX ORIAKHI: I think the thing about this team is we never get rattled. They was up 3 and there was a lot of time left, and that's the thing about this team is our poise. When teams make runs, we don't let it get to us because I guess we know we're going to make runs back with Kemba and Jeremy Lamb being able to score the ball the way they're able to.
KEMBA WALKER: He said it right there. Honestly, he scored that basketball great tonight. I wasn't able to get the shots I wanted all the time, so Jeremy stepped up big time. I thought we did a great job of keeping our poise and I was able to get two baskets and Jeremy was just big time.
Q. Jeremy, following up on that, on the 10-0 run you made some baskets and I wondered if you could describe how you were getting open for your shots? And also the play where you stole the pass and went in for the dunk if you thought you guys had it?
JEREMY LAMB: Well, we ran a great play, where I come off two screens and earlier in the game we ran the same play and I had the ball and I ditched it and they didn't finish and Kemba said, "Shoot that floater," and when I got it then I thought about what he said and I was about to dish it, but I shot the floater and I was able to knock it down and we ran the same play.
Our big men was setting great picks and Kemba found me and I knocked down a couple of shots. On the steal he telegraphed the pass and I was able to get in the lane and finish it.
Q. Jeremy one of your assistant coaches said that you're a freshman and you were so great in the sweet 16 game and tonight that he doesn't think you know what you are. Do you know what you are?
JEREMY LAMB: You mean like -- what do you mean? (Chuckles.)
ALEX ORIAKHI: He wants to know, do you have a pulse?
JEREMY LAMB: Well, no, I mean, I haven't thought about it sinking in yet, I just like to go out there and play. I don't like to think about where we're playing and how big the stage is. Right now I'm just having fun playing basketball.
Q. Kemba, what does it mean to you to lead a young team into the Final Four?
KEMBA WALKER: It's a special feeling, but you know I didn't do it by myself. I got it with the help of Donnell Beverly, we both did a great job, it's all in pieces for us, everybody came in, worked extremely hard, and we did a great job of having great chemistry as a team and we all worked hard the whole season and it's paying off for us.
Q. Kemba, you've been in the Final Four before. Do you have any words of advice to the others?
KEMBA WALKER: Yes, the Final Four is a great experience, but it's a lot. It's a lot that we're going to have to do before the game. I'm going to have to tell these guys make sure whenever they can get rest make sure they get rest because, like I said, it's a lot going on.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, good luck next week. We'll open up the floor for Coach Calhoun.
Q. Jim, are you now square with Jeremy's dad?
COACH CALHOUN: Yeah, I think that his shot that beat us, when he played for VCU and I told him he owed me one and he certainly has -- he's paid me back 10 fold, that was just one game.
One thing I should correct a little bit, I do it as much as anybody else, this is a nine-game run. We were a pretty good basketball team before then, we had beaten Texas, Tennessee, Michigan State, Kentucky, who we may see again, but bottom line is if we were a bad basketball team we just played in an unforgiving conference that didn't have, in my opinion -- we played each other twice, and I'm not make being excuses for the conference, but if your conference has a team that finishes ninth place and we were one game away from having a bye.
So we were one of the better teams in the conference, 8 or 9,10 better teams. We had good teams and the whole point is we're a good basketball team. I think when the kids referred to the two and a half hour practice they had, I don't know what it was, 20 hours after the game, I really went at them about you're playing not to lose. You're not playing to win, and you're not playing basketball any longer.
And this team, when it started the season off, Maui was a joyous occasion. We played great and then we had a six-game winning streak in the midst of the league and played terrific. The point I'm making to you simply is that they had started to fall into trying to please too much and worrying about winning and losses where I always worry about playing well.
If you play well, you win. If you don't play well, you lose and if you play not to lose you will definitely lose. So I think the attitude -- and we had a couple of expressions that I can't use here, I've used them on the side lines occasionally, but about the whole world and let's just play basketball and the rest is going to fall where it may.
We're good and we've gotten better. Obviously Jeremy got better and Kemba became the best player in the country in the my opinion, Alex is a rock inside. We played a terrific player in Derrick Williams tonight, but I do want to tell you this is a good basketball team and I've always felt that way and I keep telling people, Lenn Robbins and other people, you know, we're pretty good, we just weren't closing the deal enough and maybe the seven freshmen had something to do with that.
I think the approach we've taken in this tournament is to hell with it, let's just play basketball and this tournament has been really special.
Q. Coach, congratulations.
COACH CALHOUN: Thank you.
Q. Do you think this would be any different if you had lost to Pittsburgh in the Big East? Do you think that would have affected this run in the tournament?
COACH CALHOUN: It's funny you mention Pittsburgh, I have to say this, with this particular team, wherever we were when we opened the season at Pittsburgh they were the first team that handled us that year. I know we won the games but they handle the us physically and I thought the Pittsburgh game in the tournament was a graphic lesson of how far we had come. Maybe the results always didn't show quite the way we wanted, lost a couple of overtime games, etcetera, etcetera, but it showed how far we've come.
I told you I took DePaul to get some confidence and they're always going to have a great program there, but it did. We beat Georgetown by 18, and the Pittsburgh game because of the way they played us -- we played Syracuse in a tight game and Louisville we lost in overtime but Pittsburgh had beat us, and it was a clear definitive definition to them that the Pittsburgh game might have been the kick-off point as far as we can beat anything, we thought Pittsburgh was and still is better than anybody in the country.
Q. Jim, a lot of awards are going to be handed out, if you could make the case for Kemba being the M.V.P. or the Wooden Award winner, who would the points be that you would make?
COACH CALHOUN: You can look throughout the country, obviously a lot of great players, we saw another one tonight and the kid at BYU is a terrific player, obviously great players out there but no one has to do more for his team than Kemba Walker. There is no one else playing with five freshmen, we have seven but five who play a lot, and then we have the old timers, Jamal Coombs and Alex, sophomores and the only guy who plays any meaningful minutes is Kemba as a junior and one senior, Alex Oriakhi, who plays nine minutes a game, so for a guy to carry that burden he's got to be a special player.
When we were coming down the stretch before they hit the threes and we got the momentum back at the 10-0 stretch and I pulled Kemba out to give him rest and he was tired, even though he just said he wasn't, because he's always going to say that.
But Kemba says, "We got to get the ball to Jeremy!"
Now, I've had a lot of great players, and great players want the ball in their hands and he did some great things down the stretch obviously, but he's saying to the coaches let's not run cage, let's run circle for Jeremy, and obviously it paid off great. The uniqueness of that and he looked at Jeremy and he said, "And you'll make those shots, too." This is during the time-out.
I don't think there is any kid in America doing that. He'll carry us and take over the game but did he shoot great tonight? No, I didn't think his rhythm was as good as it has been, his play was great, his leadership even better. No one is doing what he's been doing, and we're in the Final Four, so only three other teams, when you vote M.V.P.s, Coach Of The Year, I do it by wins, and he's the guy winning and we've got 30 wins now, so he's doing it by winning.
Q. Coach, internal perceptions or perspective is more important than external, and I think the coaches and the conference picked you 10th and there was a lot of distractions and all of your final four teams were teams that people knew from the get-go were very good. Did you conceive of this run in October?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, the expectation was to make the NCAA Tournament. That was a goal and expectation. I got everybody from the select team who is playing against the national team and I've got good friends in the NBA and other people and Ray Allen who spends a lot of time during the summer up at campus was telling me that Rajon Rondo said the quickest guy that he's ever played against is Kemba Walker from your school and when they tried to press Kemba they couldn't. He stayed at school, took with the national team, took eighteen hours of academic work because he's only 15 hours from graduation in three years and literally shot the ball three to four hours a day because he was not a jump shooter last year, obviously he is today.
Then watching Jeremy Lamb and others, I thought we could have an interesting team. The powerhouse we had, seemed to me the second guy in the draft and the National Defensive Player Of The Year, you go through Jeff Adrien a wonderful player, and A.J. Price playing well with the Pacers, not the same kind of team. Hamilton, Becker, those are pros, but we have Kemba who we think will be pro, and obviously Kemba could run a pro team right now, I do anyways.
So the expectations were it was something different about this group. That difference amazing enough through 100 practices, now 39 games, 39 games, looking at our 40th, and they've just been -- I've never seen anything like it. They've stuck -- when I've been tough on them, they've stuck, when we tried to build their confidence up and they come back every day begging for more.
Q. Jim, you touched on some of this, but these teams have made the Final Four before, in a lot of ways they've met expectations and sometimes they were heavy. Talk about the power of rejuvenation of what a team like this, a young team that could bring to a program to accomplish this when maybe we didn't all expect this at the beginning of the season?
COACH CALHOUN: I don't think anybody did. If I had said to you -- this is definitely a Final Four team, you would have said "hold down" a little bit, gotta climb the ladder. AndrĂ© Flora and I got together last year to end the season and I said AndrĂ©, the only way I want to continue to coach is to make sure that I've got a good group -- we had some kids signed, we didn't have Tyler, Shabazz at that point, but the other kids were there, and we had Kemba, obviously, and Alex and I said, I really want a group that's going to listen to everything we have to say and let's put that chip on our shoulder, because in '09 we won 31 games we were a Final Four team and it was amazing, it was forgotten in like a week, there was a lot of other distractions and news, and Connecticut is on its way down, this is our fifth trip to the final 8, I believe, in a decade 2000 to 2010. We've been around. We've had great players, we haven't gone anyplace, we had an "off" season last year.
So I became probably -- rejuvenated but more determined, Jeff, as I can become, that this group who I fell in love with, was going to make noise. What you say all the time and what you try to do all the time doesn't work but in this case it has because the gospel I was giving was given to guys who wanted that gospel, who were truly looking for answers to become college players alone never mind become Final Four players.
It's been an unusual group, but I felt last year, hurt, that people were -- I read Sports Illustrated, but we're not 1-68 after what we've done over the past few years, our recruiting class was 25th. Jeremy Lamb is okay. He was ranked 80th or something like that, and I let them know, we're okay, we are better than people think we are, and the big thing is we got knocked down, we got back up.
Q. Jim, last year you don't get the berth in the tournament, you go through what you went through with the NCAA, being picked to finish low in the conference, all of these things considered how much more special does this run become?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, you know I'm a good underdog. Probably comes from my background a little bit and some of the other things in my lifetime, but I don't mind a challenge. A good friend of mine once said I don't mind fighting you in an open space but I hate to put you in a corner and I felt like I was in the corner because the sweat equity that we all have, my players, my coaches, the University has put into UCONN basketball over the past 25 years is pretty deep and rich and to have people over a couple of month period dismiss us, I took that personally.
If I take something personally I'm going to do everything humanly possible to make sure that your perception is wrong. These kids allowed that to happen.
Q. So to that extent does going to Houston this time mean more because it's one of those "I'll show you" I don't know what you call it, invigorated, whatever you call it but does it mean that much more?
COACH CALHOUN: Once again, Bill, I wasn't not invigorated, but I needed these kids -- that's not true -- but I did need these kids and I've called them an "old-fashioned" team, still want to work, work hard, discipline, told what to do and if that doesn't work, really told what to do and accept it and say, "Give me more, Coach," but I don't have any chip on my shoulder going to the Final Four, we had some teams that didn't make it, Christian Laettner, didn't go.
But I said yesterday before we played that the greatest thing I can do this year is get the opportunity -- I said that yesterday now because that late in the stage of the season, to take these kids to the Final Four because it's something special and hopefully do something special and now we have the opportunity to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Calhoun, good luck in Houston.
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