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March 27, 2011
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
Kentucky - 76
North Carolina - 69
THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by University of Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari and student-athletes Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: The resiliency this team showed was unbelievable. It got late, they tied it up, and we didn't back away. There were a couple of times I thought about calling time-outs and I did not want my guys to think that I didn't believe in them. I wanted them to play through it. It was just a great fight, dogfight kind of game. And North Carolina does what they do and did not go away and made plays and tied it up. And it ends up being a great college basketball game.
Q. Brandon, it wasn't at the last second like the two you hit earlier in the Tournament, but obviously the three with under 3:00 left proved to be the difference. How important was it? And how confident were you when you let it go?
BRANDON KNIGHT: I was confident. Like I said, me and my teammates are hard workers. We come early to practice to shoot. We stay after to shoot. But it wasn't only me that made big shots. I think DeAndre hit the biggest shot of the game, you know, when we were up by one to put us up by four. It just shows how not only me, but the rest of our team can really make big-time shots.
Q. DeAndre, talk about that three you hit from the corner. And also, the block on Kendall Marshall when they came back and tried to answer.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: Kendall Marshall drove past me and my length gave me the ability to block that shot. He drove fast me and my long arms, I stretched out and blocked the shot.
And that three I took, Darius drove the ball and Coach said, if it is a kick-out then shoot it, I shot with confidence and made it.
Q. DeAndre, right after you hit that there is a stoppage of play, and Cal called you over, you guys kind of embraced. What did you two say at that point?
DeANDRE LIGGINS: That was celebration time. We bumped heads.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I kissed him on the forehead is what I did.
Q. For Josh or Brandon: You guys played a tough, emotional game on Friday, and then you had another one pretty much today. How tough was it to, you know, call on what you had to call on to get this one done?
JOSH HARRELLSON: You know, it was a tough turnaround but they had the same thing we had to do. You know, we're always ready to come out and play. All we needed is a day's rest. The SEC Tournament we played game after game after game and were ready to play every game. And I have faith in my teammates that they will come out and play every game whether it's back to back or a day in between. We just take care of our body. And Brandon and Darius do cold pool, hot pool to take care of themselves. Everybody is taking care of themselves.
Q. How about coming back emotionally.
BRANDON KNIGHT: Definitely. Our team does a good job of celebrating, just being in the moment. After we won that game, it was onto the next one. We had a goal and that was to make it to the Final Four and compete for a championship. And our guys really add a quick turnaround and focus on the next game plan we had to do.
Q. Josh, a lot is written about the change from last year, but even eight or ten games ago you weren't taking people off the dribble and doing some of the stuff you are doing now. Has your confidence increased on a different level, these last ten games?
JOSH HARRELLSON: Yeah, it's definitely increased. You know, if somebody is playing me too tight and I see a lane, I just try to drive it and get around him. And that helps out for my teammates because they don't play me as tight and it is easier passes because they won't come and guard me as tight.
But it is totally different. Something I never thought I would be able to do. But we do a lot of stuff like that when I work out with Kenny Payne before practice and stuff, we work a lot with taking people off the dribble and going through bumps and also do it in practice with the bigs. That's what we have been working on and I am getting more confident doing it.
Q. Coach, going back to that forehead-kiss moment, what was going through your mind.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Going through what moment?
Q. The forehead kiss with DeAndre. Talk about how much he means to you and this team.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I was thinking he was really sweaty, I didn't realize he was that sweaty.
Q. Yesterday he was not on the stage yesterday and I remember you made a point --
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: And he needed to be on the stage. He knows how proud I am. He has come so far as a player, trusting people, trusting his coaches, this kid works. He is in the gym. Brandon works, he works just as hard as Brandon does. You know, he's overcome a lot of stuff. And for me in this profession, you know I said this before, there are guys born on third base, and then there are guys born outside of the arena that have to try to get in the arena to get up to bat to get to first base to go to third base. And DeAndre has overcome a lot. And you look at him now. He defends, he is unselfish, he makes plays, his skills are improved. You know, he and Josh, all these guys. But especially him. I'm really proud -- and I am on him now. I am on him to do the right things and if he screws up, he knows he will be there. But he performs. He is not afraid. He is making plays.
Q. For Josh, but if you guys have a thought, please chime in: I just wanted to ask about the very aggressive emphatic tone you set the first six to eight minutes of the game. It just seemed almost like it was decided at that point. I know defense is a point of pride, but did you talk specifically about starting fast, making a quick statement in this game?
JOSH HARRELLSON: You know, the first five minutes of each half really dictates the game. You always want to come out and play strong and, you know, the first five minutes of the game we came out and we played aggressive, played together as a team and that really dictates what's going to happen throughout the first half normally. And I think we did a good job coming out and dictating the whole game and running our stuff and keeping them out of their basketball game.
BRANDON KNIGHT: In the beginning of the game Coach just told me to be aggressive, so every time I got it I wanted to push it and see what we could get in transition. If not, try to attack the basket. And guys were just being really aggressive tonight and you could tell they really wanted it.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: Coach said the first five minutes he wanted me, my job was to run the floor and try to make plays and that's what I try to do.
Q. DeAndre, what was your reaction to Coach kissing you there?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: He didn't kiss me back I can tell you that.
DeANDRE LIGGINS: We still had a game to play. The game wasn't over. I love him as a coach. He defined my game greatly. He made me the player I am now and I respect him and I love him to death.
Q. DeAndre and Josh, you guys are two years removed from the NIT. Coming from a place in Kentucky where Final Four is the norm, how disappointing was it to be in that place and how sweet is it now that you are in the Final Four?
JOSH HARRELLSON: Going to the NIT our first year was disappointing for us and all of our fans. They really were disappointed in us. And I think we had a better team than what we showed. We went to the NIT and we are here now and back in the Final Four. We got Kentucky back, and a lot of people doubted us this year. You know, a lot of people really didn't think we would be the team we are. We know we struggled early in the season, lost a couple of close games that we should have won. And you know, we really pulled it together as a team. And, you know, we're back now.
Q. DeAndre, at what point did you find out that you would start today? And what was your reaction when you heard that?
DeANDRE LIGGINS: It wasn't no big deal to me. Coach say he is going to start me, no disrespect to Doron or anything like that. We play six guys, so it doesn't matter. And Doron came out and hit some shots for us to help us out, so.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach John Calipari.
Q. John, you know Carolina, as you talked about yesterday, likes to run out and get a lot of easy baskets. There wasn't much of that today. Can you talk about how you guys were able to cut that off.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Well, it's hard on a quick turn like this, and we played and we were up until three in the morning. So you couldn't work on it, you can only talk about it. And we could dummy it. What we were trying to do is make sure Terrence and Josh went to offensive rebound. And two others would sprint back beyond half court. And DeAndre was going to pick up the ball to try to slow down Marshall, because if Marshall had his way I thought it would be a problem. That was our plan. Did it work? Some. They still got it over the top and got some baskets and drove me crazy, you know, but they go on runs doing that stuff. And I would tell you they still scored 10, 12 points doing it, but it wasn't 20, 25.
Q. John, you sort of just answered this, but your decision to put DeAndre on Marshall and why right from the start.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Because I think he's changed their team and I think he's a terrific basketball player. And I thought that DeAndre could stunt off of him and stunt and dig into the post. And just try to bother him. Now I don't know if it did, but that was the plan. But we were ready to say, if Harrison Barnes goes nuts, we would move DeAndre on him and Harrison early in the game did get after us a little bit, but we stayed with it the whole game.
Q. John, there is sort of a prevailing wisdom that you making the Final Four this year is either a year late or a year early. You know, you kind of had it stacked up for those two years. Talk about making it this year, this group, and if you honestly look back at the beginning of the season, does it surprise you are sitting here right now?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: When I saw the board, the seedings, yeah, I am a little bit surprised we're here. But not because of how my team was playing, I just thought the path to get here would be so ridiculous that we would have to play out of our minds or people would have to get knocked off. It had nothing to do with my team. But if you ask me after we lost to Arkansas in overtime if we would be here, I would have said we got Florida, Vandy and at Tennessee left. And we just -- they got together, they believed in themselves, and I kept telling them the whole time, "I believe in you. I don't know why you don't believe in yourselves."
We lost a lot of close games because of me, not just them now. We were still trying to figure out how to play. This is a brand new team. Three freshmen and three returning players who did not play much. So now all six of them together, I was still figuring out how do we play at the end of a game? What can I let them play through? Where do I have to stop the game? Who needs to be in at what times? So it was as much me as them.
Q. Coach, obviously you've been here before. From a personal standpoint you are in rarified air now with three teams in the Final Four. What makes this one special?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: We lost five first-round draft picks and everyone wants to say you can't win with young players. I say if it is experience or talent and I have a choice, I'm taking talent and we will figure out how to make them play together, how to get them to defend, how to increase their toughness. How they have to play to win ballgames, I'll deal with that. Now if they're talented and experienced, you don't lose any games.
But, you know, I'm proud of these guys. Look, here's what this comes down to for me, Josh Harrellson, are you kidding me? Forget we went to a Final Four, going to a Final Four, so what? Look what's happened for him. Darius Miller has totally changed his game. Look what's happened. DeAndre Liggins. Their future, their dreams. Yeah, we want to win a couple more, but when you look at this, not only freshmen doing well, they've now established who they are and where they want to go and they have done it through this program and through this team, and I'm proud of that.
Q. You were just talking about how they bettered themselves, but even like I said to Josh, ten games ago we didn't see Josh taking people off the drive. Would you have thought that DeAndre would be taking your big shot at the end? Probably would have thought he might get the block, but they have now become guys you rely on. Does that surprise you?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Let me say this, you were at the Mississippi game on the road, how many did they score in the second half? Those three scored, Darius, DeAndre, Josh got not one point and I think one rebound. And that's when we sat down and said, "This is your team, why are you relying on freshmen?" Since that time, this team has done that. That's why we're here. Our freshman have done fine. I mean, Terrence was a little bit shaky, Doron at times a little bit shaky, but they played good. And Brandon, I am leaving on the floor for 40 minutes. That's crazy, but I don't have any choice. I don't feel I do anyway. But those other guys are why we are stepping up and able to play with anyone right now.
Q. Coach, we had to take one of the two big men out, Josh Harrellson the first time was in foul trouble. What would have happened if Zeller would have been the guy you had taken out, would it change the plans at all?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: What we were doing with Zeller was we were meeting him early so he couldn't bury you under the basket. If he gets you under the basket, you have no shot. The second thing we did on the right side facing the court, if he's on that side we were going to trap big to big. The left side we were digging guards, they were digging down, that's what we tried to do. Did we do it the whole game? No. But that's how we wanted to start to make him think a little bit. But the whole point was Josh, you have to play this guy and don't expect help. Zeller has become one of the best big guys in the country now. Harrison Barnes has become one of the best players in the country. Marshall has been playing as well as any point guard in the country. And then you throw the other guys in there, Henson is not a bad shot blocker. We had our hands full.
Q. John, you've said all season that you were trying to figure it out, and I think I have heard you say a couple of times that maybe you have done more hands-on, minute-to-minute coaching maybe than you have in a long time. Talk about that process for you this year and what are some things you had to do to figure them out?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I go to bed at 9:00 at night, that's one thing, because it is exhausting. But this has been a team that I'm trying, we're trying to figure out on the run, yet I want them to feel unleashed. That's why we play the dribble-drive. I want them to feel unleashed. I want them to feel they can make the plays they are capable of making. Yet this team wasn't physical enough to play the true straight-up dribble-drive. So we've had to do things to get into the driving motion to create space, to create opportunities for them to drive and then space out. And what happened today, North Carolina sucked in on our drives and we shot threes. It wasn't by design. I didn't go into the game saying we will shoot threes today. I didn't know they would play that way. I also spent half a day with my staff like okay, how do you think they'll play? What do you think they will do on the pick-and-rolls? How will they play handoffs? Will they keep Brandon from getting the ball, which they did and kind of got us out of sync. And I had to do more and I had to figure this team out.
But look, it is not a team I coached for two years that we have an idea of each other and how we play. This team came together five months ago.
Q. John, the distinction of taking three different schools to the Final Four, how much do you think that enhances your legacy as a coach?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: I hope my legacy as a coach is about what has happened for players and individual players. I hope, if anything, it's about what my wife and I have done in the communities where we have lived and on the campuses where we've worked. And, you know, we will all be judged 50 years from now. The good news is, there will be no emotion to it where someone wants to be nasty and mean; it won't be that. It will be, here's the facts, here's what he's done, there it is. Play it out. Do you like it or not? I truly, I'm young enough that I am not worried about legacy, I am trying to win one more game. But I would tell you I hope people look and say, boy, he does a good job with his kids and they get better and they play and they go on to good careers, whether it is basketball or business or education, whatever it is. He prepares them for life after basketball. I hope that would be what it is. And if I am lucky enough to do more on the basketball court, fine. If I don't win another game on the basketball court, that would be fine, too.
Now I want to win, I am not going to sit here and underestimate or tell you that that's not important to me, but it is. But it's not more important than what's happening for these young people.
Q. Sort of a two-parter, John: How did Henson's foul trouble impact the game do you think? And this is a second straight game where DeAndre came up big in the second half of an emotional test of wills. What does he have, do you think, that enables him to play so big in those moments?
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: First of all, the Henson thing did hurt them, no question. He is a terrific player and it helped us. But I would tell you that he worked so hard that he has those reserves. The biggest Thing about making plays late in a game, you cannot be afraid to miss the shot. It's not that, I think I'll make this, you cannot be afraid to miss. You cannot be afraid to miss the free throw. If you miss it, you miss it. If we lose, we will get up tomorrow morning and the sun comes up. And so, you know, we try to tell them that. But the only way you have that self-confidence to make that play is if you're a hard worker and you have the reserves to stand up, dig your heels in and say I'm not budging, and he does.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Coach.
COACH JOHN CALIPARI: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports