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March 7, 2012
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
CLAUDE FELTON:Â We're ready to begin with LSU.Â We'll have Coach Johnson give some opening thoughts on his team coming into the tournament.Â Then we'll take your questions just for the two student‑athletes and excuse them to the locker room, which is open at this time by the way.Â And then we'll finish up with some questions with Coach Johnson.
So coach if you would begin.
COACH JOHNSON:Â Thank you.Â Well, what a difference two weeks makes for us.Â Obviously the last two weeks haven't been very good in terms of us being able to play well, but we're looking forward to a new season.Â And this is a fresh start for be us.
I would be remiss if I wouldn't congratulate Anthony for being selected to the all SEC Freshman Team, and also Justin being selected to the SEC Second Team.Â These are two guys that came into our program with a lot on their plates and have stepped up to it in terms of putting this team on their back at times, making plays down the stretch.
So we play a very, very good Arkansas team that is very well coached by Mike Anderson and causes a lot of problems if you don't handle their pressure.
But again, we're looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.
CLAUDE FELTON:Â We'll take your questions for either student‑athletes.Â If you'll raise your hand and we'll get a microphone to you.
Q.Â Obviously it's been a tough couple weeks.Â Talk about the team's attitude coming into the tournament, how you guys are feeling.
ANTHONY HICKEY:Â We feel pretty confident.Â Everybody getting their confidence back.Â Everybody pumped up.Â We're more hungry for the wins.Â And we got a big making up to do and we're going to own up to what we need to do as a team.
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â We're really excited for this new opportunity and we have been working really hard the past couple days in practice and just getting back to what we were doing in the beginning of the ‑‑ or the middle of the SEC play and we're just ready to show everyone what we can do.
Q.Â Justin, could you talk about the benefit of playing this tournament, Baton Rouge, having to only travel 80 miles, and do you feel like you guys can get a boost from the home crowd here?
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â Yeah, it's great.Â We didn't have to take a flight and so that was always good.Â We just drove down here today.Â We're hoping that we can have as much people come here and we're going to have the home crowd like we do early in the season.
Q.Â Can you talk a little bit about the last three games.Â Was there any common thread in why you struggled, what you were thinking the last three games.
ANTHONY HICKEY:Â Last two games, you know, late situations going into the game, our defense, we slacked on the defensive end, we didn't execute on the offensive end, it was our own fault as a team.Â Good it was early on in the year and we got another opportunity and we're going to take ownership of it.
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â We just slacked off in the defensive end at times.Â We didn't execute, and we know that it was all on us.Â We knew that or we know that we can fix those things and so in the past three days, we have been trying to get back to playing LSU basketball and just executing and playing with a lot of effort and intensity.
Q.Â Coach, is this the type of tournament where a lower seed can do well, catch lightning in a bottle?Â You saw Georgia do it in 2008, win the tournament, being a lower seed.
CLAUDE FELTON:Â We're doing players first.Â But go ahead and answer that and then we'll take the two players.Â Go ahead and answer that.
COACH JOHNSON:Â Well, I think when you look at the balance of this league, and it speaks volumes to South Carolina early in the year going on the road, Ohio State, one of the premier teams in the country and having a chance to beat them there.Â Obviously, Kentucky has went wire to wire, but we look at the balance of the league, and I think if any team is not ready to play to their strengths, certain teams can advance in this tournament.
So a lot happens at this time of year, a lot of guys are banged up, but again the bottom line is you do what you have been successful at all year long and you'll have an opportunity in the league this year.
ANTHONY HICKEY:Â Like coach says, it's about who finishes all at the end of the season.Â You get another opportunity then.Â You play everybody again and you get another opportunity and you just have to be able to complete what you're going to do.
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â It's March, so anything can happen, and so we know that coming into this, no matter what seed you are, you still have to play your best game to beat the opponent.
Q.Â Just what's your thought on Arkansas after playing them twice and splitting home and home.
ANTHONY HICKEY:Â The best team is going to win.Â It's either win or go home.Â We already played.Â We know what we got to do, but we still got to adjust what we're going to do.Â We got to take care of the ball and be ready on the defensive end and it's going to be a grave defensive game on both ends.
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â Arkansas is a very talented team, young team, they pressure a lot.Â So we just have to handle the ball and just make sure that we execute our stuff and don't get into a hurry, fast‑pace game that they want.
Q.Â As a point guard, how have you benefited from having a big man inside like Justin?Â And Justin, as a big man, have you benefited from having a point guard like Anthony.
ANTHONY HICKEY:Â On offense we work inside south.Â So we feed our big men and then our perimeters work off our big men.Â So it's a good thing for both sides, because if they double, we got a perimeter wide open to knock down the jumper.Â And then if they playoff of us, we can go inside.Â So it's based off our offensive intensity.
JUSTIN HAMILTON:Â It's great.Â Anthony is a really fast, quick point guard that he passes the ball great, and so it's always keeping me aware that I can just be looking for the ball because he can put the ball in tight spaces.Â And so at the end of games, I think we have had a really good connection just setting screens and working off each other.Â And it's just been really, it's a lot of fun.
CLAUDE FELTON:Â We'll excuse the student‑athletes and you can return to the locker room.Â We'll take questions for coach.
Q.Â I know you played Arkansas just a couple week ago, a game that you guys had in control for the most part.Â At the end of the game it got to a two‑point game.Â What made it difficult for your team against them down the stretch?Â Was it their defense, that they were banging on you inside in the paint?Â
COACH JOHNSON:Â Their pressure causes problems for you because they attack you offensively.Â But they give you so many different looks on the defensive end.Â Whether it's a two‑two‑one on a full court, man‑to‑man, run‑and‑jump, three‑two, face guard, go back to a matchup zone.Â So they really do a good job of keeping you out of rhythm.
But they're always in the attack mode defensively and then they're always in attack mode offensively.Â So their game, regardless of who they play, they're going to play in spurts.Â So it puts a premium on if you don't get back and limit their transition opportunities, keep them out the middle on the half court, you're going to struggle.
For us, we have to like any team we have had success at, we got to go inside out and pound the ball in the post and shoot the ball well.
Q.Â Mardracus Wade, he's leading the conference in 3‑point shooting, under 48 percent.Â He shot 20 percent last year and, like, 44 attempts.Â What's your take on the guy, what's he done this year to improve that much?
COACH JOHNSON:Â He's a big improvement, but whether it's him, whether it's B.J., whether it's Scotty, they're are four of them that shoot the three BS, but also they put it on the floor well.
So, yeah, you push them off the 3‑point line, then they can bounce it one, two, three dribbles and get in the lane.Â But he is, I want to say, him and Steele from Mississippi State, every time I watch tape on those two, I feel like they don't miss.Â They never miss perimeter jump shots in a row.Â But this team and Arkansas, they have got three or four perimeter guys that shoot the three, but they can put it on the floor and get to the rim.Â So it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.Â It puts a lot of pressure on your post guys being able to help.
Q.Â Can you talk about how much progress you think the program has made this year and do you think you have to win a game in this tournament to clinch some kind of post‑season opportunity?
COACH JOHNSON:Â The second question, I don't know.Â I don't spend a lot time worrying about that as opposed to just making sure we play good basketball and player better basketball than what we played in the last two weeks.Â And a lot of that has been us not defending, but also the ball not going down for us.
Now, in terms of the progress of the program when you look at the numbers, we have improved in win/loss cases.Â But for me, I tend to evaluate that at the end of year because bottom line, there are more games to be played right now.Â And if you would have asked me that question two weeks ago, my answer would have been the same with everybody else, I thought we were on cloud9 because we were in a pretty good situation.Â So I tend to wait to the end of the year and evaluate everything starting with me going down.
Q.Â You played Tennessee last week, just curious what your take on them was and the way they're playing going into the tournament.
COACH JOHNSON:Â I don't think they're playing very well.Â I think they're horrible.
No, I made this comment the week before we played them, I remember watching them in Maui play Memphis, play Duke, and then you could tell right then, it was a very tough‑minded, very competitive group.Â I think Coach Martin's done an exceptional job, instilling his philosophy, so on and so forth.Â And then they get Wes Unseld, Jr., eligible, which is Stokes, they get him eligible.Â So they're a very physically, mentally tough team, and you have to congratulate them because this thing's based off of playing your best basketball at the end of the year, and they're doing that.
So I mean, hats off to them.Â I was joking, sarcasm, so we don't need no bulletin board material, okay?
Q.Â You didn't have Johnny O'Bryant when you played Arkansas the first time.Â You did when you beat them at your place.Â Just what kind of difference did he make whenever you played them the second time around?
COACH JOHNSON:Â I think it was another body, but the big difference when we played them the second time around was Eddie Ludwig came off the bench and gave us a lot of help.Â Johnny, I think, struggled.Â He had six turnovers but his ability to rebound the ball really helped us.Â So again as opposed to any one guy making a difference, all year long, we have had to operate with everybody on all cylinders.Â I use the terms all the time all hands on deck, as opposed to any one guy.Â So Johnny helped us because he was healthy and he could rebound the ball.
But the key to that game was Eddie Ludwig came off the bench and was able to score 12 points and handle the ball versus their pressure at the four spot.
Q.Â Last time you played Arkansas, they haven't been playing very well.Â They have lost seven of nine.Â Based on what you've seen what's kind of been the difference down the stretch for them?Â Are they wearing down or anything?
COACH JOHNSON:Â I know it's hard for everybody to understand at times, but you look at the balance of this league, sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the opponent.Â And when I look at them on tape, it's like, Are there kids playing tight?Â I don't think so.Â They just missed some shots at key times, and they have had some breakdowns.
This time of the year, kids aren't trying to miss shots, not trying to do things to lose a game.Â But it just happens.Â That's just the sport.Â Especially when there's so much balance.
So they beat Auburn twice.Â They're right there with Vanderbilt, so you have to tip your hat to this league and the overall balance of it and how hard it is to win in college basketball, as opposed to whatever, why are they struggling, so...
Q.Â You split home and road with everybody in the west this year.Â Can you kind of speak to that, why you think that was and does this neutral floor situation kind of scrap that whole deal and what do you have to do to get a win on a neutral floor?
COACH JOHNSON:Â Neutral, home, road, away, I know you heard me say this before, I'm a firm believer in good teams, good players, but more importantly, tough teams, mentally tough players, doesn't matter where they play, when they play, who they play, and they're going to be successful.
In reference to us splitting, I think we have got a deeper team here, more talent.Â Obviously this group, the nucleus of this group went through a lot last year, and the last year and a half.Â So you can look at experience, you can look at this, you can look at that, but I think it's basically based off of talent and these two guys who just left are a reason being.
Q.Â Is there anything you can do about the shooting?Â I know you referenced the shooting, you weren't happy with that.Â As a coach can you coach that?Â What do you do?
COACH JOHNSON:Â Well, we chart uncontested shots and again, I've said this about three or four weeks ago, it's amazing to me that how many open uncontested shots we didn't finish or plays in the post.Â But as long as guys are taking good shots from the frame work of our offense and are being aggressive, I'm not going to worry about it.Â I'm not one of these guys that's going to get on my guys and say you got to do this, you got to do that offensively.Â There's only one part of this game that kids really get to enjoy playing and that's on the offensive end.
So I try to stay as positive and encourage them as much because everything else in terms of defending, taking care of the ball, and rebounding, that's something that you have to stay on them constantly about, but it's unfortunate and it always happened for a couple guys on this team in different situations.Â But the bottom line is if they weren't out there working and in the gym and trying to get it corrected, I have a problem with that.Â But we're doing that.
Auburn we were 9‑17 from the three, in the post we were 2‑19 from our two best players.Â That hasn't happened all year long.Â So I mean my goodness, hopefully that's one of those games and we just move on.
Q.Â Against Auburn you used Ralston after the bench and he seemed to play pretty well.Â Do you see yourself using him in that role this week and also with Jalen, is he healthy where he can practice with you guys and could be available if you need him in the tournament?
COACH JOHNSON:Â Jalen is healthy.Â He did practice the last day and a half.Â He had a lot of spring, a lot of bounce, and in terms of bringing Ralston off the bench, I think the most success this team has had is when I got ejected at Ole Miss, so I think I need to stay in the locker room and let those guys be coached by Donny and I think we'll be okay.
Ralston is going to go back to the starting lineup.Â He's going to be back in the starting lineup.Â You guys didn't think that was funny?Â Good.Â I didn't either.
Q.Â We're so focused on thinking of the next question.
COACH JOHNSON:Â Not talking to me, you aren't.
Q.Â With you guys being so close by and this is your home state, do you feel like you got a home court advantage tomorrow?
COACH JOHNSON:Â No.Â No.Â Because we're not playing at the Pete Maravich Assembly center.Â And again, this is a tournament, I'm one that always I said it before, don't matter where you play, who you play, when you play.Â If we're not mentally tough and we're not mentally right, like I think we will be, you're going to struggle.Â So but, no, I don't get caught up in all that.
Q.Â You said you didn't think it would be a home court advantage for you guys, but can you just speak to the significance for the state of Louisiana having the tournament here in New Orleans and also the Final Four later this month?
COACH JOHNSON:Â I said this going into this year, the SEC the national championship, basketball venue here and SEC tournament, the Final Four speaks volumes to this area in terms of being able to attract some of the premier sporting events in the country.Â I think the Super Bowl is here next year, isn't it?Â So I think it just speaks volume to it.Â So it's neat timing and it's good for the state.
CLAUDE FELTON:Â Thank you very much.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports