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March 21, 2013

Tommy Amaker

Laurent Rivard

Wesley Saunders

Christian Webster


Harvard – 68
New Mexico – 62

THE MODERATOR:  We are now joined by Harvard student‑athletes and Coach Amaker.  We will ask for an opening statement from Coach Amaker.
COACH AMAKER:  What a sensational, gutsy effort by our team.  I thought we had to play an exceptional basketball team to win against an outstanding team.  I think Steve has a terrific ball club.  They've had a wonderful season.  It was tough on them this evening with missing a lot of shots, I think he would probably be the first to say that.
I think our defense was outstanding.  I thought our kids gave great effort on the defensive end which is what we need to do.  We couldn't keep 'em off the backboard, as well.  But I thought our toughness and courage carried us through with the belief that we had with the opportunity in front of us.

Q.  With about 7 minutes to go, you guys had three players with four fouls; New Mexico had taken the lead.  What did you say to each other to give you the belief that you could do it?  This is to Wesley because you responded with a couple of nice plays to put Harvard back in front.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  Really we just said we had to stick together and believe and just stick to the things we have done all year and just try to finish out the game.  They're a great team and we knew we couldn't let down for a second or else they would pull out the victory.
So we had to go out there and stay tough and stay together and keep playing the way with we had played throughout the game.

Q.  Christian, I'm sure the thought crossed your mind before tonight that this might be the last game you're playing in.  What does it mean to be playing on Saturday?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  It means a lot to me.  This right here is the number one moment in my basketball career by far.  I'm just happy to be moving on to the second round.  Yeah, that thought went through my mind and I relayed that to my teammates and said we gotta leave it all on the floor.  This could be the last game of the season.
We showed a lot of toughness tonight and persevering through whenever they made runs we fought back and I think that showed on the court.

Q.  Laurent, I asked you the other day about the 3‑pointer being a weapon for you guys, and certainly it appeared that was the case tonight.  When you came out and started warming up did you feel it, even then, that you had the touch going?
LAURENT RIVARD:  Warm‑up was the same as usual.  We got less shots.  We didn't have as much time as we do usually and the shot felt the good from the start.  I'm sure it was the same for Christian who had a terrific game, too, and Wes and Siyani made great plays to get us open and took our shots and buried them.

Q.  Watching you guys all year, obviously there have been a bunch of times where you have struggled to close against other teams that have made this tournament.  What made this time different?
LAURENT RIVARD:  I think every time we learn from what we did wrong.  We had two or three tough losses at the end and every time you learn and try to correct what you didn't do well.  Now we're at the end of the season and we had time to correct that and we showed more toughness than we did during the season to close out this game.

Q.  It seemed like a lot of opportunities came from the hard work that Kenyatta Smith was doing in the interior.  Can you talk about how his play maybe an unsung hero here opened things up for you guys?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  Definitely, Kenyatta played a great game tonight.  Any successful team you're going to need balance inside and out and Kenyatta's play opened things up for Laurent and I. We got the shots and knocked 'em down and thankful for Wes and Siyani and Kenyatta and the big guys for kicking it out to us and being unselfish.

Q.  Guys, what does it feel like to be Harvard's first-ever tournament win?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  It's unbelievable.  We were talking in the back, we're still in disbelieve, can't believe it happened.  We wanted to put everything in it and believed in it, but this is as good as it gets right now.  It's just unbelievable.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  I mean, yeah, it's just incredible.  This is the type of thing you dream about in your backyard playing around and imagining this situation happening; and, I mean, just for it to actually happen now is incredible.  With this group of guys, I wouldn't rather do it with anybody else.  It was just wonderful.
LAURENT RIVARD:  Like Wes said, it's a dream we have had since we were little kids.  To do it with Harvard on our chest, can't get better than that.

Q.  Laurent and Christian, you guys hit milestones tonight, Christian with a thousand points and Laurent breaking the single season 3‑point record.  Can you talk about that?
LAURENT RIVARD:  Sure, it's a cool thing; but, you know, what's sweeter is winning as a team and advancing in the NCAA Tournament.
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  I'm sure we both knew about the records, but coming into this game and the tournament that was the last thing on my mind.  I just wanted to try to lengthen my career as much as I could and get another game or get another couple of games.  I'm just happy to get this win and be moving on to the next round.

Q.  Laurent, halftime when you guys came out you huddled title in front of your bench, you seemed to be telling everybody something.  What was that?
LAURENT RIVARD:  First formula to the second half was crucial.  We need to be tougher on the inside, defensive rebounds.  It hurt us in the first half.  We had to finish plays inside, so we were reiterating what Coach said in the locker room so we don't forget.

Q.  What does it mean to have a freshman point guard?  What was that process like when you knew you were going to have a new young kid leading you guys?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  Siyani, he's proven that he's the man for the job all year.  He's the leader on our team.  Laurent and I are the captains, but he's the leader.  He's drove this team.  He'sgoing to be the first freshman All Ivy League, first‑team, says it all right there.  He's done everything he could possibly do for us as a freshman, and I don't know where we would be without them.

Q.  Harvard Square I'm sure is in complete pandemonium.  What was it like in the locker room for you guys?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  The same, pandemonium.
LAURENT RIVARD:  I don't know any other words for that.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, gentlemen.  Questions for Coach.

Q.  Coach, you had a rather large Crimson cheering section opposite your bench.  You also had the good will of the rest of the crowd who was not for New Mexico toward the end of the game.  What did that mean to you and your team?
COACH AMAKER:  We talked about that.  We talked about that as being something that could help us, propel us.  We talked about how if we were able to put a little game pressure on New Mexico that possibly we could pick up a few fans along the way.
I thought our fans were outstanding.  It was an incredible turnout for the Harvard group and the local folks of this year and the Harvard club of Salt Lake and our alums flying from all over to be here and the family of our players, magnificent turnout and it was needed.
I thought our band, dance, cheerleaders, everybody was so enthused, and I think we picked up a few as you mentioned.  I mentioned to our players that people root for underdogs, but they follow top dogs.  I thought that was one of the things that allowed to us gain momentum in this particular game.

Q.  At the risk of asking the obvious question, what does this mean for Harvard basketball tonight?
COACH AMAKER:  We certainly feel like it's been a tremendous season for our program thus far, being Ivy League champions for the third year in a row and getting our first postseason win in the history of the program, and to do it in this fashion, on this stage against an outstanding team.
I can't say enough about how good this team is and the job that Steve has done with their program.  I think we have to play well and had to get some help by them not to play as well.  We were unfortunate, we were good, and we also had to be a little fortunate this evening.  It means the world to us, a significant moment for us to be in this position.

Q.  Coach, you have had a lot of gigantic wins as a player, as an assistant coach, as a head coach for other teams.  Where does this rank for you personally?
COACH AMAKER:  I mentioned to our kids coming into this tournament that when we had the selection show and our name was called and I talked to our players about how meaningful this season has been for me, being able to be a part of this and seeing what we have had to overcome and see how they have adjusted and adapted and believed all season, it was something that was meaningful to me, as much as any other time I've been a part of coaching.  I mentioned that to our players.  Obviously, tonight adds to that in a significant way.

Q.  Tommy, does this in any way avenge 1987 loss to Indiana?
COACH AMAKER:  Michael, you I joked about that a little bit ago that maybe I could figure out to get something back from Steve.  But, you know, we will get a chance to think about those things at a later time.

Q.  Coach, it felt like the game swung in terms of momentum the way‑‑ was playing when Kenyatta came back in the game.  Can you talk about the impact he had on the game?
COACH AMAKER:  He has a presence in the post.  We were trying to go to him.  He had a huge blocked that energized our team.  Those are the plays that we know he's capable of making.  I thought his two free throws there late were monumental.
Unfortunately, he fouled out but his play down the stretch were big minutes.  He got into foul trouble, played through this.  We called on him after sitting for a long period of time and he responded well.  He's been able to do that for us.  When we made a change after our Columbia game to put him in the lineup he has delivered many times for us.

Q.  At the point when Kenyatta and Steve and Jonah all had four fouls, can you talk about what you told the bench and what the mindset was?
COACH AMAKER:  We were juggling a little bit, deciding who we wanted on the floor and saving a certain guy here, saved Yat for that, then Steve, then Jonah.  We had to juggle, we had to next man up, as they say.  And our guys performed well, and we had to talk to them about playing as if they didn't have four falls.  Sometimes when you're in foul trouble sometimes you play passive.  We needed to maintain a certain aggression on the frontline to be able to help, defend, and certainly to block out and try to rebound.  And I thought our kids did a really nice job of that.

Q.  Coming out at halftime New Mexico tied it up quickly.  What allowed you to respond to that?
COACH AMAKER:  We have had a great deal of composure, we talked about that coming into this environment, this kind of tournament, obviously, being the underdog.  Seeing if we can put the game pressure on our opponents.  I thought the composure that our kids displayed was terrific.
We always talk about concentration, composure and confidence and I thought all three of those words were necessary and I thought they handled that in a very outstanding way.

Q.  How big it was for the team's confidence that Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster were knocking down threes early on?
COACH AMAKER:  It was huge.  That's a big weapon for us to be able to hit a few shots and gain some confidence.  Not only for our team but for those kids individually, as well.  We need to have balance, we need a way of going inside and out, not just in the post but driving it in there.
But we certainly have to have a guy or two on the perimeter knocking some shots down to space the floor to open it up for the interior.  Any good team at this time of the year and New Mexico is certainly one of the best examples of that, and they didn't display it as well tonight but great balance.  I think in order to play well this time of year and in order to win this time of year you need to be pretty balanced, and we were balanced well this evening.

Q.  Siyani seemed a little flustered early on and he seemed like he was running a lot and had a few turnovers.  Was there anything you said to him to slow him down or try to help him out?
COACH AMAKER:  No, he's had an outstanding year.  He's played exceptional basketball for us throughout.  He had a couple of turnovers there where he was trying to probably make the sensational play and plays that he's been able to make in the past.
I thought a couple of turnovers were the same kind of plays we had in the past but their athleticism, especially from Tony Snell knocked a few away, and that's just the difference in playing against a different opponent, think length, size, athleticism, and he had a couple of turnovers, just because of that.  He had the right idea, which is the kind of kid he's been all year for us.

Q.  Tommy, regarding the balance that they had, what did you do to get their backcourt out of balance it seemed.  They had some players who normally were big scorers for them struggle tonight?
COACH AMAKER:  Well, they did.  Probably there was a combination of those things that happens, and we were focused on that.  And Wesley had to guard Tony Snell who is an outstanding player and a big‑time prospect, we had to chase those guys, dig in and be‑‑ and have the attention to detail.  But then they missed some shots.  Let's not kid ourselves, there were some shots that normally those kids make and I'm sure they're probably looking at it, had a tough shooting game, shooting night and that's fair.  But we like to think that we contributed to that in some way.

Q.  I think it's pretty clear Laurent Rivard did for you in putting up 17 points and hitting all those threes, but can you talk about what he d tough rebounds and drawing the foul on that 3‑point shot they took at the buzzer.  Can you talk about what he does in addition to putting up the big points?
COACH AMAKER:  Because he's such a deep threat for the shot, there are times when he's been able to use the shot fake very effectively.  I thought he did that this evening.  He had a couple of times where he had nice shot fakes and even missed a shot.  There were times when he got fouled as you mentioned, and late clock situations that we ran well and he got fouled.  He made 2 out of the 3 free‑throws, and you mentioned, the defense.
He's guarding players that are bigger than us and for him to be stick his nose in there and to be tough around the basket, it says something about how scrappy and tough he can become when we need that against bigger players inside and that's what he did.

Q.  Have you given any thought to the next opponent?
COACH AMAKER:  You know, I honestly have not seen much of them.  Seen some film and a little bit of today's game, waiting for our game.  I can say, just off the top of my head, I can't imagine any team being as talented as they are.
I think they're very deep and talented, just from my initial thoughts and my initial view of them, having watched them a time or two here throughout the course of the season.  I'm not sure that they have any weaknesses based on what I've been able to see based on their size and with the bodies they can play up front, the guards and their quickness, making plays off the dribble.  From what I've been able to see so far they are incredibly talented and have had an outstanding season.

Q.  Coach, Snell and Williams held a 5 for 18 from the floor.  Can you talk about that?
COACH AMAKER:  We were focused on those two guys on the perimeter and they're dangerous and they can shoot the ball well.  They have had sensational seasons and we did what we could possibly do and we needed them not to play as well.
They struggled with making their shots and I'm sure they were incredibly frustrated with that knowing that they could do better than what they displayed this evening, but I like to think the way we locked in defensively and had a lot of help, different players were helping, maybe had something to do with it as well.

Q.  Coach, Steve Moundou‑Missi and Kenyatta Smith had no problem going inside.  Do you think that they were phased that they had four or five inches on both of them, and can you talk about how they handled that match‑up with such a big center?
COACH AMAKER:  Their big guys are‑‑ first of all, they're big.  They're physical and big and they play very well.  I'm sure that was one of the thoughts going into our game is to go inside against us and try to get it off the backboard, which I thought they did that exceptionally well.
But we needed to have an answer for it.  We needed to get something for our team on the interior, and I thought the way we spaced the floor a little bit allowed our big guys to go one‑on‑one in the post.  At times we didn't finish as much as we would like, but Steve, Yat and Jonah at times made enough plays for us to be successful tonight.

Q.  How will the Ivy League schedule help you playing against Arizona?
COACH AMAKER:  We talked about that in the tournament.  We play back‑to‑back.  We're used to a quick turnaround, maybe not a quick turnaround against a team like Arizona, but we're used to that format, that way, and I'm hopeful that it can serve us well to turn things around, get prepared and to be ready to go as best we can to play against one of the better teams in the country.

Q.  So many things that happened in this game and what it meant to your program, what was the most gratifying aspect of this win for you?
COACH AMAKER:  I thought we played a really good forty minutes.  I think we got out of the blocks early.  We talked about trying to have a good start to manage the game as well as we can.  We had some confidence growing within our team and for me to see how thecomposure that we displayed is meaningful to me as a coach.
We had the lead.  We lost the lead.  We had to make plays to kind of have an answer each time when things got really tight there.  We had to make pressure free‑throws.  We didn't inbound the ball very well there late.  But we didn't wilt or cave in.
So the composure and the belief in it, the composure that our kids displayed, I'm very, very proud of that.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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