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March 21, 2014

Niels Giffey

Shabazz Napier

Kevin Ollie


THE MODERATOR:¬† We're joined by Connecticut student‑athletes Niels Giffey and Shabazz Napier.¬† Congrats, guys, on the win last night.¬†

Q.  Shabazz, over the past couple of years, how much has your chemistry and your relationship playing with Boatright grown?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  It's grown a lot.  Always ups and downs.  Even when I was playing with Kemba, there's always ups and downs.  You're going to struggle because you want the ball in your hand, and you know how to play with the ball in your hand.  Sometimes it's hard to figure out how not to play with the ball in your hand.
We've grown.  A lot of these guys, you see us arguing and think it's a big thing.  That's just a little bump in the road.  We don't really take it further than that.
We understand we need each other to win games.  I wouldn't want to be on nobody else's team besides his.

Q.  Niels and Shabazz, if you could just talk about the two or three games that you've played against Villanova in your career, that great overtime game in Philadelphia a couple of years ago, the game at XL Arena last year, what you remember about it.  They have a lot of the same guys.  What you remember about Villanova.
NIELS GIFFEY:¬† They are one of the typical former Big East teams, real scrappy, really aggressive.¬† I know they played a double‑team, and they trap on defense.¬† So they really try to bring the game to you.¬† They're not going to just sit back and relax and wait for stuff to fall.¬† They're trying to bring it at you.¬† That's just the kind of basketball we expect.
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Same thing.  Villanova, they've got great guards.  They've got a great player in JayVaughn Pinkston.  He's been playing outstanding for them.  They've got a great coach.
That tradition is rich.  They're always going to have a lot of aggressiveness and passion.  At this stage, you want to move on.  You're going to do whatever it takes.
Like Niels said, they're going to be scrappy.  That's what a Big East team is about, to be scrappy and aggressive.  We're going to be ready for it.  We've got to deliver the first punch.

Q.  Shabazz, how much of an advantage do you think it is being familiar with Villanova, having played them over the past few years, especially when you only have one day to prepare?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  It's kind of funny because, you know, even though we played against Villanova, they're a whole different team.  This is a new season.  Their players are much more experienced, and we have not played any of their guys.
They've been playing real well throughout the whole season.  So definitely it's not going to be new in the sense of Connecticut playing Villanova, but it's going to be new in the sense of the plays they run and how well they run it or the experience that the guards have.  So it definitely, that's what's going to be different.
I don't think anything we done two years ago they're going to sit back and remember because they understand we've gotten better, they've gotten better.  We've just got to go out there, and as soon as the ball gets tipped up in the air, the Xs and Os are going to be flying.
But the team that's going to be giving the most effort, the most aggressiveness on the court are going to end up winning because that's what Big East is all about.

Q.  One quick followup from that game two years ago, what do you remember about that buzzer beater you hit in Wells Fargo Center against Nova?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Oh, the game.  Oh, oh, oh.  It was a close game.  It was definitely a big shot.  The first thing is I remember the commentator.  I think his name is Bill Raftery.  After I hit the shot, he said, Onions.  That's one thing I definitely remember after I watched SportsCenter that day.

Q.  Shabazz, when you got to UConn, did you ever envision yourself as a guy who would at one point in your career lead your team in points, assists, rebounds?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  No.  I wasn't thinking too far ahead.  I just wanted to play basketball, to play the game I know how to play with effort and love and passion for the game.
Sometimes when you go out there and just play with all your effort and give it your all.  Sometimes it shows up on the stats.
But I'm not a stat guy.  I don't really care too much about leading my teammates in all the stats.  The thing I care about is leading my team.  All the intangibles that don't show up on the stat sheet.  That's my biggest thing.
I'm just happy that I'm in this position to play with these guys and create this brotherhood that we continue to have.

Q.  Is there a sense of pride?  You don't see a lot of guards your size that lead in rebounds and stuff like that.  Sort of as this team has evolved, have you sort of become whatever they need you to be?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Yeah, I just want to win.  I don't really care if it didn't show up on the stat sheet.  I just want to win games.  I'm able to get rebounds.  I'm able to do the things that my teammates need me to do.
I don't think I'm better than anybody on my team in rebounding.  I don't think I'm better than anybody on my team in scoring.  I just think that sometimes I'm fortunate enough to make the shots, fortunate enough to get the rebounds, and just move on from it, you know.

Q.  Niels, how much has Amida improved from the beginning to the end of the season?
NIELS GIFFEY:  He's really matured a lot on and off the court.  You've got to understand that he's not, like a lot of us, played basketball for his whole life, I think.  He's been playing basketball for three or four years now.
You can really see his improvement within the first couple of months.  Just him understanding the game better and how we play and the team concept and him just using his abilities and sometimes understanding where he's got to take steps back with his shot blocking abilities in order to get rebounds.  Just understanding his overall position in the game.  He's going to continue to make big steps in that direction.

Q.  Shabazz, I guess there's been some reports that Coach Calhoun might be interested in coming back to coach maybe at BC or somewhere else.  Would you like to see him come back?  Do you still think he has a lot to give as a coach if he did?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  To answer the second one, yeah, he has so much to give.  He's a talented man on and off the court.
Would I like for him to come back?

Q.  (No microphone.)
SHABAZZ NAPIER:¬† Would I like for him to come back in general?¬† Yeah.¬† It's up to him at the end of the day.¬† He's a grown man.¬† He's been away from basketball coaching‑wise for a while, and when you hit a couple years from coaching, you kind of forgot whether you want to stay in coaching or not.
If he feels like he wants to get back in coaching, then so be it.  If he does, wherever he goes, I'm going to be a fan of that team.  Hopefully, when I'm done with my career, he'll give me a job (smiling).
I think he's an intelligent man, like I said.  I can't stress that enough.  He knows basketball, the ins and outs.
If he decides to do so, I'm going to be one of his biggest fans and support him.

Q.  Shabazz, that was the question I was going to ask, so I'll ask the same of Niels about Coach Calhoun.  Were you surprised about the talk that he has serious interest in coming back?
NIELS GIFFEY:  Well, he actually asked me a similar question a little bit down the stretch when he looked into getting involved with certain national teams.  You know, you can just feel his desire to be involved in basketball because he loves this game and he's such a great basketball mind.  You know, he's such a great resource for us, just having him in the office in Connecticut and always having him there on the sidelines.
To be honest, at this point, I just want him to be happy.  If that's the decision he makes, like Shabazz already said, we're going to be his number one supporters.  If that's his desire, I'm going to support him 100 percent with that.

Q.¬† Shabazz, it's almost not a compliment these days to talk about guys as four‑year players, especially young kids don't understand the value of that.¬† As far as your game having become as well‑rounded as it's become and you're the Player of the Year now in the league because you've got that experience.¬† What is the value, if you want to tell kids, about being a four‑year college guy?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:¬† I really can't sum it up in a few sentences.¬† I think, at the end of the day, you get to play the game you love for so many years, and that's it.¬† My mother always told me, One thing no one can take from you is your education.¬† I took that to heart.¬† I feel, as a four‑year player, you learn a lot, a lot of things that you may not get the chance to learn on the next level.
You may not develop as much as you need to develop.  A lot of kids struggle with understanding that.  I'm kind of way ahead of my years the way I think sometimes.  It has a lot to do with the way I grew up.  I never wanted to believe all the hype that I was given when I was younger.  I wanted to always stay humble and always stay ready for any opportunity.
I just feel like, basketball‑wise, there's always room for development.¬† Outside of basketball, you get a free scholarship to this university, you've got to take advantage of that.¬† Some people come back, once they leave, come back and get their degree, but I'm the type of guy I have to stay in class.¬† I have to be in class to understand whatever I'm trying to learn.¬† If I'm not in class, it's a hard task for me to do.
I think it was definitely very important for me to get my degree.  I think that Niels, too.  It's just something you can have to show your grandchildren, you show your children.  This is a beautiful thing.  People may not understand that, but ten years down the line when you show your grandchildren your degree, you're like this is special.
At the end of the day, that's what you want to be known of, somebody that stayed loyal and somebody who had their degree at the end of the day.

Q.  Shabazz, I know you're a fan of the tournament.  Just what are your thoughts, your general impressions so far as the first few days of this tournament?  Louisville struggled, Duke lost.  What are your thoughts as a fan of this?
NIELS GIFFEY:  Duke lost?
THE MODERATOR:  Duke lost, yeah, to Mercer.
THE MODERATOR:  I like your focus.  You haven't been paying attention.
NIELS GIFFEY:  No, I haven't.
That's just how the tournament is.  Just on any given day, Duke can lose.  Louisville could have lost.
Who did they play?  Mercer?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  That's a good team.
Any given day, it doesn't matter.¬† All it takes is a good 40‑minute game from one team, and you're on to the next level.¬† That's why it's called March Madness.¬† So much madness involved in this tournament.
You've got to take the best of your opportunities.  Some teams don't take the best of their opportunities that they seed, I'm a 2 seed, I'm a 1 seed, and it's a 16 seed, we're going to blow by them.
Throughout the whole season, you've seen teams losing to, you know, less than power conference teams.  It's just part of basketball.
The only thing that sums it up is, what it's called?  It's called March Madness for a reason.
NIELS GIFFEY:  That was great.

Q.  Shabazz, just want to ask you, you went over last night to the Saint Joe's bench and shook hands with Galloway and Roberts before the game was over.  Why did you do that?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Like I said before, I think the biggest thing this game does is creates a type of competitiveness that you would want to see in your opponent, which then showers over the respect that you have for that person.
I was just telling Galloway, I have so much respect for him, that he worked so hard.  As a senior, you don't want to go out with a loss.  At the end of the day, you want to go out with a win.  At the end of the day, someone has to be a loser.
I just wanted to show him, tell him that I felt like he played his heart out today and I respect him for that, and I respected his whole team for that.  You know, that gave us a big run.
But our team, we never doubted each other.  We just wanted to push hard.  At the end of the day, when you play an opponent, that's what you want.  You don't want somebody that's going to bend over.  You want somebody that's going to fight you back.
I just wanted to tell him I respected him for that.  I think, at the end of the day, he understood that.  Justthat's it.
THE MODERATOR:  Niels, Shabazz, thanks so much.  Good luck tomorrow.
Joined by Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie.
Coach, congrats on the victory last night.

Q.  Kevin, you have good guards.  They have good guards.  How do you see the matchup at that position, and also, with regard to Villanova's ability to shoot the three?
COACH OLLIE:¬† They're a great, amazing three‑point shooting team.¬† I think they've taken probably, I think, top ten in three‑point attempts.¬† I think they're in the top five of made three‑point field goal shooting teams.
So we're going to have our work cut out for us.¬† We've got to run them off the three‑point line.¬† We've got to play Pinkston down low.¬† He's a great player also.¬† That's what gives them their balance, and that's what makes them tough to guard.
Jay does a wonderful job exploiting matchups.  So we're going to have to be able to be matched up and play our type of basketball and just play with energy and passion.  Hopefully, we can come out with the win tomorrow night.

Q.  Feel like a Big East reunion in some ways?  Boeheim's here, and now you're playing Villanova.  Does it feel that way?
COACH OLLIE:  You know, it's a great feeling.  I don't care who we're playing with.  We want to get to the next round.  It's great to see Jay.  It's great to see a foe that we've had so many battles against.  Villanova's a great team.  We're going to go out there and play.
But we're worried about and concerned about UConn and our keys to the game.  We're going to go out and play our type of basketball.  Whoever we was matched up in this round, we was going to have to go out there and play and do a great job on the offensive and defensive end.
I feel like I'm a part of the Big Five now.  I played Saint Joe's and Villanova.  I guess LaSalle is coming up next.  No, I'm just playing.

Q.  Kevin, does it help to be familiar with an opponent at this time of year?  I mean, you just played them a year ago.
COACH OLLIE:¬† Yeah.¬† I mean, they're a different team.¬† Their guys are playing with more confidence.¬† They're a year older.¬† We're a year older.¬† The last time we played, I believe we had an 11‑point lead.¬† Then in the second half, they kind of took over the game and got some offensive rebounds.
Archie was outstanding.  I think he had 25 points.  I think that was his high as a freshman.  So we're going to have to keep him in check.  We're going to have to keep everybody else in check.  Knowing that we're playing a great opponent.  It's going to be a war.
That's how we play.  Villanova plays the same way.  We're going to challenge each shot.  We're going to challenge each dribble.  It's going to be a fight.  We got to be ready for that, and we got to keep throwing punches.

Q.  Amida says you're on him a lot to get rebounds.  It took a while to try to help them.  How much extra work goes into a guy who just recently started playing ball compared to some other guys?
COACH OLLIE:  We owe them a lot.  I used to hate when the coach didn't say nothing to me.  That means I wasn't a part of the rotation or anything.  I'm going to be on those guys.  We need him to rebound.  We need him to be our best rebounder.
You know, I take it personal.  If I'm a big and the point guard is leading us in rebounding, I'm going to take that personal.  So I'm going to go out there and get those crucial rebounds.
That offensive rebound, I was on him the whole game.¬† If he was on our sideline, I was on him.¬† He went out of his area and got that offensive rebound.¬† I'm so glad he didn't pay attention to me because I was screaming, Throw the ball out, and I'm glad he didn't.¬† He made that jump hook and got that and one.¬† It was just a big moment.¬† He stepped up to the free‑throw line and the emotion he showed.
That's what this tournament is all about.  Other guys making plays.  That's what shows you a true good team when other guys can step up.  It's not always Ryan.  It's not always Shabazz.  Amida did a great job, and he grew up last night, I believe.

Q.  Coach, if you look at your whole season now that you've played 35 games and you had to say the biggest two to three strengths of your ball club overall.  Second part of that, maybe your guys struggled.  What are the areas that you guys had to grow in the most that hurt you throughout the year?
COACH OLLIE:  Our rebounds have been up and down.  Earlier in the season, we wasn't rebounding the ball particularly well.  We got in conference, and I don't know what got into us.  We started rebounding the ball like no other.  And then it dipped down towards the end of the season.  It's always rebounding the basketball.
We get the crucial ones.  When we need to get a rebound, we get those.  I think that's the important thing, too.  We're growing, and we're learning, and we're going to get those tough rebounds.
There's been some inconsistencies that we had.¬† Some of the great things, we shoot the ball phenomenally well from the three‑point line.¬† That's what's been saving us, having no turnovers.¬† That's going to be very crucial against Villanova with their different defensive packages they throw at you.
And also, getting to the free‑throw line, converting on the free‑throw line.¬† I believe we're probably top ten in the nation and number one in our conference in free‑throw shooting.
That's a big part of the tournament.  You never know how fouls are going to get called.  Down the stretch, I think we made 15 out of 15 down the stretch.
So it's a great attribute that we have as a team.

Q.  Kevin, Coach Calhoun's comments this morning, I was wondering if they caught you off guard at all?  If he were to come back, would it be tricky for you to have your mentor in the game again and perhaps even in your own backyard?
COACH OLLIE:  No, it wouldn't be tricky for me.  It would be great.  If that's what he wants to do, more power to him.  I'm always going to support Coach.
I haven't heard about it until today, but if that's what he wants do, I'm going to be supporting him.  I know he got passion for the game.
I know he's enjoying his vacations he's taking in January playing golf.  I don't know if he wants to pass up on those.
But if he wants to get back in the game, more power to him.  He earns that right.  He earns that respect.  Whatever he wants to do, he has my prayers and my best wishes.

Q.¬† Boeheim didn't want to talk about Big East reunions either.¬† He said it's like talking about your ex‑wife around your new wife.¬† So is that kind of the way it is?¬† Have you talked nostalgically about the Big East, it's kind of a knock on your current league?
COACH OLLIE:  No, I haven't really talked about it.  We just talked about Villanova.  We've got to go out there and play a game.
But it is.  You feel familiarized with them.  You played against them last year.  But at the end of the day, it's a basketball game.  I don't care what league we're playing against, we've got to go out there and play.  I want UConn to be out on top at the end of the game.
So it's good for the media.  It's good that they set it up.  But at the end of the day, we've got to go play.

Q.¬† Kevin, how has Shabazz turned into a guy who can lead this team in scoring, lead this team in rebounding, lead this team in assists?¬† He's almost become an all‑around guy that sort of fits all the pieces that you need him to fit into.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, he's a winner.  Whatever it takes for us to win, he puts that burden on himself.  When we were struggling rebounding, he got 11, 12 rebounds.  If we struggling in moving the basketball, he becomes the perfect facilitator for us.
You've seen his ability at the end of the game, last game, where he could take the game over and score 19 points in the second half.  So he has that innate ability to do whatever we need at any time.  And he's not scared to fail, and I think that's one of his biggest attributes.  He's not scared of the moment.  He's not waiting for his giants.  He's going to meet them.
That's what we all want to have.  We want to have that power that we're going to go out there and win the game and not look at, Oh, we make a mistake.  I'm going to be the one getting talked about.
No, if I make a mistake, I'm going to go out there and prove that I'm going to be a winner anyway.  That's what I love about Shabazz.
That's what I love about this team.¬† They believe in one another.¬† They believe in Bazz.¬† Bazz is a great leader, too.¬† Those are the things that don't show up on the stat sheet.¬† He's just an awesome leader, and he's grown to that.¬† That's a tribute to him and his parents and what he believes as a student‑athlete, how you need to conduct yourself on a daily basis.

Q.  Is that something that you saw in him when he got here?  I mean, did you think he could grow into this role?  Is it something that's sort of happened because of the makeup of this team?
COACH OLLIE:  I ain't going to lie.  There was a couple that I was like, No, it ain't never going to happen.  There was a couple of those days.  But most of the times his freshman year, Kemba was there, but he was shadowing Kemba.  He was seeing how he was leading, but he still had a little rebellion in him a little bit, wanted to do it his own way.
But he understood you're not going to change UConn.  UConn is going to change you.  He started to conform to that.  And now you see him grow into a great, amazing leader, and you see everybody following him.
When he showed that he has the leadership, he has the enthusiasm, everybody falls in line.  He's a great young man.  He's going to be graduating on time this spring.  That's just a great, great, great goal for him.  He just does everything for our team.  We all feed off his energy.
He's matured a lot.  That's great for our basketball team, but it's great for him.  It's great for him when he goes back to his community because a lot of those guys don't get this opportunity.  For him to come back and be a story that kids can look up to, not just on basketball, but getting your degree, is amazing, amazing thing that he can share in his legacy that will live long after he walks off the Storrs campus.

Q.  Daniels, your starter, can you describe his offensive game and defensive game?  Break him down a little bit.  Then talk about your bench as a whole and how they've played the last two or three weeks and how you sort of see your bench as your overall team, them fitting in.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, I'll just talk about DeAndre a little bit.  He's been coming along.  He's been a little inconsistent this year, and we just talk to him about getting touches.  The more touches he gets, the better offensive player he becomes.  Touches could be a deflection.  Touches can be an offensive or defensive rebound.  Touch can be a charge, anything like that that's making our team win.
He's starting to do that.  He had a great conference tournament, and then he brought it over here in the first round.  He's an inside basketball player.  He's a mismatch nightmare when his game is on.  We can manipulate the defense, take him down on the post.  He can pick and pop, and we try to utilize him in a lot of different ways.
My bench has definitely been a spark plug for us lately with Amida coming off the bench, also Lasan Kromah coming off the bench and Terrence Samuel coming off the bench giving us a change of tempo and allowing me to rest my guards a little bit.

Q.  Kevin, Shabazz hit that buzzer beater against Villanova two years ago.  It was kind of his first big collegiate shot.  Did you know before that he kind of had that clutch gene in him that he wasn't going to be afraid in the big moment, or did you kind of learn something about him that night?
COACH OLLIE:  No, I knew he had that gene in him just watching him in practice.  Like I told you many times, when I first started working him out, he was telling Kemba what to do.  And I was like, What's this little freshman telling Kemba where to shoot at.  He just had that moxie about himself.  Coming from his neighborhood, Mission Hills, you're going to have to have a little something in you.  You're not going to make it out of there.
He always has something.¬† He had a quiet confidence.¬† Then he also had a confidence that 'I'm supposed to be here.' We like our student‑athletes to have that kind of confidence, especially our basketball players because if you come to Connecticut, you've got to expect competition.¬† That's what it's all about.¬† That's what Coach bred in all of us.
You've got to expect competition, and competition, it leads to success.  He wasn't afraid of the competition, if it was Kemba, if it was Jeremy,[] he was going to go out there and play good, solid basketball.
I think that allowed him, when he was able to face the Villanovas and the Syracuses, to step up and face those big moments because he was challenged in practice every day.

Q.  How can the way you won last night, coming back and winning in overtime, how can that help you going forward into the next game?
COACH OLLIE:  Just winning.  Just being in those types of moments.  We was down by four with three minutes to go.  I believe it was 3:10 to go.  I know a lot of people had their doubts that we can come back and win.  Gavin, you follow this team enough, so you know what we're made of.  We know how we are a resilient group.  We go through different problems, but the bigger the problem, the bigger the destiny, I believe.
We've gone through everything.  I believe in these kids.  They believe in themselves.  Til that last zero goes, we're going to play.  That's the great thing about this team.
We made plays at the end like we always do, and we got in overtime, and it's like our time.  That's when the light's the brightest.  Once again, we won an overtime game.

Q.¬† Kevin, with Ryan Boatright's first three‑point last night, Shabazz passed you on the school's career assist list.¬† Your thoughts about Shabazz moving ahead of you to number 3 all‑time.
COACH OLLIE:  Nobody remembers number 4.  Nobody's going to remember.  It's always one, two, three to the media guys.  That was my last ride with the media guide.  I don't think we're even doing media guides anymore.  That was my last time being in the media guide.

Q.  You mentioned Villanova's ability to shoot the ball from the outside, but lately they've been struggling.  How much stock do you put in what they've done the last few games versus their track record for the entire season?
COACH OLLIE:¬† I don't put a lot of stock in that.¬† It's not like we're going to sit on their shooters.¬† We're going to be right in their face.¬† We want them to continue to struggle.¬† That's the respect we have for a great three‑point shooting team.
I look at the body of their work.  If they're creating good shots, they're going to knock those shots down.  We've got to get back in transition.  That's where I think they really hurt teams.
Yeah, they're a great three‑point shooting team, but they get out on the break.¬† I don't care if you throw it in the stands somewhere.¬† Don't have no live turnovers because they convert it to easy buckets.¬† That's our first and foremost thing.
Of course, run them off the three‑point line.¬† And we've got to keep Archie in front of us, Arcidiacono.¬† We've got to keep him in front of us.¬† He really destroyed us at XL Center when we played Villanova last year.
He's doing the same thing.  He's not shooting at that high of a level when he scored 25 points against us, but he gets in the thick of the defense, and he just makes the right plays over and over and over again.  We've got to really do a good job containing him.

Q.  Coach, when Shabazz was asked about Coach Calhoun possibly coming back, he joked about after his playing days were done, he'd go to him asking for a job.  Do you think he has that coaching gene in him, and do you think that he can be like yourself and he can transition right from player to coach?
COACH OLLIE:  I'm going to play him a little bit more.  So he's going to be working for me.  We're going to be fighting for Shabazz whenever he get into coaching because he's got a great basketball IQ and he knows the game inside and out.
I think he got enough fire to motivate guys and get them to the next level, kind of that same gene as Coach had and I'm trying to have.  It's the same thing.
You know, he wasn't McDonald's All‑American coming out of high school, so you always have a chip on your shoulder.¬† I play with that same chip on my shoulder.¬† I coach with that same chip on my shoulder.¬† I think he's going to have that same gene.¬† If he decides to get into coaching, it's going to be a war.¬† Me and Coach is going to have a sitdown.
Hopefully, I'll be able to have him look in his back pocket and pull out a little more money so we can get him on our side.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach, thanks.  Good luck tomorrow.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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