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NCAA MEN'S REGIONALS SEMIFINALS & FINALS: ANAHEIM


March 26, 2014


Aaron Gordon

Nick Johnson

Sean Miller

Kaleb Tarczewski


ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA

THE MODERATOR:¬† We are joined in the interview room by Arizona student‑athletes, Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Q.  Nick, take me back to November and the game against San Diego State.  How did you guys manage to contain Xavier?
NICK JOHNSON:  I think we did a great job on him in the first half.  I think in the second half he started getting a little more easy buckets, broke away.  I think really if you look at the whole game we had probably a 10, 15 point lead and he started getting going at the end and that's where they made their comeback.  He's had a great season.  He was obviously the Player of the Year in his conference.
So I mean, we just have to, myself, T.J., Gabe, Jordin, and even the bigs, he likes to use ball screens.  We have to make his job hard.  Not give him any easy looks and just hope to contain him.

Q.¬† Can you talk about your first match‑up against San Diego State and more than anything else, San Diego State's defensive intensity that they brought, you went out to a double‑digit lead.¬† They dropped it to four points in the final couple of minutes.¬† Can you talk about what you recall from them defensively?¬† Obviously they're much like you guys as well when it comes to being a defense for a squad.
AARON GORDON:¬† Yeah, they're very athletic, they're long and they're quick.¬† So it's going to be a high‑level basketball game on the defensive side and the offensive side.¬† Like us, they hold their opponent to about 50, 60 points, so it was something that we stress on offense to be more disciplined and really run our stuff.¬† If you're asking are we going to change anything to exploit their defense?¬† No, we're going to play Arizona basketball and continue to do what we do.
NICK JOHNSON:  I mean, I would just say last time we played them it was a really good game.  It was our first road game of the year, so we tried to come out with a lot of intensity.  I mean, they're long, athletic just like us, so they like to press a little bit, create turnovers.  I think that's going to be the key to the game as far as us just doing what we do, be a defensive team like we have been all year.  Take care of the ball when they try to pressure us and stuff like that and take good shots on offense.  The way we've been playing on offense the last few weeks, I think that we can continue that.  I think we can win the game.
KALEB TARCZEWSKI:  I think these two guys kind of summed it up.  There's not really too much I can say other than that.

Q.  You talk a little bit about what you each get most out of Coach Miller, and if you're aware, obviously, of his brother also coaching in the Sweet Sixteen, and as a basketball fan, how cool that is?
KALEB TARCZEWSKI:  I think the most important thing about Coach Miller is his relationship with all the guys off the court.  We all have a tremendous trust in him.  You know, not only as our coach but as a mentor, someone that can teach us things not only on the basketball court but also in real life.  I think that's why we have such a close team this year is a lot because of that connection.
Obviously, he's a great coach.  He's all about the process and doing what we do.  I think that's really why we're so locked in and prepared for every game.
NICK JOHNSON:  I think for me, Coach is just relaxing because he's done all the things that we want to do.  He's been in this position and been on a top team playing point guard.  So I mean, really when he says stuff, it sinks in because you know that he's been in that situation before.  As far as Arch, he was basically my main recruiter when I was deciding to come here, so I had talked to him a lot.  Super happy for what he's doing over at Dayton.  I was kind of mad when he left, but I mean, he did it for himself.  It obviously has worked out.  So I mean, I'm looking forward to watching their game and hoping we can meet up maybe.
AARON GORDON:¬† Yeah, it's a lot like what Nick said.¬† I have a lot of confidence being out there on the court just knowing that he's a really high‑level coach, Coach Miller.¬† He's a great basketball mind.¬† He's been there before, and he knows what to do in that situation.¬† He has a lot of trust in his guys, and it goes both ways.¬† So it's really easy to play for him.

Q.  How much effort have you put into putting focusing on Dwayne Polee?  The first time he played in San Diego, obviously he's been hot, and how much emphasis have you been looking into game film and such on him?
NICK JOHNSON:  Yeah, just knowing where he is when he comes in the game.  He's kind of like a sixth starter for them.  Just knowing where he is.  If we're hedging on ball screens on him and stuff like that, not leaving him open in the corner.  Not getting his feet set for that three.  I mean, he's a great athlete.  Not letting him get steals and get out in transition and getting those easy buckets to get him going.  Really, our scouting report is pretty thorough through one through ten.  I mean, we pretty much know what everybody does good and bad.  So I mean, just trying to study those throughout our few practices throughout this week, and we'll be ready for the game.

Q.  This is for all three players, but I'd like to start with Aaron.  Today the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players can create the nation's first college athletes union.  I'm wondering if you're familiar with their battle to try to accomplish this, and what you guys think about the possibility as an amateur athlete in college having a union represent your interests?
AARON GORDON:¬† Well, I really haven't heard about that.¬† That's the first time I've heard about that.¬† But having somebody or a group of people speaking out for an entire group of people like the NCAA athletes, it really helps.¬† It gets a good perspective from how student‑athletes think and where they're coming from.¬† I don't know what that entails as of right now, but in the future I guess it would be another way to get our voice out and let other people hear us.
NICK JOHNSON:  That's their quarterback, right, from Northwestern?

Q.  Yes.
NICK JOHNSON:  I think that's great.  Obviously, right now we're pretty focused on what we're doing.  We have a game tomorrow.  I think maybe probably for all of us we can look back or look at it in a few weeks down the road and probably look at it a little bit and say if we want to jump on board or stuff like that.  But I mean, right now I think we're pretty much focused on what we have ahead of us.
KALEB TARCZEWSKI:¬† Like Nick said, we're all focused on the game for tomorrow.¬† It's obviously nice for the possibility to have an organization looking out for the individual rights of all athletes and kind of get our voices and opinions heard.¬† But like Nick said, we're not focusing on that right now.¬† It's something we can look at in the off‑season.¬† Now the most important thing is the game tomorrow and really being prepared for that.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll start off with a statement from Coach Miller and then we'll open it up to questions.
COACH MILLER:  We're very excited to be here.  Ironically we were here last time in the Sweet Sixteen.  I believe it was held here at the Honda Center.  Played a very memorable game against Duke and lost a heartbreaker to UCONN in the Elite Eight.  San Diego State was also here.  That first night when we played Duke, they played UCONN.  It's kind of ironic now we find ourselves back, both of us.  I think it says a lot about both of our programs.  We have great respect for San Diego State, and look forward to playing them tomorrow.

Q.  Coach, you did a lot of things to them in that game in November that they haven't had other people do to them, and they really didn't do the things that they do well since then.  I was wondering the difference you see in those four months?
COACH MILLER:  Well, we played so long ago, it was early November, very seldom is a game that pivotal between two teams played that early in the season.  When I watch that game I see almost our team at a completely different place.  We no longer have Brandon Ashley.  Brandon was a starter in that game, and a lot of our other players have developed since then.  I believe the same thing with their team.  They were playing more players at that point.
Dwayne Polee has really emerged for them.  We know that.  But they've gotten better as the year has gone on, like all teams do that are here in the Sweet Sixteen.  But I think when you play them, it starts with being able to handle them rebounding.  They're an outstanding offensive rebounding team.  They take a lot of pride in doing that at both ends.  Their team has talent in that area, a lot of long, athletic players, a physical team, a great toughness about them.  They're an elite defensive team, but one of the statistics defensively that's different between the two teams, us and them, is they steal the ball.  They turn you over.  They get big turnovers with the way they play defense, which gives them additional offense.
So if you can ever keep them off the glass and take care of the basketball, I think that is a starting point in being able to have an opportunity to win.  Then Xavier Thames, I'm here in the west.  I don't know if the rest of the nation realizes what a terrific guard he is.  What he's done for their team from the month of November all the way to March, just watching him the last two games.  That's one thing that hasn't changed.  He's been dynamic, makes big shots, is really good on that middle ball screen, and I think every coach and team who plays them wants to do that part of the equation well, but it's not easy to keep him under control.  But he's also a very key element to their team.

Q.  Sean, the original question was what words would you use to describe Xavier Thames.  That said, back in November, what did Arizona do right in containing him?
COACH MILLER:  Well, he ended up having a good game.  One that is typical for him.  I think he had 19 points, I believe.  I think he had more maybe in the second half than he did in the first.  But I think what you want to do is make the game hard.  He's an outstanding shooter.  He really uses ball screens to free himself up, for threes to free himself up, for jump shots.  He can make his teammates better, but he really uses that to score for himself.  With that, it's not just a player who is guarding him, it's the player guarding the screen.  It's a team.  It's really a team dynamic that you need in place to do a good job against him.
By the way, he's not alone.¬† They have a lot of other really good players.¬† You look at JJ O'Brien, and he's a very difficult match‑up.¬† Winston Shepard is 6'8", and many times plays the guard position.¬† I know Dwayne just from watching him in high school and watching him develop.¬† He's as athletic and long as you really can get.¬† Josh Davis is also a very good player, great experience.
So Xavier Thames isn't alone out there.  That's why they've won the game that's they've won.  So it's certainly a team versus team game tomorrow.

Q.¬† Could you talk a little bit about how special this period is for your family, for your dad and Archie?¬† This unique moment that you have.¬† What are the biggest traits that you've taken from your dad, and then I have a follow‑up after that.
COACH MILLER:  Well, there's been some wonderful stories written.  Rick Reilly who is here wrote a great story about that.  You know, it's really a tribute to a family, to a mom and a dad.  My mom doesn't get a lot of credit because she wasn't a coach, but she's been there every step of the way.  My dad gets a lot of credit, deservedly so because of the time he spent with us.  But he's just one of those throwback coaches that knew the game, loved the game, was good at teaching and coaching, but gave that passion to his kids.  Everywhere he went, we went.  I think the day back then favored communication maybe more than today.  There was no cell phone.  You're in a car with very few radio channels, so you talked a lot more.  We certainly spent a lot of time together, especially in the summer, because he was a school teacher.  So it's that time, and I think his talent as a coach that he gave to us.

Q.¬† As a follow‑up, would you compare and contrast yourself and Archie as coaches?¬† Obviously, he was with you for two years.¬† People would assume that he's probably a lot like you, but are there a lot of differences as well?
COACH MILLER:  Well, he's at a different kind of scope where his career is, year three at Dayton.  Not that I've been doing it for a long time, but this is year ten for me now.  So he probably reacts to things maybe a little bit in a different way.  I think we both coach with a similar style.  I might be a little quieter in my approach than him at this point.  But he gets to year ten, he'll probably be a lot like me.  I think there are a lot of similarities.

Q.  Sean, in this day and age of egos and big numbers and everybody wants numbers, how have you been able to heard these cats so to speak to play well and play together?
COACH MILLER:¬† Well, we're very fortunate, and that's why we're here today because we have a lot of great chemistry on our team.¬† Many times you point to the oldest players.¬† Jordin Mayes, if you think about him, he's played for us for four years as an off‑the‑bench player.
But nonetheless, he played here in the game against UCONN in the Elite Eight as a freshman.  He played in the game last year against Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen, and he's back.  Nick Johnson.  The older players are about winning, and they've certainly set the tone for the younger guys.
But with our team, I give the younger players just as much credit, because Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis‑Jefferson, Pitts, those guys are as easy to deal with as incoming freshmen as I've ever dealt with.¬† Not only are they really good players, but all of them came here knowing how to win.¬† They listen.¬† They're good teammates.¬† I think it's that combination of the older and the younger who both have the same mindset.¬† We've had very few issues off the court, almost none.¬† As the coach, you coach.¬† As the players, you play.¬† We've been able to improve and stick with it because of that.

Q.  Secondly, how long do you think it's taken for the smaller lineup to take hold after the absence of Brandon?
COACH MILLER:  I think after the Arizona State game, the double overtime loss, sometimes you have to play a couple games to really get a true feel for what works and what doesn't.  We didn't play our bench enough.  We didn't recognize the importance of spacing and having another shooter on the court, how that can make the other four guys better offensively.  I think it was a lesson that we didn't have to sacrifice much defensively.  If you look at our defense, it's about the same now as it's been in late November, early December.  So I credit those guys, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts, Jordin Mayes, they're the guards that play more now.  Rondae plays more, and they've done an exceptional job.

Q.  Sean, growing up with Archie, what was it like your relationship with him back then as kids and who was beating who up?
COACH MILLER:¬† Well, our relationship isn't typical because there is a ten‑year difference.¬† So when I left to go to college, I imagine he was a third grader or fourth grader.¬† While I'm in college as a student‑athlete he would come to the game as an elementary student or middle school.¬† When I went into coaching and my time ended as a student‑athlete, that's when you would go watch him play high school.¬† I then was his college coach for a couple years when I was an assistant at N.C. State.
So the relationship was never like a sibling rivalry.  It would be more me looking out for him, and I think him kind of watching how I did things.  But I'm very proud of what he's done.  I'm also really happy for Dayton.  When you hire a coach who has not been a head coach before, especially in a program like they have, not that you're taking a leap of faith, but you're believing in something that you haven't seen.  Watching him deliver and just watching where that program is going, I'm happy for everyone involved there.

Q.  Gabe York said that he would get embarrassed not being able to guard Nick in practice and getting exposed defensively in practice.  Were you confident that he would be able to pull himself out of that funk and develop a defensive game?  How far have you seen him come?
COACH MILLER:  Well, if I judge Gabe York from where he would have been early in his freshman year defensively to where he is now, it's like a young kid becoming an adult.  He's someone we trust a great deal.  Not only does he do a really good job for us offensively, but he's also learned to become a better defender.  He's in the right place.  A lot of teams try to attack him because T.J. and Nick are so good on the ball.  As they've done that, and Gonzaga would be an example, he's answered the bell.
But Gabe, again, is a very unselfish player.  A lot of kids in today's world, when they don't play a lot as a college freshman, they leave, point fingers, and they start over.  When they start over, they have success at the next place.  Well, many times they would have had success at our place, except they never gave it a chance.  Gabe and his family and his support system, they stayed with it.  Just watching where he came from and how important he is this year, and I really believe where he can be a year from now as a player, it's gratifying.  It's what it should be like.  I think in many ways he's following the path of someone like Nick Johnson or Solomon Hill who each year seems to get better in our program.

Q.  Coach, the other night, Sunday night after you beat Gonzaga and you were talking about San Diego State, you used the word "fearless" to describe them.  I wonder what you meant by that?
COACH MILLER:¬† I think they're a confident program, not a team, but a confident program.¬† I've been in their shoes as the head coach at Xavier.¬† You have a lot of guys on your team that have been overlooked, or they're in their next stop having transferred.¬† A lot of times they have a healthy chip on their shoulder.¬† I mean that in a positive way.¬† They're out to prove that they're better than the outside world has given them credit.¬† I think just their program in general, I think they have a chip on their shoulder that when you play them, it is a very competitive, hard‑fought game.¬† They're a great defensive team.¬† They're a great rebounding team.¬† They're organized on offense.¬† But they have a number of players that have a toughness about them.
To beat them, you have to have that on your end.¬† That is a real credit to Coach Fisher.¬† I know I mentioned this a couple days ago what he and his staff have done here over the last decade, you really have to do a double take when you think about the success that they've had.¬† We respect them a great deal.¬† We know that tomorrow's game, for us, will be as hard‑fought of a game as we've played.¬† I also know this and our team knows this, for us to advance we're going to have to play really well.

Q.¬† Coach, you just kind of touched on it a little bit the job that Coach Fisher has done at San Diego State.¬† Before he got there, they had 13 losing seasons out of 14 years, and now they're regularly winning 20‑plus games and going to the tournament.¬† What do you think about how he's been able to turn this program from nothing into something?
COACH MILLER:  Well, Steve Fisher, if you just follow his career, it's not for me to voice.  I'm not the expert on it.  But I do think that a lot of college coaches believe this about him.  He didn't get nearly enough credit for the unbelievable job that he did in Michigan.  If you just think about what he did there as the head coach, it's amazing.  Then for him to come out here to the west and just kind of watch him build his program.  The other thing that you really respect about San Diego State, and we have it in common in our program, is their crowd, their following.  When we played them in November, that was as good of a college basketball crowd as we've played in front of all year.  We've played in some great arenas.
So not only do they have a great product on the court, but you can tell their program has just a rabid, passionate following, and that is the other thing about tomorrow night.  It's going to be a great atmosphere.  We were both here together a few years ago, but we didn't play each other.
But I remember thinking if we did what it would be like, and here we are three years later.  I think it's going to be a lot of red.  Obviously there are going to be a lot of people in the building that care a lot about their programs.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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