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NCAA MEN'S REGIONALS SEMIFINALS & FINALS: NEW YORK


March 27, 2014


Keith Appling

Branden Dawson

Gary Harris

Tom Izzo

Adreian Payne


NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

THE MODERATOR:テつ We'll get started with an opening statement from Coach and then take questions.
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ I felt like there should have been a red carpet with that kind of introduction.テつ But it is great to be back in Madison Square Garden.テつ I think every player, every coach, anybody who plays basketball understands the significance and importance of this place.
We're excited to be here.テつ I think we have got a very good team we have to play.テつ When you win 18 out of 19 games in the ACC, when you beat the likes of Duke and Syracuse the way they did and a lot of other teams, there's no question there's no fluke.テつ This is, in some people's minds, the best team in the country.テつ And I think it's a team that doesn't beat themselves.テつ At the same time, we have got our sea legs under us a little bit.テつ I thought the last seven games we have made some progress.テつ The last five games we have made a lot of progress with our defense, our rebounding, our consistency.テつ I think getting guys back together and everybody seems to be in maybe back to normal form.テつ Keith is still getting that confidence back with his shot, but he too is making some progress.
So should be a heck of a game, and I think we're playing a great, well‑coached, great defensive team, but a better offensive team than I think people give them credit for.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Questions for Coach?

Q.テつ You mentioned their defense.テつ Transition‑wise it's been so important offensively for you guys, they're pretty good at getting back.テつ How do you view that matchup?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Over the years I think one of the successes we have had as a program is we could play racehorse or smash mouth.テつ We have been able to play both.テつ I think how we schedule, different teams we play.テつ Our conference is filled with some new coaches that teams press, teams zone, teams man, teams walk it up, teams speed it up.テつ We were the team that played against his dad I think it was 20‑19 at the end of the game.テつ It was 19‑17 at halftime and it was just a tough game.テつ But then a couple nights later we played and score almost 90 points or 80 points against Florida.
So we have got one of those teams that‑‑ look, it's hard to impose your will on somebody when it's also their strength.テつ We run, but we can run in half court.テつ They send a lot of guys back, it's been the culture that he's developed there, not giving up easy shots.テつ We're going to try to run, but that's not going to be the end all be all if they take that away, because then they're not offensive rebounding as well either.テつ So you give up something to get something.

Q.テつ These kids now they play so many games and so many venues by the time they're 21 years old, do you think playing here still has the kind of impression on them that it might have 20, 25, 30 years ago?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ You know, the Garden is like a building version of our guy Magic.テつ I can talk about players, and a lot of players I talk about, these guys weren't even born.テつ But Magic, I can talk about him all the time.テつ If he's up, everybody knows him, everybody knows who he is, what he's all about, no matter when you were born.テつ And I think Madison Square Garden is something like that.
I used to talk to when Gus Ganakas, a former coach at Michigan State who is from out here, actually worked for me a little bit, and he could talk about Madison Square Garden.テつ I mean it goes back.テつ Johnny Green our great player who is out here, and when pro players that we had come back, and they say, where's the best place to play?テつ I don't care if it was Steve Smith, it was Scott Skiles, if it was Mateen Cleaves or Morris Peterson or Jason Richardson or Zach Randolph, those different guys from different eras all say the Garden, the Garden is it.
So I think the new things they have done here has been phenomenal.テつ We have gotten a chance to play here, everybody says, well, you haven't had much luck there.テつ Well, it's not the place, it's the teams we play, you know.
So I think the players do know.テつ I think the players were excited to come here.テつ I think we're excited to be part of something that hasn't been here in 50‑some years, so that's an added bonus to playing in the Sweet 16.

Q.テつ I know you started the season 18‑1, but do you feel like you're almost peaking at the right time?テつ Do you feel like you're playing your best basketball right now?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Well, the best in the last month and a half.テつ But I don't think we're quite back to where we were, because Appling was so good early in the year.テつ His first 20 games, he was Player of the Year in our league candidate.テつ And then the wrist got worse and worse and worse, and it's kind of a critical position, although he's making some progress.
But I do think we have taken giant steps in the last two and a half weeks.テつ We got our guys back, especially Dawson and Payne, Appling about three weeks ago roughly, and we made some progress each week.テつ I thought the Big‑10 Tournament we did play awfully well.テつ I thought we played well in Spokane.テつ Other than a seven minute, but I think you got to give Harvard credit; they were good and they did some good things in a stretch, and we did some poor things.
Are we back to the team we were then?テつ Probably not, but are we as close as we have been all year?テつ Definitely.

Q.テつ As you look at Akil Mitchell and what he does defensively, give me a scouting report on him and do you anticipate them using him on Payne?テつ Or how do you think they will use him?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Well, what I've seen is they doubled a lot and they will use him all over.テつ He's a looks like a phenomenal athlete that goes to the offensive glass well.テつ He's a very good defender, but there's not many guys that aren't good defenders on that team.テつ I think it's illegal.テつ If you play for Virginia, you got to be a good defender.
The good thing is from the second game of the year we played Kentucky to the Carolinas to the Texases, we have played a lot of different big guys that were real athletic or real strong or real good or all of the above.テつ And then in our league, our league was really good.テつ So I don't know how we're looking at them any differently than some other guys, I just think that they do double the post quite a bit, I'm sure they will do that.テつ Whether they put him on him or not, I don't know, but we're going to have to play either way.

Q.テつ I was wondering if were you familiar with the ruling yesterday about the Northwestern football team, with the team being able to unionize.
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Yeah, you know, and I would be honest with you, it's probably the last thing I pay attention to right now.テつ I probably will later.テつ I probably wouldn't be a fair guy to ask, because I don't follow up on it enough.テつ I do get a little bit amazed on ‑‑ I think sometimes we take rights to a whole new level.テつ And as I said to my media I just hope my 13 year old right now isn't negotiating his phone and his bedtime.テつ So when I get back I'm going to have the union boss sitting there telling me what to do.
Maybe that's the way it's headed.テつ I don't mean to make fun of it, because I don't know either way.テつ I don't know enough about it.テつ It is way too complicated for me.テつ But I will say this:テつ I'm for safety.テつ I'm for student ‑‑ I'm not as much for student rights as I'm for student welfare.テつ I think there's a process in rights.テつ And you earn that.テつ We always want to speed the process up, as I said to my guys, there's a reason you got to be 36 to be president.テつ You know.テつ And that's the way I look at that.
So I wish I could give you a good answer.テつ If you call me at the end of the year when I read up on it, study up on it, probably spend morning, noon and night thinking about it, I will, but that doggone Virginia team has occupied all my time, to be honest.

Q.テつ How physical a game do you expect this to be?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Well, I think it will be a physical game.テつ I played so many times against his dad, and I mean this is a chip off the old block, as they say.
Those games were just wars, now, the way it's being called outside.テつ It might not be very physical and inside it might be really physical.
But like I said, I really think we can play both ways.テつ I don't think that's going to be whether we win or lose, I think how we guard and how we take care of the ball and how they do are going to come down, it's not going to be the arena, it's not going to be the physical nature, the worry I think every coach has right now; if it gets physical, how is it going to be called?テつ And are you going to have your best player sitting on the bench much?テつ I think that's the biggest concern.

Q.テつ With all the talk about defense and how physical Virginia is, is that overshadowing some stories about their offense and what they can do that you guys got to worry about?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Yeah, Harris is a hell of a player and their point guard is a very efficient freshman.テつ They bring in a variety of guys.テつ The Anderson kid who comes in can really do some things.テつ They got tremendous size, I think.テつ You're bringing in 6'6" to 6'8" guys on the perimeter.テつ So I think they're more athletic than they look, I think they will run a little more than sometimes we think, and I think they're great on the dribble‑drive and that.テつ They can get into the paint or to the baseline very well.テつ I think they get, you're right, I think they get under‑respected offensively because they're so good defensively.

Q.テつ I've heard you talk about it at previous Final Fours about how you've gotten all your seniors to a Final Four.テつ Is that a real thing that you talk about on this drive to get there?テつ Is it a motivating factor at this point?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ I'll be honest with you, beginning of the year we talked about it a little bit, and most of the time it's not something a coach talks about; it's what the players do.テつ I'm going to have a chance to get to another one, unless I get fired this week, but some of the seniors don't have a chance.テつ And I really believe that's their ownership in it.
But this year's team we have been through so much, so much, that I really didn't need that burden put on them.テつ So I didn't really talk about it much, except to say that getting to the Final Four is‑‑ if you got those couple of things in your life that are important, you know, the birth of your children and without being ridiculous, I mean a Final Four is a Final Four.テつ If you're in this profession, there is nothing better.テつ And I just want all my guys to have a chance to share in at least once.テつ So that's, that's what we talk about.

Q.テつ Mateen was talking earlier about the importance of experience and seniors.テつ Do you think that's a huge reason why you guys are still here and looking forward?
COACH TOM IZZO:テつ Well, I honestly think we were picked one, two, three in the beginning of the season, because I think we had a couple of seniors, we had a super sophomore in Gary Harris, we had some other guys, we had some depth, we had some size, we had some athletes, we had some bangers.テつ As Dawson comes on, now he's gotten better and better; just gives us some more.
I think, as I said, I never bailed on this team all year.テつ I knew the injuries were part of the problems that I think that we would come back or we would run out of time, is my big thing.
But I think Mateen is right, we have got some veteran players who have played in some‑‑ they played on an aircraft carrier, they played in Germany, they played in Big‑10 Tournament finals, they have played in some neat places and they played against some great teams.テつ Whether it be Duke or whether it be Carolina or Texas or Kentucky.テつ So that always helps, too, because you have something to refresh your memory.テつ As good as these guys are, they're players, too.テつ And I think when you play the best over a period of a couple years, it gives you at least a comforting feeling that you've been there, done that before.
Now, tomorrow night you still got to play your best to move on in this tournament.
THE MODERATOR:テつ All right.テつ Thank you, Coach.テつ We'll now take questions for the student‑athletes.

Q.テつ Gary and Keith:テつ How important do you think the tempo and pace in this game is going to be?テつ They're obviously real good at getting back in transition and you guys are pretty good at pushing it.
KEITH APPLING:テつ Yeah, they're a great defensive team.テつ We're just going to try to have to try to find easy ways to get baskets.テつ We understand they're tough.テつ They guard very tough in the half court, so it's just a matter of us getting steals and getting out on the break and getting easy ones, because that's what it's all going to come down to.
GARY HARRIS:テつ It's definitely all going to start on the defensive end, because it's kind of hard to run and get out in transition when they're scoring every time.テつ So we're just going to have to depend on our defense to help us get out going in transition.

Q.テつ Keith, the matchup with London Perrantes from Virginia, he's sort of risen to the occasion in a lot of other games this year for UVA, when matched against really good points guards.テつ What do you think about that matchup and what have you seen of him kind of on film?
KEITH APPLING:テつ I really don't get into one‑on‑one matchups.テつ Basketball is a team sport.テつ It's four other players on the court with me, and at the end of the day it's going to come down to who is the better team and who is the tougher team.テつ Hopefully tomorrow our team is, and we just have to go from there.

Q.テつ You guys are seniors now.テつ There's kind of a tradition there at Michigan State of seniors making the Final Four under Coach Izzo.テつ How much of a motivating force has that been for you guys?テつ And how much have you talked about it or is that something you just put on the shelf?
KEITH APPLING:テつ It is definitely nothing that we can just put on the shelf.テつ It's Adreian and I's last year.テつ There's no tomorrow for us.テつ But we just try to take it one game at a time because in this Tournament, if you overlook one team, in the Tournament, that's how upsets happen.テつ So we just try and take it one game at a time and control the things that we can control, and hopefully it will end up good for us.
ADREIAN PAYNE:テつ I definitely think about it all the time, for sure.テつ I pray about it every night.テつ It's something that's not being overlooked, especially because we practice, we got banners hanging up in the practice facilities.テつ So we always know it's right there and it's always on our mind, no matter what.

Q.テつ Could you guys all talk about it.テつ Michigan State's name hasn't been said without people talking about your finally getting healthy.テつ Talk about how frustrating it was when each of you went down for a certain amount of time.テつ And do you feel like you guys are all healthy now?
BRANDEN DAWSON:テつ It was definitely frustrating in the beginning of the middle of the season.テつ I think we were dealing with a lot of adversity and injuries.テつ But now we have all our key players back, we are looking better as a team, and our chemistry is great, and I think our rhythm is great, and we're just happy to be on the floor with each other.
KEITH APPLING:テつ It was definitely hard.テつ A lot of the key players were in and out of the lineup, and it made it tough for us to get a rhythm and develop somewhat of a rotation.テつ So now that we are all back and getting our flow together, I mean things are working out well for us.
GARY HARRIS:テつ I feel like I can speak for all four of us, we all had time out and I feel like we all felt frustrated at the time, and just to have everybody back has been huge for us.
ADREIAN PAYNE:テつ Like everybody said, we all were frustrated, we knew we were a better team, we just hadn't been able to put all the pieces together to show it.テつ So we finally got everybody together, and we're healthy and now we're capable of showing what we can do as a team.

Q.テつ Adreian, your NBA stock seems to be rising with each passing game.テつ I'm sure that you're focused on this weekend, but is that something that's crossed your mind at all?
ADREIAN PAYNE:テつ The NBA, nothing I can do about that now.テつ It is my senior year and I know that if I don't continue to keep playing and keep showing up, then we won't advance.テつ And that's the main thing, is just trying to continue to win the games, so that I can continue to play another game and lead this team to a Final Four.

Q.テつ For Adreian, just a follow‑up on the senior issue:テつ Not a lot of teams in the country have a lot of seniors.テつ I was just wondering, what's your thoughts on what's it like being a senior and playing for four years, which not everybody does?テつ What did you get out of these years?
ADREIAN PAYNE:テつ You know what I got out of my four years, it's all been a little different.テつ My freshman year was a learning year.テつ I was like a baby.テつ I couldn't walk or anything.テつ Because I was just trying to figure out the ropes.テつ And it was just so much thrown to me, thrown at me.
Then my sophomore year I just continued to try to grow and school was always a big deal, so I came in and I was just wanting to hit the books hard and try to learn as much as I could.
My sophomore year I took on a bigger role and started scoring the ball more, and just trying to be able to find my ways in the ins and out of how to score and be a better player here at Michigan State, learning the offensive and defensive schemes.
And then by my junior and senior year, it's just been being able to take off, I've been watching more film and just learning now.テつ By now I know the system very well, so I'm able to play within the system and still be able to create for others and just try to lead the team.

Q.テつ For anyone:テつ Is there anything special about playing in Madison Square Garden that's different from other arenas or is that kind of lost on you guys because you're a relatively young?
GARY HARRIS:テつ Yeah, it's definitely an exciting thing to play in Madison Square Garden.テつ Just all the great players have come through here and played here.テつ It's just a huge place in the history of basketball for us to able to take part in that is huge.

Q.テつ Keith, you've talked about winning above all else quite a bit here, when did that start for you and was it high school, was it at Michigan State?テつ When did that become part of your pedigree?
KEITH APPLING:テつ I've always been a winner.テつ It started in elementary school when I won my first championship.テつ In middle school I won another championship.テつ In high school I won a state championship.テつ So it's just something that I've always been in.テつ I'm just such a competitor that every time I step out there on the floor, my goal is to do whatever I can to help my team win.テつ So I feel like that's just something that's been embedded in me since I started playing basketball.

Q.テつ A follow‑up on that, as you've gone through this year and you've had to‑‑ you've been limited at times and worked your way back and the team has changed, is that something that you've had to have conversations with your self in terms of what it now takes for us to win, what I need to do?
KEITH APPLING:テつ Yeah, it was ‑‑ I've been through some adversity throughout the course of the year, but at the same time we have so many players that are able to do so many different things that it's no reason for me to stress and try to overdo anything, because the guys to my left and my right can do just as much as I can out there on the floor.テつ So it's really no worries, as long as we're coming out with W's every night.

Q.テつ Adreian, when you look at Akil Mitchell and the job he did on Jabari Parker and some of the other defensive assignments he's had this year, why is he such a tough defensive matchup?
ADREIAN PAYNE:テつ He's athletic, strong, and he has good size.テつ So playing defense is just toughness, mental things.テつ So you just got to give credit to him and try to watch film and see how he defends, try to find ways to score the basketball.
THE MODERATOR:テつ All right.テつ Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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