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March 27, 2014

Aaron Gordon

Nick Johnson

T.J. McConnell

Sean Miller


Arizona – 70
San Diego State – 64

THE MODERATOR:  We're going to be joined by Arizona head coach Sean Miller and student‑athletes Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, and T.J. McConnell.  We'll start with a statement from the coach and open it up to questions.  Coach, an opening statement?
COACH MILLER:  Well, first of all, we've played 37 games now.  That was the most physical, hard‑fought game of the season for us.  I thought San Diego State really set the tone on how the game was going to be played.  I mean, they might have had seven or eight second shots in the first three minutes of the game.  And their physicality, their athleticism, their toughness, they've got a tremendous team and a great program.  We knew that before the game.  That wasn't a surprise to us.  But the story is about us advancing.  It took tremendous toughness and resolve.  I felt like we overcame Nick not scoring, Kaleb in foul trouble.  The beginning of the game, giving up that many second shots, you don't get to this level without having that toughness and resolve that we have.  That, to me, was the story line of the game.  Us finding a way, being tough minded and almost willing our way to the finish line.

Q.  Sean, could you‑‑ I know it's about your team here right now, but prior to your game, Archie gets through.  Did you have an eye on that even though as you're preparing?  Can you just discuss this next step in history that you guys have made?
COACH MILLER:  Yeah, I mean, these guys, we watched the game in our locker room.  We were all pulling for Dayton.  They run a lot of the same plays we run.  It was interesting to hear our players call them out.  That's this, that's that.  But I'm happy for Dayton.  I'm happy for Archie.  And I don't want to take too much of the spotlight off of what you said, our team, and really his team too.  The fact that the two of us are in the Elite Eight is a very unique situation, but we'll see.  Hopefully we have the ability to come back and play well on Saturday.  This is about Arizona having the opportunity to get to a Final Four.

Q.  Aaron, it was only five and a half minutes into the second half, but that alley‑oop jam, did you sense that it got the team energized and yourself?
AARON GORDON:  It was a good pass from Gabe.  All he had to do was throw it up there and I went and got it.  In the heat of the moment I can't really hear the crowd.  I'm just focused on the next play and my team.  They might have called a timeout after that, and I could see everybody was up.  We just had a rejuvenation to us, and we kept going off of that.

Q.  Nick, the outburst you had in the final three minutes, did you notice something different in San Diego's defense that you could take advantage of?  Or were your teammates creating different space for you?  What was going on there?
NICK JOHNSON:  No, nothing really different in their defense.  Just Kaleb, or T.J. got the steal, kicked it to Gabe, and he, I guess, had the knowing to get me an easy bucket and I got that lay‑up.  Kaleb had a big pass to me, wide open at the three‑point line.  I just stepped in and shot the ball like I've been shooting.  I mean, I felt like a few shots in the first half and in the second half didn't go down.  I thought they were good shots.
But, I mean, just trying to stay with it.  These guys give me great confidence to keep on shooting the ball and just finish the game.  That's what I did.

Q.  T.J., can you take us through the steal and also how big was it for Gabe to find Nick and get him that easy bucket?
T.J. McCONNELL:  I was pretty much denying Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard kind of handed him the ball, and I stuck my hand in there and saw it rolling and I dove on it.  I rolled over and saw Gabe, and Gabe made the great play by passing it back to Nick.  You know, I thought that was a very pivotal point in the game.

Q.  T.J., in the first half, I think you and Aaron combined for 8 of it 12 shooting, and the rest of the team was 2 for 15.  I noticed you kind of took some shots that you may save for later in the game.  Did you sense that with Zews in foul trouble, and things not falling for Nick.  Did you sense that you had to step up and start scoring earlier?
T.J. McCONNELL:  I noticed that a little bit.  When I was coming off screens, they were kind of sagging off, and I kind of got to that pull‑up jumper that I shoot a lot, and they were falling.  So when Kaleb's in foul trouble, and Nick's struggling, which doesn't happen much, me and Aaron did a good job of stepping up until Nick took over.  As a team, I just thought we did well.

Q.  Coach, what did you say to Kaleb when he was dealing with the foul trouble in the first half into the second half?
COACH MILLER:  Well, you know, Kaleb is a very, very important piece to our team.  His size defensively anchors many things and without him we're not the same.  He's gotten smarter not getting in foul trouble, but tonight wasn't his night, especially him getting his fourth foul the way he did on a shot fake 17 feet from the basket.  It's tough on somebody, a player in a game of this magnitude, if things aren't going well, to turn it around.
But I will tell you that part of our surge in the second half began when he came back in the game with four fouls.  We got the ball to him deep in the lane, he converted.  I think we kind of looked more who we are as a team.  So there were a lot of our players.  Nick, Kaleb, that played through a lot of adversity throughout the game.  At the end, they were there for us.  But it was good that Kaleb could contribute the way he did in the second half, especially with Rondae fouling out like he did.
But like I said in my opening statement, this was a game of resolve and will, both teams.  And we had find a way with a lot of things not going our way here tonight.

Q.  Nick, can you kind of run through the emotions of that first half, the 0 for 7, and then the emotions of the last three minutes of the game when you're with the lay‑up, the three and hitting all those free throws?
NICK JOHNSON:  I mean, I've had a few games like this this year.  It's unfortunately been our losses, so I just try to stay with it.  I mean, like I said, Coach, the whole coaching staff, all the team, they're great with keeping me up.  Just saying next play.  When I hit one shot it just started to feel a little bit better.  I mean, I just kept on hitting shots.

Q.  Aaron, can you take us through, it was before T.J.'s steal Kaleb tipped an offensive rebound to you.  How big are plays like that in a game like this where maybe they don't show up in the box score as much, but just with the way both teams are just kind of grinding it out there?
AARON GORDON:  It was huge.  A lot of basketball is played in between the lines.  What I mean by that is it's just the little things that don't show up in the box score that really make the biggest difference in the game.  Rebounding does show up in the box score, which is one of the key assets to this game.  What he did was tip the ball and keep the ball alive.  I think on one possession we had three chances to score, and on that third possession we got him the ball and he finished.  So it was just a really, really big part of this game was rebounding.

Q.  Aaron and Nick, you've heard Coach Miller say just in the last couple of minutes, a game about resolve and will, the hardest fought game of our season.  Did it feel like that?  How early in the game did you realize that it might be like that?
NICK JOHNSON:  Oh, yeah, it definitely felt like that.  We played these guys before.  We had a battle our third game of the season at their place, so I mean, we really knew it was going to be like that since we won our last game, really and knew who we were playing.  You've got to give a lot of credit to them.  They're a great team.  They really play hard, and I think it kind of stunned us a little bit how hard they were rebounding at the beginning.  I think they had 7 offensive rebounds in the first four minutes.
So I mean, definitely one of our toughest games, just for us to bounce back.  I don't know how many offensive rebounds they had in the second half, but it definitely wasn't as much as in the first half.  I mean, it just shows the‑‑ give the credit to our team, because we fought back and we got the win.
AARON GORDON:  The poise that Coach Miller has and our team has, my teammates have, it's absolutely incredible.  I love these guys to death.  They play with so much heart top to bottom.  Everybody has heart, and they have no quit in them.  It's really easy to go through 40 minutes and give it your all when you know the person next to you is playing with their heart and leaving it all on the line.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions for Coach Miller?

Q.  Sean, just your thoughts on Nick's final three minutes of the game?  He took kind of control of the game.
COACH MILLER:  San Diego State showed a 1‑3‑1 zone, especially against NewMexico.  We watched all three NewMexico games quite a bit.  Knew that they had success with, especially with Dwayne Polee at the top of it.  When I saw them go to it the first time, we had a lot of timeouts, so we called one just to make sure we were organized against it.  When we came out of the timeout, they went man‑to‑man.  Then they tried it again on the most pivotal part of the game.  Our guys were ready.  We executed first side, second side.  Threw the ball inside.  Kaleb, I think, was the person who passed it out.  Nick got a great look.  That three came against their 1‑3‑1, not against their man‑to‑man.
So, in a game like this, like Aaron mentioned, there are a lot of little things.  But our poise, when they changed defenses that late in the game and to create a good open three and then make it is one of the reasons that we won.  That to me was a huge turning point, not really a turning point, but gave us a gap.  Gave us a confidence that the game was going in our direction.
Nick has to make the shot.  Early in his career, like all young players, it's not easy to put a bad first half behind you and come up big at the end.  But between his free‑throw shooting and that three‑point shot, it's amazing for a kid to be able to do that after not making shots for about 25, 30 straight minutes.
When I talk about will and resolve and having a toughness about our team, it's the willingness to take the shot and then make it when things haven't gone your way the entire game, especially in a game like this of such great meaning.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach you want to talk about the match‑up at all Saturday?
COACH MILLER:  No, I mean, obviously, I know Wisconsin very well.  We know them very well.  A few years ago when I was at Xavier we actually played them in the NCAA tournament.  We played them in Maui in our first year here at Arizona.  I know Bo Ryan well.  He's one of the best coaches in the game.  They've had a great season, play in a tremendous league.  I know they're really skilled.  I know from Wisconsin's perspective they seem to score a little bit easier than maybe some of the other teams.
But whoever you play in this next game is going to be just a great team who has had a fantastic season.  But part of being successful in this next game is to not make the game we just played that big.  We've won.  We're excited.  But to turn around so quick that you have to be really ready here at 5:00, whatever the game is on Saturday, I think that's our question to put this behind us and play for a Final Four berth.

Q.  Obviously, it's a stressful job for you.  Did this game feel more stressful than many of them?
COACH MILLER:  You know, it really didn't, and probably because in our first exhibition game I feel a lot of stress.  They're all the same.  You're trying to win every one of them, and it's not just me.  It's the coaching staff.  It's a team.  We have high expectations of ourselves; our program has high expectations.  Right now we have a golden opportunity.
But I wouldn't say our mindset or my mindset was any different in this game than it would have been a game in November.  We're all trying to win and be the best we can on this day.  When you start making things at this level bigger than you need to, that's not going to help anybody, especially if you're the coach.
We know what's at stake; everyone does.  It's about us sticking to our guns, having that identity in place, and being the best team we can be.  For us, that now means on Saturday evening.

Q.  Coach, how concerned are you regarding team rebounding?  I think this is the fourth game in a row dating back to UCLA where you've actually been outrebounded kind of significantly.
COACH MILLER:  I think a couple things.  One, I'm going to address head‑on because to me the cat is out of the bag.  People say that we're a big team.  We're not.  When Brandon left us, our size is good, but it's not great.  And at this level, we rely on a three‑guard lineup now more than ever.  That affects our offensive rebounding, and tonight it affected our defensive rebounding.  There are times when we play Rondae at the three with Aaron and Kaleb, and that is our biggest group.
But as we sub, we're smaller now.  Our room for error was lost rebounding the ball.  We don't beat you up any more.  We're good at it, but we're no longer great.  I think the key for us on Saturday is again to learn that our margin for error rebounding is very small.  We need all five guys on every shot to block out.  We have to work hard to get second shots.  We can do it.  It's not like we're terrible, but if you just start looking, you've got Gabe, T.J. and Nick out there for significant minutes, although we're a more skilled team.  For example, we had seven turnovers tonight.  It's hard to have seven turnovers against that team.  That's something we're doing better because we play this group. 
       But you feel it a little bit rebounding.  We have to address that, but it's something that I think we all came to realize a long time ago that that, more than anything is what Brandon Ashley had in place for us.  We didn't have a drop off in size, now we do.  So our way of doing it has to be we have to do it as a team.  We have to block out.  Our guards got to rebound.  We did a better job in the second half against them than we did in the first half.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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