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March 29, 2014

Nick Johnson

T.J. McConnell

Sean Miller


Wisconsin – 64
Arizona – 63

THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by Arizona head coach Sean Miller, and student‑athletes Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell.  We'll open it up with a statement from Coach and then questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH MILLER:  Well, I'd like to congratulate, as we all would, Wisconsin.  Great team, and I'm really happy for Bo Ryan.  For him to be able to take that next step and Wisconsin, very deserving.  We lost today to an excellent team.
It wasn't as if we didn't get the job done or we played bad.  That was an incredible game.  Very similar to the game in our Pac‑12 tournament versus UCLA.  Thought both teams played really hard.  Could have gone either way.  Obviously, it's very disappointing when it doesn't go your way.  But we leave here with our head held very, very high.  I told our team after the game when I think of a team, I think of this team.  This is the best team I've ever been around.  We won 33 games.  We won our conference.  We got right to the very end, and we're 1 of 8, 9, 10 teams that if we would have gotten on the Final Four we could have won two more.  That is the greatness of the NCAA tournament.  The thrill of victory.
When you lose, it's like a car crashes, you know.  It's just you're done.  But I'm so proud of our team, especially these two guys right here.  Also very much aware that today Wisconsin is an excellent team, so our congratulations to them.

Q.  Nick and T.J., can you just talk about your general thoughts right now about the game, and just how difficult it was for either team to sustain any sort of momentum and kind of pull away from the other?
NICK JOHNSON:  Yeah, like Coach said, it was a great game.  We congratulate them.  They're a great team, have been all year.  I mean, it was back and forth, really.  Two great teams battling it out.  Their big guy really had a great game.  He raised his level today.  I mean, like I said, you have to congratulate them.
T.J. McCONNELL:  Yeah, this one hurts.  But congratulations to Wisconsin.  We fought and fought and fought, and I'm really proud of the way we did fight today.  You know, Wisconsin made one more play at the end, and that was the difference.

Q.  Nick, your view of the offense call at the end of regulation?  What kind of look did you have on your last shot, did you feel?
NICK JOHNSON:  I mean, the last shot, didn't get it off.  I wish I would have taken one less dribble, get the shot off, give us a little chance.  But I mean, like I said, it was a hard‑fought game.  Like T.J. said, just proud in how we fought.

Q.  And the offense call at the end of regulation, how did you see that?
NICK JOHNSON:  You know what, it's all a blur right now.  I couldn't even tell you.

Q.  Nick and T.J., because probably nobody in this room other than you can really understand this.  Could you explain how badly you feel right now after a 1‑point overtime loss?
T.J. McCONNELL:  You know, as I said, this one hurts in the worst way.  But you can take a lot from this game by the way we battled, and it came down to one play.  It just didn't happen for us tonight.  Again, congratulations to Wisconsin, but we've got to start looking towards next year and start getting in the gym and the weight room.  We're going to try to get back here next year.

Q.  Nick and T.J., could you guys both express a little bit about how defensive the game was and some of the match‑ups on the perimeter?  Nick, you and Gasser had a particularly good match‑up going, and just some of the tenacious defense that was played?
NICK JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, that's what our identity has been all year.  We knew coming into this game that a variety of scorers, so we were really looking forward to it.  All throughout the game we made their job tough.  I mean, like T.J. said, it just came down to one final play.  But all the way around, I'm happy with my team's performance.

Q.  Nick, on that last possession, how difficult did they make it for you and were you improvising?  What was your plan of attack?
NICK JOHNSON:  No, that was the play, pop‑out, kind of an iso to the left.  Like I said, if I had to go back and do it, I probably would have taken one dribble less and try to pull up and get the shot off.  But they made it tough.

Q.  Nick, was matching up with Kaminsky about as difficult as you've come across in your career?
NICK JOHNSON:  Probably up there, definitely.  Like I said, he had a great game today.  We tried a little something different, a little wrinkle we put in to go under the ball screens on the point guard, so Kaleb and Aaron wouldn't have to help as much.  Then for a little bit we started switching them a little bit.  So I mean, he had a great game.  Even with the game plan I felt like we played them tough.  Kaleb did a great job; Aaron did a great job.  Contested shots.  Just a few slip‑ups.  But I mean, he's a great player.  He made shots.  He made big‑time shots tonight.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open the floor to questions for Coach Miller.

Q.  Sean, what kind of challenges did Frank Kaminsky give you guys tonight?
COACH MILLER:  Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin's in the Final Four.  If I had to do it all over again in terms of our game plan, I would do it the same way.  Sam Dekker was 2 for 5.  Ben Brust, who is an All‑Big Ten performer, we did as good of a job on him as maybe we possibly could.  He moved so well without the ball.  He's 2 for 7.  Even Traevon Jackson, I thought a couple shots he made were just great plays by him, not against our defense.  But he's 4 for 14.  Gasser is 1 for 5.  Even Hayes, who I think is a great offensive player, hard match‑up, is 2 for 8.  One of their guys was 11 for 20.  He had 28 points and 11 boards.  He had 7 offensive boards.  Late in the game I thought it gave us a shot of momentum to take Kaleb out and try to switch.  But he's 7‑foot, and he got a couple putbacks and it's not a good feeling when you start to switch that little guy on him.
But the biggest thing playing Wisconsin is you don't get a feel until you play against them how great of a passing team they are.  I mean, every time that we tried to put two on the ball, I mean, they made us pay.  Very few times they missed.  The one more pass, sometimes guys missed, they didn't miss.  I felt like every big shot they needed, they really hit.
But we weren't in rotation because of how we chose to play defense.  We limited our rotations, which I thought was smart.  But Kaminsky made some great plays.  He's a difficult match‑up.  Got to be one of the best offensive players who plays college basketball, for sure.
We knew that, and that's why we tried to have the game plan that we had.  Obviously, it was almost as if he had a big night and we tried to shut everybody else down.  That's really not what we wanted to do.  But we could not overcome the 28 points he gave us.

Q.  Sean, on the second to last possession you got Nick driving against Gasser, and he got called for the charge.  How did you see that play?
COACH MILLER:  I thought it was a really, really tough call.  I'm going to stop there.  I've already been fined.

Q.  Sean, how long is it until you go to the silver linings part of this?
COACH MILLER:  You know, I've already done it.  When your basketball team is 33‑5 and, Greg, you know because you covered us, in the history of Arizona we have to put our team as one of the great teams that have played.  When you consider how consistent we've been, and that is the amazing part about our team, we were really good in November.  We were really good in March.  As you climb the ladder in March, you play other teams like yours and the margin for error is slimmer.
We've never talked about Brandon Ashley being hurt.  Brandon is a terrific player.  We could have gone south or not achieved what we did.  But we still were right here today, and that is a real testament to our team and really our coaching staff and everybody.  It's not easy to deal with an injury on February 1st like that.
I'm very proud of everything we accomplished.  And I think, again, when you have a season like we've had it only sets the tone for future seasons like this.  I know I'm the coach that's been to three Elite Eights, but I have been to three Elite Eights, but I'm really proud of all three of them.  It's not easy to get to the Elite Eight.  Last time we were here in the Honda Center, we had an open 3 to win it, we missed.  Today it came down to a blocked charge or last‑second shot, and it didn't work out.  But we have to keep doing things the way we've been, and one day we'll cross that line, I know it.

Q.  Coach, I was going to ask somewhat of a similar question, but can you just talk a little bit more about that razor‑thin margin at this time of the tournament?  And if you look at the stats, they're strikingly similar in almost every category between the two teams.
COACH MILLER:  One of the things that was really disappointing in the first half, and I think as the season has grown, the one thing that we haven't really had an answer for is we were a great rebounding team, and no matter how well we've tried to keep it there we weren't nearly as good of a rebounding team as we've climbed the ladder.
Wisconsin was killing us on the glass in the first half.  It was amazing that we were winning.  In the second half, if you look at how it ended, it's 39‑38 in rebounds.  They had 13 and we had 13.  But I'm going to say that most of our rebounding came in the second half through overtime.  The first half we needed to do a better job.  We could have been in the locker room with maybe a six or seven‑point lead instead of a three‑point lead because they killed us on second shots.
But, no question, you run into not only great players and great coaches.  But you go against these teams that have been really good from start to finish, and Wisconsin is a great team.  They can win the national championship, close to being a 1 seed.  Like us, I think they won 16 or 17 in a row at one point.
So we lost to a team that is excellent.  It just hurts because I think everybody in here knows that that could have gone either way eight times over.  We're on the losing end of it, so we're going home.

Q.  I wonder if you could reflect on Aaron Gordon's persistence tonight to get the ball to go down in overtime.  And what discussions or advice will you give him or talk to him as he makes the decision about whether to go pro?
COACH MILLER:  I think all of our guys, underclassmen who are considering going pro, the protocol that I would like them to go through is certainly make the best decision for them.  But we're lucky we have great families surrounding our players.  We have a coaching staff, and I just want to make sure that they have all of the information, and if that information checks out and they'd like to go, great.  But don't make a rush decision one way or the other, because it's too important.
Aaron has an incredible family.  He's very bright, and I know that he'll take his time with his family.  And when they get the right information, they'll make the best decision for Aaron, which is what they should do.  I don't know if you could ever coach a kid that you love more than him.  For somebody who comes in at the age that he came into, 18, came into Arizona, for how he practiced every day.  How great of a teammate he is, it's remarkable.  It's not about his rebounding or his talent, it's more about how you love having him on your team, because he's the ultimate winner, the ultimate teammate.
I know it sounds like I'm describing like a senior, a guy that's been with us for four years, but I'm not.  I'm describing him.  It's a real gift to our program and team that we were able to have him.  What he did this year, he broke the all‑time rebounding record in Arizona history.  He was the Pac‑12 Freshman of the Year, certainly one of the great freshmen to play college basketball, and his future is very bright.
By the way, whether it's Nick Johnson or Rondae Jefferson or all these other guys, that is the part that's so hard.  You don't want it to end because these guys are not only good players, they're great kids, and they really have done everything we've asked.

Q.  Can you talk about Nick's last shot?  Do you agree that he should have dribbled one less time?
COACH MILLER:  Yeah, it was a confusing time.  We talked about what would happen if it was Wisconsin's ball.  We had to be really thorough because unless we got a five‑second count, a steal or fouled on the catch, we would have no chance to win.  Then we also addressed what would happen if it was our ball.  But it was in the lower end of the side, which makes it harder to get it in.  We ran a play that we run, and there is an ending to the play, but the first phase is to get it to him and almost have a side cleared out.  What we talked to him about is you have two dribbles, 2.3 seconds, you have two dribbles.  I don't know if he took three or two, I don't know.  But it's tough.  I mean, you almost don't have time to make a pass.  And by the way, Wisconsin is one heck of a defensive team.  It's not like they're going to screw it up.  They're going to make you make a shot over them.  Nick tried to make a play as best he could, and it didn't work out.  But that is the play we'd call in that situation, and we were limited because the ball was pushed more towards the corner than higher on the court.

Q.  How long do you give yourself to decompress before you start thinking about next season and what type of team you'll have?
COACH MILLER:  You know, I don't know.  It takes some time.  I wish I could say that on the flight home I'm good, but when you get to this level, you have a lot behind you, seven months of hard work and a great team.  A team that we all know can get to a Final Four.  You get to that overtime and you're right here, it's disappointing.  It's not just disappointing for the coach, it's disappointing for the players too.
So I think it will take some time for us to get over it.  But this year has done nothing but brighten our future.  Again, I'm so proud of the effort we had, and we lost to a really, really good team.  I hope they win it all.  I really do.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach Miller.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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