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March 10, 2011

Kevin O'Neill

Donte Smith

Alex Stephenson


USC – 70

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. An opening statement from Coach O'Neill.
COACH O'NEILL: I think our team defensively after we got our feet on the ground, we don't have many guys that ever played in a tournament. We didn't handle the start very well, but we did keep playing hard defensively.
We ground them out, and it gave us a chance to win going down the stretch because we were so on good defensively. Had guys not stepped up and done their job on the defensive end of the court as much as we missed Nick in there with all the foul trouble, we'd have had to play him. And we didn't want to play him with two fouls in the first or three until the second.
These guys here stepped up big time as did the rest of the team. I thought their effort was tremendous, and we need to make sure we have that same kind of effort tomorrow no matter who we play.

Q. Do you think you could honestly win going into this game, especially by 14 if Nick only had 7 points in 27 minutes?
COACH O'NEILL: Most of the time we run our stuff through Nick and Jio. You know, Nick, the first game we played with these guys didn't do anything, and we lost by two at home. Give Cal credit, they're a heck of a good team, and they're tough to play, and tough to guard.
But we've been getting those kind of performances from different guys the last three or four weeks, and Nick's carried us in a lot of games of the it was our turn to carry him today, and our guys did a great job of that. I think going forward, hopefully just helps our confidence on the offensive end to do that. Jio, and Mo, and Donte, and Marcus, and Al, all these guys stepped their game up offensively for us.

Q. There was a stretch where you guys were getting several charges in a row and stops on the defensive end. Was there any message that you sent them in a time out or before any of this happened?
COACH O'NEILL: We knew with Nick not in there that we were going to have to be even better defensively. It actually helped us today to be sized down.
I just said to Donte on the way down, I told one of the officials thanks for giving Nick his third because he's not playing worth a damn today, and we played better defensively without him because of Marcus's quickness. And that's not a knock on Nick. But the fact of the matter is his plus-minus today wasn't good, and the other guys stepped up and did the job.

Q. How do you explain how you dominated these guys the last 25 minutes of this game after such close match-ups the first two games against them?
COACH O'NEILL: Well, we played with a sense of desperation, I thought. And nothing's more desperate than to be ten minutes into a game and have three points. The one message we always try to send to our guys and they send to each other is that we are going to guard you. And if we guard the offense will eventually happen and go well for us.
I think our guys really took it to them defensively because our mentality was we're desperate here. We have three points. We're down 15 points or whatever it was. We've got to do something well, and it became the defensive end for us.

Q. In the first half it seemed like a momentum switch. You guys kind of got it together. Coming out of halftime in the second half, what was the defining factor that made you guys kind of put the nail in the coffin to say, hey, we're going to smash on the gas and not let up for the rest of the half?
COACH O'NEILL: We started off the second half like we did the first. That's why I took an early timeout. I think there is a tendency with teams at all levels that if you come back from a big deficit in the first, and we talked about this at halftime. You don't win with a come back. You win with solid play in the second half.
There is always a tendency, I think, when you do come back from a big deficit and you're playing well at the end of the half, you make a defining shot at the end of the half, to let down a little bit, and we did do that. We took a timeout. Talked about it a little bit. Exchanged some courtesies between myself and our team, and then we moved forward on the defensive end the way we needed to.

Q. Alex, they opened in a man. They hadn't played man much against you in the previous two games. Did that give you difficulties early on? And second of all, can you talk about the job you did defensively against their two interior guys because you kind of took them out of the game.
ALEX STEPHESON: First of all, I think defensively we came out expecting them to play zone, and they came out in man. We've gone against man teams the past couple of weeks, so we weren't shocked or thrown off by that. We came in knowing our job and what we had to do against man.
And the second question, me and Nick really wanted to come out and play strong against their two big guys, because their two big guys have been playing well against us every time we met up.
So me and Nick talked and made a point to go throughout and play defensively, play to do a job on them on the offensive end to help the team.

Q. When you were down and you scored three points in what Coach KO called the first ten minutes, it was actually like 7 and a half, but what was the message? You went on to have a career high with a double-double. Did you have a mentality or message at that point to stay the course, everything's going to be fine?
ALEX STEPHESON: Yeah, KO called timeout and told us to pick it up. But we'd not there before. We were a veteran team. We knew that we were going to come back. It was still early in the game. We were still confident and knew that everything was going to be okay.
COACH O'NEILL: Why didn't you tell me (laughing). I wasn't really feeling like it was going to be.

Q. Can you talk about how significant or how important it was for you guys to have the edge and quickness? That was something that was really very apparent in the back court in particular.
DONTE SMITH: Yeah, our quickness really helped. We started picking up full court and putting pressure on them. Started getting turnovers and got a couple of charges out there and that kind of threw them off. We usually don't pressure like that. But we've been pressuring like that lately, and it's been helping us.

Q. Mo, from the time he entered the game, he pretty much took control and was penetrating. Doing the kind of stuff we've seen from him on occasion this year. Maybe Santa Clara was something in that game. How big was he and can he keep this up?
COACH O'NEILL: We made some changes four weeks ago. We started Donte. He also reminded me we were 7-2 with him starting.
COACH O'NEILL: All right. So 7-1. I think it helped Donte. I think it also helped Mo. I was playing him too many minutes and playing him at the point which is a real pressure role. Also helped to move Jio over to the point because I think it's made Mo more effective on the second side of the court with his quickness. Again, it's taken a lot of pressure off Mo. Jio's played much better at the point also.
I thought every one of our guards was tremendous tonight on the defensive end and on the offensive end. That to me was the difference in our game.

Q. If you end up playing Arizona tomorrow, what can you take from your last meeting with them and the way both teams played?
COACH O'NEILL: It would probably be unfair to speculate on who is going to win the game because they have to play first.

Q. I won't run the quote if Oregon State wins.
COACH O'NEILL: Really? I'm sure. Sure you won't. I'll talk about both teams, in fairness. Arizona is a very high-energy, high-level, high-intensity team that's extremely well-coached. It has one of the best players in the league as their center piece.
So we know that if we don't control tempo and let them play at their pace, we'll have problems.
The same is true with Oregon State, because they're deep, and when their pressure gets you out of what you're doing -- like they did to us up there. We couldn't do anything against their -- we struggled. We couldn't stop them. Both these teams present numerous problems.
But the Arizona team, we're talking about a legitimate top 10 or 12 team that shoots the ball better from three than anybody. You know, we just know we were fortunate the last game to win. We were down 4 at the 4-minute timeout. Our defense dug in and we can't outscore them. We'll have to defend and defend and defend until the end of the game.

Q. We always talk about how Marcus Simmons defends the wing. How important was he in the final ten minutes defending that four spot showing his versatility?
COACH O'NEILL: He did a tremendous job. Normally we play Garrett those minutes, but Garrett's a young guy. You know, it was a little bit too big tonight at the beginning for him. Marcus does a great job defending anybody of any size. So I felt very comfortable putting him on their four man or their five man. Donte's got him where he's a great guy defending guys bigger than him. What we do is do what we call read the post, we front it. And we try to help big time from the bigs behind and hope that they -- I like it when people try to post up in iso smaller guys in college, because the rules let you sit in the lane. To me that takes people out of their offense and forces the post-up. So that's why Marcus hit the four.

Q. Regardless of who you play tomorrow, do you feel it's a must win to get you in the tournament? Or do you think your resume as it stands is solid enough?
COACH O'NEILL: I really have, I've said this before, I have no idea. You know, it makes for good bubble talk, bracketology talk and all of that. But the bottom line is there is a committee of guys -- is that where they are, Indianapolis or wherever it is -- they're in Indianapolis, and they've been doing this all year. Do I think we deserve to be in? If we're in the best 68, we'll get in.
We look at we didn't have Jio for the first ten games and we've played well since then. But I defer those decisions to them. And all this begging coaches do doesn't do any good anyways. So we'll let them make the decision.

Q. Do you have any plans after playing 39 minutes to come back tomorrow? I know you've been playing shorthanded all year, but how do you turn around from something like this?
ALEX STEPHESON: Get off your feet, relax. Maybe get the in a cold tub. Get my legs together, and just come back ready to play tomorrow. It's just something you have to do.
COACH O'NEILL: Alex has played huge minutes all year many none huger than tonight. He anchored our whole team tonight at different times offensively and defensively. We're not going to do anything. I asked our guys do you want to have a shootaround? They said no. So we're not going to have a shootaround.
We'll have a meeting tomorrow about quarter to 2:00 for about 15 minutes and go out and play. We know what we have to do at this point. It's helped us to not practice. We're down to practicing 55 to 60 minutes a week. We just don't practice. No, we don't, right? It's true.
They're tired of me, and I'm frankly tired of them, so we don't practice. We stay away from each other.

Q. Did you feel like you guys needed to step up with Nick kind of struggling a little bit and being in foul trouble?
DONTE SMITH: Yeah, of course, because Nick's our go-to guy. We run everything through him like KO said. So he just wasn't getting it done tonight. I told my guys in the huddle as the captain, losing wasn't an option. I just didn't want to lose tonight at all.
So I knew it was winning time for us and all of us had to step you up, and that's what we did. We got it done.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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