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March 11, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We have Florida with us. We'll start with an opening statement by Coach Donovan.
COACH DONOVAN: I always think these tournaments when you get a chance to get a bye, it's a great thing. But it's also hard because I do think coming into the first game, your first game and you're playing against a team that's got a game under their belt in a foreign arena, in a dome setting, there's an advantage there for the other team that's played there.
I think where a bye, you probably have an advantage, is that if you're fortunate enough to move deeper into the tournament where maybe fatigue of three games instead of four plays certainly a role.
I thought to start the game, it was a little bit of fools gold for us. We got off to such a great start offensively. We shot the ball really, really well. I thought Tennessee missed some opportunities early in the game. They got down by 10. And I thought their kids did a great job turning up the pressure, and they were aggressive and they were physical.
And we went through a stretch there, like the last six minutes of the first half, where I don't even know if we scored. We weren't very efficient on offense, we weren't guarding very well, and then I thought our guys really settled down in going into the second half.
And I think we were much, much more connected as team in terms of really we looked like a cohesive unit in the second half. And I would say at about 12-minute mark, 10-minute mark to the end of the first half, I didn't feel that way. And then obviously we scored a lot of points. We shot a high percentage, and I thought we executed pretty well in the second half.
And we were balanced in a lot of ways. I think if you look at the stat sheet, we had five guys get double figures, and we shot the ball well from the free throw line. That was critical because I think both teams were playing physical and put each other to the free throw line.
So we're happy with the opportunity to play again tomorrow against either Vandy or Mississippi State. And both of these guys really, really played well. I thought that Kenny in the second half gave us a great lift. I thought Erving did a great job running our team and made some shots and some free throws and did some real positive things. So it was a good team win and we're happy to be able to advance.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Could both you guys talk about when you got up 12 and they started to crank up the defense, they started hand checking a lot more, and it seemed like it took you awhile to adjust to it maybe until the second half. Talk about that.
ERVING WALKER: I would say it was kind of a shock for us. We know they're aggressive team, but they didn't start off like that. And they started hand checking and swiping at the ball and we just wasn't aggressive enough with the ball. And they got some steals and some easy lay-ups. But in the second half we were able to be aggressive and be strong with the ball and make shots.
KENNY BOYNTON: I think that in the second half, we came out with a focus. In the first half, we started off strong, but we lost our focus and we started turning the ball over. But in the second half we got tough and we took care of the ball.
Q. Were you guys embarrassed by how you ended the first half?
ERVING WALKER: Definitely. Coach yelled at us at halftime and got us in our right -- put us in our place. And I mean, it's great to play for him. And he got us going and we just didn't want to continue to look like that. And we played how Florida is supposed to play in the second half.
Q. Talk about your defense there in the second half. You were starting to the possessions man-to-man and for a lot of them finishing in a zone. Talk about what were you doing there and how that worked.
ERVING WALKER: We just went, they're a good team, they got good players, Scotty Hopson and Tobias, we wanted to keep them off their rhythm, and we start off man sometimes and go zone or zone and then go man. We just wanted to keep them off balance.
KENNY BOYNTON: I think we wanted to run the shot clock down. We didn't want them to get no offensive rhythm, so we came out in man. And then around about 15 seconds on the shot clock, we went in zone just to kind of fool around with them. And I think it did us well tonight.
Q. This one is for Erving, just the significance of moving on to Saturday. It's been the first time in your career going to the semifinals.
ERVING WALKER: This is huge. I've been knocked out in the quarterfinals the first two years of my career. And any time you go win in this league in a tournament like this, it's always a good feeling, and to go to the semifinals, we're happy with that.
Q. For both of guys you eventually started hitting 3's, but how much did playing in the dome get you off, especially, Kenny, it didn't seem until the second half, you kind of found your shot there?
KENNY BOYNTON: In the first half, they were running at me and I think I took contested jump shots. I think in the second half, I drove to the hole and that got me in rhythm. And then I hit some free throws and that kind of got me in the rhythm in the second half.
ERVING WALKER: I think it was just a matter of us taking good shots and getting our legs under us in the second half. We moved the ball better as a team and were getting shots in rhythm.
Q. For either or both of you, was it almost a sense of relief at the end of the game that it had finished and you had survived it?
KENNY BOYNTON: I think that it was an excitement. I think that to come out in one year and beat the same team three times, I think that's tough. I think we were definitely excited, just to beat them and definitely be advancing to the next round.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for coach.
Q. Can you talk about that 18-2 run they had at the end of the half, and it looked defensively like they just said, All right, we're going to be physical. And your guys didn't really adjust to it.
COACH DONOVAN: I didn't think we responded very well at all. The start the game, Vernon got to have a good start and so did Alex, and we were scoring in and around the basket. Erving knocked down a three. We just had a good rhythm there where the ball was going in the basket.
But I was more disappointed in the first half. To start that game, I didn't think we were defending very well, and I thought that they had a lot of opportunities that they missed out on. They missed some lay-ups in transition. They got a couple steals on some in-bound situations they missed. They missed a couple of easy shots open, and we were making shots. And then I think as they turned up the defensive pressure, it was almost like our guys didn't respond well to that.
There was a reason why we shot so many free throws in the second half, because I thought as they started to be aggressive, we responded and we became aggressive offensively by trying to put the ball on the floor, going strong to the rim, to the paint, and then it got us to the free throw line.
I don't know if I've ever been part of a half where we only take 17 shots. We didn't take very many shots. But we went to the free throw line a lot and I thought their aggressiveness created turnovers. It broke our flow. It was almost like we wanted to play more in a rhythm, and they definitely broke our rhythm there.
And we went a long period of time without scoring. And they probably deserve a lot of credit for doing that. We didn't respond well and I thought we responded much better in the second half.
Q. Free throws have been an issue earlier in the season, but really not so much lately. Can you talk about the job they did in the second half of the season and tonight in that second half?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, we tried to spend a lot of time on that. As best you can to create a game-like atmosphere in practice, I don't think you ever can really simulate what it's like. But outside of Alex and Erving, as a team, we shot them pretty well. We did a pretty good job there.
But it's something that we want to focus on because I think we have a team that can get to the free throw line. Because we have post players that can play in and around the basket and Chandler, at his size, is a guy that can play at the rim. And we're pretty good offense rebounding team.
And a lot of times on offensive rebounds, you're going to get fouled. I think it was an area that we have tried to get better at. I still think we can get better. I don't think we're a great free throw shooting team, but I do think we have made some strides in a positive direction.
Q. Getting off to the good start in the second half, what was the immediate adjustment that you felt you had to do to get off to that good start in the second half?
COACH DONOVAN: I think Kenny said, I think any time you are playing a team three times in a season and you beat them, that's always a difficult thing to take on. I thought our guys handled that well. I think the biggest thing to me was I really felt like our team had really been connected. I think that our guys are in some uncharted territory here in the fact that they win a league championship, Chandler Parsons is Player of the Year, Boynton and Walker are second team, and sometimes you internally could feel like you got to live up to those kind of accolades. And I didn't think any of those guys were in a good place mentally.
I just tried to explain to them that they worked really hard, and it's always been about our team, and it's always been about them together as group. I didn't think that we were playing selfishly. I just thought we were playing as individuals and we weren't utilizing each other.
I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job getting the ball, moving from side to side. We were able to drive it down the lane, made extra passes, we were going inside and out. And whoever got the shot, shot it, and we got it off good ball movement.
But first half, Erving Walker penetrated a few times, got the ball taken from him. Chandler had a couple drives where he walked and took a couple bad shots. Vernon got it inside a couple times, he didn't go up as strong as he needed to. Alex got off to a good start, and we just were kind of out of sorts a little bit.
And I think that first game of the tournament's always hard. It's a hard game. Where you coming out and the first time we stepped foot in this place, I know these guys were here, some of them, a couple years ago. But it's just a different feeling when you're now playing and it's one and done.
The rest of the season is one and done, and you're never really in a one-and-done situation during the regular season. You're not. It's always here's the next game. But here there is no next game. You don't play well, you're not going to advance.
And I think the interesting part, when you have four teams remaining, the four teams that are remaining are pretty well connected and playing pretty well in this league right now. You can expect that. So I think playing hard and being connected and playing together has got to be a given. You're going to get that from the four teams that are there.
Now it comes down to execution and how well you can utilize each other and how well you can play together. And I thought we played well together in the second half. And I didn't think we played well. And like I said, I felt on the bench it was little bit of fools gold, the ball was going in the basket, but we made some shots things were going our way, and then all of a sudden, you could see, when they turned up the defensive pressure, I thought we looked fractured, so to speak. And we kind of separated.
And then I think as they turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, we looked more in unison and together, and we attacked things better.
Q. You probably may have touched on this a little bit in your previous answer, but just talk about you're the only one that's been through a SEC semifinals. None of your guy have been there. What do you kind impart to them about tomorrow?
COACH DONOVAN: They have no ideas. They didn't even know they were in the quarterfinals. They have no idea. I mean, I don't know if they know what that means, you know. They understand that the goal is to try to play on Sunday. And we're going to, we got a game tomorrow. And it's a pretty quick turnaround and it's going to be even a quicker turnaround for whoever wins tonight.
So with that being said, I don't think that they're worried about, like, that they're going to make it to the final game. I think they realize that you play for it all on Sunday, and in order to get there, you got to play well.
So I don't think, I'm in the that concerned as a coach going into the fact that this is the first time they have played in a game like this. I think they understand what we're playing for and they realize whoever wins the games between Vandy and Mississippi State is going to be a team that probably plays pretty well tonight.
Q. Talk about what makes Chandler Player of the Year even on nights when he's not really stealing the show or leading in scoring?
COACH DONOVAN: I think probably for him going into the game, you think Player of the Year, you think this guy's getting 25 points and 15 rebounds, and I dealt with the same thing a little bit with Joakim Noah when he was the Final Four MVP. The next year coming back, he just felt like because of that, he had to live up to this expectation of what that meant. And he was missing out on who he was.
And my thing with Chandler, I think it's a great, and I'm happy that the coaches voted for him, I thought he deserved it, and I know there's a lot of other guys out there that were just as deserving. And I'm sure every coach feels the same way as I do.
But go look at where his scoring numbers are at in terms of our league. I think it's a great thing that he was on a winning team, getting a little bit less than 12 points a game, but he's just multidimensional. I think the coaches see, Boy, this guy really affects the game in a lot of way, he shoots it, he puts it on the floor, he drives it, he passes it, he rebounds it, he gets to the offensive glass, can start the break.
And I think because of his ability to be so versatile, it's not about points. And I think a lot of times people think a Player of the Year candidate has led the league in scoring or just been a prolific offensive player. And it was good to see him get the award by being a guy that was really unselfish multidimensional.
Q. How good do you think your team is right now based on where you want them to be?
COACH DONOVAN: I look at it a little bit differently from this standpoint. We played a really, really good second half. But it doesn't really insure that you're going to play well tomorrow. People made the comment after the Vanderbilt game on the road, Boy, you guys are playing your best basketball. That's very, very fleeting.
If we would have continued on like we did in the first half, you would be saying, Geez, is your team going into the tournament on a downswing, and you played so well, and where are you, you know. So you cannot embrace day-to-day. Just because you did something yesterday or five minutes ago or a game ago, doesn't mean it's going to carry over unless you understand why you played well.
And I think our guys were able to see at halftime why they have played well all year long, and we didn't do that in the first half. But we did it in the second half. So we cannot embrace where we have been, and we have to understand that tomorrow afternoon, that creates a whole different challenge. And because we won the league or because we played great in the second half tonight, it doesn't mean anything going into the next game. It really doesn't.
You got to have a focus to try to make sure that you play better than you did the day before. That's the goal, can we play better tomorrow than we did today. And I say the same thing, can we play better tonight than we did at Vanderbilt. I thought we played better at Vanderbilt than we did tonight. 40 minutes, the whole game, we played better at Vanderbilt. But there was probably some circumstances that played into that that they got to handle that. They got to handle that emotional part of it.
So I'm more pleased of where we're at mentally than I am how we're playing. And I think that you cannot play well unless you're in the right place mentally. And I didn't think we were in the right place mentally the last eight to ten minutes of that first half. I thought we were in a much, much better place mentally, but that would give you an idea of how quickly it can come and go.
And we got to make sure that tomorrow for 40 minutes we're connected in the right place mentally. And then generally when you're in a pretty good place mentally, you're in a position where you can play better. Now the ball may not go in the basket, you can miss some free throw, the other team can play great, there's still some variables that go into that, but at least you want to feel, like, Okay, we're playing how we should be playing and we're connected and we're mentally in the right place.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports