On playing Kentucky last season…
"They really didn’t shoot the ball well last year, they got most of their points off transition. They played good defense, but they left our shooters open. We had a good night shooting against them. We gave them the three-point shot because they showed they couldn’t make it."
On Kentucky being a different team…
"We played the 1-3-1 zone against them last year because they couldn’t shoot very well. This year we have to make some adjustments and push them to the baseline because they're strong and athletic driving to the middle."
Are they completely different without star guard…
"It’s different, John Wall wore the defense out, but they have Brandon Knight and he can do some things Wall didn’t do last year. We have to stop the ball early in transition."
On being physical…
"Our bench is just as strong as our starters. We just want to wear them down."
On differences in the team from last year…
"We’re smaller, we can’t switch the one through five spots anymore. That makes us different defensively. We can still hustle and play hard."
On daring Kentucky last season to take shots…
"We didn’t dare them to take shots last year. That’s false. They just were making their shots."
On not wanting to join friends on spring break…
"It doesn’t feel like spring break. I’ve been relaxing in the hotel watching tape of Kentucky. I certainly don’t want to join my friends on break because then that means our season is over."
On coach Huggins having success against Kentucky in the past…
"It’s great. He knows how Kentucky plays. It doesn’t matter because we can go out there and play and lose. We just have to be focused."
The presser transcript is after the jump...
Q. Joe, obviously you had a magnificent game last year. Was there anything in the scouting report about Kentucky you thought you were going to go off like that and how does that build your confidence heading into the game tomorrow?
JOE MAZZULLA: Not really, just the way they run their defense, if we can get them spread and if we can get them kind of chasing us, then obviously we'll be able to dribble penetrate and either finish or kick it out for shots. It's pretty much the same thing this year.
Q. Joe, on the same lines, you admit some surprise last week when Marquette actually picked you up before half court and guarded you. And then of course yesterday Clemson did the same thing with everybody. Given what you did to Kentucky, do you expect them to pressure you considerably more than what they did a year ago when you played?
JOE MAZZULLA: Um, I mean, yeah. Obviously I think they were trying to speed us up a little bit and force us into making difficult decisions in the half court. But I'm not sure they're going to get away from what they've been doing the entire season. We're expecting them to pick us up at half court and really defend us, so we're going to have to depend on our motion offense to, like I said, get them spread so we can get them to chase us and we can open up lanes for Truck and I.
Q. Question for Kevin: Yesterday Deniz was talking about when he catches the ball in the post, now he doesn't even think about what he's supposed to do, and I'm wondering is that a good thing or a scary thing for him? And also, did you see anything different in him yesterday that you haven't seen the last few weeks?
KEVIN JONES: I mean, to answer your question, I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. I guess when he scores it's a good thing. He's just being more aggressive, and he's not forcing as much stuff as he did early. He's letting his offense come to him. We're really going to need him in this tournament, and he's going to be a big key for us on being successful, so I hope he keeps on playing aggressive but not forcing anything.
Q. This is for Joe: You hear so many things about Coach Huggins, you know, from outsiders. No one is neutral on Coach Huggins, they love him, they hate him. What do you love about the guy, the give and take? What do you love about his wardrobe?
JOE MAZZULLA: As a guy he tells it like it is, he's honest. I think that's something we all respect about him and I think that's why we're able to have a relationship with him because we know what we're going to get from him on and off the court.
I mean, his wardrobe, it is what it is. He's a relaxed guy, doesn't really let too much bother him, and I think that kind of shows. He's just a relaxed guy, I guess.
Q. Cam, on Huggins, as well, how would you describe just kind of how he feels about West Virginia, just the passion he has for West Virginia, seeing how it's his alma mater? Does that come across when he coaches or when he gives it to you guys in any way?
CAM THOROUGHMAN: Yeah, it comes across a lot. Coach Huggins really cares about the state of West Virginia. And any time that we have a game big or we have a bad game, he always make sure that he talks about that and he lets us know that we let a lot of people down when we don't play as hard as we should and we don't leave it all out there. And also when we win a big game or we're in the Final Four last year, we can see how much the fans really care about us. Yeah, he definitely cares about the state and he has a lot of passion for it, and he uses that to coach with.
Q. Joe, in the game against Kentucky last year, I think y'all held them to 4 of 32 to shooting from three‑point range. I know their three‑point shooting numbers have been improved this year. From what you've been able to see from them, what do you see as the difference in their perimeter shooting this year versus maybe a year ago?
JOE MAZZULLA: Last year when they went 4 for 32, a lot of their shots were contested, under duress from the one‑three‑one. We got them off of the three‑point line and probably a few steps back.
That's just what we've got to do tomorrow. We can't let them get standstill shots and we can't let them set their feet. If we can make them rush their three‑pointers, and if we can get a hand in their face, then hopefully it'll be the same result.
Q. For Joe, when you look at this year's match‑up against Kentucky and last year's, like Truck didn't play in it last year, Da'Sean and Wellington are gone. They have a lot of new guys this year. Does this even feel like a rematch at all?
JOE MAZZULLA: I don't think so. Like they have a completely different team. I'm not sure they have that inside presence what they had from Cousins, even though Harrellson does a pretty good job.
On our end we're a much different team. We kind of spread the load out as far as what we're going to do offensively, and we really have to rely on defense and rebounding. So I don't really think it's too much of a rematch.
Q. Kevin, last year Darryl didn't play in the game, they had five first‑round draft picks, including the No. 1 pick in the game. Can you explain how you guys were able to win that game?
KEVIN JONES: I guess heart and determination and them missing shots and us really making them chase us, like Joe said earlier, and spreading them out, getting easy drives. Joe was a big part of that game, and I guess we're just going to try to do the same thing this year and try to let our offense control the game from the start.
Q. For Truck, as a point guard, can you explain how you use Cam's screens near half court and what that does not only to you but on the defense, as well?
DARRYL BRYANT: Well, that does a lot because that's what Cam wants to do. Cam wants to get jump shots or to make plays. Cam just is a great guy. If you run down the court and Cam sees an opening for you, he will scream, he's like run behind me, run behind me. He just looks for anybody to get them a shot, and that's just what he brings to the table with the rebounding and everything else he do.
Q. Truck, just what it feels like for you to be back out on the court at this time after last year not being on the court at this time?
DARRYL BRYANT: Well, it feels good. It still was a part of something special, but now it feels extra good to be on the court at the time and just looking forward and really can't wait till the game tomorrow.
Q. Can you just talk about the philosophy, Coach Huggins is always talking about how he's got to be able to keep you on the floor and yet so many times you've had to slide over and try to defend and help. Can you just talk about your philosophy on do you be more careful because they like to penetrate a lot? Any different philosophy on that for this game?
JOHN FLOWERS: I really like to help my teammates, but sometimes I've just got to take a charge instead of trying to get a block. You can't go for everything. I've just got to play smart and be aggressive at the same time, and I try to play too aggressive at the same time and some people call it stupid (looks at Cam), but I get a lot of blocked shots, and I like to get blocked shots, but I've just got to play smarter.
Q. Cam, when you come up to mid‑court and you're setting those screens, do you physically feel or hear the guard that comes into you give way, or do you see it taking a toll on them over the course of a game?
CAM THOROUGHMAN: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I get a pretty good shot in on them and they don't see me coming, they hit the ground pretty hard. Other times they see it coming and it doesn't really affect them that much. Either way, whenever they're pressuring Joe and Truck, after I get them once or twice pretty good, they're turning their heads and I don't get to apply as much pressure. So a lot of it is trying to get our offense better. But I'd love to go up there and tee off on those guys like that. (Laughter).
Q. Joe, you talked yesterday after the game about Dalton's performance and how it was a little bit out of character. How was practice today? And were you all going hard at him?
JOE MAZZULLA: Probably was just back to normal. We didn't do too much for Dalton to be exploited. He did a good job of hiding. Everything was back to normal today. We had a good practice and Dalton was the same as usual. Hopefully he can carry the confidence from yesterday's game into tomorrow, and that's it.
Q. Joe, last year you broke a lot of hearts in Kentucky, and you can say what you want, but it's a different team, but the fans are going to know you as soon as you step out of that locker room. Talk about that and what that game meant to you and your career, and they're gunning for you because the kids that didn't play were on the bench watching what you did to them. The freshmen said they wished they were out there, that they could hit some of those three‑pointers. Could you reflect on that? And do you know what you mean to the Kentucky fans?
JOE MAZZULLA: Not really. It's not something I ever really thought of. You know, obviously last year was a great experience, but that was last year. And like I said, it's a much different game this year and we're a different team, they're a different team, so it may not be the same result and we may not go about trying to win the game in the same way. We're just going to focus on what we have to do to try and win tomorrow.
Q. A lot has been made of your friendship with Cal, and I'm just curious, why do you think you guys hit it off?
COACH HUGGINS: I don't know. I'm struggling to find something that I really like about him. (Laughter). No, we ‑‑ he played with one of my teammates in high school. He played with Joe Fryz. I've known John for a long, long time, long, long, long time, and we've been good friends for a long time.
Q. Are there more similarities than differences between you two?
COACH HUGGINS: No, he dresses, I choose not to. He buys expensive suits, mine stay in the closet. No, you know, I think what Cal and I have is from the time we were young is a great passion for this game. You know, John was the ultimate camp guy. He was at Five‑Star, he was at all the camps and just loved being around the game. I kind of grew up in the gym, my dad being a high school basketball coach, and so I spent countless hours in the gym.
Q. We, here in Tampa, were not at the Elite Eight last year. Can you clear up the story? There seem to be two different stories.
COACH HUGGINS: That was your loss.
Q. Absolutely, without a doubt. Could you clear up the heart attack ambulance story? There seem to be two versions: yours and Cal's.
COACH HUGGINS: Cal wasn't there. (Laughter). I wasn't going to tell it. Cal likes to tell it better than I do. Of course Cal wasn't dying and I was. (Laughter). No, they come in and they kind of scooped me up off the sidewalk there in the Pittsburgh airport and put me in an ambulance and hooked me up, started pumping some morphine in me to slow everything down, and I'm kind of in and out of consciousness. I mean, I know I'm not doing very well, you know.
So I say to the EMT, I said, "How much longer?" And I was out, and I kind of woke up, and I said, "How much longer?" And he said, "Don't worry, I've never lost a patient. You know, and I said to him, "I ain't no old lady now. I know when I'm hurting. I'm not going to make it a lot longer." So he says, "What's the ETA?" And they said, "I don't know, 22 minutes or something like that." And I heard him say, "Abort, abort, abort." And then I passed back out.
When I woke up he was a lot more serious about it. He was ‑‑ he kind of put his hand on my shoulder, he said, "Coach, I'm Cal's cousin." Now, Cal says it his nephew, but the guy said, "I'm Cal's cousin. We're not going to let you die until he beats you at least once." And that's the story.
Q. He has beat you, though.
COACH HUGGINS: I know. I don't think he had then. I don't think he had then. But what are you trying to say, I can die now? (Laughter).
Q. You and Cal go after a lot of the same guys. I was kind of wondering when one of you gets a guy or he gets a guy, just kind of wondering if that affects or changes anything or do you guys just keep going on about it?
COACH HUGGINS: If I was upset with everybody that we recruited against, I wouldn't have any friends. Everybody beats us. No, I mean, we ‑‑ I think when you have mutual respect for each other, it's ‑‑ we recruited a guy against Andy Kennedy, and AK and I are very, very close, as you know. What are you going to do? He's a heck of a guy, he takes care of his players, he does the right things.
Q. When you've done as much as you've done in your career but not won a title, I think there may be some people in this business who ‑‑ that would maybe eat them up. You don't strike me as a guy that's consumed thinking about that. Does it drive you? Is it even a present thought? What's your perspective on that?
COACH HUGGINS: I was at the Final Four doing a little speaking thing with Denny Crum, and we were doing question and answers, and the guy asked Denny, "What does it take to win a national championship, seeing that you've won two?" And Denny said, "You have to be lucky and you can't be unlucky." And he looked at me and he said, "That's the most unlucky guy that I've ever seen in coaching."
I mean, I don't think if you followed basketball we were the best team in the country in 2000 when Kenyon broke his leg.
In '92, we lose in overtime to Carolina, who goes on and wins the national championship and Alan Jackson tore up his knee.
In, what was it, '95 or '96, I can't remember one of those, when Keith LeGree broke his foot and we got beat in the Elite Eight.
You know, things have happened. I can't control them. I mean, all I can do is do the best I can. I mean, I think it would be very special to win one for the state of West Virginia. You have to understand, unless you've spent any time in West Virginia, you can't understand how important Mountaineer athletics are in the state. We don't have professional sports. You know, that's what everybody rallies around. Everybody rallies around the Mountaineers.
A year ago the governor had them put the games into all the workplaces. They pumped them down in the mines. It's that important to people. So it would be special, you know, but I mean, I've been through a lot, so I don't ‑‑ you kind of do the best you can. I guess the older you get, too, you learn you can't do anything more than the best you can. It's impossible to do more than the best you can. I can't control and I couldn't control Da'Sean got hurt a year ago, I certainly couldn't control when Kenyon got hurt. And I think the thing that just, I don't know, eats at me, but the thing that I remember, you know, I remember going out and everybody made such a to do about Kenyon ‑‑ or with Da'Sean, and the same thing with Kenyon. And I went out, and he said, "Why, coach, why? I came back to win a national championship. I came back to be with my teammates."
Here's a guy who was going to be the first pick in the draft, and he could have very well said why me, why this, what's this do to my draft chances, none of that. I went out and Da'Sean was apologizing because he didn't think he played as well as he should have.
You know, they're just quality, quality guys. Then you wonder why does that happen to quality guys like that. Why couldn't it happen to a knucklehead? Why does it have to happen to those guys? But you know, you do what you do.
Q. Do you like coaching against John, and more to the point, is 9 and 1, is there any point at which you can needle him about it or he can needle you?
COACH HUGGINS: If you would go back and look at the games, the games have been ‑‑ I mean, we've just been lucky, that's all. We've made some shots. We beat them in Memphis one time, I think it was a tie score, and we take a shot at the end of the shot clock, and we fortunately get the offensive rebound, my guy starts dribbling it out because he thinks we're ahead and Cal's guy jumps over and shuts him off to keep him from dribbling the ball back out to the top of the key so there's nobody between him and the basket so he goes and lays it in. He didn't realize we were up by two until they called time‑out. I'm like, "What are you doing, man?" He said, "Coach, I thought we were ahead. I didn't know what was going on." It was a tie score, we win by two.
Q. You don't needle him?
COACH HUGGINS: No, we'll probably play again the next NCAA Tournaments, so why would I do that?
Q. The Kentucky team this year is pretty dramatically different than last year's. I'm wondering about the unique challenges defensively to stopping this version of Kentucky.
COACH HUGGINS: It's kind of like I told our guys at halftime yesterday; we just have to stick by our principles. You know, you saw Cam; that's my center. When you have ‑‑ when I had Kenyon, it didn't matter. I had three freshman guards, and they didn't have to guard really. He erased all their mistakes. We can't do that, so we've got to be very fundamentally sound. You know, and for being as non‑athletic as this group is, they've done a really good job. You know, but we can't get away from the fundamental things that we have to do defensively.
Q. If you win you'll advance to play in Newark, and I know you've played there against Seton Hall and you've recruited there. Can you appreciate what that would mean to the city to have this event come there?
COACH HUGGINS: Well, I think any time the NCAA Tournament comes to down in any city, it's a heck of a deal. There's basketball people obviously in Newark and basketball people love March. They love the NCAA Tournament, they love college basketball. I think it would mean a great deal to the city of Newark.
Q. You talked about being unlucky with teams that could have gone to the Final Four and won the championship. Besides the obvious trait of being really good, are there common traits of teams that do make it that far and that win it all?
COACH HUGGINS: Yeah, they're lucky. They're lucky and they've got players. You know, I think you get to a certain point where, you know, hopefully Cal is not going to out‑coach me and I'm certainly not going to out‑coach him, so it's decided by players. And I think the further you go in this tournament certainly, the better and better the players.
And if you look, historically the teams that win have great players. They have pros. They have first‑rounders. They have lottery picks. And they make plays at the end of games.
I learned a long time ago, I started at Walsh College, and I had these 6'3" guys and I thought I could coach. I was 26 years old or whatever, and I thought I'd teach them to block out and do all the fundamental things. Well, what you find is at the end of the game, those 6'8" and 6'9" guys go over those 6'3" guys and rebound it every time, and I very quickly learned I'd better go get some players. That coaching stuff was overrated, you know.
Q. Going back to what you said about the defensive match‑up, last year you had to play almost exclusively one‑three‑one because you didn't match up with the man to man. Do you feel like you can match up with them man to man a little bit better this time around?
COACH HUGGINS: I don't know. We thought we could do a better job man to man a year ago than what we did. You know, we'd put Dev on a lot of really good players, and because he was so long, he bothered people. You know, John Wall went by him a couple times, and he came over to me and said, "Coach, man, that cat is fast. I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying." He couldn't stay in front of him. So he had to try to do something else. We didn't go in planning on playing one‑three‑one as much as we did. But you know, you're just trying to win.
Q. There was a debate in the SEC this year about Kentucky defending them this year as opposed to last year, and some coaches thought they're more difficult to defend this year. How would you assess the challenge this year as opposed to last year?
COACH HUGGINS: I'd like to talk to the guys that thought that. They're good. You know, I think Darius Miller has had a heck of a year, and Darius is a guy who presents a lot of problems because he can play in the post, he can play off the bounce, he can make shots. You know, this group has more experience really when I think about it. They've got some guys that have been around a while, understand probably a little bit better what Cal wants to do and to a degree maybe ‑‑ and I'm not in any way indicating they panicked a year ago, but you know what I mean, they probably just stick to the course, probably kind of like our guys do. I mean, our guys know to stick to the course. They've been around long enough and know what we want done.
Q. What do you think the percentage is on Flowers on him fouling his own guy as opposed to him sliding over and helping out and fouling that way? And with the way Kentucky likes to penetrate, I know you want to keep John in the game. Is that a major concern for tomorrow?
COACH HUGGINS: No, not really. Shot blockers make plays off the ball. They're very rare guys that can make plays on the ball, but most of them make plays off the ball, the really good shot blockers, and John has got to get the help. Like our other guys do. John is our only shot at changing a shot or blocking shots, so we need him to do what he does. And he hasn't really got in foul trouble blocking shots. He got the first one yesterday, but I mean, the rest of them haven't been trying to block shots. I think he said what it was, if I heard right.
Q. Regarding your center that you just mentioned, his screens at half court, they obviously open up your offense and do some things, create space, but what does it do to the other team beyond basketball, maybe psyche, in terms of where their eyes have to be guarding the guy?
COACH HUGGINS: Honestly I think absolutely nothing. You're going to probably ‑‑ if you run into him pretty good, you're going to start turning around looking, you know, which alleviates some ball pressure. But aside from alleviating ball pressure, absolutely nothing.
Q. You are fairly animated on the sidelines during games ‑‑
COACH HUGGINS: Oh, you should have seen me back when. (Laughter).
Q. Have you ever watched tape of yourself and thought, is that me? You're saying you're not mellow? This is mellow Bob Huggins?
COACH HUGGINS: Oh, very much so. Very much so. I don't have any choice but to see it because we go back and watch game film, and so I don't have any choice but to see it. But I don't know. When I was at K State, we played Big Monday against Texas Tech, and I said to Coach Knight, "I don't know if they can get all the cameras in the building." We may have one camera doing the game because I'll have two on you and two on me.
What you see on TV really the majority of the time is just ‑‑ because they have a camera on me all the time. They don't have a camera on those other guys all the time. They have a camera on me all the time just waiting for me to do something stupid, and generally I oblige. (Laughter). Yeah, I guess yes would be the answer you're looking for.
Q. I wonder if you could tell us what tangibles and intangibles Joe Mazzulla brings for you guys.
COACH HUGGINS: Well, he's done a pretty good job of taking care of the ball for us, and he's ‑‑ Joe really understands what we want done, and Joe understands where the ball is supposed to go because of his understanding. I could put Joe at any position of any set of anything we do, and he knows it. You can't say that for all the guys on our team. Cam is the same way. I mean, Cam knows everything. Those guys have a ‑‑ they've got a really good aptitude.
Remember when they used to give us those aptitude tests, they probably told you to go ahead and write or something? I forget what they told me. I know it wasn't be a doctor. But it's to show you what your aptitude is, and everybody has different aptitudes. You can work like crazy at math, and if you don't have an aptitude to learn math you're never really going to be a mathematician, and it's the same way with basketball. There's a lot of people who try, but they can't learn it. They just don't have the gift to learn it. And Joe has really got a good understanding.
Da'Sean had a phenomenal understanding. Da'Sean came in and picked up all of John Beilein's things as a freshman. He knew everything and then everything that we were doing a year later. But you don't get those guys. I don't get them enough, I know that.
Q. Obviously three years ago Truck Bryant came in here, into this program kind of raw and inexperienced. Can you explain kind of how he's progressed over the years, and obviously he's done a lot better scoring‑wise these past few years. Can you talk about his development and where you see his progression to this point?
COACH HUGGINS: Well, Truck got kind of thrown into the fire, so to speak, when Joe hurt his shoulder. Really truck was backing Joe up, and then Joe hurt his shoulder. We really had one guy that could dribble other than Da'Sean. Da'Sean was really our backup point guard. And really all of last year, because Joe could really ‑‑ up until probably a week or two before the Big East tournament couldn't shoot the ball left‑handed, so Truck was kind of just kind of thrust on the scene, so to speak.
He's gotten better. He's gotten better. He's a worlds better defender. He's a pretty good defender now. You know, I was just hoping when we started practice, I was just hoping that maybe when the games started and the guys had their name on the back, he'd be able to find his guy because he had a hard time finding him in practice. I thought maybe the ‑‑ but he's really gotten better. I mean, he's really gotten better defensively.
Q. I read something where you said you didn't have creators and shooters on this team, and I wondered if I read that correctly and how much you guys rely on physical play to get done what you need to get done.
COACH HUGGINS: You saw them sitting up here. They're far from physically imposing. We have to run good offense. You know, we have to use screens, we have to set screens, we have to have good spacing. You know, we have to do the things that good basketball teams do, and we can't rely on end of the clock.
A year ago we gave the ball to Da'Sean at the end of the clock and Da'Sean got something pretty good for us. We don't have anybody like that. So it's got to come out of ‑‑ it's got to come out of offense. It's got to come out of what we do.
And you know, we rely so much on whatever you want to call it, it's motion, it's passing game. Passing game means you pass the ball more than you dribble the ball. But those are the kind of people that we have right now.