COACH CALIPARI: Another great basketball game. Proud of my kids. Told them before the game, you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood. You’re going to fight or brace yourself for the next shot. They fought. They never stopped playing. Big plays.
I will say this because he’s not up here, Alex Poythress won the game for us. We were begging him the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time. It was unbelievable how he finished. That’s who he needs to be for us as we finish the year out.
Q. Two questions, Andrew, I saw you rolling away earlier, you were looking at your phone and you said: Oh God, you got a smile on your face. I’m curious what was it that you saw. And early on when things weren’t going right for you guys what was said in the huddle to maybe keep you from not getting your heads down or not worrying about what was happening there early on?
ANDREW HARRISON: My mom just sent me like a long, long message telling me how proud of me she was and just made me really happy.
And with so much adversity we’ve been through all year, nothing we haven’t seen. So we knew we were going to get hit and we’d have to swing back, and we did that.
Q. Aaron, the three from the corner, did you know it was good as soon as it left your hand?
AARON HARRISON: I mean, felt good. I mean, shooting the ball, you never really you’re not like guaranteed it’s going in. But it felt pretty good leaving my hands.
Q. Andrew and Julius, how much pressure did you guys feel entering this game, obviously an opportunity to go to the Elite Eight on the line?
JULIUS RANDLE: I didn’t really feel any pressure. I really wasn’t worried about where this game could take us, I was just focused on the game and the game plan that Coach had for us. And that was really all my focus, I wasn’t really worried about winning or losing.
ANDREW HARRISON: Like Julius said, every game is a big game now. Coach told us to look at it as any other game and play like that, and that’s what we did.
Q. For the players, did you guys have a chance to talk to Willie after he was hurt? Did he say anything to you, kind of how that motivated you to go out and win it for him?
DAKARI JOHNSON: Yeah, we talked to him, and he just told us just to do it for him. So we want to just play every game for him and it’s a big motivation for us.
COACH CALIPARI: The doctor told me he was absolutely going bonkers in the locker room for game, like for the team, cheering. They had to hold him down, he was going crazy.
Q. John, what do you think ultimately turned the tide that last four minutes and 11 seconds, you’re down seven points and came back?
COACH CALIPARI: Look, this game is kind of like the last game. Everybody’s talking how good it is. We just got done. We’re exhausted.
But I think it was Alex’s block that got a basket, he blocked it. And then we come down and make a basket and all of a sudden it’s five and I kept telling the guys, We’re down two baskets, just play. We’re down two goals. And we got to three points, all of a sudden just a little bit crazy and it was back on their plate.
But we’re just this team has fought the whole year. They’re maturing right before our eyes. Andrew, I said, it’s not fair what we’re asking him to do. It’s not fair. He’s a freshman and we’re asking him, I’m telling him at halftime, You’ve gotta run this team better. I’m looking at him. I’m like, I’m sorry I have to ask you to do it, but I’ve got no choice.
I look at Julius where they’re running at him, the biggest play that Julius made is the pass for 3. Instead of shooting it. Now, three weeks ago he would have shot a hook to try to get that at the basket. Now, he’s just playing the game as it comes.
And that’s what they’re playing for each other. They have finally surrendered and lost themselves in the team. It’s just taken us a long time.
Q. You had your scout team play physically, you know, this week, foul at Will, you sort of alluded that in your opening statement. But how ready were you for the physical play of Louisville and were you worried down 18 5 that you weren’t as prepared as
COACH CALIPARI: No, we were fine. I told him we took five 3 point shots. What are you doing? You took five 3 point shots and you’re not helping each other on defense. Look where you are. I told them, Tennessee was down 16, should have won their game. So just play.
What was the other question you asked me? It’s kind of late.
Q. Talked about getting prepared.
COACH CALIPARI: EJ Floreal, did he help you guys and Dominique? We just had EJ and Dominique, basically we put them in football pads and they picked a guy at full court and they hit, checked them and grabbed them and pushed them and we didn’t want to hear any excuse, we just wanted them to play and I think it got them ready for the physicalness of the game.
Q. John, on the last play, their last shot against Wichita State you mentioned that had he made the free throw you were going to foul up 3. You let it go.
COACH CALIPARI: This is a different time set. There were 13 seconds on the clock. That’s why I did it. If there were five or six seconds on the clock, we probably would have fouled, and I would have put Dakari back in the game to rebound, but then he would have had to make a free throw if he rebounded the ball.
So with 13 seconds I wasn’t going to do it. I trusted us that we were small enough we could switch everything. So we were just…
Q. I don’t know who had Russ Smith on the last play, whoever did, were you conscious that he was going to take the shot and talk about that defensive possession?
AARON HARRISON: They put him in a pick and roll and Dakari stepped up and guarded him actually, so Dakari got the stop.
COACH CALIPARI: That’s his first stop of the game. (Laughter.)
Q. For any of the players, do you feel like in the last three weeks you’ve rewritten the history of this team and how you’ll be remembered?
JULIUS RANDLE: Yeah, in a way I think we have. We just kind of had to put the past behind us and leave it where it was. It’s a new season, the postseason. That’s really all we can worry about, survive and advance, and we’ve gotta take one game at a time.
We carry momentum from the SEC Tournament and brought it to the NCAA Tournament. We’re just taking it a game at a time.
THE MODERATOR: One or two more for the student athletes, we’ll dismiss them and stay with Coach Cal.
Q. How big was Hawkins tonight coming off the bench?
A. It was great after the game. They cheered and hugged him. James got up and hugged Alex because he gave up eight straight points and almost gave up the game and Alex went in and saved us. So he hugged Alex. The guards were laughing. I mean, Dominique was terrific.
And the time he tripped I told him to post it when he was trying to drive, which was my fault. I’m looking at him like, Post the ball, and he was going to drive and tried to stop.
He’s a great kid. He was ready. I just thought it was a better game for him than Jarrod. He’s more of a pit bull. I thought he could play against those guys, and he did well.
Q. Coach and one of the players, whoever would like to answer it, there late in the ballgame, I don’t remember how much time there was, there was a timeout called. Coach, you were meeting with the players at half court telling them to get over it and you got in the huddle with them and a lot of excitement and
COACH CALIPARI: I ran out to hug Julius or Alex. I ran out to hug Alex, I think, because he had done something that we needed him to win this game.
And he started playing the last five minutes of the game. And I just was so happy. I must have had 50 texts and as I paged through them everybody was saying, I’m so happy for Alex.
We’re all happy for him. We all know how good he is. We’re just trying to get him out of his own self’s way, smile, have fun playing and do what you do.
He did. And I hope now this is how he plays from this time on.
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to dismiss the student athletes and we’ll take a few more for coach.
Q. Cal, the play that Julius makes, the pass he makes to Aaron at the corner, that’s a play he’s had chances to make during the year and didn’t. How much does that say in terms of how much they’ve come to trust one another?
COACH CALIPARI: That’s one of the things that we’ve really talked to individuals. And I said it before. I told them after the game again, if this was a 25 game season, thank goodness it was a 30 game season, we had five more games to get this thing right and get the plane down before the runway ran out and we were in grass.
Having to define roles is part of what you have to do as a coach. And we hadn’t done it enough. And so now I think the roles are a little more defined in how we want guys to play.
I’ll tell you who else I was happy with. Dakari played well today. Dakari played well today. That 3 point play, that made free throw, that was huge. That just kept eating in their lead to where we could get it close.
So it was, whether it be the guards doing what we were doing, you know. So I’m just happy for them. A bunch of young kids out there having a ball playing, trying, fighting, knowing that we make dumb mistakes, we break down at times, but we don’t stop. And that’s all you want from your team.
Q. Did you have a chance to talk to Willie at all, any idea what happened?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s not a good ankle injury. Let me just put it that way.
Q. Cal, has this team gone from whatever you felt about it, I know you said you never felt bad about them
COACH CALIPARI: I never give up on a team or a player, ever. And this team, I kept telling all you guys, it was the fun thing to do to attack these kids individually. They’re no good, they can’t play, they’re this, they’re that. It’s one thing after another.
They took it on and they pushed it aside, and they kept trying to get better. They kept believing in each other. They kept believing in our staff.
But I don’t give up on teams. I wasn’t going to give up on this team. It was just a matter of time, and thank goodness we had enough time with all freshmen to get it right before things ended.
Q. Is this sort of turning into maybe one of your more rewarding groups because of that?
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t want to say that. I’ve coached 20 some teams and I’ve had many, many play well in March and many, many play their best basketball at this time, and I’m not going to say that. There’s no favorite team or favorite player. I’ve done this too long.
Q. Like you mentioned about the fight with this team, LSU, they got down 22 6, they did come back. Florida, they had a 15 0 run, even though they lost, was that the one thing you could hang your hat on even when this team was struggling?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, just so you know, before the game, our staff talked today and we knew how this would start. They’re going to pee down their leg is what I said. They will pee down their leg, and let’s just be positive and keep them going. Am I allowed to say that, John?
Q. I’m okay with it.
COACH CALIPARI: And they did. And they took all jumpers, why would you take jumpers because you don’t want to be aggressive, you’re afraid you may make a mistake. You shoot 3s, it’s an easy shot. It’s a bailout. And we almost expected it. And we did expect it.
And I told him at halftime we expected you to start like that. We were down six against Wichita you’re down three, just play.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else for Coach? Thank you, Rick. We’ll see you tomorrow.
COACH CALIPARI: Did you say Rick?
THE MODERATOR: I’m sorry.
COACH CALIPARI: Okay, Tim. (Laughter.)
THE MODERATOR: I blame it on the hour.
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