March 9, 2012

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Notre Dame Quotes

Q. Talk about what you got out of this game, such a close, contested finish.
Eric Atkins: Think we just got out of it a toughness. We were poised down the stretch, especially on the defensive end, knowing who to help off of, and just rebounding. They’re a huge team inside. They usually beat up people on the boards, so I think that we definitely got tough on the boards tonight.

Q. Eric, what’s your confidence level like when you hit that shot?
Eric Atkins: I tried to be confident all throughout the game. I really didn’t hit anything all game, though. But coach gives me the confidence to just keep playing, keep shooting. You know, I got the balls thrown to me, and I just knocked it down.

Q. Mike, have you ever been involved in a stranger final few seconds of a basketball game?
COACH BREY: No, that was very unusual. We threw the bomb to Pat Connaughton, and he got fouled. I turned to Coach Solomon, I go, “this is getting wild.” But proud of our group. That’s a little bit how we played all year, like that’s a little bit of when it gets down to those last two or three minutes of really believing. You know, I hadn’t really seen that much the last three games. During our nine game run we stole many like that, and it’s nice to see. Maybe we can keep that recipe going.

Q. You guys have been to the semifinals a bunch of times in the tournament but never made it to the finals. What about this team makes you believe that you can end that run?
COACH BREY: Well, I really believe this group, of all my teams, is most equipped to get to Saturday night. It’s something we talked about in our program for a while. It’s the next step. I think our program has been extremely consistent and solid in the BIG EAST, but playing on Saturday would mean a lot, and I think this group has really digested it. Of course we played the same guys who stopped us from getting there last year in Louisville, and every time we play them it’s never regulation. The last six, seven games, it’s unbelievable.

Q. How much did what you guys have been through help you tonight down the stretch?
Eric Atkins: Think it definitely helped a lot, especially we believed that we can win, get into overtime. I know I believed that we can get it done. I don’t think we’ve lost in overtime yet. So I just believed in our team, and we stayed poised down the stretch.

Q. For both players, you only had four baskets in the second half. How do you keep plugging through that and thinking we’re going to score?
Pat Connaughton: I mean, we wanted to focus on defense. We knew they were a defensive power house, and we wanted to show that we could play just as much defense. So I think the shots may not have fallen, and to make them down the stretch when the shots weren’t falling at the beginning of the half, the beginning of the game, really kind of shows that we have an extra gear and we have a clutchness about us.

Eric Atkins: We’re going to have to score more baskets tomorrow. But I think we did a good job just staying poised and believing in each other, especially getting to the foul line. Once we got one on one, we wanted to keep attacking the hoop. We’re going to have to shoot better tomorrow.

Q. You’ve played these guys before so you know what’s coming, but how much of a grind is it to just stick with it?
Pat Connaughton: Well, we knew they were a different team than when we played them the first time. They went on their win streak. But we also knew we were a different team. I think just going to the game we were just talking about defense because they had the reputation of being that defensive team, that team that holds teams to 40 points, and we wanted to show that we could play defense, too, because we held them to 49 points at our home gym when we beat them. They do play very good defense, and obviously it disrupted our shots at the beginning of the game. But because we all picked each other up and had each other’s backs we were confident down the stretch even if we weren’t making them at the beginning.

Q. How important will it be to offset Louisville’s fast pace and everything, especially playing such a very intense game?
COACH BREY: Yeah, well, they’ll really try and speed us up. They always do. The game double overtime down at Louisville, they were after us the whole game, but we controlled the tempo really well. That will be our challenge here tomorrow night because they’ll really come after us and try and speed us up.

Our team ball handling is one of our greatest strengths. We’re really going to have to rely on that. And sometimes we’re going to have to attack pressure and just reset and catch our breath.

Q. How important was it for your guards and your wings, especially Pat and Scott Martin to rebound?
COACH BREY: Yeah, I was on Jack the whole game. We’re going to need more than that tomorrow night to stay alive. But our guards were fabulous. Coming down and helping us there, Pat was great, and Scott Martin Scott Martin was a double double guy against them last time. He was 15 and 13, and I talked to him about we’re going to need that again.

Q. Pat, a couple pressure free throws there. What were the thoughts going through your head?
Pat Connaughton: It was just make them. I was thinking back on the UConn game, and I was just going through my routine, just like we practiced. Go through your routine and don’t think about what the free throws mean. They’re free, you should hit them, and obviously I failed to hit one of those.

University of South Florida Quotes

COACH HEATH: I’m real proud of my guys. That was a heck of a game. We had it. I thought we just let it slip away in regulation and made some mistakes and didn’t finish some plays that we should have finished. But I thought we played hard. We were much better on the defensive end the second half. We did a good job sharing the ball and taking care of it and getting some quality shots and just came up a little bit short. That’s a very good basketball team at Notre Dame. Hats off for the way they found a way to win. Hopefully we erased any doubt in terms of what kind of basketball team we are and proved that we belong. We definitely belong.

Q. Can you expand on that thought and explain why you think the selection committee should have no doubt about why this team should be in the tournament?
COACH HEATH: Well, you know, that’s just my opinion. I certainly have the inside view on our basketball team. But any time you have a team that’s giving that kind of effort on the defensive end I think one thing that I know coaches around and coaches in our league, they really appreciate when you have teams that sacrifice themselves on the defensive end. And that’s why I think most coaches really like the way we play.

People on the outside, the casual observer that don’t really know how difficult that is, I don’t think they understand that. But teams like us not only get in the tournament, win and advance. You’ve seen Butler over the years, the way they guard and how hard they play. Notre Dame is a great team that controls tempo and does a great job with that, as well. But I think it’s when you get in tournament play, teams get very conservative, and so teams that are used to playing that way have success, and that’s why I think our team can be very good in that kind of play.

Q. You’ve played most of the season without a true home court. How much did that factor in the way the year played out?
COACH HEATH: I don’t know. We were good. We can’t complain about that at all. We look forward to a beautiful brand new Sun Dome that we have for next season. But we were 14 and 2. I think the one thing that was kind of good and bad, we probably lost a little bit of a home court crowd because our students had a little bit of difficulty getting there. But in some ways, it may have helped us just playing on the road, just simply we were used to always traveling and always getting on the bus going to games.

So I don’t think that was what it was. What bothered us more than anything was our non conference is just not being healthy. When you’re missing three of your key players, Poland for 11 games and Gilchrist for two games and Anthony Collins for five, that’s a huge void in your basketball team.

Q. A lot like the Syracuse game, you jumped off to that big lead and then had a huge lull. How frustrating was that?
COACH HEATH: I just think it’s part of the game. I mean, obviously we like to keep things going, but sometimes you just have it. It’s a game of runs, it’s a game of momentum. Notre Dame is a terrific team, and you knew they were going to come back and settle into the game, as well.
You know, we didn’t score and keep pace, but you know, once we got back in our rhythm again, we were fine.

Q. You said you were so proud of your guys with this game tonight. How indicative of this performance is your team from tonight, and what can they do that wasn’t on display against Notre Dame?
COACH HEATH: Well, I think you saw a more complete team, a team that was better offensively, took care of the ball a lot better, wasn’t as sloppy. Yesterday we had some guys that were a little bit tight and we missed lay ups, didn’t catch some passes. But our defense has always kept us in games, and tonight we were better offensively, and I still think our team can still get better. We had a lot of lay ups and easy plays that we can finish that we just didn’t do tonight. But we played them much better, all around game of basketball tonight.

Q. Victor, what changed for you guys in the last minute of the second half?
VICTOR RUDD, JR.: I don’t think we changed. We just didn’t finish plays and we turned the ball over a little bit.

Q. Of the chances you had to win, does one stand out any more than the others?
COACH HEATH: The chances we had to win, for instance, the West Virginia oh, those plays? Yeah, Poland should have finished that lay up. He’s point blank all by himself, he makes it, game is over, it’s done. He’s normally a highlight reel and he normally dunks it and the fans go crazy on plays like that and I don’t know if he didn’t have his footing or was so focused on catching the ball he didn’t have sight of the rim. He’s been a guy that’s made huge plays for us. He basically took over the second half of our Louisville game and won that game at Louisville, which is a huge win for us. He played some big plays when we beat Cincinnati, another top team. So he’s had the games where he’s delivered. It’s just to night wasn’t his night.

Q. Overall you got a win here, you won two of your last three. Do you feel good about things?
COACH HEATH: I’ll be honest; I won’t sleep. You want to hear your name called on Sunday at 6:00. I think we’ve done a great job by putting ourselves in a great position. I think our team is worthy. But there’s some people that have a lot of information that make wise decisions, and we’ll let our case rest with them.

Q. Anthony Collins got hurt late in the second half. How do you think that affected him the rest of the game?
COACH HEATH: I think it affected him big time. It looked bad. The finger was really disjointed. You know, I don’t know if they popped it back or what they did, but they taped it up, and I could tell normally he goes and gets the ball, and then those situations he’s going to get some free throws. So the ball didn’t get in his hands in the later part I think we were up and he didn’t get the ball, and normally he’s a guy that cashes in on those free throws. I think he was a little bit worried about how he can handle the ball with his fingers bothering him.

Q. When you’re putting together a team with this kind of defensive intensity, is there something in the recruiting process where you’re looking for guys that will buy into that?
COACH HEATH: Well, we didn’t kind of build our team that way. I always want to be a good defensive team. We actually played early in the season with more of an offensive lineup, and it was okay. But I just felt as time went on, we had to become better defensively, and we went with a lot more length. We went with a lot more physicality with both Anderson and Gilchrist together, Rudd and Robertson, and probably in some ways it probably has cost us a little bit with maybe shooting and ball handling, but as time has gone on I think guys have improved in some of those areas. I thought tonight we did a good job of playing within ourselves, playing our roles. This is Vic’s first year, really, of college basketball, and he’s oozing with talent. I think you saw what his upside can be like and how well he played. We’ve got Anthony Collins, a freshman point guard out there running the show, and for some of these guys, it’s kind of their first taste of a Big East Tournament and what it’s really like.

I think this team has versatility. I think it has toughness, and I think it’s a team that’s learning how to develop itself offensively. You know, we’ve got some other parts that probably could use a little bit more. Noriega is a terrific shooter that I haven’t really used and he can probably help us a little more, and Gilchrist shows you those flashes, and when he’s consistent, it makes us a different team when he’s consistent around that post.

Q. Is there a point where maybe the game got away from you in an ugly sense?
COACH HEATH: Well, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I think it’s I love the way we play. I’d like to get a little bit more maybe transition baskets and get a little bit more penetration and kick and some things like that. But I have no problems. I don’t apologize at all for how hard my guys defend. I’m proud of it. I think there’s probably 90 percent of the coaches that would love to do the same thing. So there’s no apologies. And I think it’s wrong that it’s almost like I have to come up here and apologize for the way we play. It’s won 20 games, 12 in the BIG EAST, got to the quarterfinals. I don’t understand that at all. I mean, that just baffles me.

But I think what we’ve learned is valuing possessions and defending give you a chance to win. And whenever we cut down our turnovers, it gives us a chance to win even at a higher level, and I think you saw a little bit of that tonight.