March 24, 2003
An Interview With:
COACH BREY & DAN MILLER; TORIN FRANCIS; MATT CARROLL; CHRIS THOMAS
Q. A lot of the players have been saying that the goal was to get to the Sweet 16, to get a step farther than last year, but now that you are there, do you have to come up with a new goal?
COACH BREY: No. I think our guys are pretty focused. From watching them practice this afternoon, I think we are still hungry and you get a little more confident after a weekend in Indianapolis. I think Miller helps us with that tone in the locker room because he has certainly gone past the first weekend and been in this territory before. Matter of fact, been in this territory in the exact same building.
Q. Can you talk about Arizona and the problems that they present with their depth and their versatility and their balanced scoring?
COACH BREY: And their age. You know, you’ve heard me harp on older teams, you have two fifth year seniors and a senior in key, key spots, and they play that way. I think they have the best talent in the country and they are an extremely explosive offensive team. We’ve played some good offensive teams this year, Syracuse twice, but this team is the best in the country, and just can have big scoring runs, which concern you.
Q. You talked about this team being one of the best in the country but how much confidence does your team get from the fact that, from your scheduling philosophy, playing Creighton, Marquette, Texas and then obviously with the Big East you get a chance to play a lot of good teams. Can that schedule, just the things did back in November and December give you confidence entering a week like this?
COACH BREY: Definitely. I think that we schedule so aggressively, I think the interesting number is we have played seven teams in the Sweet 16, or call it the Sweet 15, we can’t count ourselves. I think the next group is like four, we have four teams that have played four. I think that says right there how tough our schedule was.
Yes, it does make you more confident. I think we played those teams, and beaten a few of them, you feel you have a chance to compete and have success against a great Arizona team.
Q. At this time of year, people talk about momentum and they will say, well, maybe last Saturday’s game was a wake up call for Arizona. Maybe they have the momentum; maybe Notre Dame has it. Is all that talk overrated at this point?
COACH BREY: Yes I do think it is.
Q. And talking to Jordan (Cornette) earlier, but can you talk about he said the whole team came together and watched the Butler game together, and just that, the team sort of coming together to cheer on Joel Cornett?
COACH BREY: Yeah, I thought that was interesting. We just had a meeting at 4:00 to go over the schedule. I wanted to give them a break physical which I did. When I got in there we waited until about 4:20 and had the meeting for about four minutes during the media time out and they watched the Butler game.
They are a together group and they have been that way all year, when they have won big, when they have had disappointing losses. They enjoy each other’s company. I guess that’s good. You spend so much time together at this level, but I think we had an excellent practice today. I think we are a very focused team. I just want to make sure we don’t play the game yet today tomorrow or Wednesday. The game is not till Thursday.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the Big East? People thought that perhaps the League got slighted with the four picks and yet you look in here, it’s 25 percent of the Sweet 16 are Big East schools?
COACH BREY: I think that’s a great example of how tough our league was this year, probably a little underrated on the national scene, but yet during the year with the win that is we had and certainly wins at NC State we had a number of good league wins outside the conference, we had the most. But I think it is an argument for why we did not have a fifth or sixth team, D.C. or Seton Hall being in there.
I think it is a cycle with the committee sometimes how is goes. I’m just glad that we were not in bubble mode on Selection Sunday.
Q. You’ve played both Texas and Connecticut this year. Can you talk about how you see both of those teams matching up?
COACH BREY: Well, it’s a good match up. I think Connecticut gets down the floor faster. They have more guys that can run at breakneck speed, certainly four races at a whole other level, and that was what was so impressive when we played them. I think Connecticut has about five or six bodies that change ends at a high level. You know, that’s a great match up, with the speed on the court there. That would be one worth the price of admission.
Q. If you could talk about Matt Carroll and Dan Miller and their ability to hit the 3 pointers? It seems this region has some of the best shooters in the country with Stoudamire and Riddick (PH) and Heinrik (PH)?
COACH BREY: I think you’re right. It’s an interesting region with guys who can shoot the basketball and perimeter oriented teams. There’s no question, the 3 point shot, the outside shot is a key part of our attack. And when we are knocking down some shots, we get confident and it opens up some lanes for our big guys to score one on one. Francis has taken the most advantage of that and he’s gotten better at scoring in college. I think he’s still a work in progress and I believe his confidence is pretty high right now.
We don’t overanalyze a pretty good shot. If it’s a pretty good shot, you’d better shoot it.
Q. You played Arizona several years ago when you were with Delaware, did that experience help you, and are there any similarities between the team and when you saw them and what you are getting ready to face Thursday?
COACH BREY: That’s a good question because I immediately started thinking about that Saturday night after watching Arizona win. Of course, Jason Gardner was a freshman. Anderson was eligible on that team, Walton was registered, I believe, that year. They had some other bodies but the style of play was very similar. The way they got down the floor, an explosive offensive team, the halfcourt offense philosophy, Coach has done it a certain way for a while and has been very successful.
Just being in Tucson and being around the Arizona program for a few days just helped me get a better feel for how they do things.
Q. Much is made over your three point shooting but not your defense, and seemed like you were allowing the players, the opponents, to get the ball where you wanted them to get it rather than where they wanted to get it.
COACH BREY: Yeah, I think overall defensively down there, very good and especially good against Illinois, if you have the field goal percentage in the 30s. Again, we are never going to be a team to turn you over, but I thought we were in pretty good position, really in both games, especially Saturday, and we had five guys kind of working as a unit. I don’t think we did that as well last three weeks of the season on the defensive end. The defensive urgency was certainly there and we did do that. So, that’s something to build on. There’s no question about it.
Regarding our objectives, to try and guard the best offensive team in the country right now, and we’re not going to shut them down. But if we can take a few things away every now and then that certainly would help the effort on Thursday.
Q. With that in mind, last year before you played Duke in the second round, you issued a challenge to the team 85, 90 points, you felt that you needed to get it to that kind of game, do you feel that way with Arizona or does the defensive effort last week give you confidence?
COACH BREY: I’m thinking about asking for 100. (Laughter) I do feel better about us defensively, but we are going to need to be real good offensively. I mentioned to somebody kind of kidding, maybe I was half kidding. It may be one or two one on one out there on Thursday that, would be all right. They were in a flow offensively like we got in the first half, you move better defensively and we are kind of a team that needs our offense going a little bit to get our defense going. That’s kind of who we are.
But I do think guarding Illinois the way we did, good position, will help us stepping up a level as far as an offensive team.
Q. Can you talk about Chris and controlling tempo, is that something you’ve talked about or just him settling down, the way he can run this game?
COACH BREY: Probably both. One of the things on Monday’s practice, a week ago Monday, my theme with him was “manage the game”. I think he actually used that phrase after the Illinois game. You know, just was on him a little bit more about that as we got into, you know, the final stretch of the season and one and done time. I thought did he a great job of that. To handle the ball against a press for 40 minutes on Thursday night and two older guards on him hand checking, bumping him, going after him, fouls, I thought he was fabulous and I love that he was attacking. He kept us we were running and going and did he take a couple quick ones, yeah. But man, we were in an attack frame of mind and I love that.
I think that carried over into the first half of the Illinois game, and then in the second half, he had to play completely different and I thought that’s where he really was good because we had to change gears completely. It became more of a half court game and I thought he really straightened our half court offense and got the ball to the right people and just understood.
Again, as I’ve always said, he’s a work in progress as a point guard and is learning. But I agree with you, I thought he was great in Indy.
COACH BREY: I like that we are in with those three programs because I think that we do belong. We are thought of in that mix now with these three years and the step that we took in Indianapolis, we are thought of in that context. I like the fact that we are out there with those three. I think our guys certainly have a lot of pride in our program now and certainly they have done it a little longer than us. But I think if you asked around the country nationally now, I think we are certainly a force to be reckoned with. We are on people’s minds as a college as one of the top college basketball programs now.
COACH BREY: I think that can be overrated. Arizona plays with a their older guys just kind of play. They never get rattled. They are going to be ready to play Thursday. They know what’s on the line, and I’m sure they have had a goal as a National Champion from day one when you are ranked No. 1.
We come in a little bit different frame of mind. Yet we can win the same number of games and win the whole thing. I see it work both ways. Duke had a scare against us and then we are gone the next time. We had a scare and we came out of the gate against Illinois and we looked like the Lakers up and down the floor at times.
It’s kind of hard to predict. I think it’s an interesting matchup, really, of two teams that are very talented offensively and can pass the ball. You have two teams that can really pass the ball. Like, they really pass it. I think we really move the ball and pass it. You have basketball players that know how to play and every now and then both of us get in a stance, both teams.
But I don’t know if you can put much weight on that, I don’t know. We’re ready for an Arizona team that’s really going to come out like gangbusters when they get to Anaheim, and so that’s how we are preparing.
Q. Obviously the point guard matchup
COACH BREY: It really is. Certainly these two guys, Gardner and Thomas, go way back to high school. Got a chance to watch them work out against each other and play against each other this summer at Nike camp. They both were counselors. And the pick up games, that matchup is intense. July 10 I don’t know if it can be more intense than it was on July 10. There’s a lot of competitiveness between these two Young men. They are great friends but they are the kind of guys that when they are between the lines they want to tear each other’s heart out. They are two great competitors, guys that are winners, that have led their team and certainly being from the State of Indiana, I think everybody is proud right here.
COACH BREY: You know, they were able to score. I mean, they were successful offensively and they are a talented offensive team. They have a little more bulk than us. They have some guys that I thought they got to the offensive board on Arizona and used that as an advantage. But they ran their stuff. They were very disciplined in the half court and able to get some good looks for their shooters. Hopefully we can be as disciplined in our half court as we were against Illinois in the second half when we have to. But we want to run. We want to go up and down the floor. It could be they talk about Texas and UCONN, this one could get going a little bit and that’s okay. I think Chris understands how to manage it. We talked about that.
I think we can get to the offensive boards some, maybe not as much as Gonzaga, but to be confident and run our stuff and be an attack frame of mind nothing specific. I’m not saying, boy, Gonzaga did that. When you get to this point in the season, you’re playing a certain way, you’ve had success playing a certain way, you don’t want to throw too many changes. We’ve got to have the right bodies on the floor at the right time, defensively, offensively, match ups, do we play a little bit of zone, when do we play that. That’s kind of where we are at now.
Q. Can you talk about matching up with the three point shooting?
COACH BREY: We get a lot of practice every day guarding ourselves. One of the things that I talked about with our team is that if we could defend the 3 point line the teams that are playing now can all shoot the ball. They all can shoot it pretty it’s a weapon.
If you take away the 3 point shot and not let it just cross you, we did against Illinois and they only made five; we did against Providence, they only made five. If you can limit and make them shoot 2s and score 2s, that helps us because I always think we are going to score enough points to be in the game. But if we are giving up those 3s, as I’ve said before, obviously they count more, but they are also momentum plays. They get the crowd going. They get the rest of the team confident. And so guarding the 3 point line will be a point of emphasis. Gardner, Stoudamire, Walton has shot a good percentage; Anderson steps out and shoots. They have had a lot of different guys making them.
COACH BREY: One thing I said and I said to our staff I didn’t say is publically. When the bracket came out, everybody went off about the West bracket: Oh, my God, it’s loaded, whatever. Before we even played a game, I looked at it and said, I do like the builds on the teams. It was a lot of basketball players. There was not the Pittsburgh/Kentucky bulk in our bracket. Now we have three fabulous basketball teams and programs out there but not the big bangers that we have had problems with. Even before we started playing, I’m looking and saying, okay, those are teams we matchup with pretty good.
COACH BREY: I can’t think of anybody in the League. He has become a force on the inside for them, good footwork and hands around the bucket, not the jump shooter Brian Cook is, a little jump hook guy. A little longer and stronger around the bucket. A guy we have to get pushed off the block. Again, we are going to play him the same way. We are not going play behind to see if he can make jump hooks from behind over the top to beat us. We have to get him off the block a little bit.
Like a Francis, here is a young post player playing with veteran guys, Anderson, Walton, Gardner. It’s a nice group to fit in with because knows guys take some heat off them and I think our older guys will take some heat off of Torin.
Q. Torin, I talked to your old coach and they are really pumped up for you. You are just a freshman, how much are you looking back to your high school buddies?
TORIN FRANCIS: My old teammates called me and wished me luck. I mean, basically they are helping me out and supporting me and I think they are all really excited.
Q. Can you talk about Jason Gardner and how much you’ve played against the two Indianapolis guys?
CHRIS THOMAS: I’ve known Jason since probably sixth or seventh grade. We have always played in the same leagues growing up and he was always the it was funny, we played on the same team, in seventh grade I think he was the same size as he is now. He was the best player in the state. But in high school we played him four times. I think I was 3 1 against him and we played against him we work out together every once in awhile when we are in town together. We keep in touch throughout the season and we followed each other and we are just proud to be we are just proud to represent our city and our state.
Q. What’s the thing that he does best, what do you have to be most concerned about in your matchup with him?
CHRIS THOMAS: Well, I just think it’s his experience. He’s been to the Final Four. He’s been to the Championship Game. He’s played against the top players. He’s a leader and a captain, and he is what makes that team go.
Q. Matt, I wonder if you keep an eye on the other shooters like T.J., Stoudamire, with the West and did you see them play and your thoughts on them?
MATT CARROLL: Yeah, I’ve seen all of them play. They are very good shooters. Probably some of the best shooters in the country and I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting up with them as the season goes on and we get into this tournament. And I really enjoy watching them. I think they are all very good shooters.
Q. What’s your success the long distance?
MATT CARROLL: I think one of the keys is making sure you get some legs into it, making sure you bend your knees and want to get a nice follow through is a big key for it.
Q. Matt, you guys have played this season seven of the 16 teams that are in the Sweet 16. Can you talk about what that experience, starting from very early in the season with Creighton, Maryland, Texas, Kentucky, what that experience has meant going into the tournament and now as you get ready to face another?
MATT CARROLL: I think the start of the season is what prepared us for now. Starting back in June, we started talking about getting to the Sweet 16, believe it or not. We did it a few years before that and lost in the second round. Our goal from the beginning of June when our freshman came up here was to get to the Sweet 16 is and is something we focus on all year long and we were able to do this year. Playing those teams helped us. We had a very tough schedule and we realized we can beat any team in the country any given day, and I think that’s why we are playing with so much confidence now.
Q. How do you re adjust that goal now, because you focused on the Sweet 16 for so long and now that you are there, what do you have to tell yourself?
MATT CARROLL: Now you know we are looking to go to the Final Four. It’s there. Last year, like Indiana, they made it to the Final Four and it’s very possible for us to do it. We are going to concentrate on our first game against Arizona, and after that who knows what can happen. That’s what makes the tournament so exciting.
Q. You finished the season a little slowly and played very well in the tournament so far. Was there a difference that you could sense in the practices in the week leading up to the first two games, was there any difference from the way you guys had finished just in terms of how you were practicing?
MATT CARROLL: I think our focus and concentration was at an all time high, leading to our first game of the tournament we were real focused and our team was ready to go and we were looking at it basically like the start of a new season. We got a new haircut, everything, and basically just starting over.
Q. Chris, you played against both T.J. and Brown this year with that matchup that they have in the Sweet 16, I wonder if you could just talk about those two guys what it’s like playing against them and their strengths, how you assess them as players?
CHRIS THOMAS: Well, I think it’s going to be a tough matchup for both of them because Brown is able to use his body. He’s stronger and he can get up under you. He plays good defense. I think T.J., he has the edge because he’s been able to do everything on the floor. He’s been able to rebound and pass the ball and shoot the ball with success, and I think as long as he continues to do that, I don’t really see a matchup problem for him.
Brown, I played with him when he was a freshman at NBA camp and ever since then, he’s been able to handle the ball. He’s been a leader for his team. People turn their backs on UConn since day one after they lost four or five games in a row, and I really think that they are one of the most potent teams in the country because they have solid players at each position.
As long as people keep turning back on teams like UCONN and us, I think it gives those teams fuel to go out there and prove people wrong.
Q. Matt, just wondering now the ankle is, how you are feeling and what are your prospects for Thursday?
MATT CARROLL: Ankle is feeling better. Actually, I didn’t practice today but the reason for that is we are hoping that by Thursday come game time I will be 100%. That’s where our attention is I think once Thursday does come, I will be 100%.
Q. Dan, you’ve been talking about a week or so good about how in the tournament, it’s just one and done, you have to play to keep moving on. I wonder what it was like for you guys as a team to gather and watch the Butler yesterday?
DAN MILLER: One of the best things about the tournament is after you get past that first weekend, we played the early game, we can sit back and watch it, relax a little bit and watch the rest of the game going on. We just sat around yesterday and had a good time. It was really good to watch his brother and watch them play their hearts out.
Q. Did you catch any of the Maryland game?
DAN MILLER: Yeah, I caught the end of it.
Q. Has it changed for you till now?
DAN MILLER: A whole different scenario for me here and a whole new group of teammates. I mean, it’s just great to be here again. I mean, some people I kind of take it for granted going to the Sweet 16. It’s an exciting thing to do but at the same time I think everybody wants to go even further.
Q. When you are playing Sweet 16 games, are there consistent qualities to those games each year that are different from the other games that you play?
DAN MILLER: Definitely. I think in the Sweet 16, every team is a big name and every game everybody is going out there and playing their best. You are playing all the big name teams, all the big name players are out there and everybody is watching them.
Q. You guys are all great players in your own right but has Dan helped you guys at all last few weeks in what you have to do to be successful?
CHRIS THOMAS: I think Dan, with him being 6’8 and kind of being mean on the court towards the other opponents, it plays a huge role for us because he’s our intimidator. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he has a different style of game. There’s not that many people that are used to it.
I mean, I think the way he stepped up the last couple of games when Matt has been hurt, it just says a lot about how patient he has been and how consistent, and just he came to Notre Dame waiting for an opportunity like this, to lead his team and I think he’s done well with it.
TORIN FRANCIS: I think Dan leads by example. He’s the most experienced guy, and I think you look at what he’s done the last couple of games, especially the last game, he really stepped it up and carried our team. I think just by looking at him, the haircut and everything, it just makes everyone else want to play well because he looks so scary. (Laughter).
Q. Chris, you talked about managing the game, can you talk about what that means and what you have done differently to do a better job of that?
CHRIS THOMAS: Well, I don’t know if I managed the game against Wisconsin more. There were times in both games where I forced this things. I thought I was able to establish tempo against Milwaukee with my offense and kind of just set the tone for the rest of the guys that we are going to have to outscore these guys and at the same time play good D. Against Illinois, I mean, Brown is running 100 miles an hour and missing layups, and at the same time I am at the other end going five miles per hour using 30 seconds off the clock and we get a good shot. Trying to rebound like that, it even makes our possessions longer and each possession more valuable because they were not able to get offensive rebounds and we were able to tip the ball around and pretty much use the time to our advantage.
I think managing the game means as far as the point guard standpoint, it’s basically just taking care of the ball and getting the ball to your teammates in the right situation. So I think I did that pretty well.
MATT CARROLL: Anaheim is a great place to play, just the whole atmosphere there is unbelievable and obviously the weather is great out there in California. It’s just a great experience to be out there and at this time of year that’s the only place you want to be.
Q. Matt, your first game against Arizona (Inaudible)?
MATT CARROLL: It’s obvious that things have changed. I’ve seen that program evolve from then to now. Going back to then first time we had been in that territory and as a freshman, you have not played against that caliber of talent, ever, and went out there and just gave it our best shot.
I think the difference now is that we are there and we are ranked in the top five this year and we have beat teams. Last year, we almost beat Duke, who was at the time I guess the best team in the country. This year, I think it’s just a different mind set. We believe that we are one of the top programs in the country ask one of the best team in the country and we expect to win those games. We are going in there and doing it, and to go beat Arizona even though nobody is probably going to pick us.
Q. Chris and Dan, could you talk a little bit about how Coach Brey has a low key style and often credits you guys with setting the goals, what makes him such a good coach that’s allowed you guys to reach where you are?
CHRIS THOMAS: You know, it’s funny, how I went to Indianapolis and everybody was like, “What time is your curfew?” With coach, he’s been mature about treating us like men. He knows the seriousness about us and what we have invested in this season. I think Coach has been patient and he’s done great with getting guys rest when they need it, through injuries, and he’s given us the motivation and fuel to just keep pushing, like right after the St. John’s game, we have one round left in us and we believed that we believed that before the Big East tournament. We really put that to full steam right now and I think his ability to communicate with his players and just his ability to make us have a great time out on the court makes us play even more.
DAN MILLER: Would I say his trust in his players is a major factor. In the early part of the season, he wanted us to think for ourselves on the court and not have to look to him for every situation, and that’s really helped us, especially in a game situation. When there’s five, six seconds on the clock, we are not looking to him as much as other teams do because he puts trust in us and makes us make decisions on the court and that has helped our success in game situations.
Q. Chris, did you have a chance to watch the end of the Gonzaga game?
CHRIS THOMAS: Yeah, I watched, and I don’t know who was talking about it, but they said it was the greatest game in college history.
Q. When you see that and you see, does that factor in to as you prepare, that they are beatable?
CHRIS THOMAS: We watched as a team. We just got off the bus and we came in with a couple of minutes left. I was hoping in the back of my mind that we would get Arizona because that would be my only chance to play against Gardner and it would be a great step for this program. You know, Matt and Dan and Torin, to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and Arizona is on top right now.
I mean, what it takes to beat Arizona is just not worrying about what they are doing making sure that we are all on the same page. We have pinpointed every mistake and every weakness and just tried to make it better.
Q. Dan, can you talk about the success of the last couple of games and what turned it around?
DAN MILLER: We have always had the potential to do it and we have shown flashes at time. We play second half better than our first half defensively, and I think now it’s like it we don’t play defense in two halves we are not going to win. This team, we are hungry to go as far as we can in this tournament and make the most of it, and I think that’s pretty much how we are doing it now.
TORIN FRANCIS: Just going out and making sure they don’t establish position and trying to force difficult shots and just worrying about on the offensive end, being aggressive on both ends and continue to crash the boards and we’ll be successful.