Illinois coach John Groce
March 22, 2013
ILLINOIS PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Illinois 57, Colorado 49
NCAA Tournament 2nd Round // Austin, Texas (Erwin Center) // March 22, 2013
COACH GROCE OPENING STATEMENT: Well, I just, this time of year it's about surviving and advancing. So we're grateful to have the opportunity to play on Sunday. I thought it was only fitting that the game was maybe about as strange a game in terms of the ebb and flow of the game that I've been associated with, that it would be that way with this group. We have done it the hard way a lot this year.
I'm proud of our guys for resilience. At one point Colorado went on a 23 0 run in the second half. And I think that in that situation a lot of teams would crack and I thought our guys continued to stay very poised. I thought the 16 2 run late in the game that was spear headed by our defense was a huge, huge part of the game. We got down five, I thought our defense made some plays for us that were big.
I want to give Colorado a lot of credit. They're down 16 coming out of the half, I thought there for the early portion of the second half for sure they were the toughest team there for that portion of the game. Continued to play, enjoyed as I told Coach Boyle before the game, watching their team on film. Really respect how hard those kids play. Respect the way they defend and the way that they rebound. And they have got a young team and it will be great to see how they move forward. I think they have got a chance to keep getting better.
Q. D.J. or Brandon, just how do you explain these wild momentum swings? And kind of the hot and coldness of the whole season. Can you put your finger on why that happens in games?
Brandon Paul: This is March Madness and that stuff happens all the time. At the end of the day I think that as seniors we got to find a way to tough it out. We got to find other ways to get some points on the board. And I think getting to the free throw line my shot wasn't really falling as well tonight, so I tried to do my job getting to the free throw line. And we got a lot of guys who stayed poised.
Tracy got us the ball and in positions to score. We can't tie our defensive effort to the same as our offensive effort. So I think coach said we went on a 16 2 run that just shows the type of poise we have on this team.
Q. Can you describe the emotion that was going through your heads out there during that run? The crowd's going with the other team making the run and you turned things around almost on a dime. Just talk about what you were thinking about and how it changed.
D.J. Richardson: We played what is this our 35th game? We have been through so many different situations throughout the year. We played in so many big games. Played games we had to come back and make plays at the end. And playing a lot of games to get us prepared for a game like this. And I think we made some big plays tonight like we did earlier in the year in other games. We just find ways. We trust each other, we trust the system and we just find ways and the outcome out positive our way. So we just got to stay tough minded.
Brandon Paul: We play a lot of teams that feed off the crowd so we don't let that get to us. We stay focused on the task at hand. Coach does a good job of making sure we stay cool, calm and collected. So we have been through this before, and we have been through lots of tests before and we have had a lot of character. We have been through this throughout the whole year.
We played against a lot of teams that really base their energy off the crowd and they to do a good job of pumping the crowd up and we like to stay poised and coach does a good job along with the rest of the staff making sure we calm and cool and collected in the huddles. And no one is pointing fingers and we all keep the same mindset.
Q. What were you guys saying to each other during timeouts during that drought?
Tracy Abrams: Like Brandon was saying, the coaches do a great job at making sure everybody's composed and on the same level. You see a guy put his head down or look like they got a certain face on, they always keep us composed and collected like Brandon was saying. And there's definitely a big difference just to stay positive and just bring positive energy to our huddles and stuff.
Q. Brandon, Illini Nation is in the house, there's more orange in that arena than any other school that's here. How important is that to you guys and did that even help you when times got a little tough in the second half?
Brandon Paul: Yeah, that's really important for us. They're a great fan base. Orange crush was always with us. We're at home or whatnot, they travel with us. And we got Illini all over the world. Everywhere we go, we see orange. So having their support behind us through the ups and downs definitely goes a long way. We feed off their energy making baskets at the end, making plays, and we appreciate all the support we can get. We're going to continue to feed off their energy.
Q. Brandon, you talked about this a little bit yesterday about not wanting this to be over. Talk about what it means to have it not over and was there, did you have a moment when you thought it might be over?
Brandon Paul: No. I think if we had that type of moment it means we have given up. We're a team that never gives up. So we like to finish everything. Down the stretch things weren't going well for us, but we kept playing, kept fighting. D.J.'s in my ear telling me just to make plays and don't worry about what happened before. So we got a lot of guys that continue to make plays and now we're on to the next. Our focus was on Colorado and now it's on Miami.
Q. What does it mean to be able to get this one?
Brandon Paul: It means a lot. Obviously just to be able to advance, we got guys on the team, this is their first time advancing in the tournament, first time being in the tournament. Me and D.J. have some experience in this and now that we are advancing we want to continue to survive and advance pretty much.
Q. For D.J. or Brandon, is the shooter's mentality just to have a short memory and if they're not falling just keep shooting and trusting yourself that eventually they're going to fall down.
D.J. Richardson: We're mature players. We have been in college for four years, we have been through up and downs throughout our careers. We are shooters, we both can shoot. We're going to keep shooting even if they don't fall. We keep defending that's the main thing, if we defend, we'll find some ways to score somewhere down the line and that's what we did tonight.
Q. Have you ever been a part of a team that went through a 23 0 run and still came out and won?
COACH GROCE: I don't know if I have. I said that to the staff after the game. It was an odd game. Again, give them a lot of credit. I thought we played really well at both ends in the first half. Maybe as complete a half as we have played in a while. It was really encouraging.
Then to start the second half I didn't think our defense was quite as good at the start. The second half, I thought our offense was good again, but we didn't make shots. And then they made the run and then that's when I thought our offense sputtered a little bit.
So we used a couple timeouts there to try to refocus us back to center field a little bit. But give them a lot of credit, they were physical in the second half, they were aggressive. I thought that at both ends of the floor they were aggressive. But long answer to your question, no, I don't think I I mean, it was a strange game in that regard.
Q. The players were asked something similar to this, but how did you try to refocus them during timeouts, maybe try to make them forget about that run, because you were still down only maybe five points.
COACH GROCE: Well, we talk a lot about controlling the controllables. We talk about driving the car and looking ahead and we can't look in the rear view mirror. Nothing's going to change. The score is the score, they're not changing the score. We had to find a way to kind of grind and figure it out. I thought our defense was really good late in the game, as I mentioned at the outset here, during that 16 2 run. I thought that was the difference.
Q. Looking at shooting 13 percent in the second half, and still winning by almost double digits. How does that happen? How do the numbers add up?
COACH GROCE: I couldn't tell you. It's similar to the question that the gentleman here asked just a second ago, but we found a way. As I said at the beginning, this team, it's been a fun team to coach, an interesting team. They found ways in a lot of different situations where their backs have been against the wall and today was another prime example of that.
Q. You always say seniors die hard. Talk about Brandon and D.J., and if they were saying anything while the run was happening in the 21 0 run that Colorado had.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, they were talking about staying poised and being positive. That's what we have tried to do all year. We want positive energy around our team as much as possible. If we have an issue, I tell them, we correct it and we move on.
Obviously we talked strategy in those timeouts. But I thought those guys were very positive. I thought they did a great job of staying positive and staying poised. I thought our shot selection got a little bit away from us there when it got close and they kind of took the lead for about a maybe a four or five minute span. And then we kind of got that's when I meant by getting refocused. We got a little bit better at that point.
Q. Wondering how much you've watched Miami and what do you think of them as your next opponent?
COACH GROCE: Well, I don't know, obviously, a lot about them at this point. We deal one game at a time. We have done that all year. I know that they have got great size, I know they're going to play very hard. I've watched Coach Larranaga's teams, not only at Miami, but also at George Mason previously, they're very well coached. I know that Larkin is a terrific player at the guard position. I'm sure I'll learn a lot more here over the next few hours.
Q. A lot was talked about going into the game about how good they are at rebounding the ball, especially Andre Roberson. You guys actually came out on top. Talk about how well you did crashing the boards.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, sure, we did some really good things on the defensive end when you look at it as a whole. I think a big part of that was defensive rebounding. We had 11 offensive rebounds to their eight. 12 turnovers to their 15. So that's a plus six possession battle. Which I think is huge in a game that's nip and tuck like that down the stretch. I thought for the most part we did a very good job of rebounding.
Q. Did you expect to turn them over as much as you did in the first half and did you see that as a way to get your lead?
COACH GROCE: We wanted to be really aggressive. I thought that was really important. I know there's been times where they have turned the ball over here and there, as you watch them on film. But I think to say that you're going to count on them turning it over as much as they did in the first half, I don't know, that may be fools gold.
But I thought we were really aggressive in the first half, got some deflections. We were active defensively and did a good job of turning them over as well as affecting shot percentage and defensive rebounding the ball well. I thought overall as a whole our defense was pretty good, other than maybe the first, you know, five to eight minutes of the second half.
Q. I kind of know the answer to this, but do you worry that this takes a lot out of the kids to play in two days? How do you get ready to go again?
COACH GROCE: They're obviously 18 to 22 years old. There's a reason why we do strength and conditioning, there's a reason why we play the schedule we play, we do the things we do, is to prepare for these type of moments.
I think our guys know that this is I said it before this is a special opportunity. We'll be able to, I think, rev it back up again on Sunday, no question about it. The next 48 hours is critical. We'll do a lot of things to help get their minds and bodies back.
ILLINOIS LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
Illinois G Joseph Bertrand
On his thoughts about the game: We had a really good first half. They came out and made a lot of shots in the beginning of the second half, but we kept our poise like always. We came back and got the lead and held onto it.
On what head coach John Groce told the team during Colorado's run in the second half: We had open shots and we weren't making them. He said they were going to go on a run and [Colorado G Askia] Booker was going to start shooting it more and they were going to be more aggressive on defense, and that is what they did. Once they started trapping, we got to the middle of the court and Booker got some easy buckets at the end.
On the confidence this win gave the team: It is definitely a confidence booster to get this first game out of the way. They are a real good team and they put up a hard battle. I think it was a good game for us.
Illinois F Sam McLaurin
On the level of physical play on the boards: It wasn't too physical in there. What makes them such a good rebounding team is those guys have great length. I felt like their arms were really long, and they were able to get to balls and tip them around a little bit.
On Colorado's run in the second half: In the beginning of the second half, they came out firing. They were getting us in transition and we weren't rotating properly. They came out and put it on us for a little bit there and went up by five. Coach [Groce] just said we have to start controlling the things we can control which is our effort on defense. Once we tightened up on defense and took away some of their actions that we scouted then it was better for us.
On Illinois' resiliency: We are never down. When it seems like we are down, we are never down and we are never out of it. We always tend to just chip away one possession at a time. We have played about 30 games this year and it seems like we are always in this situation. We have always been able to find ways to come out of it and we did that again today.
Illinois F/C Nnanna Egwu
On thoughts about first half: They found me and I was open. We passed the ball real well in the first half. We shared the ball, we made the extra pass, and I think we did a good job offensively in the first half. It was a matter of sharing the ball.
On how frustrating was it when things were going well and game changes: It is really frustrating especially when you go back but you got to motivate each other. Say, `don't worry about it. Keep playing well defensively.' That was the main thing that really helped us. No matter what was going on, after we had that 21-point turn around, we kind of locked down defensively and held them. I think we did a pretty good job at that.
On the mindset to play Miami: Just to show resiliency. Resiliency of the seniors and resiliency of being on the team. No matter what position we put ourselves in, we don't panic. We understand where we are at and find a way to pull things out. Sometimes it works for us, sometimes it doesn't. We keep testing a 16-point lead but I think it shows a lot that our team is able to overcome the five-point deficit we put ourselves in the second half.
Illinois F Tyler Griffey
On thoughts about the second half: We came up to 16, I think, at half and they came out really aggressive. We had to answer back. I know we went with a really long scoring drought in the second half but it is resiliency. Something we have been doing all year long.
On the mood on bench when Colorado scored 21-straight points: 21 in a row? Wow. We stayed upbeat, we stayed confident. We were getting open shots but they just weren't following. We were getting the same shots we were getting in the first half. So we just stuck with it, kept doing the same thing. They really tried to amp up the pressure in the second half so we had to run some different things to get open. Like I said, we were getting open looks but they just weren't going.