March 21, 2009
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Joined in the interview room by the University of Oklahoma. Head Coach Jeff Capel, Taylor Griffin, Blake Griffin, Willie Warren, and Austin Johnson. Student athletes.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: First of all, I'm really, really proud of my team. They were terrific this afternoon. To prepare for this team in one day and to do what we did defensively in both halves but especially the second half was phenomenal.
I thought we did a great job of executing, and these four guys up here next to me were tremendous, but a guy who is not up here who was just outstanding defensively was Tony Crocker. He took three charges in this game and just did a really, really good job on Manny Harris.
So I'm really proud of our guys. We beat a good basketball team, and we're very, very grateful to have an opportunity to continue to play.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Blake, they doubled-teamed you, tried to triple-team you. You decided to attack the double-team and the triple-team today. Could you talk about that and how you were successful, despite the fact they double-teamed?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: The main reason I was successful is how our guards played and everybody else played. When A.J. is playing like he did -- when Willie is, Taylor Blake like he did, it makes it real easy on me because they have to spread out a little bit, they can't just sink in.
As soon as I caught it, our coaches were telling me just to turn and go and not worry about it. Thankfully, I had some shots put down for me.
Q. All four of the players, do you think this is the best game overall game that you guys played before you got hurt, Blake?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Yes. (Laughter).
Q. All four of you. What about it, guys?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Yeah. I have to agree.
WILLIE WARREN: Yes.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: Yes. (Laughter).
Q. This is for you A.J. You guys talked about getting the pieces to come back together. The big three you hit at the end of the game was the first one. Can you talk about the feeling of being back and hitting this type of shot at the end of the games?
AUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, with Blake and Taylor down low, I think it opened up me. Willie, Crock, getting open shots outside. Then there at the end, I'm used to taking a big three and knocking the shot down when I get the chance.
Even Coach, I was right by Coach. He told me to shoot it. So I mean, I just shot it.
Q. Willie, in the first half you guys made 3-pointers or shots right at the basket by Blake. Was a point of emphasis in the second half to do something in between, get more mid range. One key play when you drove in and hit a running jumper after Michigan had gotten close.
WILLIE WARREN: We knew our guards had to make shots to open up the zone where they couldn't sit there the whole game. They split. They started closing me out harder. It was easy for us to get to the lane and really pop up Taylor to penetrate in the second half. They really couldn't just guard him on a 1-3-1 because he just kept swinging it to the corner for open 3s. They really had to adjust their defense.
Q. Willie and Austin, how mentally and physically draining was this game? It seemed particularly the second half you guys didn't sub until right at the end. The way Michigan plays on both ends of the court, how tough was it for you guys in the second half of play?
AUSTIN JOHNSON: It was tough. The way -- their offense is a little different than most teams. They're always moving, changing up their cuts. They run their offense well, and their coach is a great coach.
So I mean, it was tough having to deal with their offense and then coming down and dealing with their defense.
WILLIE WARREN: It's a lot easier coming from the Big 12 conference, a lot of teams that resemble a lot of teams who we play in the NCAA Tournament, you know. Baylor has great guards and they play a 2-3 zone. To prepare us, we also run a little 1-3-1 ourselves. Even though we only had one day to prepare for Michigan, playing with other teams in our conference helped us out.
Q. I assume you played 37, 38, you've played 39 but you hadn't gone for 40. Can you kind of talk about how you handle 40 minutes, particularly to take a big shot at the end having the legs.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, I'm just used to being out there, and I mean I really -- my conditioning is pretty good. I stay conditioned pretty well, and I'm used to being out there, you know, in the end, too, and that big shot is just what you live for. I know how to take it.
Q. Blake, you were judo-flipped Thursday, blood on the elbow today and blood on the nose. How were you feeling out there.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I felt good. The two spots I was bleeding really wasn't that bad. It was a tiny, tiny little cut on my elbow that wouldn't stop. I kind of got hit in the nose. Kind of got a nose bleed or so. It was physical today, but it was a lot better.
Q. Blake, I was wondering if you could just talk about you made a big decision to come back going to the Sweet 16. It seems like you're having a lot of fun out there. I don't know if you want to discuss the flashing the guns after the big slam or not. Just talk about how much fun you're having out there.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: This was so much fun. I think all our guys had a lot of fun. This is what we play for, and, you know, it's just fun when everybody is playing well and everybody is doing their thing. Crock is taking charges, everybody just seems to be, you know, doing exactly what they're supposed to. It makes it a lot of fun. I guess the Fley thing was just part of that.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Last couple questions for the student athletes.
Q. Taylor, you seemed to be a lot more into the game in the second half in terms of offensively and hitting the boards and things. Can you talk about the difference in the first half, second half for you?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: I think it was just kind of realizing, you know, seeing their defense and, you know, realizing what I was going to have -- Willie talked to me at halftime and told me kind of things to look for and, you know, I thought that was huge, especially for a freshman and he was right. Things were there. You know, driving lanes were opened up. I think I just played a little bit more aggressive.
Q. What kind things did Willie tell you to look for?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: The 1-3-1, we have a play where I cut to the side line.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Don't tell them about our play.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: I caught it. He was just telling me to look at that driving lane instead of, you know, following through with the play. And he was right. It was there.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: At this point we'll excuse the OU student athletes, let them head back to the locker room. Questions for Coach.
Q. Jeff, just seems to be one of the efforts for Blake is catching the ball and getting into positions to catch the ball. Once that happens, the percentage is pretty high it will be successful. What was Michigan doing defensively to try to prevent that, and just can you just talk about Blake's success in catching and scoring?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, Michigan mixes up their defenses. Man, they were trying to front. They had help from the side. In zone 2-3, they tried to front him, also. 1-3-1 is a little bit different because their wings were only at the tall 6-5. If they went 1-3-1, the back guy was about 6-1 we could just throw over top.
We were able to do that because Blake has great hands and he's really good. I mean, he shot over 60 percent all season long. So if he catches the ball, and he usually catches the ball, something good is going to happen. Usually he scores or he gets fouled. Lot of times you have both of them happen. And it's because he's really good.
Q. Jeff, why didn't you substitute in the second half?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Why didn't I? We wanted to win. They were playing well. Coach has the right to sub. If I don't want to sub, I'm not going to sub.
Those guys played well, and the media timeouts are a little bit longer. Felt a good rhythm. We had timeouts. They were playing well. Didn't want to mess it up.
Q. There was a moment there, I think 9:23 left, where Blake had one of his dunks. Seemed to enjoy it pretty much. Was there a lot of frustration that came out of that? Looks like everything came out on that one dunk.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: No, I don't think it was out of frustration. I think it was out of excitement. That it was a heck of a play. You know, if you made that, you probably would yell or do something, too. I know I would have.
You know, that's just part of basketball, emotion. That's part of our game, and it was a big, big time play, big time finish, and I think he just enjoyed it. He was sharing that moment with his teammates.
Q. Coach, to follow-up on all, do you feel this was the best this team has played since Blake got back into the lineup?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Yeah, it is. It is. Again, I think we have put two games back to back together. So hopefully we're getting back to where we were before our season was interrupted with that injury.
Again, before that, our last game before we played at Texas, we played Texas Tech at home, and I thought it may have been our best performance up to that point, just the way we shot the ball. Blake had 40 and 23. Cade Davis came off the bench and hit five 3s. Willie had -- we just -- it was a complete game.
We defended. Then again our season was interrupted and happened during a time where we were playing against really good competition. It took us awhile and knocked us back a little bit. We've always remained confident and Thursday's game against Morgan State helped us. I thought we really, really -- I thought the guys fought today and played every possession.
Q. What is more fun, watching your team going go to the Sweet 16 and coaching that team or playing in the Sweet 16?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: It's always -- I've enjoyed it more as a coach. You know, probably my two favorites moments as a coach was right now, this is one of them, and then my team at VCU when we won our conference tournament. Just at that level to get to the NCAA Tournament.
For me, that one was a little bit more personal, being my second year and there have been so many questions about my hiring and things there. So it's definitely more enjoyable as a coach because you get to see your guys enjoy it. I get to see Blake's reaction. I get to see A.J.'s reaction. I got the see all those guys in that locker room, how excited they were. Can't get better than that.
Q. It appeared in the second half again to really good offensive rhythm for Blake. Did you change anything up?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: We talked about some things that were available against their zone and against their 1-3-1. I thought a couple of times we rushed some shots. We told Blake even if they're doubling them, the other guy is probably 6-4, 6-5 at the tallest. You can go right through.
One of the things that helped us for this game the way they were doubling him, you know, they're not that big. It reminded me a little bit of Nebraska and you guys to cover us back home.
When Nebraska came -- if you watched the second half, Blake dominated the second half because he just went right over the top of the double. That's one of the things we told him at halftime. Go up over them. The other thing -- we didn't think coming in Michigan had shot blockers. So we thought if we got it close down there near the basket, with his size and athleticism, he could go up and finish over top of them.
Q. Jeff, you told us many, many times that you play guys for certain reasons, and you mentioned in your opening statement about Tony Crocker. He's not -- he didn't score tonight. So a lot of us are going, "Are you going to sub or whatever?" But he holds their leading player, never let's him get off or get going.
Talk about Tony's effort tonight, even though he wasn't doing a lot of success offensively.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: He was because he had six assists and one turnover. So many people -- and it's one of the things we fight as coaches, not just me with my team but just coaches in general, everyone wants to place emphasis on scoring. Everyone determines whether these -- I should say most people determine whether these kids play well or not by score.
When you look at a stat sheet or someone reads the paper tomorrow, they'll look at Tony Crocker's stat line, 0-4, four points. Think what's wrong with Crock? He did a heck of a job defensively.
He had six assists and the one turnover. The turnover game early. He took charge. He stepped to the line and four-for-four from the free throw line. It's the best he played in a while. If he makes a couple of those 3s and all of a sudden has an outstanding game.
But we don't -- I don't place value on what everyone else places value on. Everyone has a role on our team and we need guys. One of the things I talked about before the game was "Are we really willing to do whatever it takes to win?" I went through a couple things. I said, "It may be a guy in here that maybe has to take three, four charges for us tonight to win." Crock took three charges. I talked about maybe a guy we have to rebound. We may take 20 rebound game from somebody. Blake was close to it.
So all these guys stepped up and made plays for us, and again, we were in a good rhythm offensively in the second half, and as a coach I chose not to mess with that. I chose not to sub and break that rhythm because it gave us the lead and stayed with the lead. Even when they cut it, we make it back and made plays.
Q. How much better do you think your defense was in the second half and what were the reasons for that?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: I thought it was better in the second half because we had a better feel. We knew going into this game, with all that cutting they do, you have to really be down.
We didn't go through any of their stuff yesterday live. We just kind of walked through it. I thought it took the first 20 minutes for us to get used to the speed and just how they do everything. Then in the second half, we were able to talk to them about it and talk about just a couple of different things we wanted to do, but I thought the main things that our guys had a better feel for what they do.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Last couple of questions.
Q. Jeff, I know you were upset still yesterday about the foul with Blake. When he has a night like tonight and he's kind of the center of the basketball universe, do you allow yourself to feel joy for him because of the things he's gone through?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: I feel joy for him all the time. I enjoy coaching him. Things happen in a basketball game, and sometimes it's not so good. Sometimes it's tough things. Things happen in journey, in a season. There are highs, lows.
But you got keep on fighting. You got to keep on persevering and keep on staying focused on what you do. He's been able to do that for us all year long, no matter what anyone has tried to do to him, he's been able to do that. I've enjoyed every second of coaching.
Q. Is that a little bit of a payback?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: No. He's a basketball player. It's no payback. He's out there trying to help our basketball team, and he's done a great job of that all season long.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Last question.
Q. Jeff, your decision not to substitute in the second half, so I'm clear, was that something you made during the second half, or is that something you thought at halftime, saying "We need to stay with our guys"?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Something I made during the second half.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Thank you, Coach.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Brief statement from Coach Beilein and questions for Michigan student athletes.
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: I just glanced at the stat sheet a little bit, and we tried everything we could to stop Blake. The residual effect was he -- we couldn't stop him obviously the way we would like to stop him, but I actually thought their point guard with his long 3s was a big dagger at times for us, was huge, and I'm very proud of our guys.
Our guys just -- they played as hard, as well as we could tonight, and I think we're a better team than we played tonight, but it just didn't work that way.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Thank you, Coach. Questions for Michigan student athletes, C.J. Lee, Manny Harris, Anthony Wright, and DeShawn Sims.
Q. Guys, give us your opinion of Blake Griffin, facing him in the bottom, seen him on highlights, but playing him. Your thoughts on Blake Griffin, the Player of the Year, DeShawn.
DESHAWN SIMS: Great player. Strong. He takes his time and he's a great player.
ANTHONY WRIGHT: Added onto what DeShawn said, one thing he had was great body control, and I didn't really think that that was going to be one of his major strengths, but body control was probably the biggest thing.
MANNY HARRIS: They said it all. He's a great player. He showed it today. He's been showing it all year.
C.J. LEE: Like everyone has been saying, he's a good inside presence. I like his demeanor and his composure on the court. He doesn't really seem to get rattled or too high or too low.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about that stretch in the first half, what was going through your mind? Obviously you had a couple guys in foul trouble, lineup that probably is not used to being in that situation, certainly not in this situation and just that takeover mindset and not be afraid of the moment mindset. Anthony?
ANTHONY WRIGHT: DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, their names are highlighted on every single scouting report. So just having guys like that, it kind of draws away from everybody else a little bit. And Manny got his second foul with about 15 minutes left, and I knew somebody had to step up with the scoring role, and I just took the shots that I think Coach would want me to take.
Q. C.J., this being your last go-around, how proud are you of the guys, especially with DeShawn and Manny missing so much time in the first half and guys stepping up and sticking with one of the best teams in the country. Describe how you're feeling about this team.
C.J. LEE: I'm definitely proud of our guys and program. I'm proud of the possibility of where we can go and just -- these guys did not stop until it's all the over. That's all you can ask as a senior of your fellow teammates. That's all a coach can ask of his players. So, I'll remember that forever.
Q. C.J., looked like you got there several times on the double team on the back end of the defense. You're sitting there trying to defend a guy that's 6-5, 6-10, and you're leaning into him and he's just leaning back into you and jumping over. What was that like?
C.J. LEE: Well, it wasn't fun, but we were just trying to execute our game plan. We obviously were doubling off. We didn't want to double with Blake having the ball too high because he's a good passer and could just pass over us. So a couple times it's probably just a step or two, too late on my rotation.
Obviously he's taller so he's able to put the ball in the basket. It wasn't one player. It was a team that we were trying to defend him as. That's all we're trying to do was take the ball out of his hands or force him into a charge.
Q. Manny, all season when you guys have been behind, you talked about break the half into segments of time. When it's a tournament game and it's do or die, is it harder to kind of look at it smaller rather than the big picture?
MANNY HARRIS: Yes, it's definitely -- it's kind of hard to look at it like that, but we fought today and they made their run. We was able to fight back and cut the lead down to where we wanted it, but it was some tough breaks at the end and just didn't go our way down the stretch.
Q. For DeShawn, when you think about this season as a whole, what do you think it says about where the program is?
DESHAWN SIMS: As players we kind of -- we set expectations and set NCAA everyday and knowing that if you say something enough that it can happen. It was kind of almost a dream because the expectations were high, but we wasn't sure where we could go, and I'm not sure if other people thought that we would be in this position, but we kind felt in our minds that we worked hard and something had to pay off.
The season -- we were a win away from the Sweet 16. It don't get no sweeter for that for a team that finished 10-22 last year, and it's a lot to build on, and it's a long ways away from the next season.
Q. C.J., do you feel there were a couple charges you did not get on him, got under him and got knocked down?
C.J. LEE: Those are just the breaks of the game. I mean, we're never going to second guess anything like that. That's just how the game goes. So that stuff is out of our control. We can only control our effort, how hard we play and our execution. So, that's out of my control as a player. That's out of our team's control. We don't second guess that.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Any more questions? Thanks, guys. You can go back to the locker room. Questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about that lineup you had in the first half that kind of found a way to stay in there. I'm guessing that's not your dream lineup.
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: It's an amazing team -- except I think we had one other addition, does do fairly well in practice everyday. Anthony was a former starter, Jevohn was a former starter, and so they've been in that situation a little bit before, but I really liked the way we played especially Anthony, obviously.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about Blake Griffin and his presence and just the role of your team to try to combat his role?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: First of all, once again I do not want to diminish how good this man is. Oklahoma is terrific. I mean, when you have guards that can shoot like that, your small forward gets six assists and his brother who we don't feel -- hear a lot about Taylor. He can start for any team in the country. He's a tremendous player. It's tough to defend all those things.
Like I said, he might have had those 33 points and 17 rebounds and we might have won the game because of the fact that they didn't have any outside shooting because you can afford to do a lot more a lot more like that. That is a tremendous team. He's a tremendous player.
Q. John, when you got your technical, you were heard saying "What are you supposed to do?" What were you referring to?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: When we were -- we were trying to double-team then and just coming and being straight. We really train our kids not to reach in, just come in and make sure that he initiates any contact.
So that's what I was referring to. I don't know how you guard it if you have two guys on him and you're standing up. It's a ref's call. There's a lot of those 50/50 calls that go into a season.
Q. John, did you feel like you dodged a bullet in the first half when Manny plays five minutes, you're only down two?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: I told him when he first got the second foul, "Be ready, I might throw you in for a couple minutes." As the score -- we had the lead for most of the half at that point. My biggest concern was getting him warmed up at halftime after sitting there, with a 20-minute halftime, and then sitting for probably 20 minutes in the first half.
That was my biggest concern, how we could come out of there. Then Novak went down and C.J. went down and DeShawn were all down. You've seen our team. Very rarely -- we may lead the country in not fouling people. That was really some adversity that I thought we handled well, but after all that, we really didn't come out of the box real good in the second half.
Q. Coach, you said at the beginning of the year, second season at a new school, "It's going to be a rollercoaster. Expectations shouldn't be as high from outside." You're sitting up here, second round of the NCAA Tournament. Has this team exceeded your initial expectations back in November?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: I don't think anybody ever exceeds them. I'll really proud of them. I don't go out there with these long range. I did say it would be a rollercoaster. I think we've had some great highlights. We certainly have some very low moments. But when you're really proud of a team when they -- I think everybody wouldn't argue if they finished strong even -- you never won a national championship so you don't -- you got to -- two teams will win, the NCAA and the NIT. You're going to end with a loss. If you feel your team battled strong, then they met your expectations.
Q. Coach, start off the second half UO on an 8-0 run. Can you just talk about -- and also Coach Capel talked about how you mixed up defenses with the zones. Could you talk about what were you trying to do there?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: In the second half we came out -- there was only really one small error we made during that particular time where we blew up a play, but DeShawn got a real nice shot that just missed and they went down and got the ball.
First play we got a good shot, missed, they scored. Manny had a great shot, missed, they went down and scored. We sort of blew up a play and they went down and scored. Just the way we didn't want to start the half. I don't think it was like all of a sudden we went down and just threw the ball away or didn't play hard. Being in foul trouble and adjusting to coming back hard against a team of that caliber, I think had some factor in our starting the second half.
Q. The zone defenses.
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: There was no way we could stand there and slug it out with them. There's no way. Like I said, this is one fantastic player on one very good team. There's no way we could just matchup and say, "Okay, we're going to slug it out with you in man-to-man."
We had to keep changing. Hopefully create turnovers that way. We couldn't give them to turn it over enough. 11 turnovers. We probably needed more than that to win the game.
Q. Coach, last year your players talked about wanting to get the taste out of their mouths of a 10-22 season. With them having gotten to the tournament, is this something you want them to savor and push them into next year?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: Yes, but I want today's feeling to linger a bit. I want them to know that, first of all, that they were a few breaks and a few shots away from going to the Sweet 16.
You know, even though it got away in the second half, if we had a couple other shots drop and a couple breaks go our way, we could be continuing on. I want them to feel that a little bit because we need to continue to grow here and the hungriest is very good at this time. Satisfaction, it's nice to feel you accomplished something, but we want to continue the hunger for us to get Michigan past this stage.
Q. Can you talk about your seniors a little bit and how hard it's going to be to say goodbye?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: It's hard. We had some Kleenexes out in there. You know, I don't want to single anybody out because they're all the same. They've all given us louder leadership, quieter leadership. They have been virtually no maintenance, team-first guys from the very beginning, and that allows you when -- especially when everybody else is so young, that really allows you to focus on the growth of the other guys on the team. If you have a senior -- malcontent as a senior, that never helps you concentrate on the younger guys.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Last question.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the experience those guys get? They're hanging in there in the first half, those moments for freshmen and young players in that setting and what that can do for a player?
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: All our freshmen have had ups and downs, but really I thought the three freshmen have had a great year. This was a great moment for them to learn, and I know that those three guys will be in the gym like crazy, as well as Manny and Anthony and DeShawn will be in the gym like crazy to get better.
But it was really good that we got them to experience -- I talked before about the -- some of the programs that I admire in the Big 10 that do not know what it's like not to go to the NCAA Tournament. They just push through all the things and they see togetherness and team work and right attitude can get there. That's how I want our freshmen to feel. The reason they got there was about a team concept.
KEVIN KLINTWORTH: Thank you, Coach.
COACH JOHN BEILEIN: Thanks everyone.