Connecticut-Purdue Postgame Quotes
March 26, 2009
THE MODERATOR: While we are waiting for Coach Calhoun, we will go ahead with the UConn student athletes. Questions, please.
Q. You got off to that 8 0 and then 14 3 lead. In retrospect as you look back on the game, how important was that for you to come out and establish the way you did?
A.J. PRICE: I think it was very important that we came out and wanted to show what type of team we were, get off to the same kind of start we got off in the previous two games and we did that.
We knew they were a tough team. We told ourselves all week if we got ourselves out to a good run, they were going to come back. They are a very game team, tough team. They proved that time and time again. Every time we made a run, they seemed to cut it back to four, two, something like that. A lot of credit to them.
Q. Can you just talk about the turnaround defensively on Hummel. It seemed like he obviously did most of his damage in the first half.
HASHEEM THABEET: He was effective in the first half. And second half we huddled up the whole team and we said we got to find a way to stop him. And the guys was talking when you play great defense like that, we stay together five as one, we can play great defense.
And today in the second half, we did that. It was really tough. They got a lot of shooters, moved the ball pretty well. We tried to stay and play defense. When we play great defense, that's how our offense gets going.
Q. A.J., it was 44 40 midway through the second half. You looked like you just took over, really made some tough shots. Can you talk about that spurt and maybe your mind set.
A.J. PRICE: The whole game I felt like I was getting to the spots that I wanted to get to. But I just wasn't able to finish. And I kept telling myself, stay with it, at some point I will finish the shot, finish the play off and I will make a big basket.
Around that time it started to happen for me. I made two or three tough little floaters in the lane, and it was just being persistent and staying with it.
Q. How important was this game for Craig? He hit a couple of shots early and seemed to find his range. He hasn't been in a rhythm like that for a while.
A.J. PRICE: It was huge. He got his confidence back tonight, I could tell. I love to see Craig Austrie smiling. Tonight he brought that smile out. He made huge 3 pointers in the second half. He was big on the defensive end the whole game. Made clutch free throws down the stretch.
I think this was one of his best all around games he played all season. Hopefully he can bring it again for us on Saturday.
Q. Second half it seemed like you were more assertive at the start. Did you come out with that in mind or did the game just open up that way for you?
HASHEEM THABEET: My guys in the locker room just told me the first half you didn't have good performance. You go back out in the second half and play your game. They know I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff. Today second half they told me to go back there and do what you do all season long.
Again, all the credit goes to my guys. They really helped me.
Q. You have been mentioned with everything surrounding the team that you do what you do best which is play basketball. How did it feel to be back out on the court? And then obviously you guys were started off well and then a little sluggish before getting together again.
A.J. PRICE: Felt great to get out there on the court and play basketball. Like I have been saying all week, that's what we know how to do, that's what we focus on and that's what we do best.
We came out here and played as hard as we can and we played a great team today. I really do believe that. They are a very tough team. They wouldn't go away by any stretch of the imagination. We tried to put them away three, four, five different times, and every time they came back.
But we stayed with it and we were able to keep that lead. We prevailed today.
THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Calhoun for a few opening remarks and then questions.
COACH CALHOUN: Obviously I'm not upset. Sometimes you are supposed to be upset about things, and I'm more than happy about the way our team played.
I thought that what we said Purdue would do after watching them and what Matt Painter has done with that basketball team, they are not going away, fellows. No matter what we do to them, we are going to have to eventually get that stake and put it in their heart, and I'm not even sure then they will go away. And quite frankly they didn't.
It took a magnificent performance by Craig Austrie, and then in my opinion we talked about it at halftime having Hasheem just took the game over. He had four blocked shots. He also had a lot of drive in, not a good idea, drive out. So that made it very good for us.
I thought A.J., Stanley, once again, has evolved into that role as our third scorer and rebounder. And the job he did on Hummel who I have incredible respect for, what an incredible player he is. In the first half he lit us up big time. In the second half I believe we held him to two points, a layup late. Just a magnificent defensive job.
I thought they did a great job on A.J. Price. They doubled the ball all the time. They did a terrific, terrific job of jumping on him. And he fought his way through it and made some big key hoops when they kept threatening down the stretch. We were then able to use the clock, dominate on the backboard and, once again, allow Hasheem to really control in my opinion the second half of the game.
But the good sign and I know this time of year it is getting to be a shot season, but nevertheless, that Craig steps up when Jeff doesn't have a good game, when Stanley steps up, when other people can do the job. Obviously I told them all we're playing for, fellows, is to play Saturday. That's all we're playing for. The opportunity to play Saturday, which is now you are playing for something even more special. And the kids came through great. I couldn't be prouder and happier of them.
I told them, it is really true when I said it to them, we are playing Saturday in the Regional Finals. I get goose bumps and I did. And there is no there is only one or two better feelings. That usually involves a Monday night. So it was really pretty special stuff for us, and I couldn't be happier with our kids. I thought we played well.
I heard A.J. saying what Matt has done with that team, and they got some young players and Johnson will be a terrific player I love Hummel. He really gets them to play at a level of intensity that very few teams ever can play at. He gets them to run their offense at a speed I will be very honest with you. We have played some awfully good teams. Nobody ran their offense at the speed they ran their offense and made it very difficult for us at particular points in time to stay with them. That's why they kept coming back.
It was a terrific performance by our kids. I thought a really good performance by Purdue who, quite frankly, ran to one of the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet. Beyond that, the game might have been different if we had just a, quote, regular center.
Q. Can you talk about the defensive switch at halftime, putting Sticks on Hummel, what went into the original thinking and then the switch?
COACH CALHOUN: We had the idea of three different people: Craig, his eye on the ball; Jeff, because of his length, Jeff has a 7 foot 2 reach, to play him; and then Sticks. We fear now even more so and it hasn't happened to him too much Stanley getting in foul trouble.
So instead of going you want the first option or Stanley? But they usually count what happens not in the heart but at the end of the game. Therefore we made sure if he was, quote, what we thought could be our ace guard, we didn't know it was going to be, we went to him in the second half. That's really what it was.
As we sat around thinking we knew we were going to play Purdue after we beat Texas A&M, it certainly was Stanley, our first choice. We know Hummel can lift fake. He moves so much. And I didn't want to get Stanley involved for both defensive and offensive reasons.
Q. Jim, there was Robinson being lost in the last semester and then there was Dyson being lost now for late in the season and now the events of the last couple days. Did we learn something about the way that UConn responds to adversity here?
COACH CALHOUN: I hope so. I think I said and it took me a couple days. I can understand why people might have criticized or not criticized after the game that I just thought it was a loss and I had a chance to put it in perspective. Just how much as I said before, how much admiration I had for the athletic, because it is an overused word, the athletic courage of both teams.
So I think we showed incredible grit in that game. We showed incredible grit going back to Gonzaga. But without a couple pieces, a team that was emerging, not necessarily being less but being different. Yeah, the kids the kids responded the way some of our teams did.
I remember being down in a Final Eight game to Gonzaga with Khalid El Amin on the bench and we found a way to get ourselves to St. Pete to win our first national championship.
They truly have won 30 games, they truly a form of legacy at UConn, won 101 games. As I told you all along, this has been a special group.
Q. Hasheem was up here telling us that at halftime some of his teammates were telling him to take over and assert himself. Were you telling him the same thing?
COACH CALHOUN: The NCAA gives you the 20 minutes. And the first five we leave for them. I will tell you this, I just thought of it because you brought the question up, we are in the coaches' room. To be very frank and honest with you, there was more talk at halftime than there was obviously in the previous two games or probably any other game where we give them the three or four minutes with each other.
Today for that five or six minutes, a little bit longer, there was an awful lot of talk in our locker room. I think that's good because they believe in each other. They have been together, this group A.J., five years with us. Craig and Jeffrey, four years. Hasheem, three years. They can share things that a lot of teammates can't because they aren't sensitive. They have an affinity towards each other.
Obviously since we lost that game, we bounced back pretty well.
Q. Craig hasn't shot that well. Does it do you feel good for him that he is able to hit it in this big stage?
COACH CALHOUN: You heard me say before I called him in about starting him and all that stuff and I believe in him and I've always believed in Craig Austrie. He has also always been our Papelbon. For those of you that do or do not love the Red Sox, tough. I love Papelbon. He is your closer. Without question, he has that ability for us, particularly last year. And this year there was something at times missing.
When we really needed him, he was there. He has always been there for us. And he has really, really been there for us in the NCAA tournament, no question, defensively and offensively. I couldn't feel better than I do than for Craig Austrie. He has the biggest smile. I heard A.J. say that, too. Craig doesn't give you a lot of smiles. I don't care if he smiles because he gave us a great game. For him to step up and make some of those big shots, play great defense, he was very good special for us.
Q. You hit on this but can you talk about early in the second half they got it to within three, I think. And then Thabeet made six or seven plays. Made a block every rebound, got some layups, a dunk and it just seemed like it wasn't going to happen for Purdue after that. Can you talk about that sequence.
COACH CALHOUN: I agree 100 percent with that. We have been on him a little bit. In the first two games he didn't necessarily have to because of the situation, take the game over. He ran out of time a little bit and got in foul trouble in the six overtime game.
And the second half of the Pitt game he didn't score even though, he had 14, 15 points and 12, 13 rebounds. He needed to take the game over. I have been telling him that. You are a great player, an All American and you have to play like an All American. He has played for us well, but you are right, today he was special and he made the lane a place nobody wanted to go and conversely scoring at the other end.
I think we were up by four and we had three seconds left on the shot clock and Kemba makes a great pass and he turns and makes that jump hook shot and gives us plus six or seven and gave us some breathing room.
I have one thing to say. At 7:00 this morning, I talked to Jeff Hathaway for a half hour, had what I thought was a very fruitful conversation up in Boston. That's all I'm going to say. I thought we had a very fruitful conversation.
And he said go get Purdue. I said fine. It lasted about a half hour. And as I said, we are continuing to do the things on the outside we need to do. My job today was to come and coach our basketball team, and the kids took care of that. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by Coach Painter and the Purdue student-athletes. I will ask Coach Painter for a few opening general comments. We will go to questions for the student-athletes and then questions for Coach. Coach?
COACH PAINTER: First of all, I thought UConn played a great game. I think it is very difficult to simulate what they do in a game in practice. It is just a hard thing. I think with the strength of Jeff Adrien, the size of Hasheem Thabeet, those guys, it is difficult. You got to shoot the basketball at a very high percentage if you are going to beat them, if you get outrebounded by 15.
I thought our guys gave a great effort. The ball didn't bounce our way a couple times. We didn't make some shots. I think that's really the difference in the game.
If you had to narrow it down from UConn's standpoint, I thought Austrie had a great game, 17 points. 6-6 for the line, 4-6, 3-3 from 3, for a 30 percent 3-point shooter, a guy that has been struggling from 3, that was a guy that could be a factor in this game and he was a factor in this game.
Thabeet able to get 15 rebounds, Stanley Robinson able to get 11 rebounds. That's where we have really made improvements here in the last month. Our guys have done a lot better job rebounding, I thought they gave a good effort tonight. It is very difficult to keep those guys off the glass. They have a great team and you have to tip your hat to them.
Q. For both Robbie and JaJuan, you guys have been getting off to excellent starts recently with maybe one exception. And today it was -- it seemed like the first four or five minutes you got some good looks but nothing was going in. In retrospect, how important was that start in what UConn was able to do?
ROBBIE HUMMEL: We have been able to kind of get off and jump off on a few teams in the past five games. Today we weren't able to do it. Like you said, we had open looks but they just didn't go down.
I think our guys, just the team did a good job of battling back from that bad start. And like you said, it was the only first four minutes of the game. It didn't kill us. I thought we did a good job of trying to fight back. And that's what we did.
JAJUAN JOHNSON: I agree with Robbie. We had some good looks early on. We weren't taking bad shots, just didn't happen to fall. That's just part of basketball.
You have to tip your hats to them, but they really played a good game.
Q. How was the shooting background here? Was it difficult for you guys?
JAJUAN JOHNSON: I didn't really feel it was a big factor in the game. Both teams really had to shoot on it. It really didn't make a difference to me personally.
ROBBIE HUMMEL: I agree with JaJuan, I don't think it was a factor in the game. It is a great place to play and a great environment for a game, I think.
Q. Robbie, could you just talk about what it is like to go up against them. Matt mentioned it. They are so big in the post and muscled. How much of a battle is that just dealing with their physical size?
ROBBIE HUMMEL: Like Coach said, Jeff Adrien is really strong. Hasheem Thabeet, he has got some strength too. I think it is very important to stop dribble penetration because we get to help from under the basket, it just kind of makes it tough to recover on those guys to get shots and they get a lot of offensive rebounds.
Q. JaJuan, it seemed like it took you a little bit to adjust to Thabeet. It would take anybody a while to adjust to him. Did it take you a half to just kind of realize what you were going against?
JAJUAN JOHNSON: He is a real good player. But it just took me to settle down, take the open shots when I was open and my teammates, they really tried to give me the ball and things like that.
I wouldn't say it take as whole half -- takes a whole half to get acclimated to play against him but it definitely takes the first few times up and down the court.
Q. Robbie, just kind of talk about the difference for your offensive game first half, second half. They played Robinson on you most of the second half.
ROBBIE HUMMEL: Yeah, I got some open looks in the first half. I was fortunate to knock them down. The guys were finding me.
I thought I had good looks in the second half, too, I just didn't make them. Stanley Robinson did a good job, I think.
Q. Connecticut was very complimentary on your resilience and the difficulty they had putting you away. Did you feel like this was sort of typical of the way you guys play?
JAJUAN JOHNSON: Definitely. Our team has fought hard all year. We have fought adversity through injuries and illness all year. So for us to not back down, this game isn't a surprise to me. It is just how we have been all year.
Q. Right now it doesn't feel good, but talk, if you would, just how this season you can springboard into next year. You will have your top six back and a good recruiting class coming in. This experience this last three weeks, how invaluable should that be as you go into next year?
JAJUAN JOHNSON: You learn a lot, you know, through the whole year. I know I learned a lot personally just playing and all these things, and we were able to win the Big Ten tourney. That was a big accomplishment. Making it to the Sweet 16 is a big accomplishment. Hopefully you can use those to go into next year and excel you further.
ROBBIE HUMMEL: Like JaJuan said, I think we did accomplish a lot at the end of the season. We did go through some tough times. But I think this experience in the NCAA tournament will help us just because experience, I think it really is important and we have been in the Sweet 16 now. We will be hungry to make it farther than that next year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Robbie and JaJuan. Questions for Coach Painter?
Q. When you go up against a center like Hasheem that takes away so many good looks or alters them, how much pressure does that put on the offense to score?
COACH PAINTER: I think it forces you to be patient. I like to use the term "patiently aggressive." You have to take what they give you. When you have angles, you have to attack them. When you don't have angles and they are set or he is set, you have to be smart and move the basketball.
I think at times we did some good things and we forced some things. Like I said earlier, you can't simulate what he does. He is he is very good at choosing when to block shots and when not to. There are a lot of things that don't show up in his box scores that he alters.
You have to be able to make an adjustment with someone of that size and someone with that kind of defensive instincts.
Q. What are the challenges -- you are on a good track in terms of building the program. Basically you are going from when you were playing. What are the challenges now of building a program like a UConn or like a Duke? You got a great conference, great school, but, yet, you still got some pretty major challenges to build that year in, year out, get the best guy every year. What are the challenges you are facing from here going forward?
COACH PAINTER: I think just the consistency, and getting guys to look in the mirror and make individual improvements to make the next step. I thought this year we made another step of winning the Big Ten tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16.
But now you have to be greedy. And with us I think we have some very good players, but we have to be more physical. If you walk out there and you watch their team walk out and you watch our team walk out, we don't have -- and you can throw away the height. But from a physical standpoint, we have to improve on our bodies. That's something I said last year. I thought we did make a step in that area, but we still got to make improvements.
With that we have young bodies. I think that's probably the most important thing for us and just continuing to get mentally tougher. And walking out there and having that swagger, making sure that you understand what you have to do and have that discipline to win games and kind of have that inner confidence.
I think as you get more experience and you grow as a group you acquire that. I think you see teams that are consistent nationally. They have that. You can see it with them out there. They are going to get it done. They are going to win that game. Our guys made improvements in that. We got to continue to work.
Q. Is it getting that type of players?
COACH PAINTER: The product is very important. That is important. But I think we have a very good product. The guys that were right next to me, E'Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, I feel they are very good players.
At times you are going to have to develop guys. And then there are other times when you sign guys and they are ready. A lot of times they are rarely ever ready-made-type guys. If you can land a couple of those guys along with pieces and you have been developing players, that's the one thing Coach Keady always did throughout the years. That's something we will continue to do. His players always got better and they always developed.
You got to be able to fight the recruiting battle and be able to get those guys. We think we have some guys that will be here for the long haul, three- and four-year-type guys and that's how you build a program and maintain that consistency if you can't hit home runs every year.
Q. Following up on what he just asked you, last year after the Xavier game, you talked about this same thing and your guys went out and a lot of them got bigger and stronger. Now you have got another frame of reference to use with your guys. This is a pretty intelligent group. Do you think they will embrace what you just talked about?
COACH PAINTER: I think so. I think each individual guy wants to get better. It is not our only flaw. But there is a lot of things we need to get better at.
It is also something that's important, but I think it is a natural maturation for young guys just understanding once you go up against that. Like I said, you can't control 7-foot-3 but you can control your size and carving out space and being able to go and get rebounds and things of that nature.
Q. Are you getting closer, though, to where you want to be?
COACH PAINTER: I feel we are. Today we have to beat them a different way. We had to make shots. And it had to be more of a skill game today. It wasn't our best shot in terms of making 3s and then dragging them out. They didn't have to adjust to us because we didn't make enough shots.
If they had to adjust, then it could have been a ball game.
Q. What would you advise the next staff that has to deal with Thabeet on Saturday?
COACH PAINTER: Just the same things. You have to be smart. You have to be selective in how you attack him. If you have somebody like a DeJuan Blair, you can go straight at him. If you don't, like I said, you have to be smart, you have to be selective. Like I said, he has good defensive instincts. He has good discipline on the defensive end, when to go, when not to go.
But, you know, guys like that, they don't come around too often. But if you're passive and you're hesitant, then he has won that battle. You must go right at him when you have an angle.
Q. Did it seem like you were swimming upstream all night? And how difficult did that make it for you?
COACH PAINTER: I think our guys did fight back from that poor start that we had. With a team like that that's been in two games in the NCAA tournament but really haven't been large margins, we had to get them to play from behind. We had to get the lead and get them playing on their heels a little bit.
You have to give them credit, they didn't allow that to happen. It was unfortunate from our standpoint, but we had to make more plays than we did today. But I think a lot of that had to do with UConn.
Q. Chris Kramer was saying the thing that hurts the most, he felt like you guys didn't play anywhere near your best game. Is that the feeling you walk away with from this game to some extent?
COACH PAINTER: I thought that we had to make a couple better decisions when we were kind of making a comeback. We had some opportunities to put them on their heels a little bit, once in the first half, once in the second half. Actually a couple times in the second half, and we weren't able to do that.
I wished we would have played better. I wish we would have shot the ball better. But this wasn't one of UConn's better games also. If you watch them on tape, we had some opportunities in there to make some moves. It can work either way.
Q. You go on the recruiting trail, you get rid of this and you go on the recruiting trail, what's your pitch when you meet this guy who can be the one that could turn the program around? What's your pitch to say, listen, you need to come, you need to come here?
COACH PAINTER: I think just the opportunity. I think you have to have the right fit at Purdue like you do at each school. But you're talking about it is just a different world in college basketball.
Maybe the guy that gets you over the hump is a one- or two-year guy now to where in my eyes the guys that are going to getting us over the hump are sitting up here. Because we feel they are program guys and we will grow with them and get better. We won 25 last year when they were freshmen and we won 27 and we have some other good pieces to go with them.
But we just try to sell the opportunity of being able to come in, play right away, play in a system where we really stress being unselfish and playing team basketball and then getting into it on the defensive end.
I think more or less what you are asking is trying to find that next Glenn Robinson. That's what we are searching for at all times. But we also want it to be the right fit. We would love to have the next Glenn Robinson. But like I told these guys in recruiting -- they all committed to us while we were in last place in the Big Ten -- we need you. In recruiting you got to make sure you are getting some guys that you need. It is a good fit, and they fit at your institution.