First Round Quotes: So. Illinois vs. Holy Cross Pre-gameMarch 15, 2007

Holy Cross Press Conference

REPORTER: Keith, what have you learned about your opponent?

SIMMONS: We watch a lot of film of them and we just continue to learn how good of a defensive team they are and how tough they are on the defensive end. And Coach has been telling us that they're probably the most physical team that we're going to play all year, even with the schedule we've played, they play physical for 40 minutes and they play hard for 40 minutes.

REPORTER: A lot of talk about both teams being very good defensively. Can you compare their defense to yours and kind of contrast what do you do the same, what do you do different?

THOMAS: Well, our defense is very similar, they try to keep everybody out of the middle. They give great weak side help. They only allow 56 points a game, we allow 57. So they play with a great deal of emotion and passion on the defensive end as we do and it's going to be a battle.

SIMMONS: Well, we switch up defenses a little bit, we switch from a man to a zone, they're primarily a man team. Like Torey said, I think the principles are the same, to keep people out of the middle and to give a lot of help defensively.

REPORTER: To both of these gentlemen, how does this feel to make it to the NCAA for the first time?

SIMMONS: It feels really good. We're just trying to enjoy the experience and trying to prepare ourselves to compete tomorrow, but we're enjoying this and it's our first trip, it's our last year as seniors so we're trying to enjoy the process of this.

THOMAS: Just going on what Keith said, we've been here for four years together, we're the only two seniors here, so it's a special moment, special feeling, so hopefully it will be a special tournament for us.

REPORTER: How much did your early season, 11 games in a row, prepare you for this, and games at Syracuse and Duke and other places, how much did that prepare you for this?

THOMAS: It prepared, I think, one hundred percent for a game of this magnitude, Southern Illinois is a very physical team with the likes of Providence, Syracuse and Duke that we played early in the season. It keeps our mentality, because we have to play teams with high majors, the mentality for us is to be able to stay in the game and play tough defense and try to execute from the offensive end so those games helped a hundred percent.

SIMMONS: I think it gives us a little bit of experience going into this game to have played teams that are really tough and teams that are in the tournament, we've played some tournament teams. It gives us some experience and we were really just lucky to have the schedule that we did to prepare us for this time of the year.

REPORTER: Torey, what has Coach Willard told you about the whole NCAA experience, and have you talked to any of your former teammates who have been here before?

THOMAS: Well, a funny joke, when we were coming over here we had about three polices courts and I was like, Coach, we've got escorts, he said, if you would have made it to the tournament a couple more times, you would have known that. So he jokes, so really relishing the opportunity to be here, he's not telling me any logistics or anything, he's saying go out there, be yourself, have fun out there and that's exactly what he's preaching. He's giving us the experience that we came here for business, but also, this opportunity only comes once.

REPORTER: Keith, can you talk a little bit about coming back from the cramping issues that you had last season and just how you felt physically throughout this season.

SIMMONS: We, I felt a lot better this season, I haven't had any problems with the cramping. It just felt really good this season to be able to play at my full strength. Last year I was dealing with the cramps throughout the whole season. It was refreshing not to have to sit on the sidelines. That's why this is even a little more special for me because I didn't even know if I would be healthy enough to even play this year and to be healthy and to be back and be a hundred percent is and be here is really special.

REPORTER: And you've maintained that special diet and hydration plan that you got over the summer?

SIMMONS: Yes, I do some things with the trainer, Anthony, and just watching my hydration and watching my salt intake and potassium intake and some other things. It's not a hassle anymore. I'm used to it now, and just ready to play.

REPORTER: Both of you gentlemen, key or keys to your successful season this year.

THOMAS: One of our major keys is defense, but not only defense, but we play good field goal percentage defense, our rebound margin has been tops on our team and also transition, getting out in the open and transition. But when we don't have any transition baskets, our execution down the stretch has been good, different plays being drawn up.

SIMMONS: I think just staying in the moment. I think there was a time this year where we went through the rough patch where we lost four in a row. Things were really -- everyone was really frustrated and we looked at each other like, we're going to compete and play, but we need to enjoy every moment of this and really pay attention in practice and focus and stay in the moment and once we started to do that, we are able to build a little confidence even from practices and we were able to execute better at both ends of the floor and every possession is the most important possession.

REPORTER: Guys, if you could talk a little bit about, they are very experienced, been here four years in a row, you guys are making your first trip, does that make a difference and if so, how?

THOMAS: I feel like that that definitely makes a big difference that they've been here. The experience is always key. But for us, two seniors, our leadership, we've been in big games, we've played in big games, so we just understand the ability to keep your composure in big stages like this and help our team get through this and I think we'll be all right.

SIMMONS: Like Torey said, experience is definitely something that they have on their side. It's a definite advantage for them. But we've developed a game plan and we're going to go out there and try and execute our game plan. We're really focusing ourselves in doing what we do best. Southern Illinois is a very good team and they are really experienced but we're going to concentrate on executing our game plan and playing the way Holy Cross plays.

REPORTER: Torey, you've been known for your defense, but as of late, you've been the top rebounder as one of the smallest players on the floor; explain.

THOMAS: We're boxing out very well, our big men have been in position to box the big men out, so I've been able to get over the top rebounds and chase the guards down, so I really credit the big men down low, and the guards, putting the body on them and I'm just taking the scrap and I'm very aggressive to the ball, if you have the ball in your hand, you're going to win the game. As many times we have the possession, is a better chance we can win the game.

REPORTER: You guys both have played a lot of minutes this year. Torey, I guess neither of you will likely come out of the game for more than a minute tomorrow. Do you have to caution against coming out too amped up on this big stage to avoid running out of gas by the end of the game against a team that's deeper than you?

THOMAS: I feel like we've been playing. I'm accustomed to playing 40 minutes a game for the past two seasons. The biggest thing is hopefully not getting injured. That's what happened to me last year against Bucknell, I got injured in the game. If I can avoid an injury, I don't feel like the minutes will be a factor. My body got accustomed to it, my workout regimen is structured to handle that. You don't know how you're going to feel until the game comes so I'll see how that is when the game tips off at 9:40.

REPORTER: Could both of you comment on Coach Willard?

SIMMONS: Coach Willard is a great Coach, he's been doing this for a long time, he's been at every level of college and the NBA. We've been trying to take a lot from his experience, he's been here with Holy Cross three times and with other teams so we try to look to him for guidance and I think he's done a really good job this week in preparing us for this situation and leading us with his experience and he's a great asset in this game because he's our leader and he's our coach and hopefully he can steer us in the right path.

THOMAS: I feel like Coach Willard is a great coach in this situation, you've got a chance to prepare, plenty of days to prepare for a team for one game and I feel like he's always got a great game plan to help us to a victory in that regard. He's going to help us play to our strengths and try to help us make them play to their weaknesses. So Coach Willard, there is no other coach I would want to play for my four years, it's been a great experience much me and Keith have been with him for four years, and we learned a lot, we learned a lot about our leadership qualities and he drove us to be better leaders and better people.

REPORTER: A really big key this year has been Tim Clifford and the way that he's improved his game and been able to really plug up the middle. You guys have seen him mature and seen his game mature. What can you say about him and his contribution to the team this year?

SIMMONS: Tim has been huge for us this year. To be a good team, you need to have different looks, you need to have an inside/outside game. Tim's play down the stretch has been incredible. He had six blocks in the first half of our championship game. And like you say, he's been plugging up the middle. He's been a force on the boards, block shots, down on the post on offense, and his play really opens up our play, for him to be playing well in the middle allows the guards to get some open looks on the outside, so his play is tremendous and we've seen him mature and Tim's been playing really well and I'm really happy for him and he's going to be a really good player.

REPORTER: For Holy Cross to get a win, what will be a key or keys? THOMAS: Got to be able to handle Southern Illinois's pressure, staying composed and making plays. I think it's going to be a defensive slugfest, but whoever executes the best is going to win the game.

SIMMONS: Keeping them off the offensive glass and having the transition work for every basket and keeping them to one shot.

COACH WILLARD: Well, I'm happy for the two young men that were just here. They're great leaders. Our only two seniors, they've done a great job in our program. They've been a real credit to our school, both on the basketball floor and off the floor and couldn't be happier for those two guys.

REPORTER: How important is your inside play going to be against Southern? You have quite a big size advantage.

COACH WILLARD: We're going to try and get the ball inside. Obviously we try and do that against every opponent. They're quicker and more athletic than we are, but one of the things they do a great job is putting tremendous pressure on the basketball much so one way to relieve that is by getting the ball to the middle of the floor and getting it inside to your big guys. So they double, they take away the post in a lot of different ways, they do a great job rotating, but it's obviously something we're going to have to try and exploit in order to -- really in order to get our guards more looks at the basket too.

REPORTER: When you look at the Southern Illinois team, is there anything that makes you say, hey, they're like us, especially on the defensive end? I mean, are there things that they do that are very similar to what you do?

COACH WILLARD: Well, I don't know, I'll say this. They're committed to defense like we are committed to defense. I think that's the similarity. But they're so much more physical than we are. I saw the media guide and the Barry Hinson quote about getting the attack dogs from the police station and putting the meat juice on the players' arms, they're much more physical than we are. We do many more things on the defensive end in terms of trying to make you think, they're just trying to wear you down and keep constant pressure on you. Both teams, though both teams are committed to defense, I think there's a different philosophy between the two teams. Those kids are selfless, to play defense like that, you have to be totally selfless, and their team is, they are totally committed to that end of the floor first, and then to the offensive end. Which in today's game, it's tough to get kids to commit the way they do, but they certainly do a good job of it.

REPORTER: Coach Willard, what about their offense?

COACH WILLARD: Well, they have a great guard in Tatum, Young's a great shooter, Falker is great inside, 32, the other kid, the power forward stretches you because he can shoot the three. I've read where they're not a great offensive team, but looking at them, they do a lot of things that make it difficult to guard them. They used the high low pass exceptionally well with Falker and again, their guards are quick. The point guard is amazing to me, he reminds me of the Energizer bunny, he plays defense and never seems to tire. They're a good offensive team. They're also very patient. That's part of their philosophy in wearing you down too, making you defend for 25, 30 seconds before they take a shot. Now, obviously, the other thing is, because of their quickness, they are dangerous in transition, and that's one of the things we can't afford to let them do is transition and get out and get some easy baskets.

REPORTER: Ralph, you talked about your seniors, can you just talk a little more about how Keith came back from the whole cramping issue last year and Torey coming back from the off season knee surgery.

COACH WILLARD: Yeah, Keith's thing last year with the cramping, it really, if that didn't happen, we would have been a heck of a basketball team last year because we probably had two of the best wing players anywhere with Kevin Hamilton and if Keith would have been healthy. Unfortunately, he wasn't. He just did a great job of constantly battling. We tried everything in the world, pickle juice, the whole bit. We've tried everything to get rid of the cramps. He's just a great young man and I'm happy he had the year he's had. The fact he's been able to play 38, 40 minutes a game. Torey's getting hurt in the first half of the Bucknell game last year in the championship game was really devastating to him. And this year really he played on one and a half legs. The surgery was done, but he hadn't fully recovered going into the season and for the first, I would say, actually through the end of December, beginning of January, he was playing on one and a half legs, and he's got the heart of a champion, that kid. I hate to see this end. I want to keep this going for a lot of reasons, but saying good-bye to these guys is going to be very difficult.

REPORTER: Talk a little bit of their experience and what kind of a factor having them here these last four years.

COACH WILLARD: I think anytime you have experience in anything, it helps you. I'm sure that's one of the things that they feel good about. They try and compartmentalize their surroundings in the game. This is the NCAA, but it's also another basketball game. We compartmentalize the game into sections. We come with a very detailed game plan, so I think by concentrating on the little things, I think you can tend to block out the surroundings and the so-called stature of the stage or the magnitude of the stage. So I think our guys, I know the two seniors, this won't bother them at all. Some of the young guys, it may have an effect, but again, we pay so much attention to detail and concentrate on that so much, I don't think the stage will be that big a factor.

REPORTER: Talk about Alex Vander Baan.

COACH WILLARD: He's a tall, skinny kid. He shouldn't get the rebounds he gets. He plays good defense. He blocks shots. He's one of those kids you need to be a good basketball team, and his offense has improved as the year has gone on. I wish he would shoot the basketball more than he does because he's a very, very good shooter, but Alex is a glue-type player, you need glue players on your team and he's one of them.

REPORTER: Coach, a key for your season, 25 wins, what do you feel has been the major key? I know defense, but besides that.

COACH WILLARD: I think we've become a pretty good rebounding team. We've developed our players a little bit as we've gone along. Clifford has gotten better offensively, he's had some big point games for us. I think the consistency of Torey and Keith has been the thing that's enabled us to achieve what we've achieved. They're consistent on both ends of the floor. They both defend exceptionally well and are both good offensive players. Torey has the ability to go by just about anybody, especially on the open floor. So I think those things, the consistency of those two kids and the development of some of the role players, if you will, has been what's enabled us to be successful.

Torey Thomas, senior guard

On Southern Illinois You look up and down their lineup and you see guys who are well-schooled in basketball. We have to eliminate our mistakes and try and force them into making some of their own.

On being an underdog I dont really think that being an underdog is that much of a mental advantage. We know we belong in this tournament but we still have to prove that to the rest of the country.

Keith Simmons, senior guard On preparing for tip-off We have to maintain our focus as a team and not lose the momentum out of our conference tournament. When we walk out on the court tomorrow we have to be ready to play or else well be going home.

On facing another mid-major team Its exciting to face another small school, especially one as experienced and successful as Southern Illinois. Were going to give them our best game and hopefully we can come out on top.

Kyle Cruze, junior guard On playing at the same site as Tennessee, his hometown team I grew up in Knoxville so its fun. Im a fan by default and I love their style of play. I know some of those guys really well and they are fun to watch. Id love to play them.

Southern Illinois Press Conference Transcript

REPORTER: This is for Tony. It's been quite a while since you guys played a game. How do you guys handle the time in between the tournament and do you think that will have any effect on the way you play?

YOUNG: I think the last week or so we've been getting back focused on doing the small things that we do. After last week's loss, we've had a lot of time to sit back and focus on things we need to getter better on and we've just been going hard at each other getting ready to play the game. I think we'll be ready to play once we get back on the floor.

REPORTER: Jamaal, could you just talk about your opponent and what kind of a game you expect.

TATUM: Well, I know off the top we expect a dog fight. That's the type of things we're good at. We know they're going to come out and play hard for 40 minutes just like we're going to do. As far as the type of defense and all that stuff, we haven't really gone over that stuff a lot yet, but I think we're ready to go.

REPORTER: A question for Jamaal or Tony, you've always been a really defense-minded team, but this year you're scoring a lot more points, you're winning a lot more games, getting a lot more national attention. Is there anything in your minds that has changed this year from last year that you're doing in preparation?

YOUNG: I don't think we're doing anything differently, I think we're just more focused on getting better at the thing we weren't as good at. Like I said last year we struggled a lot on offense, so for us being a more mature team and growing and learning from the things we did last year, I think this year is just focusing on doing offensive things and Coach is giving us a lot more shots in practice and just working on your own game and working on your own offensive skills.

REPORTER: Jamaal, I wonder if you could just reflect on when you first met Tony and how you've seen his game at all, but also his personality and temperament.

TATUM: When I first met him, I just thought that we were -- I looked up to him and I was like, he's going to take me, he's going to be what shows me the ropes and stuff and then I kind of realized that we were pretty much peers, you know, and we enjoy the same things, have similar personalities and we're both sore losers. And over the years, I just realized that we both had to become better leaders and we were both willing to do it and we both did. So I think that over the course of time, he's become a lot more mature and that's helped me become a lot more mature.

REPORTER: Both of you, I know I'm putting you on the spot because your coach is sitting next to you, but what's special about playing for Coach Lowery?

YOUNG: The biggest thing about playing for Coach is he's one of the coaches that understands his players. You've got a lot of people that push you to do things you don't want to do, he gives us the freedom to go out and play the way we want to play but within his offense and the things he wants us to do. And he really rides us and makes us strive to be the best we can be as far as people, as far as players, really just all around. He doesn't settle for us being second best. He doesn't let us settle for it either.

TATUM: I'll agree with Tony on that. He definitely pushes us. When he came back from Illinois and we got our first workout with him, he put me and Tony against each other and I thought he was trying to make us transfer schools or something the way he came at us, but he was just expecting a lot out of us, he knew it was going to be a big year and he knew that he had some shoes to fill and we had some shoes to fill and that we had to be a good team and we were a great team that year and he came back and he really put it on us and made things difficult for us. That's the thing about him, he expects so much out of all his players that he will push you and I'm thankful for what he's done because I've become a lot better player under him.

REPORTER: For both of you guys, Southern's been sort of the underdog in this situation in the last few appearances, now you guys come in with a high seed and you're sort of taking on a different role, could you talk about that, being the favorite, and also is Southern starting to become like a Gonzaga of the midwest?

YOUNG: I think as far as being a favorite, you look at every game the same because going into the NCAA tournament, anyone could lose at any day, so you can't come in and think that just because you're a favorite that you're automatically going to win or you can't disrespect your opponents. I think the big thing is to stay level headed and play our hardest.

TATUM: I definitely think we have the same mind set as we had the year before and the year before that, no matter what seed we are. We go in and fight every day in practice, we go in and work hard and we compete and I think fourth seed or 10 seed or 12 seed, we're going to go play the same, hardest on the court.

REPORTER: This is the fourth time around for both of you guys, it's the last time around for both of you guys, how are you approaching this or is your mind set any different after you've been here all these years?

YOUNG: I think maturity level is the big difference for us. Before we came in knowing we won't win, but having the outlook that if we lose, we'll be back next year, having something to look forward to as far as getting ready for next year, but with it being our last year, it really just hits you, the fact of reality that once you lose it's all over with, so we just stay on everyone else and stay on each other to continue to get better and get ready to play hard.

REPORTER: Tony, just look back at how you came to Southern Illinois, how that worked out, it seemed like kind of a crazy path.

YOUNG: I think it worked out great for me when I came in, I was a little scrawny kid getting beat up by everybody. It was a learning process for me, I mean, now, I go out and try and pick on as many people as I can. Once you've been in a program like this and you play with so many different people and so many different types of players, you learn how to grow up and you learn how to go out and try your hardest to win games and I think Coach Lowery really taught me a lot about myself as far as a person and playing basketball.

REPORTER: Just to follow up, also how did it work out to be at SIU?

YOUNG: How did I get there? I was getting recruited by a bunch of different schools, SIU, when I went on my visit, I went to the Sweet 16 and watched the practice. I talked to Marcus Belcher and Coach Weber, and then when I came on my visit, it was just a lockdown, talked to all the players, got a chance to hang out with everybody. With this program, being around us, you can feel how much of a family everyone is. You can feel how much everyone actually likes each other and is always around each other. When I got that feel from everybody, it was a no-brainer for me.

REPORTER: Do you feel an edge this year that you all didn't have last year at this moment going into this tournament, and why do you think that is? Based on what you guys have been talking about, but what's the single biggest factor?

YOUNG: I think the biggest factor is fear for us right now. We know what we want to do, but everyone's scared for it to end. Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to go home. So I mean, we just go out and just continue to practice hard every day regardless of what we're going to play, who we're going to play. We continue to beat up on each other regardless of how we feel. We came to shoot a lot of shots and do all those little things that people would usually lag away from, just to try to get to the NCAA tournament, just for the fact that we want to continue to get better. So our mentality this year is different from other years and we don't want to lose, we're not going into it as, well, if we lose, it's another year. We're looking at it as if we lose, it's all over so we're going to go out and just give it our all.

TATUM: I think that we can tell we have an extra advantage this year by the way we're practicing right now, and practice has been very physical and everybody's been competing and that's what you expect for a team that's going to make a big run in the tournament. And every day, we haven't seen the intensity slip and that's what has to happen to carry over into the game so I think the edge is definitely there.

REPORTER: Can you answer the question I asked Tony a while ago, about how your attitude towards playing in the tournament is different this time around and how it's changed through the four years?

TATUM: I think we both know that this is definitely on our clock right now. You go out the first round of the tournament and that's when your clock is on, Tony and Jamaal's clock, no one else's clock. It's kind of one of those things if you want your legacy to be good or not, Tony and Jamaal, their senior year, they were really mature and leaders and led their team to how far we go in the tournament, to a lot of wins.

REPORTER: Could you just describe Tony's demeanor on the court and do you think it's accurate to say that he likes to have the other fans kind of hate him.

TATUM: I think so. I think we all like to have the other fans hate us, we get our motivation that way. But I think more than the other fans hate him, I think he likes to have the other players hate him and that's the biggest thing right there, when he knows he's getting underneath somebody's skin, he tries to do it even more. That's what you've got to have. That's the mind set of a great player, a great competitor like he is.

REPORTER: For both or either of you, for your years now you've seen how the Missouri Valley just keeps getting better and better. Can you talk a little bit about the quality of the conference, as a Mid Major, and maybe whether it's about time for it to go?

YOUNG: I don't even refer to us as a Mid Major. I don't even like the word, so I just look at it as if we're a competitive school. I feel we can compete with anyone anytime we get on the court with them. As far as our conference goes, we've got all these schools constantly winning games and beating these high major teams and all these bigger teams and the quality of players and all these schools are getting the quality players that we recruit and all these other schools are constantly getting better. So I think that just makes our conference that much better every year.

TATUM: Honestly, I don't even pay attention to the terms they use to describe the caliber of team as us right now or our conference, because we get the respect we deserve after the game and nobody comes up to us after the game and tells us, you're a good Mid Major team, they come up to us after the game and tell us, you're a good team. And I remember playing Oklahoma State sophomore year and their coach coming up to the coach and telling him how good of a team we are, he didn't say you guys are good for a Mid Major team, so I don't really even pay attention to the titles anymore.

REPORTER: Tony, maybe I should have asked you this first, do you sort of like that feeling of, I don't know if villain is the right word of really getting under people's skin and relish that?

YOUNG: I enjoy it. Ever since I was in high school, you just play defense on somebody, they get mad at you, it's funny to me, just to see how other people react, and then when I got here, I know how I reacted when Stetson and B. T. and all those guys did it to me, so if I can make somebody feel the way I used to feel, that's a great thing.

REPORTER: Just to follow up, what would you say the difference in your temper is today than it was four years ago?

YOUNG: I think it's maturity, just growing up and becoming more of a man than I was before. Before you get mad over everything and let certain things bother you, and now you just brush it off.

REPORTER: Tony, does Holy Cross remind you of any team that you've played before? How would they compare, say, to Creighton?

YOUNG: I can't compare them to Creighton, because I haven't seen them play a lot. I watched a couple games, but unless you play against them, you can't really compare two teams like that. But watching them play, they're a good team. Seeing them get out and run and seeing some of the things they do, but like before, we need to go out and continue to play hard, just do the things that we do.

REPORTER: For both of you, when you saw the brackets and people looked and saw Illinois is a possibility, what was the reaction or was there any reaction at all?

TATUM: I think everybody had to get past the fact that we couldn't possibly be playing them, because you have to get past your first round game to play everybody. We're a very mature team, so I think everybody got past that quickly and realized that we had a good Holy Cross team ahead of us, and that was the first line of business.

REPORTER: Can you just talk a little bit about Tony emotionally and on the court, what you saw when you first had him?

COACH LOWERY: When we first had him, he was kind of an emotional nightmare. Everything was an explosion. Everything was -- when things didn't go well, he melted down and he had to -- he got people to run a lot as a true freshmen, so he quickly learned that in order to be a part of the team, you have to learn to blend in good or bad. I think that was the biggest adjustment for him was winning doesn't always mean that you have to be the focal point. And once he learned that -- because he was already a winner, he won the state championship in high school and he needed to come and learn how to be a part of the system.

REPORTER: Chris, have you guys got to the point, I think they asked one of the players this already, have you guys gotten to point with your program that are now like Gonzaga, that people can consider you the Cinderella of the Mid Major, that you're at that level with your program?

COACH LOWERY: We hope so. You know, we hope that, once you've seen and watch ESPN, you watch the selection shows and they say who had good wins and you see Arkansas say a good win was Southern Illinois and when you get to the point where they're saying you're a good win, I think you overcome that because we're not a bad loss, we're not even considered a bad loss. Hopefully that transfers over to nonconference schedule, we can get some good people where they look at it, like it's not a bad loss to a team of our caliber.

REPORTER: A lot of people have been asking a lot of questions about Tony. Is this guy another Chris Lowery in terms of a guard who's going to end up as a coach, because I see him working on the bench a lot when he's sitting down?

COACH LOWERY: He's very smart and he understands everything we do. And if you come to our practice and watch him teach our other guys what to do still this late in the game, obviously you hope the kids are where they need to be, but scout report, he's a dream, because he understands what needs to be done and he understands how we're going to guard things, no matter if we've never seen it before. So therefore, when we're talking about leading up to it, he can inch people in the right direction when the coach is explaining how you want to take this away and that's golden for kids to be able to do that in your program, not only be a coach on your staff, but also in your program.

REPORTER: What are your impressions of Keith Simmons, Holy Cross' top player?

COACH LOWERY: That he could play a lot of different places in the country. I was shocked how good he was, I had no idea until you watch him more than once. When people say somebody's good, your first impression is, yeah, he's okay, but as you continue to watch him, he's very talented. He's an explosive athlete. He's obviously become a much better shooter than when he got there. His field goal percentages are high. He's a kid who's going to make money playing, so obviously he's a good player.

REPORTER: Chris, how concerned are you about their big people and do you see any comparison, say, with Creighton big guys and what they did to you guys in the conference tournament?

COACH LOWERY: Our biggest thing is we didn't play hard defensively, and we beat Creighton eight times in a row and said enough is enough. So I need to say that. We didn't just lie down for those guys, they beat us. We don't worry about stopping. We have to guard all of them. And I think when we focus on that and are consistently focused on trying to take away stuff and trying to make their life miserable, make them feel like they don't have enough space on the court, we have a chance. And when we don't, things happen to us like they do at Creighton, people get in the middle of the floor, we don't guard the post, we are not talking, we're bad on transition, that makes us vulnerable.

REPORTER: Have you really seen anything specific out of Randal in the last two weeks to make you think he won't have a repeat performance of what happened in St. Louis?

COACH LOWERY: I don't think you can worry about one game. If we're constantly talking to him and saying, hey, son, we didn't win 13 in a row, you're not first team, as kids you can't constantly harp on their one negative failure in the last probably 10 or 11 games he played. So at this point, we've looked past it. We haven't gone backwards and talked to him about it, because I don't want him to think about it. I want him to think it's over. Obviously we need him and he needed to hear that more than how bad he played in St. Louis.

REPORTER: Chris, your name started to show up on coaching lists, candidates' lists, that sort of thing. What's your reaction to that and is it something you have to address with recruits, kids you're looking at now in high school?

COACH LOWERY: I don't have a reaction to it because I'm the head coach of Southern Illinois. So when I don't react to it, obviously nobody else does. So that's the most important thing. Right now I'm coaching my team. We have guys committed that are juniors, so obviously they're wanting to come play for us at Southern Illinois, so, no, it's not a distraction at all.

REPORTER: Both teams have a reputation for their defense, but can you kind of compare and contrast your defense with theirs?

COACH LOWERY: They do get a lot of steals, so when people say that they're positioned, that is not true. They have defensive players on their team also, I love the kid, he'd be great with us. He steals the ball from anybody close to them. That sets up everything that they do, because not only is he their best defender, he also is their best guy at pushing the basketball. And that's why him and Simmons really have a strong niche together as teammates. They get in transition after steals, after misshots, as well as anybody in the country. Watching them, how they played Duke in the first half, up 6, it was impressive to see how they scored and in many different ways.

REPORTER: Could you talk about how you address being the high seed as opposed to SIU when it was the underdog? Do you sense a difference in the kids and do you remind them -- how do you keep that mindset away from sort of changing up that you're the favorite now?

COACH LOWERY: Two out of last three years we've been a higher seed, we were a 7 seed my first year back, so that was kind of the first stepping stone to feel that way. Tony and Jamaal were sophomores. We relished it. You can't be afraid of it. When you're constantly trying to tell them, hey, we're a higher seed that's correct's where people get upset. That's not the way to go about doing something you've never done before. We talk about confidence and act like you've been there before, so we're coming into it to play hard and do what we do and not talk about labels and not talk about things that people are going to ask us, what are you a Mid Major or this or that or what are you doing with a high seed, kids don't think about stuff until people ask them. We talk to them about family, winning the program and stuff like that and that's where their focus is.

REPORTER: Chris, 12, 13 days, you're coming off a loss. Explain for us a little bit what practice has been like the last week or so and how the guys have responded.

COACH LOWERY: The first part of the week I couldn't find my whistle and the guys told me I need to find my whistle and we get after it and sometimes they chase balls into the bleachers and stuff, and if the whistle doesn't blow, they don't stop. So without the whistle, we almost killed ourselves the first day back from two days off against after losing to Creighton. So our consistency and our toughness are things we needed to address for a longer period of time, because when went like we did, six weeks or whatever, as the tournament went on, everything started to slip and you could tell how we were playing. And in the end, a very good Creighton team got us and that's the stuff we have to combat against in this tournament.

REPORTER: Coach, could you talk about your offensive balance a little bit? I mean, do you feel confident that you can overcome like a bad shooting night by Randal? I mean, do you feel that there's enough points there in your starting lineup that you can overcome something like that like what happened with Creighton?

COACH LOWERY: Once we lost at Evansville, I think our seniors really stood up and took notice. Our younger kids understood the seniors' urgency from that point on. The biggest thing is during that winning streak, somebody was having a bad game. We didn't all play well during that streak and to answer that question, yes, I think we can overcome things. During that stretch, we overcame a lot of different things, winning in different ways, winning when people fouled out. So, yeah, I do. Unfortunately for us, the Creighton game was the third in three days and that has a lot to do with how we played too because the way we play, it's all out, it's energy driven, those things take effect when you have to play repeated days over and over. So having a day's rest in between or having the time off obviously helps us to get prepared.

REPORTER: Coach, what Jamaal was talking about earlier about the big workouts when you took over, where he was afraid you might be trying to run them off or something like that, when you look back on that, how much of that was the seed for what's going on now?

COACH LOWERY: Well, it was always the seed. I knew we had very good seniors leading, but I knew that they helped start this. And when you have guys leading that started the winning, that helps your program, you have young guys that don't understand why you're winning, they're just winning with you. And they're talented enough, and that's a good thing, but we needed them to understand why we were winning and I think that's why I came back that way, and I established that was the reason, it's not just because you show up and obviously they paid attention because they've been very consistent, they've been very good winners and I'm very proud of both of those two kids and how they've grown and matured.

REPORTER: Could you talk a little bit about the Holy Cross inside attack with the big guy?

COACH LOWERY: He's huge. I mean, he's very big. He's probably better defensively than most people think and he's not a high-riser. He takes up a lot of space and he challenges a lot of shots. So our biggest thing is that we can't allow him to get his confidence on offense, because when he does that, he can step away and make shots away from the rim, and when he's doing that, that makes Simmons even better, because now he can exclusive on the block, which he's very, very tough to deal with if they're making perimeter shots and they have him inside using him as a post, using him as a perimeter simultaneously within the shot clock. So they have very interchangeable shots but they also are older and very well coached.

REPORTER: Southern has more of a tradition than I think a lot of people understand. Do you explain that to recruits or to people what Southern has been and what it is now, what it can be?

COACH LOWERY: I think that we've kind of flooded the mainstream with our brand now. We really worked hard to get our name national and with this year, we really just overexerted mentioning us and mentioning trying to really just show as many people what we are and who we are. It's a different cycle. People understand us better now after seeing us on TV the last three or four years and having our name be consistently called in the NCAA tournament, with the help of racket busters, but I think people are more interested in our program and what we do now, just because of national ranking and because we've been talked about quite a bit more in the national media.

-Courtesy Ohio State