March 19, 2009



COACH BARNES:  You know, I thought we started the game.  I thought we were jumpy and probably a little anxious, maybe nervous is probably the real reason.  But after that first four minutes, we settled down and did a pretty good job, obviously, throughout.  A.J. got going for us.  Dexter, again, did some things.
 But I thought the defense as a group, and certainly Justin Mason and Varez Ward did on Westbrook were really, really important.  Especially in the second half.  He had 15 in the first half, and at halftime we talked about we ended up with 19.  We just said he's the guy that we've got to work to take out our offense.
 PHIL WARSHAUER:  Questions for the student athletes.

 Q.  First time in a while you've played somebody that's not familiar with you.  Did it seem easier, like they didn't understand how hard you worked to get open?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I don't want to say it seemed easier because I think the defenses that we're going to face are going to, obviously, focus on Dexter and try to limit my touches.  So I think we just kind of executed our game plan on the offensive end as far as working inside out.  Fortunately, we were screening, and I was knocking them in tonight.

 Q.  Talk about A.J.'s streak there in the second half.  You've seen him do this a lot, but was that as good as you've seen him in a long time?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  A.J., I mean, he's a great shooter.  He comes out to do that every game almost.  But I think it was just the way he was getting open himself and moving without the ball, and he created his own shots.  So he went on a hot streak right there, and he was hot the whole game.

 Q.  It seems you're often at your best in the postseason.  You played well in the tournament last year.  How do you teach yourself not to get caught up in the pressure and stay as calm as you do during the postseason games?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I mean, I don't know.  That's a good question, because I know it's a big tournament.  I guess I'm just kind of a laid back person.  You know, just taking one game at a time.  I don't let the excitement just overwhelm me.  I guess that's what it is.  But I know these games are high stakes.

 Q.  You made it a physical game right away.  Was that just you having more experience knowing that was going to be an advantage for you all tonight?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  I was just doing my job.  I knew coming into this tournament I've got to be a physical presence down low, if it's not me then it's Gary, so I was just going at it, doing what coach was telling me to do.  Just going, being the man.

 Q.  Speak particularly to that segment in the second half where it was a competitive game.  Then suddenly you shot the lights out there for a couple of three minutes and turned it into a double digit lead?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I mean, I think it has to do with the first half.  You know, we were pounding it inside to Dexter, and they have to focus on him.  Obviously, he was being the physical presence that    well, the man that he says he was being today (smiling).  So I think they had to focus on him a little more, and in the second half my teammates did a good job of scoring.  Coach was calling the plays and we just executed tonight.

 Q.  Can you just talk about the way the Gophers jumped out against you guys?  Obviously, this is a team that doesn't have much NCAA experience, but it certainly seemed like they were on fire early?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Yeah, they definitely came out.  You know, they jumped on us early.  I mean, Coach said we kind of came out a little nervous.  After the first four minutes we settled down, and just started playing basketball like it was another game.  But we can't go through a stretch like that starting the game on off.  Letting a team jump on us like that.

 Q.  Eventually, they put Al Nolen on you, but that was only after you made the four three pointers.  Did you have a sense that you needed to    had to have chances to get shots against other people, and once you capitalized on them that they would probably switch on and put Nolen on you?  Or did you have an idea who would defend you?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Actually, I didn't know who was guarding me.  I mean, is he the defense    okay on, you don't know either, huh?  Okay.  I really didn't know who was who.  I was just executing the plays that Coach called.
 COACH BARNES:  Are you saying that you don't care who is guarding you?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  No, huh uh (laughing).

 Q.  It doesn't really matter who is guarding you, does it, A.J.?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  No, not really (laughing).  No, I'm just playing.  I'm just playing hard, and just trying to find the open spots.

 Q.  Varez Ward got a lot of playing time in the second half and getting to the bucket.  I don't know how nervous he was before his first tournament game and what he thought he brought?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Varez is just a tough minded player.  He came in and showed what he could do at the point guard position.  He handled the ball well.  Went to the hole strong.  And he played defense.  Like Coach said, he did a number on Westbrook in the second half, and that's what we need from him.

 Q.  That second half explosion, how much do you think it helped that you have experience in the NCAA Tournament and the team you faced doesn't have it?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I mean, it's like I've been saying, experience goes a long way.  You can't teach that.  So we were talking about it at halftime, just getting lost in the game and just focusing on what we need to do to get this win.  We just executed on the offensive end.  We created some offense with our defense, and if we continue to do that, we'll be tough to beat.

 Q.  A.J.'s talked about how your presence has opened things up for him.  Do you kind of see it working in the reverse.  When he's hitting shots that you can get more action down low?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  Yeah, because when A.J.'s on the same side as me, that limits people to double me and I got my man one on one the majority of the time whenever we're on the same side.

 Q.  At the end of the second half there got caught up with the player from Minnesota.  He went down.  Do you know what happened there at all?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  Which play was that?

 Q.  Toward the end of the game on the rebound.
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  Oh, Sampson?  I think my elbow got caught up with him.  It wasn't intentional.  I told him I was sorry about it, and I kept playing.  It changed my aggressiveness.
 PHIL WARSHAUER:  We'll continue with questions for Coach Barnes.

 Q.  I just wondered if there was anything specific you said to Ward at halftime?  How important were his second half contributions, particularly on the defensive side of it?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, Westbrook had 15 at halftime.  15 of the 35.  We just early in the game, you know, we were doubling the ball screen and didn't get the rotation we wanted behind.  Gave some of those plays.  Started out early again first four minutes.  Got to the offensive boards and scored that way.
 We just felt like if we could get him under control and kind of close the lane down and force him into some outside shots.  We do know that they will play into some long possessions and try to finish the possession by rebounding and could get out and run.
 But Varez, again, A.J. said it, he's a tough, hard nosed kid.  He really can defend.  For the most part he did a pretty good job handling the ball for us.  Because they definitely struggled a little bit, but when Varez comes in, he can drive the ball.  He's going to get by people.

 Q.  Did you really kind of shorten your bench a little bit in the second half?  I don't believe Gary played?
 COACH BARNES:  No, his back locked up a little bit.  But, no, that was the only reason.  We would have gone back to it.  Then we were really going to try to play some offense defense there at the end.  But that was the only reason he didn't come back in.

 Q.  You rebounded well against the first moments and everything?
 COACH BARNES:  We thought that was the single biggest key in the game.  That we had to keep him off the offensive boards.  We felt like we could defend them.  But we looked at them and thought they did an incredible job getting to the boards and getting their hands on it with the guards coming down.  For the most part, only giving up eight rebounds, I would say it's a pretty good job by us.

 Q.  On the sideline, can you tell when A.J. starts to get hot?
 COACH BARNES:  Yeah, when he gets his balance, you know.  A.J. and I've said this before, I'm not sure we've had a guy that's been defended the way he has all year.  He's gotten the attention of every opponent.  I mean, I know they game plan for him.  He's extremely good moving without the ball.  When he starts getting separation and gets his feet set and gets his balance, he's one of those guys that you're really surprised when he misses to be honest with you.

 Q.  I know Coach had been gone a while.  But is it still special to you to come back to this area?
 COACH BARNES:  It is.  It really is.  Had a lot of people that came down to this game from Hickory.  Really special people.  People that have had a lot to do with me through the years.  More than they could ever imagine.  To look up and see some of them, it is special.

 Q.  Did you expect that kind of start from Tubby Smith coached team?  You've had a chance to play them and watch them a number of times?
 COACH BARNES:  I don't think I expected our team to start the way we started.  I was really surprised.  People asked me about Dogus, and I was really surprised that he was nervous.  That surprised me more than anything.  Because he definitely was jumpy.  He said that to me right before I came in here.  I talked to him for a second.
 But, no, they came on out, and their first three kind of rolled around and went in.  He had one shot that hit the back of the board and fell in.  But it evened out because Dogus made a three.  And when that happened, you know, I think that's the first one he's made all year.  And maybe the only one he shot, I don't even know.  But he had to do it with the clock running down.
 Again, it's a long game.  You've got to give him credit for it.  In terms of Tubby, I mean, Tubby's got as much experience in this tournament.  So you would never be surprised by anything his teams do.  Again, I think he's done an unbelievable job with this team right here.  I look at what he's done.  He's got 22 wins out of them.  But, again, you wouldn't expect anything but that from him.  And being in the NCAA Tournament.  Again, that's something you don't take lightly.

 Q.  Can you expand on that?  What impressed you the most about this Minnesota team tonight?
 COACH BARNES:  Again, toughness.  But again, I think they're really an extension of Tubby.  I mean, I've known him for a long time and watched him coach and admire what he does.  They battle.  They're going to scratch and claw.
 I'm sure that there are some things    I think it hurt him early, obviously, with Damian Johnson getting in foul trouble.  That hurt him.  He picked up two early fouls.  Then start the second half, we actually went at him to see if we could pick up a third foul on him.
 But, again, Tubby has been around a long time.  His teams, really, they just take on his personality.

 Q.  Expand on on coaching a little bit.  Some heavy hitters in this region.  Krzvzewski if things stay true to form, you face him tomorrow.  Tubby Smith as well.  How much do you take into account what you know about a certain coach's style when you're game planning?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, I do think that we all have a little bit of a style.  But I think every year teams change.  So what I would say about the coaches, and I think Mike and Tubby the same way, what makes them great is they truly understand their personnel.  They put their personnel in the best possible position.  They're not afraid to change things from start to finish.
 But there's not a team here that's not well coached.  You would not be in this tournament if you weren't a well coached basketball team.  Whether you're looking at Binghamton, Radford, every team here has got coaches that understand what they're doing and what they have to do to help their teams.

 Q.  The Carolina fans in the crowd booed two things tonight.  Rick Barnes and Duke.  If you wind up playing them what do you think the atmosphere and vibe will be like here?
 COACH BARNES:  I didn't know they booed me.  When did they boo me?

 Q.  In the opening introduction?

 Q.  Yeah.
 COACH BARNES:  I didn't hear that.  Are you sure it was North Carolina fans?

 Q.  I'm reasonably certain it was?
 COACH BARNES:  Are you?  At the end, I thought they booed at the end when I called that timeout.  It was the 10 second.  If I hadn't called it we would have had a 10 second violation there.  I would assume, because it was right at it.  What was your question?

 Q.  What kind of vibe do you expect in the building on Saturday?
 COACH BARNES:  What do I expect?

 Q.  Assuming you're playing them?
 COACH BARNES:  I don't know who we're going to play against.  I'm not going to disrespect Binghamton until the game's over with and start talking about our next opponent until we see who it is.
 I don't think it's really important how they treat me.  I'm serious, I did not hear it tonight.  I didn't.

 Q.  How'd you feel like y'all handled the press best in the second half in putting Dexter down will?
 COACH BARNES:  I thought he's a guy that you can put the ball up to.  I thought we were a little sloppy with it.  Again, that play at the end of the game where we were just walking the ball up, and not being as alert as we needed to be.  But, just okay.  I didn't think we were great.  Dexter's a guy that you have that situation where you're wondering if they're going to foul.  You might put it in some guy's hands that you you accomplish making free throws.
 But again, I think Minnesota did a good job getting their hands on some balls and breaking something loose.  But I'd like to see us handle it better.

 Q.  You mentioned does kind of being jumpy and nervous.  Was pretty much everyone on the team except maybe A.J. nervous?
 COACH BARNES:  No, I didn't think A.J., I didn't think Dexter particularly.  I didn't think    again, I thought the ones that just the two, probably he early were probably does and Gary a little bit.  Gary lost the ball a couple of times where, again, I think he was overanxious.  And does definitely was a little bit anxious tonight. 


PHIL WARSHAUER:  Questions for student athletes.

 Q.  You guys haven't been to the tournament before, but it didn't look like that to start off the game.  Can you just talk about what had you guys out firing like that?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  We were just excited to play.  We really didn't have anything to lose, you know.  So we came out and played free.  Nobody expected us to win.  So I think that helped us to just come out and execute.  We were just playing aggressively.  We were just really excited for a chance to play here.  So I think that carried us in the beginning.

 Q.  The experience factor.  The fact that they've been here before, what impact do you think that had on the game?
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  I think it really affected the game.  I mean, once they got the big lead, I think some guys lost their composure a little bit.  I mean, when a guy like Abrams catches fire, he can be trouble for anyone.  I think that's what gave him the momentum.

 Q.  In the first half there getting that foul when you guys were on a roll, second foul, what do you think that did with the run there?
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  Well, I was basically not a factor for the rest of the first half.  I didn't get to play anymore.  I mean guys really did step up, I mean Paul Carter got like nine boards or on seven or whatever.  He was really active, and I think he caused a lot of trouble in the first half.

 Q.  Did you guys feel like that three pointer at the end of the first half by Abrams was a turning point in the game?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  No, we don't think that was a turning point.  I mean, he's a tough shot, but we still had had another half to play.  I don't think they got    I mean they got a little momentum going into the half.  But second half we were right in the game as well.  I don't think that was the turning point.

 Q.  Had you faced anybody with the size and strength of Pittman this season?
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  Not to my knowledge.  I don't think anyone was as strong and as aggressive as Pittman.  I mean, he's a monster in the paint.  He's real physical.  Once he gets into the lane, he's trouble for anyone.  The closest player that we faced all year was Samuels from Louisville, and I don't think he's half as strong as Pittman.

 Q.  Can you both answer the question, what do you think this tournament experience will do for you guys in the future?  I know you both are coming back, and this is a really young team?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  I think we'll get better.  It gives us confidence that we're good enough to make it here.  Us losing in the first round gives us a little motivation to come back next year and get past the first round.  We're just going to start with individual workouts, and go hard.  We're going to think about how we lost today, and I think it can help us for next year.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  I agree with Lawrence 100%.  I mean, for the rest of the summer we've got to just keep this game in mind and keep a couple of the other games that we were close in and couldn't score or went in a drought.  We got outphysicaled and lost the game.  We've got to keep that in mind for the rest of the summer, go extra hard, and give it 150%.
 PHIL WARSHAUER:  Thank you.  We'll continue with questions for Coach Smith.

 Q.  Given your expectations going into the season, are you satisfied with making the NCAA Tournament?  Is this achieving your goal?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, it was one of the goals we had was to get to the NCAA Tournament.  Obviously, we wanted to perform better and win.  But I thought overall this team has achieved and set a standard that we have to    we've raised the bar.  Some of our guys as they mentioned, they know they've got to get back, get busy ask work a lot harder in the off season.

 Q.  It's been a while since you lost in the first round.  Just for yourself, the players get motivated, but how does this motivate you to want to make this program better and reach the success that you've had in the past?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, it was a lot of motivation last year not being in the NCAA for a year, and in tournaments.  You love the game.  You're going to try to do your best.  As a coach you try to inspire your staff.  They've got to improve in a lot of areas.  So as a coach, you're asking your players to improve, so I've got to do    and do a better job and improve in a lot of areas as well in this off season.
 But this was a good    we've got some incentive.  I think our guys, having lost this game and being here and getting this experience, will be a big help for all of us.

 Q.  Did you feel like this was a bad game for Minnesota or a great game for Texas or somewhere in between?
 COACH SMITH:  I thought Texas played extremely well.  When a guy makes four threes in a row like that, even for him, that's pretty good.  In these circumstances, in the NCAA, first round, they went to him.  We had some momentum.
 You know, that three they had some momentum going into halftime.  I think that got him a little bit elevated them.  We were right in there.  We got off to a great start in the game.  Then we were a little flat or they were a little to start the second half.  But then we fought back and had a chance to tie it there and missed that three pointer.  Missed the lay up, the three pointer, and then A.J. went on that tear and hit four threes in a row.
 But otherwise I thought we did the things that we were trying to do.

 Q.  You've got two players that are leaving from this team, and a great recruiting class coming in next year.  Can you talk about the excitement about next season?
 COACH SMITH:  Yeah, we're going to miss Jonathan Williams, and Jamal Abu Shamala.  I thought both those kids, class kids.  Doing things the right way in the classroom.  Jamal Abu Shamala won Student Athlete of the Year.
 So that gives you an indication of it.  And I think Jonathan is on his way to graduate along with Jamal.  For them to have this experience after four years here is really a way to end it for their collegiate career.
 Next season, well, again, this will help especially the returning players as well as our incoming recruits to say, hey, look, this is what we    this is what we're about.  We're about competing for championships.  I think this will go a long way, as I said before, inspiring those men to work harder.

 Q.  Do you envision playing 10 and 11 people in the future, or was that unique to this team?
 COACH SMITH:  I thought it was unique to this team.  But, again, I believe in trying to instill confidence in each player.  Hey, we trust that you're going to do, and they have.  They worked extremely hard.  We didn't have anyone that was really that far superior than anyone else.
 So subsequently we tried when    consequently when there was a dip or a drop off. We felt comfortable putting the guy in there wouldn't be much of a lull.  It wasn't.  I thought this year we pushed the right buttons for the most part.  There were times that we didn't.  I thought we'd be a better outside shooting team this year.
 That was    if there was an area that really concerned me, it was that.  I thought our post players or our leading field goal shooters, Ralph and Colton, and Damian, Paul Carter, all those guys we've got.  But we really didn't get any consistent outside shooting.  And it happened tonight in the second half.  Only 1 for 9 from threes.

 Q.  Did they do anything special to get Abrams free for those three pointers?  Or was he shooting from so far out he was hard to defend?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, it's what we didn't do.  We didn't get on our hands up.  If you're a good shooter, you've got to get your hands up right.  You can't have your hands down.  That just gives him an automatic, a great shooter like him.  The all time Big 12 three point shooter, you've got to make him put it on the floor.  We never made him.  It was a stand still, and in the scouting report, you've got to do that.
 But, again, experience, basketball, understanding what we have to get done.  It's going to be critical.
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