HOUSTON -- What they were saying Thursday at the Final Four:
Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, on the Wildcats’ 78-55 loss to Oklahoma in December:
“They beat us pretty bad and we never forgot that, even all the way up to this point, every game before this, we’ve never forgotten how that felt.”
Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard, on how he would feel if he were Villanova trying to slow down the Sooners:
"I’d be nervous if I was them.”
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, on background depth perception problems from shooting in NRG Stadium:
“It’s still a rim out there, 10 feet up.”
Paige on Syracuse, as a Cinderella story:
“They come from the best conference in the country and have played against quality competition all year. It is tough to call them a Cinderella, however at the same time, if you just look at it objectively and take away the fact they are Syracuse, it is a 10 seed making a great run. It is Cinderellaesque, but I would not call them a Cinderella.”
Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin, on playing in the Final Four 50 years after his grandfather David played for Texas Western’s champions in 1966:
“It means a lot. It is kind of poetic that it happened 50 years apart exactly, and I want to win it. Hopefully me and my grandfather can be in a select club.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright, on not recruiting Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins out of nearby New York:
“When he lit us up in Hawaii, I just felt bad. First thing I said to our assistants, 'How did we not know about him?' They reminded me that we did know about him, we just kind of passed. Sometimes you make those mistakes in evaluations, because he's a hell of a player, a New York kid, from a great program."
Wright, on what 2009 taught him about Final Four distractions:
“I think what we learned the last time we were at the Final Four was that is the biggest challenge. This time of the year, basketball-wise, you're playing your 39th game, the guys know what they're doing. Motivationally, these guys are so fired up, they want to win. It's trying to keep them focused on basketball. Keep them focused on being humble. Keep them focused on reality. A lot of what goes on here is not reality. You spend two-thirds of your day talking about yourself. We teach these guys all the time, life is not about you, it's what you do for others. We talk about it all the time. Then we come here and all you do is talk about yourself.
“We use the term 'be hungry and humble'. I think it's a great challenge when you're at the Final Four.”
Wright, on Buddy Hield:
“I think putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, extending his range, have been two areas where the best player in college basketball has actually gotten better, which is incredible. It's hard when you're that good to get better.
“If you're playing around the (3-point) line, you get up on a guy, you press him, he goes by you, at least you're forcing him into 2. He's taking the ball so deep ... If you get up on him, he can go by you and still pull up for a 3. I don't know if that's part of his plan, but it's genius if it is.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, on how the rest of the Sooners accept Buddy Hield’s role as the star:
“I've been really impressed with their maturity as a group in how well they have handled that. Buddy has handled it very well. If Buddy was throwing it in their face, a jerk about it, those other guys probably wouldn't be so receptive. Buddy is not that at all. The other guys appreciate Buddy for what he's done, also know they have to step up and do special things, too.”
Kruger on Hield:
“Been impressed from day one, his passion for the game, his ability to focus from a work ethic standpoint on things he needs to do to get better. That's from his freshman, sophomore year. Every day he would ask me, 'Coach, how can I get better? What do I need to work on?' A lot of kids will say that, but then they'll go work on the things they're most comfortable doing. In Buddy's case, you say, 'Hey, Buddy, left hand needs to be improved, need to take it to the bucket stronger.' Those are things he would work on.
“(Big 12) Player of the Year last year after his junior year. If they had a most improved player in the league, he maybe would have won that this year. That's a tough starting point to be most improved from. That's a unique quality, for a young player, especially.”
Kruger, on getting fired as coach of the Atlanta Hawks:
“Getting fired was kind of humbling in a healthy way. Had us refocus. Maybe appreciate things a little bit more.
“Really, winning or losing throughout our time, I don't think I'm identified by that. Shoot, I've got a great wife, beautiful kids, grandkids. So winning or losing, I've never worried too much about that. I've been blessed in every way.”
Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, receiving the Associated Press Player of the Year award, on what it has been like since being upset by Middle Tennessee State:
“These last two weeks have been really hard on me. It’s March Madness, I can try to duck and dodge it, but everywhere I go, the game’s on. I walk into a restaurant and the game’s on. I’m like, 'Damn, it’s right on TV.' You can’t really dodge it. So it’s been tough, but sometimes you’ve just got to swallow your pride and realize you did some great things this season, and just move on with life.”
Kansas’ Bill Self, accepting the AP Coach of the Year award, on why he believes losing in the Elite Eight, as the Jayhawks did the Villanova, is the toughest loss to take:
“The way the media has portrayed the NCAA Tournament, and 'Road to the Final Four'-- in every locker room there’s some image of getting to Houston. Getting to the Final Four today would be equivalent to the media attention of maybe winning the national championship 30 years ago. That’s the goal. To lose -- I think we’ve lost six times now—I can say that to me, it’s the hardest game of the season without question to not win.”
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, on the possibility he might retire if the Orange win the championship:
“I’ve always thought you should walk away when you can’t win anymore. I never really thought you should walk away when you do win.”
Boeheim, on what he said to Roy Williams when he beat him in the 2003 national championship game:
“I remember I said, 'You’ll win one.' Didn’t tell him he’d win two. I hope I didn’t make him think he could win three. Same thing Bob Knight said to me -- 'You’ll win one of these one of these days' -- in ’87. He didn’t tell me it was going to be 16 years, but he did say that to me.”
Boeheim, on his players being driven to prove people wrong about Syracuse:
“Honestly, I don’t think about that anymore. I probably did 20 years ago or 10 or whatever. I just want these guys to keep winning, have fun, enjoy it ... I think it’s always great for your program when you win. You talk to recruits, they listen a little bit more when you’re winning, when you’re going places. But I stopped trying to prove people wrong a long time ago.”
Roy Williams, on trying to prepare for the Syracuse zone:
“It's impossible to simulate. You just can't do it. First of all, our blue team's not 6'5", 6'6" across the frontline ... We don't know all the little things that makes it so successful because Jimmy (Boeheim) is the one that knows that. He's the one that coaches it. We watch it on tape, show it on tape, show them plays when we have played them. You got those guys in football that try to simulate the triple option. If you don't have one of those great quarterbacks, it doesn't work.”
Williams, on reports his health has not been great:
“Up until the knee surgery this summer, I was working out eight times a week, which is more than most people do. I felt like I could play 45 holes of golf every day, 27 days in a row, and never get tired. I still feel that way as long as I have a cart right now that can drive right up to the ball. I've got a head cold right now, a sinus infection, I got two bum knees, and never felt better in my life.”