UConn Huskies men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie along with Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels met with the media following UConn’s 63-53 win over the Florida Gators to advance to Monday night’s NCAA Championship Game.
Here’s what they had to say:
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH OLLIE: It was a great victory. We were together, we stayed positive and productive, especially in that first five minutes when they got out to a lead. I was very happy with my student‑athletes how they recovered.
We played great second‑half defense and kind of took them out of their pick‑and‑roll motion offense. We started making shots and great ball movement and great body movement. They stayed together and they showed some true grit and toughness. I’m very proud of their effort.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the student‑athletes.
Q. Ryan, what was coach’s defensive message to you guys if you could remember in the pregame talk in the locker room before you headed out?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: He just said we had to play 40 full on the defensive end, and we just had to help each other one defense. The rotations had to be on point. If we could disturb and get Scottie Wilbekin as uncomfortable as we can, we would have a nice chance to win the game.
Q. Ryan, you guys win, you win comfortably, and you don’t need a heroic effort from Shabazz, who had a good but not amazing game. Can you speak to the team itself and how it can be so balanced and be composed and beat the No. 1 team in the country without needing 22 points and 14 assists from Shabazz?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: We have been saying all year that we have got a complete team. It’s not a one‑man team, it’s not a two‑man team. We got a complete team.
They were double‑teaming Shabazz a lot, and the unselfish player that he is, he was just giving it up, making plays for his teammates and everybody stepped up.
Q. Ryan, what is it that makes this team so good at overcoming adversity?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: We have been through a lot with each other. This group of guys has been together for three years, and in them three years, we have been through a lot. We love each other and we believe in each other. Even if nobody believes in us, we believe in each other and we believe in our coaching staff. We got a lot of heart and a lot of pride for this university.
Q. When it was 16‑4 and you guys are discombobulated, was there anything said that really felt like turned it around?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: We have been through a lot of dogfights and we continue to believe in each other. We didn’t point fingers when we were down. We just understood that this was a game, going to be a game of runs. When we were down 16‑4, we just looked at each other and said we got to put the pressure on, ante up, because this could be our last 40 minutes and we didn’t want that.
Q. Despite beating Florida earlier in the year, a lot of people were picking them to win this game, what type of motivation was it for you and did you feel disrespected at all that some people were questioning even the fact that you had beat them earlier this year?
DeANDRE DANIELS: Well, we feel like we have been doubted the whole season, definitely heading into the tournament when people didn’t have us winning the first game. But that’s what drives us and everybody just is going out there. When people say that, we like to go out and try to prove people wrong and let them know that UConn’s back on top.
Q. DeAndre, I know you almost played at the University of Texas. Just talk about that recruiting. Were you committed to them and having the unusual big game here in Texas?
DeANDRE DANIELS: Yeah, like you said, I always liked Texas when I was a little kid, and I committed to them when I was in like ninth grade, 10th grade. I think that the reason why I de‑committed was because I felt like it wasn’t the best fit for me. And that’s when I came to UConn, and I’m happy with the decision that I made.
Q. DeAndre, you probably knew Florida was going to try it key on the guards. Can you talk about what specifically you saw from their defense that you were able to capitalize both inside and outside?
DeANDRE DANIELS: Well, first of all, when we started off a little bit slow and we just told guys just to stay with it and keep believing in each other. We felt like our defense is pretty good and we just needed to keep playing UConn basketball and just get to that and scoring. That’s what we did.
But the guys are definitely keying in on Shabazz and the pick‑and‑rolls and double‑teaming him. So, he’s an unselfish player and kept passing and moving the ball, and them guys was knocking down shots with Ryan and Niels and everybody else that came in the game. With Terrence and everybody, had a big role in this game today.
Q. Shabazz, how important was it to get DeAndre the ball down low, especially you ran Ryan, set him up for a couple lobs, and you also ran off the court holding one finger. What were you trying to tell them there?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Just simple, one more to go. But DeAndre, we understood that Florida has a great 1‑3‑1 and we have been working on it and preparing for it, because we understood that when it was going to come down to, they were going to play it. Wilbekin being 6’2″, DeAndre being 6’9″, me and Ryan being the good point guards we are, we wanted to throw the ball higher for DeAndre to get it.
Wilbekin couldn’t grab it or even deflect it. So DeAndre was just making good catches and plays and we needed to have that. When we had the alley‑oop, he came down with it and finished it. Coaches were making sure that we were prepared for the 1‑3‑1 zones that they were going to throw at us and we took advantage of it.
Q. Shabazz, everybody likes to compare this team to 2011, can you talk about how this team has been able to establish its own identity and make a run in the tournament?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: We have totally different players, totally different. As a head coach, totally different coach. We understand we’re going to get compared to them, but like we always said, we want to create our own path. We want to do the same thing that team did, win a championship, but at the end of the day, we want to go on our own path.
We just believe in each other. We want to continue to work for each other and push each other. When you give everything you got out there, good things can happen.
Q. Shabazz, also the other guys, too, at 16‑4 early in the game, DeAndre knocks down that big three. You guys knock down a couple of shots to get right back in it. Right away, did you guys feel the momentum at that time shift your way permanently or did you guys feel at that point that you had kind of taken their best punch?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, we understood that they came out and they came out full intensity. Sometimes it happens in the game. But we keep our composure. We have been in so many dogfights. We sat down after coach called the timeout and he just said, Guys, we have been in this position before, believe in each other.
They were leaving DeAndre open because they were doubling and doing all sorts of things and he took advantage of it. When he knocked down that three, our fans went crazy and then we understood what was going to happen next. We just believed in each other and kept fighting.
RYAN BOATRIGHT: We really can’t answer that no better than Shabazz said. He pretty much said everything that we went through at that moment.
But we are so unselfish, we didn’t really care who was doing the scoring. We just needed to get points on the board and we were happy for each other. Once we got the shots falling for us, we just picked it up on the defensive end. I tried to be the emotional leader on the defensive end and pick up full court and try to get turnovers. So we score in track circumstance and we just hit the ground running after that.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We’ll excuse you to the locker room and take questions for coach.
Q. Coach, was there a specific factor that made your half court defense so effective tonight?
COACH OLLIE: We just wanted to be relentless, make them uncomfortable. We wanted to challenge every dribble, every pass. They really wanted to attack empty elbows, if you understand what I’m saying, where they’re coming off pick‑and‑rolls. They want to dive the big guy, and then they want to get and take the basketball in the middle of the court.
So we wanted to kind of keep them on the baseline. We wanted to show out and double, have them kick it to Finney‑Smith or Yeguete and have them make a play, then Scottie Wilbekin can make the play or Frazier can make the play, because they’re just terrific shooters, they’re also great facilitators and we wanted to kind of keep them out of the game.
Q. There’s been a clear evolution of your defense. You’ve talked about how well they played against Michigan State, obviously, what they did tonight. Can you recall a watershed moment maybe a particular game a practice, where you just sought light went on and every single guy was willing to subscribe to playing the type of defense you wanted them to play?
COACH OLLIE: We have been playing great defense all year. We have been holding our opponents under 39 percent, and you know that’s one of our goals. So that’s been throughout the whole year we have been playing outstanding defense.
Of course we had some bumps in the road like any team has during the season, and I believe that Louisville game was a bump in the road. But I think that really promoted us. A lot of people are saying that was going to destroy us, but our team thought it promoted us to get better. When you have a big problem like that, bigger the destiny. And I know this team was destined for great, even in that downtime. We came back and worked. We made adjustments from that game and I thought we got better from it.
Q. Yesterday, you talked a lot about how you’re a complete team and you repeated it over and over again. Do you think people finally realized it today?
COACH OLLIE: I’m not sure. I’m not in y’all heads and I don’t know if y’all keep thinking it’s a one‑man team, but it’s not. We got great players. But most importantly, we have great teammates. Everybody can be a great teammate every day.
I think they really bought into that. It’s a team game. They invested in each other. Shabazz is the first one to tell you, and I keep telling everybody, that it’s not just him. He’s a willing passer. He’s a great facilitator. Now he scores out of necessity, which I want. But he’s a great facilitator. He gives the ball up to DeAndre and makes plays for DeAndre.
Ryan Boatright has done a whole 360. If anybody seen him his sophomore year to now, I mean, it’s like night and day. Him being a facilitator, him making other people better. That’s what you do. That’s how you mature as a basketball player, but that’s how you mature as a man. You see all those guys growing up.
Q. Not only after you’re down 16to4, your team comes back and really races back. But also in the second half, each time Florida calls a timeout, tries to stop the bleeding, y’all come out and just come right back with that same energy. How did you instill in this team that level of energy and that level of ‘don’t give up’ that they showed so clearly tonight?
COACH OLLIE: We got in the huddle and I told the guys, I wrote on the board, Even now faith. Even now we’re down 16 and 4, you’re going to have faith in each other. I knew we were going to get back in the game. They knew we were going to get back in the game. It just was going to have it take one possession at a time. Getting stops.
How they got down, they got four offensive rebounds in that first five minutes. So we wanted to get on that defensive back board, wanted to start pushing the basketball. We wanted to have ball movement and body movement.
I thought we started doing that, we started sharing the ball. Our guards started getting in the lane, jump stopping, finding DeAndre Daniels for three. We started penetrating and getting in the thick of the defense. I thought they did a wonderful job executing the game plan.
But it starts on the defensive end. We heard it over and over again, Michigan State, Madison Square Garden was a home court advantage for us. We shot 34 percent in Madison Square Garden. So what kind of home court advantage was that? Our fans were there, but we shot 34 percent. We live and die on defense. You have to recognize that. Hopefully everybody understands that.
We played tenacious defense. We played relentless defense. It’s not always perfect all the time, but we’re going to play 40 full. That’s what I believe in my guys. They are terrific, terrific people because they do not take no for an answer. They want to play more. They are built for one more.
We got a chance and I thank God for that. I just want to really thank Billy Donovan. He’s a great, terrific coach. Florida’s a great team, 30‑game winning streak, great coach, Hall of Fame coach, and it’s just an honor to play against him and also compete.
Q. Scottie Wilbekin has made his living in the paint in this tournament all season long, and you mentioned that Boatright came in as a scorer and he had to subscribe to your philosophy of defense. How long did that take and how difficult is it to keep Wilbekin out of the lane because you guys made it look easy.
COACH OLLIE: It’s very difficult. It wasn’t just Ryan Boatright. It was our bigs showing out on screen‑and‑rolls. It was us getting back in transition. We always say transition starts on the shot, so when those shots was going up, we was getting back in transition, pointing and locating.
Especially Wilbekin and Frazier, we really wanted to keep them out of the game. Frazier, he reads off of Wilbekin when he gets in the lane. You have a hard dive by Young. You got to play Young. Then you really give up Frazier on the field cut. So we wanted to really stay on Wilbekin, keep him out of the lane, keep him on one side. I thought we did a great job of that starting with Ryan. And then it just started with everybody. That was our key. We call it the ace of spades, that was the ace of spades in this game and we wanted to take him out.
Q. How much did last year help in building chemistry for your guys and would you explain what was the secret or what would you say is the secret to the bond that your guys have?
COACH OLLIE: It’s just going through the dark days believing. They just believe in each other. No matter if they’re down, no matter if they’re banned, no matter if they can’t play in the NCAA tournament, they just believe. They keep fighting.
I keep telling them, they stay in the middle of the ring, they keep throwing punches. When everybody counts us out, thinking we’re on the mat, we get back up. That’s what this university’s all about.
This is what UConn has built over the years, starting with Coach Calhoun and keeping the tradition. We’re just tough‑minded individuals. When we’re down, we know if we keep progressing and we keep staying together, sooner or later, we’re going to come out.
Like I said, Even now faith. Even now in the tough times we are going to keep believing in each other. I keep saying the bigger the problem, the bigger the destiny. We knew this destiny was coming. Because our problems that we faced, we overcame them together. It wasn’t just one individual, wasn’t just one coach. It was everybody sticking together and that’s what we built UConn on.
Q. You talked so much about your defense. But can you talk a little bit about your offensive philosophy in this game, switching big and small, and particularly how effective your three‑guard lineup was?
COACH OLLIE: It was very effective. We wanted to stretch the court. We wanted to get gaps. They were kind of loading up, which all great defenses do, they load up on the first side. So we wanted to get it to the second side, wanted to swing it to the third side, and then start attacking.
Then our three guards really gave us space on the court and they made great decisions. Once they got in the lane, they were able to kick out. Also DeAndre was able to come in and get some lobs back behind their 1‑3‑1.
So they just followed the game plan. They did a remarkable job shooting the ball, especially in the Dome. I don’t know if it’s a record, but 55 percent in the Dome might be a record.
But we want to continue to play, we want to continue to get good shots and be unselfish. I think we did that and we want to compete one more night and play one more 40 full on the offensive end and the defensive end.
Here are the Florida Gators postgame quotes.
quotes courtesy of asap sports
photo credit: ap photo