NEWARK--- Following North Carolina's 81-63 victory over Marquette Friday night in the NCAA East Regional semifinals in the Prudential Center, UNC standouts Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes, along with head coach Roy Williams, spoke to reporters.
North Carolina will return to action Sunday afternoon at 5:05 pm against Kentucky in the East Regional final, with a berth in the 2011 Final Four on the line.
Tyler, just talk a little bit about how well you guys did defensively in the first half. They only had six baskets and forced 12 turnovers. Ever have a half like that?
TYLER ZELLER: I don't know. I know we were exceptionally well. We did a great job of forcing them out of their offense, and then just not letting them ever take a comfortable shot.
So something that we probably didn't do as well in the second half, and we need to get better at. But if we can play like we did in the first half every game, we'll be all right.
Tyler, can you just talk about after last year's season to be a step closer to the Final Four. I know you have the Elite 8 next, but just talk about the turnaround of the team.
TYLER ZELLER: It has been a huge turn around last year. The whole year we were just trying to figure out how to fix what we were doing. We were struggling to win games. And at the same time in the ACC Tournament we made a great run.
We couldn't quite finish it. Definitely not the season we wanted. But now that we are in the Elite 8, it is a great feeling that I'm proud of every one of my teammates. And I'm glad to be a part of this team.
Harrison, you missed like four of your first five shots. I was wondering how important was it that once you made that like 19-0 run you guys got real comfortable. How important was it for you to loosen you? Did it help you guys, you in particular, and your team once you got the lead?
HARRISON BARNES: Well, after going 0-for-12 early in the season a lot doesn't faze me. I just try to do the little things, you know. Try to play really good defense, try to rebound and try to provide energy for my team even though I wasn't able to score early.
HEAD COACH ROY WILLIAMS
Well, obviously we played very well in the first half. We got some defensive stops, we got our break going. We didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well and did not take advantage of some of our break opportunities but still we very well and were lucky because they had a lot of shots that they normally make that didn't go in for them.
I looked up at the clock and it was 10-8 their favor, and the next time I looked at the clock is when I went off at halftime and it was 40-15. I knew we were doing very well to say the least.
But to come out in the second half, I think we scored the first six points of the second half. And then after that it was just surviving. It is extremely difficult to continue playing at that level.
And then Marquette, you have to credit them because they kept digging in and competing and trying to do better themselves.
And I think it got to 16 or something like that to. I was just disappointed in the way we played at sometime. I never felt like the game was threatened or anything.
But Harrison, and Z (Zeller) and John (Henson) I thought they were really good. Kendall set the table. Dexter was good. Leslie came in and, in fact, made a big three for us there and gave everything a sigh of relief there late in the game.
But again, we played very well and feel very fortunate and very happy.
In a tournament where every game you want to get better, what can your team learn from game where you say the opponent never really threatened?
You learned how good it felt playing so well in the first half. I have been very fortunate. I have been in a national championship game a few years ago we were up 21 at half, and against a great team and a great coach, and they cut it to 13. But you keep playing.
You know, the teams you are playing at this level aren't going to quit and give in, so you have to finish games. And their defense, they have it spread out way too much. Tomorrow we have chance to work and do a better job on the offensive end of the floor.
Coach, a couple of players said in the locker room this wasn't a statement, it was just another phase of their development. Where are they now as comparison to a couple of weeks ago in the ACC Tournament, when they had some slow starts and the defense wasn't always there?
I think it is a natural reaction myself. We have a very young team. Two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior who has only played half of his freshman year and half of the sophomore year. Had the elation of winning the ACC championship. I hoped we would not have a letdown. I think we did in we got in the ACC Tournament.
We were tough enough and good enough to get two wins out of it anyway, but we really had to play some fantastic basketball down the stretch, and then didn't play fantastic basketball against Duke, but Duke had a lot to do with that.
I think we understand that and started preparation for this tournament, and I think we had our batteries recharged and we were so much more effective with our concentration, we played better since this tournament started.
Roy, can you comment on Dexter (Strickland's) defense? He held Darius Johnson-Odom to 2-for-9 shooting.
I think he was 1-for-7 the first half. Yeah, 2-for-9. Dexter, as I said all along, is our best defender on the perimeter. Really does a nice job.
He has tremendous speed and quickness. He takes pride in doing that. He knows the other guys on the team. That is one place he can feel really good about what he is doing and he a good job.
The defense was so much more active in the first half than we were in any of the most recent games. And you know, we turned them over and turned it into points for us on the other end. But Dexter was huge for us.