Following Kentucky's seven-point win over North Carolina Sunday afternoon in the East Regional finals, UNC head coach Roy Williams and several players spoke with reporters. The Tar Heels finished 27-10 with the loss, and came one victory short of reaching the school's fourth Final Four in six seasons.
UNC HEAD COACH ROY WILLIAMS
Well, we congratulate Kentucky. Congratulate John and his staff and the players. If you didn't really care who won the game, it had to be a game you enjoyed watching if you love basketball. And I couldn't be more proud of my team than I am. And John's got a wonderful bunch out there cutting down the nets right now and I would like it to be my team, but it's not. But I wouldn't trade my kids for anybody. It's been an unbelievable ride and they've been an unbelievable group of kids. And they really made coaching fun. And we've had some adversity and they just kept together and kept coming back, just like they did today. And it was a wonderful, wonderful time for us.
You know, we get it tied and Brandon makes a huge three right in front of their bench. And then I think, and I am not positive about this, I think we got it back to one and one of the players, I don't know who, made a big-time block on Kendall's drive when it was a one-point game and I think that was the only time we had the ball with a chance to go ahead.
But you just have to congratulate them. They shot it extremely well. 12-22 from three-point line. And their entire team coming in today shooting 39.6 from three-point line, and we knew that but they still made shots. And you have to congratulate them.
Dexter, what did you say to Brandon after the game? Also, can you talk about the challenge of playing defense against him today.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I just told him it was a great game. You know, "Keep playing your behind off," and that was it. He said "like-wise. And just kept moving."
But I think it was a challenge. You know, he's a great player. He stepped up and made great shots. I think we played -- I think we could have played, you know, better defense, supportive defense, but he's a great player and he stepped up and made great shots.
Tyler, obviously this is disappointing for you, but what was going on out there? Coach said you were down, you tied it, got within a point after they had taken the lead, was it too much of them or just shots not going down.
TYLER ZELLER: A little of both. You have to give them credit. The shot Brandon hit, I still picture it in my mind. I think Dexter was guarding him. A fantastic job, had a hand in his face. It was a very tough shot and he knocked it down. You have to give him credit. And I mean, Dex did a great job all night shadowing him, chasing him around. And I mean, he still made shots. I think you just have to give them credit.
Tyler, how much did the foul trouble John had hurt you guys in both halves, and what you wanted to do with him?
TYLER ZELLER: It definitely hurt us because it made us change what we've been doing for the past two or three months. We had to change. But Justin Watts or Justin Knox, even put another guard in at that position, so it made it difficult. But at the same time you can't blame it on that.
Dexter, I know it's over now, but what did it mean to you to come home, play in front of your family and friends and really step up the way you did tonight? And Roy, if you would comment on Dexter and the way he played defense tonight.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: It was a great feeling just coming home. Just seeing my family and friends and playing in front of them. It was a great feeling. I felt comfortable and unfortunately we lost, but I had a great time being here in my home state.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I just thought it was a fantastic, fantastic performance by Dexter. Brandon is hard to guard. He was the focal point of their offense. For Dexter to do that for 37 minutes is about as tough a challenge as I've ever had any guard. And I don't know I ever had anybody do a better job than Dexter did today. And everybody wants guys to shoot the ball and score points and all that kind of stuff.
And Dexter made his decision that he was going to be a big-time defender for this team, and that's what is great about this team. Because they did care about the name on the front. And I can't imagine anybody playing any better defense on a really, really good player than what Dexter did today.
Dexter, when you're defending somebody who just kind of seems to be hot and on a roll, is there ever a time where have you in your mind maybe it is just their night, just the way he kept hitting shots?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: That goes through your mind but you can't use that as an excuse. I tried to limit his touches to the ball. I figured if he can't get the ball, he can't score. And I think, I did an all right job. I could have done better. We have to learn from our mistakes and get better, so.
Aside from limiting his touches, Dexter, what else was the game plan as far as taking Brandon out of his game?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: Well, the scouting report, we know he likes to go right. So I felt if I forced him left, he would pull up for the jump shot. And you know the jump shot is better than driving to the rack and getting the lay-up. That's what we tried to do. We tried to have better supportive defense, you know. Leslie or Kendall just being there on the drive, just guys rotating in the right position. You know, we could have did a better job, but we have to get better at it.
Tyler, could you talk about the big man, Josh Harrellson's improvement from when you played him before. If you saw a different player tonight than earlier in the season.
TYLER ZELLER: Actually the first time we played him, he was in foul trouble the whole game, so he only played, I have no idea what the time was, probably 15 or 20 minutes. He didn't play as much as he did today. He's a fantastic player. I mean, in the post he doesn't have a lot of moves, but he does a lot of great things as far as offensive rebounding or creating opportunities for teammates. And it makes it difficult. Their guards are always looking for him. If you help out too far, they lob it up to him and he does a great job of finishing. He is a very sound player.
For both players, first half in particular you guys didn't get a whole lot of looks that you had been getting in recent weeks. What did they do specifically to keep you from getting a little bit of a comfort zone there?
TYLER ZELLER: I think we were a little tentative to start. The second half we did a better job of coming out aggressive. We stepped around a little bit and made it easy on them. The second half we started moving, setting screens and helping each other out. We needed to do that for 40 minutes.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I agree. We didn't match the urgency in the first half. It hurt us a little bit. We picked it up in the second half, but, you know, you just have to start from the beginning.
If you two guys could just give me a sense of how much energy it takes to be like constantly trying to catch up, get close and then they make a big shot, get close?
TYLER ZELLER: It takes a tremendous amount. It is something we work on all the time as far as we will be down six or eight or something like that in practice, and then we have to make a comeback. And I mean we've worked on it. We've done it. I mean you have to give Brandon credit again for making that huge three because we had a lot of momentum at that time and it was just a momentum-buster there.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I agree.
Dexter, again you've guarded some great players in your career, whether it's Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans and Kyrie and Michael in practice at St. Pat's. Where do you rank Brandon (Knight) in guys you guarded in your career?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I don't know. I have no clue.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: It is really a hard question. Do you have a good answer?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: No, I don't.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Everybody there is pretty damn good. You know, if you ask him if it is easier to guard you than Brandon, I think he would pick Brandon.
Roy, is your knee hurt from that collision? You looked like you were lumping coming up the stairs there.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I am an old man, that's what it boils down to. It hurt, Brandon came into my knee and it sort of hyperextended a little bit but right now it does not hurt. It bothers me a little bit I guess, but no one knows your body like yourself, I am fine. I really am. It hurt like crazy when he first hit it and it was probably because the referee called a foul on him as much as it was him hitting my knee.
Coach, perimeter has been a problem that flared up at times. You find ways to make up but tonight offensively and defensively it ultimately was the difference in the game. The challenge in which you had all year in being able to mask some of those areas that led to you this point and got you this far.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You can remember when we played them the first time they had a big-time advantage from the three-point line. We had the advantage from the free-throw line and some second-shot points I think. And so you do, you have to -- there are some parts of the game that you're not going to do as well and you hope that that's not the part that will determine the outcome of the game. And you look at our stat sheet, their team averages 39.6% from the three-point line and we don't have anybody shooting better than 39.6% on our team. I think Kendall is 39.6% exactly. So their whole team shoots better than anybody on our team. And we didn't want to work and make sure that we got there and had a hand up and hoped that they didn't make some.
And it's hard trying to overcome some things that are that big advantage. They scored 36 points from three-point line and we score nine. But that's the game of basketball. And for us, I think Z and Dexter both said it, in the first half we didn't get very good movement. Because of that we didn't get very good shots. The second half we ran a few more set plays, lobs and got things there and posting up Z, but we had better movement with everything, too. We were more effective defensively and got our break going.
And I don't have the halftime stat sheet, I think the first half we had two points on the fastbreak and had ten in the second half. So that's what basketball is. You've got advantages over the other team and they have advantages over you. For us we try to make running a strong point, try to make rebounding a strong point. For the most part this team has been able to overcome that, but not today.
What did Tyler mean when he said that John's foul trouble made you change what you had been doing for two or three months?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, the personnel being in there. You look guys John Henson plays 23 minutes and he was frustrated and in foul trouble. And he had zero blocks. He had a chance to break the single-season blocked shot record for our school today and so John was not able to do that when he is sitting over on the sideline with me. And also because of that, John had one offensive rebound. He's been the leading rebounder in the league probably since the first three or four games.
And he took away an offensive rebounder for us, took away a guy that can block some of those shots inside. It took away somebody who can get some offensive and defensive rebounds for you, not just offensive. But you take away a guy who is second team all conference. Take away a guy who is the Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC. And he does play 23 minutes, but he couldn't play the way he wanted to play. But that's part of the game. You have to congratulate Kentucky for getting him in foul trouble.
Roy, could you just elaborate on that, the three early fouls he got in the first six minutes and what you had to do with the line-up and go a little smaller. And when were you thinking of bringing him back in?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He got two early and we took him out and let him sit there a few minutes and put him back in. And it is funny, Coach Robinson and I were talking and it was 7:33 on the clock and wondering if I should take him out there or let him play a couple of more minutes. I didn't want to take him out the last 7:30. I've never done that because a guy gets two fouls. I let them rest so they don't make a foul on stamina, being tired.
One of the fouls, somebody else should have boxed out Josh Harrellson running down the middle on the fastbreak, they miss the lay-up and getting the rebound. And another foul was 45 feet from the basket leaning over Brandon Knight's back. So they weren't the best fouls in the world, but that's what happens in the game.
So then he gets the fourth one and I told him I didn't want him to sit there the whole game but I wanted him to think and understand that if you are going to get a fifth foul, get it trying to box out or trying to take a charge. Don't get a silly one. Don't be jumping you in the air and the guy jumping into you. But kids can't control that all the time. But it was frustrating for us. It was frustrating for John, too.
Will the development that this team has made since early in the season, and especially guys like Strickland and Barnes, will that eventually take some of the sting off the way that this ended?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, it's strange because it's the most inadequate feeling in the world for a coach right now, because there is nothing I can say to take the hurt away from my kids. And that's a really, really unpleasant feeling. I thanked them in the locker room. I told them that I was as lucky as I could be. And we'll focus on that, and we'll focus on getting better.
I told them I didn't want them to forget this feeling. I wanted them to use it as a fuel to get better. And heck, I remember in 2009 we were -- I gave what I thought was just a wonderful speech pregame and start to leave and Bobby Frasor says, "Remember what it felt like last year." That was so much more important than any great speech this dumb old coach could ever make. And that team did remember, and they won the national championship.
But I think it will drive our kids. I'm going to focus on what a wonderful group of kids and what a wonderful year it was, but it still doesn't take away the hurt that you feel today.
Coach, Kentucky had a really draining game Friday against Ohio State, emotionally draining. I wondered what you thought of their willpower, determination in another one like that.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, sometimes things may be meant to be. The Princeton game, the lay-up at the end, Ohio State the jump shot. John's kids are competitive and they really were so much more aggressive in the first half.
Their defense beat our offense and their offense beat our defense. They were the hungrier team in the first half. I think we matched it in the second half, but the little engine that could, somebody asked a question about, is it draining to try to keep coming back? I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. And sometimes when you get there you can't get over the hump. And Brandon Knight made it hard for us to get it over the hump.
As many times as this team came back and won games like this this season, do you think there's a possibility that maybe they took it for granted, that they would come back and win it when they tied this you?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: No. We didn't come back and beat Duke in the ACC Tournament finals. I think they have confidence that they can come back, but I don't think they have confidence that says that they're going to come back and win the game. They realize they have to work at it. They realize they have to do it. I don't think that confidence makes them take things lightly during the first half of the game, I really don't believe that. I think anybody that would write that would be completely wrong.
Give the other team credit. As I said their, offense beat our defense. Their defense beat our offense. We did make a nice comeback but I don't think that our guys were overconfident that we don't care what happens now, we're going to get you later. I really don't believe that.
Roy, DeAndre Liggins was the guy that blocked Kendall's shot, and he also hit the three from the corner when they were up one. I wonder what you think of him as a player, they consider him sort of an emotional guy to get them going.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He's a big-time player. If you remember, too, I don't know if he meant to bank the ten-footer in front of the goal but he banked that in, too. And you have to give kids credit for making plays. I love DeAndre's game. I really do. He is a 6'6", 6'7" long athletic kid that can guard and wants to guard people. And he gives them -- he had not started but one of the last six games.
He started today, and I thought he was marvelous 12 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 block, 3 steals. He is involved and as athletic as all get out. A lot of athletic kids don't have the heart and desire, and I think he is extremely important to their team. Doron (Lamb) didn't start and comes in and has eight big points and two big threes and one of the guys that really hurt us, especially in the first half.