Athens, GA (Mar 29, 2009) - In Elite Eight action from the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament on Saturday, UConn held off Missouri 82-75 to win the West Region. This is the transcript of the University of Connecticut post-game press conference as provided by the NCAA and ASAP Sports.
THE MODERATOR: We will stick to the same format. We will ask Coach
Calhoun for a few opening comments and then questions for the student
athletes and then questions for Coach.
COACH CALHOUN: I'm ecstatic. I have had the opportunity now, this is
our third time going. Quite frankly, the first one was emotional. The
second one was actually wonderful because we had the best team in the
country, in my opinion, when Emeka was healthy. I'm going now with a
group now who found a way, found a way to get to a Final Four. That's
a hard, hard, hard thing to do. It is a very difficult thing to do.
When Jerome went down, we had to adjust so much with so little time
left in our schedule. And to have A.J. pick up the pace, to average
almost 20 points a game. When Jerome went down and to have Stanley
become a special player, some of the things he did today, blocking
shots, rebounding, to have Kemba come off the bench and do some of the
things he was doing today, was really, really, special.
I couldn't be happier. As far as Mike and Missouri, we really gave
them great credit for their full court defense. And it bothered us
obviously up to 17 turnovers. The remarkable thing to me is when we
got into the half court set they disrupted us between traps and other
things. We went nine out of ten trips, couldn't score.
The good news is they went nine out of ten trips and couldn't score
and that's why we are sitting here with smiles on and feeling elated,
in all honesty. Because our defense was the thing that did it. And
then we had big plays by Kemba, a dagger shot by the MVP of the
Western Regional. I just reminded him that the guys before him who
were MVP in this regional were Richard Hamilton and Emeka Okafor and
now A.J. Price.
For freshmen to come off in a game like Kemba did is really, really
special. Missouri is really good. They are relentless. They are
talented. The way Mike has taken that program to where it is right
now, where it is a national program, is, I mean they certainly could
be sitting here. We had a little something extra. Someone asked me
yesterday about grit of a team, how do you measure that, you measure
it by what you saw today. Our offense, we shot 70 percent in the first
half, 30 percent in the second half, yet still found a way by making
11 straight foul shots and making big defensive plays.
I'm as happy as I possibly can be about the basketball situation.
I'm so proud. I said to the kids, so happy for this group. I mean, I
feel like busting out just because I just think they are really
special, what they did once they get dealt a real tough blow. It took
some bounces, it too many some bruises. Here we are going to the Final
Four and, once again, I'm just elated.
Q. A.J., such a frenzied game watching Mizzou play. Could you just
talk about how Kemba fit into that and how he excelled today during
A.J. PRICE: You know, they applied so much pressure. They make you
play at a frenetic pace even though you try not to get into that type
of game with them. They almost force you to do that.
You know, I told Kemba around the ten minute mark, he's growing up
today. He grew up. He played like a man among boys. There was times he
dominated the game. They couldn't pressure it. He was breaking the
press and dribbling through two or three guys and still had enough in
him to go down and finish the play off. He played phenomenally today
and I couldn't be more happy for him.
He definitely helped us get over this hump today.
Q. Talk about the constant pressure, what it does to you mentally,
how you can't relax for a minute.
KEMBA WALKER: It makes you play at a fast pace. That's something I
like to do very much, play at a fast pace. I was able to keep my
composure out there and just play fast and just either get a basket or
get it down.
Q. Talking about how emotional it was for him these last couple that
he won, can you talk about your emotions after the game. Obviously
very happy. Was there a mixture? Did you want to cry at any point?
What were the emotions for you two?
KEMBA WALKER: I can't lie to you, after the game I actually I kind
of did cry. I know tears came out of my eyes because I never thought I
would get this far. We went to the Final Four now. I'm happy.
Q. Kemba, can you take us through that shot that banked off. Did you
call the bank? Just tell us what was going through your mind.
KEMBA WALKER: Time was running down. The ball was in my hands, and
Jeff was there about to set a screen. I told him to get out of my way.
I kind of just took over. The guy actually played me kind of well. I
was turning and turning and I had to get it up. I just threw it up,
God help me, and it went in.
Q. A.J., you just talked about how you kind of took over defensively
when you guys weren't scoring in the second half for a little while
and how much you have embraced defense in this tournament.
A.J. PRICE: We say it all the time, everything starts with defense
with this team. We had a good stretch where we couldn't really put the
ball in the basket, but we told ourselves in the huddles and things
like that, if we rely on our defense and keep stopping them, we will
win the game because we got the lead. That's exactly what we did.
We weren't able to score like Coach said nine out of ten times, but
we held them scoreless nine out of ten times. That really helped us
win this game.
Q. Kemba, when you made that bank shot, did you sense that you kind
of took the wind of their sails a little bit and deflated them a
KEMBA WALKER: I think so because if I would have missed that, I
think they would have had I think we would have been up two points.
And it was definitely a big basket. So I think it was a heartbreaker.
Q. Matt Lawrence got really emotional after the game, not so much it
seemed just because of the loss, because he won't be spending time on
the court with people he had grown so close to anymore. Can you tell
us about the journey and bonds that are formed with guys that you put
in so much work with and what it means to accomplish something like
this with people you are close with?
A.J. PRICE: This is a time in your life you will never forget. You
will always remember these big games and these big trips and things
like that. You go to war with these guys.
30 some odd times throughout the year, it is no different. When you
lose it is very gut wrenching. It can be heartbreaking. I'm sure it
was for some of the Missouri players.
On the other end, we are just elated that we are able to move on and
advance. We feel delighted about it. Like I said, these bonds will be
formed and strong for the rest of your life. You won't ever forget
these guys. Just happy that we continue to have this journey to keep
Q. Kemba, Zaire Taylor said he knew from just playing against you,
what you said on the court, that you were from the Bronx. He is from
Staten Island. What do you think that means?
KEMBA WALKER: Well, a Bronx guard? Speed, handle, just a tough
A.J. PRICE: And moxie.
Q. I apologize if this question has already been asked. Can you talk
about can you describe why you guys decided not to cut down nets today
and what is the philosophy behind that?
KEMBA WALKER: I have no idea.
A.J. PRICE: We just chose not to cut down the nets. Hopefully we
will have a chance to cut them down somewhere else.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach?
Q. Can you talk about what Jeff Adrien gave you. He had to play
probably more than you wanted him to, 39 minutes, because Hasheem was in foul trouble.
COACH CALHOUN: As you know, he was coming off probably one of his
poorest games total package wise against Purdue. It was really kind of
funny because the guys around him at halftime not tonight but the
previous game. He and I talked about, once again, it wasn't complex
and so on, but Jeff, I call you the rock for a reason. We are 40
minutes away from Detroit. If there is a shuttle or something, but
regardless we are 40 minutes away from Detroit and you are going to be
the guy that gets us there. You were the one with the team that should
have maybe got someplace and didn't.
Now you can lead us to that place. He was important. He played
Lawrence, the jump shooter, did a great job on him, rebounded, scored
Jeff was really good today. The things we had problems with was
matchups. Quite frankly, as much as we scattered them and were still
doing things early this morning, Missouri Mike did a terrific job of
playing both big and small against us and made it more difficult and
Jeff had to play a free man. He had to play different kind of people,
and he was just great. The trip that maybe in his freshman year he
thought we were going to get and we didn't get because we really
thought we were the best team that year.
I don't know what we are this year, but I know we're really, really
good. We're borderline to tremendous, tremendous basketball team. If
you make the Final Four and win 31 games you are a terrific basketball
team. I felt incredible for Jeff. He and I embraced on the court. It
is four years through a lot of different things. I couldn't be happier
His performance more importantly for him was part of the journey.
Ten rebounds, 12 points. And really probably three blocked shots,
probably one probably maybe his best defensive games in 10, 15 games.
Q. There is a lot of basketball left to be played this weekend, but
it seems now back to back years that the top seeds are almost
invulnerable after that never happening before. What do you think some
of the reasons are? And are you surprised about it?
COACH CALHOUN: I think there are particular teams we may be a little
bit of exception by the fact we had an injury at a particular point in
time that, as I said before when we went to 24 1 by beating Syracuse
when Jerome went down in that game I thought we were the best team in
the country. We had just come off a great win over Louisville. Bottom
line, we were playing great.
It seems to me that there are probably six or seven teams that could
win the national championship, and I felt that way coming into the
weekend. So I'm not just saying being 1s. I think after that it starts
to separate itself. They either don't have size even though people
aren't going to give Hasheem the credit for some of the things he did
tonight, 13 rebounds, no blocked shots, but his presence causes
And we have that. UConn has that. We got they did a great job of
double teaming, and two teams in a row now who double teamed A.J.
Kemba picked up the ball. Those are the kind of teams. So it seems to
me that we are picking obviously the right ones. The seeds I mean, the
seeds seem to be playing right out as they kind of I think is it a 1 3
that's playing now, Pitt, and this is a 1 3. It just seems to me the
people at the top have become definitively, clearly the people at the
In that range, I don't know I'm not sure that one seed and one
second seed, fifth team, there is much difference of a six I don't
think there is much difference between any of those teams. That's why
I think there is a gap in given years. The one thing I noticed, and
I haven't been through every single team. But I went through enough of
the teams, all the teams are starting seniors. We started three. They
started two or three. That seems to be where you couldn't we went
years where you couldn't because we had so many kids leaving for the
Maybe that's the reason. More kids are developing and that would be
a Craig Austrie, A.J. Price, Hasheem, Jeff Adrien a Hasheem is a third
year player. Normally Hasheem Thabeet now, not then, is gone after his
freshman year because he is 7 foot 3, because it took him time to
develop. I always thought that about the Gray kid; it took him time to
develop at Pittsburgh, and he was a great player by the time he became
I think more kids are staying around. I do believe I would like to
see it longer. The one year rule does work that some kids are exposed
a little bit and don't go out quite as quick and they are juniors and
seniors and are still playing.
Q. Can you describe Kemba Walker's development from the time you
recruited him? And, also, did you have a feeling this could be his
type of game because of style?
COACH CALHOUN: We felt that if he didn't play close to 30 minutes
tonight we were doing a poor job as a team. There isn't many quicker
guards in the United States than him. And we played him 25 minutes,
and he was that spark we needed to break pressure, to try to take them
we actually did take them out of some pressure. Actually we got into
the half court defense and they played much better half court defense
than I had seen them play before.
This is a perfect game for Kemba. When we get to a slow down game,
as his shooting develops, any game will be great for him. But a full
court game, just as he said, he wants that 95 feet. When he gets going
59 feet, you saw him going through two, three people at a time and get
to the rim. He is a pretty special player. It was a perfect game for
For us to get in a Final Eight game to get a team that will run for
Kemba Walker and A.J. and some of the other kids we have, it was a
good matchup for us in many ways even though they are a very, very
good basketball team.
Q. How important even though they made the run at you, how important
was the quick start and what did you see in the first few minutes?
COACH CALHOUN: After I saw what they did I thought that the two
nights ago hit Memphis so hard that they get up by 22 points. I don't
think Memphis was expecting that. They were just so good. It took
Memphis so much time to come back that and I think they used all their
energy up and then Missouri put the game up. I was incredibly
impressed by them obviously.
But we talked early I was talking about a delicate balance before
the game, run and then set up half court and we did some of that. But
in the first five minutes, we were bound and determined we were going
to attack their pressure and go speed for speed with them to try to
get some of the separation early so it wouldn't happen what happened
against Memphis where they could jump on top of you.
Q. Kemba's body get ahead of the ball and he had a turnover and you
looked at him and asked him where he was going
COACH CALHOUN: I didn't get an answer.
Q. Are you pretty confident most of the time where he's going and
when the ball is in his hand? Or is it still a process?
COACH CALHOUN: It is a little bit of a process. But when you ask a
freshman to step up in a Final Eight game and get 23 points and do
things he did, there are going to be times when reverts back. When
they talk about Bronx guards and New York City guards, they are
fearless. At times, 90 percent of the time it is their greatest asset.
It is that 10 percent of the time it becomes lethal for you as his
coach. But I like the 90 percent time, because he certainly gave us so
much and was just a great player today.
Q. Was there a time especially maybe when you were at 17 14 in '06
'07 that you thought maybe you would never get back here?
COACH CALHOUN: Did it cross my mind? Did I leave the season with my
head down a little bit? Yeah. A tad bit. Just like had we made the
right judgments on some of the young kids we had.
I started to realize just how young they were, just by the fact we
thought Josh was coming back, Rudy could have come back. Marcus
Williams could have come back and we lost three other pros. We lose
three pros on a team, it is very difficult. I never thought Josh was
going to come out and Rudy did want to come back. He prematurely said
he was coming. By the time he tried to come back, he couldn't. We were
left to fend with Jeff as our, quote, experienced guy at 16 minutes a
Times during that season, I'm saying but they should be doing these
things. I have been spoiled by Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, by Emeka, by
Hilton, by Josh Boone, Ben Gordon, et cetera. For me personally it was
more difficult maybe even more so than the kids.
Last year's 24 wins and the ten game win streak to me was very
special because it told me that we were back on track. This year's
team, to do what it has done on the road and do what it has done in
good games when they haven't played offensively as well, I really wish
and I don't run out of words. I just run out of really good words to
express to you just how I feel about this team.
I'm very emotional about this team getting to a Final Four, I mean,
really emotional because I think they have been through things where
you're right, maybe at a particular point in time I'm saying "are
these the guys to get us there." One of the guys I thought we needed
to get us there was Jerome Dyson. Yet, if you keep working at things,
good things happen to you.
Q. Free throws, sometimes they go in down the stretch, sometimes
they don't. Tonight they did. Do you ever get a sense whether they
will and what's the reason for them going in sometimes or is it just
one of those things in basketball?
COACH CALHOUN: Over the years except for a couple games, Notre Dame
and a couple other games we shoot about 79 percent in the last three
minutes of games. We shoot a lot of those 9s in a row and you guys are
at practice and see the things we try to do. Generally speaking. Have
we had a couple of games where we haven't made them down the stretch?
Yeah. But it hasn't cost us a basketball game.
The only game I would think of is the six overtime game at Syracuse.
Beyond that, it hasn't cost us a basketball team. We seem to find a
way to win basketball games. Tonight because we couldn't score we made
foul shots. That seems to be the one ingredient that's very difficult
to describe. It is the grit of this team, and it is will to find a
way. Some teams have it. You can describe it. You can talk about it.
But it is there, quite frankly, and it is not there. With this team at
31 4 going to the Final Four, it definitely is there.
Q. You have addressed this before, but here you are again winning in
the state of Arizona. There's is it just coincidence? Is there
anything you can point to? What are your feelings of this area now?
COACH CALHOUN: I'm buying a house. I purchased land yesterday
afternoon that says tentative unless we win today I will come out here
once every five years.
No. For us I'm not sure it didn't exactly work out quite that way,
but I think for the kids it did. As a matter of fact, it probably did
for the kids. I like being out West because we are away from
distractions. It really didn't work out for me personally quite that
well. But John Thompson, who is a dear friend, Sr., as well as his
son, but John said to me and John twice came from the West to go to
the Final Four. One of the times he won it. He said you get your kids
away from all those people who tell them how good they are and all the
people that will put pressure on them about tickets and all that kind
It is a great area. The people have been absolutely fantastic. This
is not like playing at the Meadowlands, trust me. The guys at the
Meadowlands tell you get your stuff in the locker room and move. We
got hockey tonight. This is not I certainly they are going to tear the
Meadowlands down. If they weren't, I wouldn't say that.
My point being the people are incredibly gracious. And really from
our team standpoint, we are away. They're away. Last night we went to
a Mexican restaurant. Two nights ago we went to Chase Field and sat
out in left field and it really is enjoying the experience. Yet, being
focused on what we have to do. Having very little around us to really
detract from the experience.
We did everything humanly possible to keep them busy and to keep
them focused on just one thing, and that's beating Purdue and now
fortunately beating Missouri.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much.
COACH CALHOUN: Thank you. Just quickly, we do love coming out here
and, once again, if they want to send us out here again next year, we
would be more than happy to have it. Thank you.
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