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2009 NCAA Sweet 16 Post Game Transcript: Connecticut (March 26, 2009)

Thursday, March 26, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 10:59 PM, under , , ,

Athens, GA (Mar 26, 2009) - In Sweet Sixteen action from the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament on Thursday, UConn beat Purdue 72-60. This is the transcript of the University of Connecticut post-game press conference as provided by the NCAA and ASAP Sports.

THE MODERATOR: While we are waiting for Coach Calhoun, we will go
ahead with the UConn student athletes. Questions, please.

Q. You got off to that 8-0 and then 14-3 lead. In retrospect as you
look back on the game, how important as that for you to come out and
establish the way you did?

A.J. PRICE: I think it was very important that we came out and
wanted to show what type of team we were, get off to the same kind of
start we got off in the previous two games and we did that.

We knew they were a tough team. We told ourselves all week if we got
ourselves out to a good run, they were going to come back. They are a
very game team, tough team. They proved that time and time again.
Every time we made a run, they seemed to cut it back to four, two,
something like that. A lot of credit to them.

Q. Can you just talk about the turnaround defensively on Hummel. It
seemed like he obviously did most of his damage in the first half.

HASHEEM THABEET: He was effective in the first half. And second half
we huddled up the whole team and we said we got to find a way to stop
him. And the guys was talking when you play great defense like that,
we stay together five as one, we can play great defense.

And today in the second half, we did that. It was really tough. They
got a lot of shooters, moved the ball pretty well. We tried to stay
and play defense. When we play great defense, that's how our offense
gets going.

Q. A.J., it was 44-40 midway through the second half. You looked
like you just took over, really made some tough shots. Can you talk
about that spurt and maybe your mind set.

A.J. PRICE: The whole game I felt like I was getting to the spots
that I wanted to get to. But I just wasn't able to finish. And I kept
telling myself, stay with it, at some point I will finish the shot,
finish the play off and I will make a big basket.

Around that time it started to happen for me. I made two or three
tough little floaters in the lane, and it was just being persistent
and staying with it.

Q. How important was this game for Craig? He hit a couple of shots
early and seemed to find his range. He hasn't been in a rhythm like
that for a while.

A.J. PRICE: It was huge. He got his confidence back tonight, I could
tell. I love to see Craig Austrie smiling. Tonight he brought that
smile out. He made huge 3 pointers in the second half. He was big on
the defensive end the whole game. Made clutch free throws down the
stretch.

I think this was one of his best all around games he played all
season. Hopefully he can bring it again for us on Saturday.

Q. Second half it seemed like you were more assertive at the start.
Did you come out with that in mind or did the game just open up that
way for you?

HASHEEM THABEET: My guys in the locker room just told me the first
half you didn't have good performance. You go back out in the second
half and play your game. They know I'm capable of doing a lot of
stuff. Today second half they told me to go back there and do what you
do all season long.

Again, all the credit goes to my guys. They really helped me.

Q. You have been mentioned with everything surrounding the team that
you do what you do best which is play basketball. How did it feel to
be back out on the court? And then obviously you guys were started off
well and then a little sluggish before getting together again.

A.J. PRICE: Felt great to get out there on the court and play
basketball. Like I have been saying all week, that's what we know how
to do, that's what we focus on and that's what we do best.

We came out here and played as hard as we can and we played a great
team today. I really do believe that. They are a very tough team. They
wouldn't go away by any stretch of the imagination. We tried to put
them away three, four, five different times, and every time they came
back.

But we stayed with it and we were able to keep that lead. We
prevailed today.

THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Calhoun for a few opening remarks and
then questions.

COACH CALHOUN: Obviously I'm not upset. Sometimes you are supposed
to be upset about things, and I'm more than happy about the way our
team played.

I thought that what we said Purdue would do after watching them and
what Matt Painter has done with that basketball team, they are not
going away, fellows. No matter what we do to them, we are going to
have to eventually get that stake and put it in their heart, and I'm
not even sure then they will go away. And quite frankly they didn't.

It took a magnificent performance by Craig Austrie, and then in my
opinion we talked about it at halftime having Hasheem just took the
game over. He had four blocked shots. He also had a lot of drive in,
not a good idea, drive out. So that made it very good for us.

I thought A.J., Stanley, once again, has evolved into that role as
our third scorer and rebounder. And the job he did on Hummel who I
have incredible respect for, what an incredible player he is. In the
first half he lit us up big time. In the second half I believe we held
him to two points, a layup late. Just a magnificent defensive job.

I thought they did a great job on A.J. Price. They doubled the ball
all the time. They did a terrific, terrific job of jumping on him. And
he fought his way through it and made some big key hoops when they
kept threatening down the stretch. We were then able to use the clock,
dominate on the backboard and, once again, allow Hasheem to really
control in my opinion the second half of the game.

But the good sign and I know this time of year it is getting to be a
shot season, but nevertheless, that Craig steps up when Jeff doesn't
have a good game, when Stanley steps up, when other people can do the
job. Obviously I told them all we're playing for, fellows, is to play
Saturday. That's all we're playing for. The opportunity to play
Saturday, which is now you are playing for something even more
special. And the kids came through great. I couldn't be prouder and
happier of them.

I told them, it is really true when I said it to them, we are
playing Saturday in the Regional Finals. I get goose bumps and I did.
And there is no there is only one or two better feelings. That usually
involves a Monday night. So it was really pretty special stuff for us,
and I couldn't be happier with our kids. I thought we played well.

I heard A.J. saying what Matt has done with that team, and they got
some young players and Johnson will be a terrific player I love
Hummel. He really gets them to play at a level of intensity that very
few teams ever can play at. He gets them to run their offense at a
speed I will be very honest with you. We have played some awfully good
teams. Nobody ran their offense at the speed they ran their offense
and made it very difficult for us at particular points in time to stay
with them. That's why they kept coming back.

It was a terrific performance by our kids. I thought a really good
performance by Purdue who, quite frankly, ran to one of the best
players in America in Hasheem Thabeet. Beyond that, the game might
have been different if we had just a, quote, regular center.

Q. Can you talk about the defensive switch at halftime, putting
Sticks on Hummel, what went into the original thinking and then the
switch?

COACH CALHOUN: We had the idea of three different people: Craig, his
eye on the ball; Jeff, because of his length, Jeff has a 7 foot 2
reach, to play him; and then Sticks. We fear now even more so and it
hasn't happened to him too much Stanley getting in foul trouble.

So instead of going you want the first option or Stanley? But they
usually count what happens not in the heart but at the end of the
game. Therefore we made sure if he was, quote, what we thought could
be our ace guard, we didn't know it was going to be, we went to him in
the second half. That's really what it was.

As we sat around thinking we knew we were going to play Purdue after
we beat Texas A&M, it certainly was Stanley, our first choice. We know
Hummel can lift fake. He moves so much. And I didn't want to get
Stanley involved for both defensive and offensive reasons.

Q. Jim, there was Robinson being lost in the last semester and then
there was Dyson being lost now for late in the season and now the
events of the last couple days. Did we learn something about the way
that UConn responds to adversity here?

COACH CALHOUN: I hope so. I think I said and it took me a couple
days. I can understand why people might have criticized or not
criticized after the game that I just thought it was a loss and I had
a chance to put it in perspective. Just how much as I said before, how
much admiration I had for the athletic, because it is an overused
word, the athletic courage of both teams.

So I think we showed incredible grit in that game. We showed
incredible grit going back to Gonzaga. But without a couple pieces, a
team that was emerging, not necessarily being less but being
different. Yeah, the kids the kids responded the way some of our teams
did.

I remember being down in a Final Eight game to Gonzaga with Khalid
El Amin on the bench and we found a way to get ourselves to St. Pete
to win our first national championship.

They truly have won 30 games, they truly a form of legacy at UConn,
won 101 games. As I told you all along, this has been a special group.

Q. Hasheem was up here telling us that at halftime some of his
teammates were telling him to take over and assert himself. Were you
telling him the same thing?

COACH CALHOUN: The NCAA gives you the 20 minutes. And the first five
we leave for them. I will tell you this, I just thought of it because
you brought the question up, we are in the coaches' room. To be very
frank and honest with you, there was more talk at halftime than there
was obviously in the previous two games or probably any other game
where we give them the three or four minutes with each other.

Today for that five or six minutes, a little bit longer, there was
an awful lot of talk in our locker room. I think that's good because
they believe in each other. They have been together, this group A.J.,
five years with us. Craig and Jeffrey, four years. Hasheem, three
years. They can share things that a lot of teammates can't because
they aren't sensitive. They have an affinity towards each other.

Obviously since we lost that game, we bounced back pretty well.

Q. Craig hasn't shot that well. Does it do you feel good for him
that he is able to hit it in this big stage?

COACH CALHOUN: You heard me say before I called him in about
starting him and all that stuff and I believe in him and I've always
believed in Craig Austrie. He has also always been our Papelbon. For
those of you that do or do not love the Red Sox, tough. I love
Papelbon. He is your closer. Without question, he has that ability for
us, particularly last year. And this year there was something at times
missing.

When we really needed him, he was there. He has always been there
for us. And he has really, really been there for us in the NCAA
tournament, no question, defensively and offensively. I couldn't feel
better than I do than for Craig Austrie. He has the biggest smile. I
heard A.J. say that, too. Craig doesn't give you a lot of smiles. I
don't care if he smiles because he gave us a great game. For him to
step up and make some of those big shots, play great defense, he was
very good special for us.

Q. You hit on this but can you talk about early in the second half
they got it to within three, I think. And then Thabeet made six or
seven plays. Made a block every rebound, got some layups, a dunk and
it just seemed like it wasn't going to happen for Purdue after that.
Can you talk about that sequence.

COACH CALHOUN: I agree 100 percent with that. We have been on him a
little bit. In the first two games he didn't necessarily have to
because of the situation, take the game over. He ran out of time a
little bit and got in foul trouble in the six overtime game.

And the second half of the Pitt game he didn't score even though, he
had 14, 15 points and 12, 13 rebounds. He needed to take the game
over. I have been telling him that. You are a great player, an All
American and you have to play like an All American. He has played for
us well, but you are right, today he was special and he made the lane
a place nobody wanted to go and conversely scoring at the other end.

I think we were up by four and we had three seconds left on the shot
clock and Kemba makes a great pass and he turns and makes that jump
hook shot and gives us plus six or seven and gave us some breathing
room.

I have one thing to say. At 7:00 this morning, I talked to Jeff
Hathaway for a half hour, had what I thought was a very fruitful
conversation up in Boston. That's all I'm going to say. I thought we
had a very fruitful conversation.

And he said go get Purdue. I said fine. It lasted about a half hour.
And as I said, we are continuing to do the things on the outside we
need to do. My job today was to come and coach our basketball team,
and the kids took care of that. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.


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