North Carolina Coach Roy Williams and a few of his players took questions from reporters at the NCAA Tournament site in Memphis on Sunday, following the Tar Heels’ 75-73 victory over Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Here’s what they had to say:
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, it’s a fantastic feeling right now. Second half we got off to a bad start, turned it over a couple times, they made shots, and all of a sudden they tie the score, and we make two or three shots and get back up. And then it was hit or miss all the way down the stretch, and then all of a sudden we’re five down. And we had the timeout and I told them the same thing it was against Arkansas. I told them at that time it was going to be good for us, and I felt like it would be good for us today. What we had to do is we had to play. Got to get a great shot. Theo (Pinson) made a tough shot, a runner on the baseline, far across from our bench, and then Justin (Jackson) made a tough one, and believe it or not, we went zone, just tried to see if we could give them a different look. They were getting too much dribble penetration, and two or three possessions, and they didn’t score, and we make some good plays.
Luke Maye was sensational in making baskets for us, made the big pass down court to Justin for the layup. Theo made some big free throws, Luke made some big free throws, and we’re still sitting here.
They scored it, tied, we always say if it’s more than six seconds attack, we’re going to attack, we’re not going to call a timeout. It was 7.2, I think, when they scored and I was just screaming go, go, go. And Theo goes down the court and finds Luke, and Luke made a big-time shot. We played them twice this year, and it went down to the last few seconds both times. One of them was a scoring offensive game. Today was an ugly game, but we made enough shots at the end.
Feel great for these kids, and didn’t know anything about this water routine in the locker room, so right now I’m soaking wet, but it’s the best dad-gum bath I’ve ever had with my clothes on.
Q. Luke, you just walk us through that final play and what your mindset was as you were setting up for the shot.
LUKE MAYE: Yeah, they made a big three. (Malik) Monk hit it over my hand, and then Theo just drove down court and kind of was penetrating toward the basket and kind of picked my man a little bit. And I just kind of stepped back and he gave me the ball, and I just shot it, and luckily it went in. It was a great feeling. I thank my teammates so much and my coach for putting me in that situation. Just very blessed to have this opportunity.
Q. Kennedy (Meeks) and Justin, can you talk about the game plan to make things difficult for Bam (Adebayo)? And then did you expect for Isaac Humphries to play the way he did even though you all were so effective on Bam?
KENNEDY MEEKS: I feel like our main objective coming into the game was to play them straight up, wall when you got the ball inside, and try to do our best job of boxing him out because he is a strong guy and does a tremendous job of hitting the boards. As the big man, I think we did a tremendous job of executing that game plan. We did a great job of running down the floor like Coach asked us to do, posting up, setting screens for our teammates to get them open. And for Humphries, he’s a great shooter; he definitely -- you could tell he works on his shot all the time, and he hit some big-time shots for them to go up.
Not taking anything away from them, but I think we did a great job of execution and being a great defensive team.
JUSTIN JACKSON: I mean, I never really guarded him, but Humphries, he hit some big shots whenever they went on that run. Hats off to Kentucky. That’s a great team with a lot of young guys, and for them to be in that scenario against a team like us that’s a little more mature, hats off to them. But I love these guys. You know, I wouldn’t trade this coaching staff, these knuckleheads of brothers that I’ve got, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Q. Justin, Twitter went on fire when you were talking to Malik, like literally everyone is saying they haven’t seen you so aggressive. What do you say to that, and I’m sure when you get back, they’re going to talk about it, you being so aggressive on the court.
JUSTIN JACKSON: Just a little friendly banter. You know, Malik is a great player. And for me, I was assigned the duty of trying to slow him down a little bit, and so you can get fired up a little bit. That’s rare for me, but at this stage and at this point of the season, I feel like there’s really nothing that you should keep in.
Q. Did you take it as a personal challenge when you scored 47 against you guys last game to not let him take over the game this year, this game?
JUSTIN JACKSON: You know, for me, I knew he’s a great player, so I tried to slow him down and limit his touches as much. I’m sure when the coaches go back and look at film, there’s going to be a lot of bad defenses of no helping. But for me, I just tried to limit his touches as much as possible because once you let him get it going a little bit, it’s hard to stop him.
You know, for me, that’s all I was really trying to do, and like I said before, there was no reason to try to keep anything in, so I just tried to stay on him as much as possible.
Q. Justin, when you two were cutting down the nets, you were telling Luke, where were you at when we were struggling? And you also said that without struggle there is no success. Tell us what you meant by that and saying that to Luke at that time.
JUSTIN JACKSON: Yeah, I didn’t know y’all were -- man. But yeah, Luke was in there a whole lot with me over the summer. Any time -- there were some days we with go in there and felt like we couldn’t throw it in the ocean, and we would always say, there’s no success without struggle.
For us, that’s what kept us going over the summer, and I think Luke is a testament of that. I don’t think Luke has put together two games like this all season, and it just shows, with hard work you can continue to play and you can be a great player. That’s kind of what the background of that is, and I’m happy for this guy.
Q. Roy, I know you said yesterday that last year wasn’t what was driving these guys, but obviously they are a group to text some of the things they said. How much does it mean to you to get back and have a chance to finish what they couldn’t do last year?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, last year was a heartbreaker to say the least. And to have someone like Marcus make that kind of shot, I even told Michael Jordan after the game, I said, if we’d have gotten it into overtime, your shot to beat Georgetown would not have been the most famous shot in basketball history at North Carolina any longer. So it was a heartbreaking thing, but you have to congratulate Villanova. They made a big time play, and it doesn’t help your hurt any.
And I did try to challenge the kids in the locker room that night to later in the next couple of weeks -- Isaiah Hicks tried to take blame for the shot, and it wasn’t even his man that he was trying to help somebody else guard. One of the few times, maybe the only time, I’ve ever had a post-season press conference like that, but I did it because Isaiah was taking the blame. That just tells you the kind of kids that I have.
As coaches, we’re really lucky a lot. I was lucky to have the group that I had last year, and it hurt a great deal. I still have never watched the game; probably never will watch the game. So I wanted them to get back because so many of these guys played in that game, and you may have heard me say before, the most inadequate feeling I’ve ever had as a coach was what to say to my kids in the locker room that night.
So for those reasons, yes, but it’s not just redemption. I had a neat thing because Marcus Paige Face-Timed Eric Hoots, and so I yelled at Marcus a little bit off the court there, and he was so happy for us. But I’m really happy for this team and the work that they’ve put in, the toughness that they’ve shown, and they’re just -- they’re wonderful kids.
Q. When you’re down 64-59, what was the attitude of the guys on the bench there trying to fight back?
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, at the time-out I didn’t like the look on their face, so I started yelling at them, but I was trying to yell positive messages. Last week, I said in the Arkansas game, we were down five and this is going to help us because we’re going to come back and let’s get the best shot we can and then try to guard and then get the best shot we can and try to get a defensive stop. I said, it worked out. We’ve got the same situation. You have shown that you can do this. So I tried to be really positive with them at that point.
They reacted admirably to say the least. Theo made a tough shot and then Justin really made a tough shot. But with that we got two straight stops on the other end and then Theo goes to the free-throw line and makes two big free throws. So they made some plays, but at that time-out, I didn’t necessarily like the look on their face at that time, no.
Q. Cal said he felt fortunate that his team was only down five going into the locker room with the foul trouble and limited minutes. Do you think your team left a lot of points on the board in the first half and that maybe you should have been up more?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yeah, but it doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t make any difference. I jumped them a little bit at halftime because I said in the stretch there we took two bad shots, turned it over three times, and we missed four or five free throws, and Kentucky is pretty doggone good. So we allowed them to get back in the game closer. But they were going to be there. I mean, they’re tough kids. John does a great job. They’re tough kids. So we knew they were going to be there. We weren’t going to just run away and hide from them, and why did we turn it over? Because they played harder. Why did we miss shots? Because they were better defensively.
I don’t coach John’s team by any means, but when he took De’Aaron (Fox) out and Malik out with the fouls, the people they put in were better defensive players. And I’m not trying to cut down De’Aaron or Malik or anything, but those kids stole the ball from us a couple of times. They were more aggressive. I shouldn’t say better defensive players. The group they had in there were more aggressive defensively during that stretch. So they caused us to do that. But it’s part of the game. I’ve never felt like that one four-minute stretch was going to win or lose the game.
Q. The stretch that Stilman (White) played in the first half, was that because Joel was in the locker room, or did you plan on playing him today, and how important was that couple of minutes?
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, if he hadn’t dropped the ball out of bounds there, he would have had a great time during that couple of minutes.
But Joel — let’s talk about Joel Berry a little bit. Guys, he played 33 minutes. Last week he sprained his ankle. We didn’t say anything about it; yesterday at practice, he sprained his ankle again. It was the longest 10 minutes I’ve ever in practice when he went off the court with our trainer. I walked back there one time and then came back out, and what did he do early in the game today? He sprained his other ankle. To play 33 minutes with that toughness, and he can really shoot the ball. So he’s 0 for 5 because he couldn’t push off there, so he kept driving the ball to the basket and making tough shots.
But yeah, when Joel went out and Seventh went in, Seventh had a nice assist, but he made two fouls in one minute, and I don’t like to play anybody that quickly as soon as they make a second foul. So we’ve talked because Stillman, we have more confidence in Stillman than probably the typical fan thinks, and he got in there and did a nice job.
Q. On that last game-winner, even though you didn’t call a time-out, was that a designed play by your team, or was that something that you allowed your team to go with what the defense gave you?
ROY WILLIAMS: A little bit of both. As I said earlier, if it’s six seconds or more, we try to push. If it’s five seconds or less, we’ll call a time-out. I had a time-out left, but I like to try to score in the open court, and we practice that way every day. Believe it or not, we have practices where we play with a 15-second shot clock because I want them to push the ball hard enough to get a great shot in 15 seconds, not just throw it up.
We’ve won a few games like that. I’ve been around a long time, and we do try to push, and Theo made a heck of a play. I was really glad the ball went to him because I didn’t know how hard Joel would be able to push.
Q. You mentioned Joel; was there anyway he wasn’t coming back into the game today, and what is his prognosis for the next couple days?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yes, there was a way because if Doug had said, he’s done, he was going to be done. But I didn’t think that Joel was going to let that happen. I didn’t talk to him when I took him out and sent him to Doug. I didn’t talk to him at all to see what it was, and then Doug came back and said he’s OK and that he wanted to try it. I watched him as closely as I could possibly watch, and it looked like he was moving OK.
Where it really affected him was planting his feet and going up to shoot the ball. I thought he was OK and tried to give him one break around the five-minute mark. I think I got him right back in. But I’ve said it affectionately and not any kind of criticism, he’s a little tough nut. He’s out there with both feet not feeling really good. Even when we got on the court and they were jumping around and then when they were doing the alma mater and everybody was stomping their feet, the two of us were standing beside each other. I said I’m not stomping. He said, I’m not, either. He’s got two bad ankles; I’ve got two bad knees.
Q. Has it sunk in that you guys just won a regional on something like the same play you just lost the national championship on last year?
ROY WILLIAMS: One of the kids said something about that as we were going to the locker room. But he also said something about Kentucky because Malik made that big three when we played Kentucky in Vegas earlier. Same scenario, you think about this. In the Kentucky game, we missed a free throw, and Malik goes down and makes a big one. And we miss the free throw tonight, and they go down and make one another, but we still have time ourselves to get a shot off.
One of the kids said something about it, and at first I thought he was talking about the national championship game, and then I started thinking, I didn’t know which one he was talking about. And it was one of those great southern expressions, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a... I didn’t care what he was talking about.