Here’s what Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber had to say after his Wildcats defeated Kentucky, 61-58, in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night:
Opening statement: “You know, it just shows our resilience, our character of our guys. We’ve been through a lot this season, and we’ve been able to keep fighting and battling and making the plays when it matters. They made runs. We got 30 fouls, seemed like everybody on our team was fouled out. We were playing with 6-4 and under, and they’re one of the biggest teams in the country. But we got big rebounds down the stretch, big stops. And obviously Barry’s baskets was huge. Xavier rolls up and played his special -- we needed somebody to be special. I said before, a Mike McGuirl moment, and Xavier had his moment.
“It was huge, not only the points, but nine rebounds and battling bigger guys inside. And then you’ve got to give Dean some credit. Without playing basketball for two weeks, got in there, got four points, busted his butt for us.
“We said we had to fight it out, grind it out, and we did, and now we have a chance to go to the Final Four.
“But it will not be easy because Loyola is a very, very good team. We got to have fun for about 15 minutes tonight, but then we’ve got to get refocused and ready for a chance of a lifetime.”
Bruce, can you just speak to the intensity at the end of the game and the resourcefulness, trying to find a way to win that way? And as a follow-up, did you get to talk to Ernie Barrett in the locker room?
“Actually Ernie came in. He did a hype video for us in only Ernie’s style. It was great when he came in. He hugged everybody, and when he hugs you, you might be hurt after he hugs you. It doesn’t matter, whatever he is, 80, whatever he is, that dude has some strength.
“But it was great for him. I don’t know if he had tears, but it sure looked like it. Obviously, he didn’t get to play against Kentucky years ago, and he called me after we beat UMBC, and he said, Coach, you’ve got to get revenge for me. We had a chance to do that.
“So it was great for that.
“But we have great kids. You know, I’ve said since the beginning, we have a great group. They’re tough. We can yell at them. We can get after them. Barry is the leader. When you have a leader that you can get after, and he doesn’t back down, it helps with everybody. And they respond.
“You know, they -- probably a little bit disrespectful. They came out, but I think more than anything, they just wanted to win, and they knew they had an opportunity and rose up. We always talk about winning games with stops down the stretch, and we got some -- we didn’t get many rebounds, but we got some key rebounds down the stretch.”
Coach, did you have a hard and fast time limit for Dean, or was it just kind of a halftime decision not to put him back in?
“Yeah, we talked about two-minute little windows. We were hoping to keep it at six or seven at halftime, but obviously we had a lot of foul trouble. Dean said he had some soreness at the foot, and our team doctor and trainer just said, if you can go without him and want him on Saturday, you might want to see if we can rest him. And our other guys rose up and made a lot of plays.
“You know, so it was -- but again, I’ve got to give Dean credit. He told you guys he was going to play. He told us he was going to play, and he gave it his all. And that’s without -- he got four points without playing basketball in the last two weeks. I mean, that’s not an easy thing to do.
“A lot of guys showed a lot of character and a lot of courage tonight.”
One of those kind of hustle plays was getting on the floor to get the rebound and call a time-out. Could you speak to that moment?
“Yeah, I told the guys, and I don’t know what our play hard was. One, I said we had to get a lot of steals. We had 13 the other night, and it was a K-State record, and I said, that’s got to be there. We’ve got to take charges. We took a charge. We had to get on the floor and get the loose balls because we weren’t going to get -- we couldn’t out jump them.
“We did early. I thought we were pretty good on the boards early, and as it went on, their length, their athleticism, our foul trouble just kind of took a toll on us, and they just kind of owned the paint.
“But I used a couple different quotes. One was Vince Lombardi about playing to exhaustion and laying on the floor victorious, and I hope they took that to heart. But the other one was about doing all the little things added up. That’s how you get a victory. Not by one thing or this thing, but all the little things that add up.
“You always hear Coach Knight talk about that, the discipline and the little things that make a difference. I think that kind of play is a difference maker for us because that allowed Barry to get the go-ahead basket.”
You chose not to foul up 3 late. I have to imagine it’s because you’re playing five guards against --
“First we said, Barry, we missed the opportunity against TCU. Barry said, we’re going to foul, Coach. And then we all talked about it as a staff, and we just said, hey, we’re all guards, man up, make them take a tough shot. We didn’t want to give them a chance to get a rebound. I don’t know, how many offensive rebounds did they get on free throws? It seemed like every one. They missed a bunch, but they got offensive rebounds on those free throws.
“We gave it a shot. I think we were running a squeeze and then trying to run Gabriel around. They kind of used Knox as a decoy. Our guys switched, switched, switched and Alexander was the one who shot at the end. He only had a tough shot at the end. I thought that was going in. I could have died if that would have happened. But we got the bounce and we made the shot at the end and made the plays that make a difference.”
Can you speak to the courage it took your team to overcome what they faced tonight?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s just -- they’re a resilient group. You know, and again, the leadership Barry -- and we just kept saying, grind, grind, grind, keep fighting. Don’t leave anything out on the court.
“You know, one, we believed we could win going into it, and we had talked about winning that first five-minute media time-out. I didn’t know we were going to go up, whatever it was, 13-1 or whatever the score was. And we said we wanted to be pests like UMBC was to Virginia and they were to us, and I think we were. I’m not sure they were ready for it. We got after them and got a nice lead.
“And then obviously the second half, the run where we got those steals where we didn’t finish one fast break against UMBC. Other than Xavier’s dunk, we made unbelievable plays and passes off those steals, Kam to Barry, and I think somebody to Mike McGuirl, maybe it was, and a lot of big plays that made a difference.
“We really wanted to clog the lane and get a lot of deflections. I’ll be interested to see if we -- I challenged them to get 40, but we’ll see if we were close to that because those things are the difference makers.”