COACH JOHN CALIPARI
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student‑athletes, Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Alex Poythress, and Dakari Johnson.
COACH CALIPARI: Another good game.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take our first question for the student‑athletes.
Q. Aaron, can you tell us what Josh Gasser did to make it a difficult night offensively for you, what he did defensively to make it a difficult night, and why you still were confident enough after an unproductive night to take that big shot?
AARON HARRISON: Well, I think they're a great team so they just played great team defense. They watched a lot of film, just like we did and they were just prepared.
Q. Why were you still confident to take the shot?
AARON HARRISON: I think because coach said he wanted me to take the shot and I think that gave me a lot of confidence. I know my teammates had confidence in me, so I just fed off that, really.
Q. Aaron, were you giving up that ball at all?
AARON HARRISON: No, I don't think so. If someone was open, yeah, of course. Yeah, I would have. If they were open. Yeah.
Q. For Aaron, Coach Calipari mentioned that you've been bailing Andrew out throughout his career Crockett Middle School, Travis High School, just talk about the ability of you guys being able to seemingly play seamlessly. Even when one person is down, you bring the other person up and make that big shot. He missed a shot that could have been the game winner earlier, maybe about 20 seconds earlier.
AARON HARRISON: I really don't know. We have been playing together our whole lives and sometimes I have a bad game and he helps me. Sometimes he has a bad game and I help him. So it doesn't really matter. It's not one‑sided, really, so...
Q. Aaron, the Wisconsin guys said that you have a clutch gene. I'm wondering what you think of that and what you think about making the big shot three games in a row.
AARON HARRISON: I don't know about the clutch gene thing. I just like winning. If to hit that shot, if that's what I have to do to win, that's what I have to do. If it was a rebound or something else, I had to do to win a game, that's what I would try to do for my team.
Q. Aaron, very few people get an opportunity to hit a last second shot to get into the national title game, what's that sensation like, what's that feeling like?
AARON HARRISON: I'm just happy for my teammates. I was happy because they were so excited and I know they were excited for me and I'm just happy that we won.
Q. My question's for any of the guys, which is, late in the second half when Andrew put up that lob for Alex, you guys were standing around watching it, and I was wondering were any of you guys thinking, Oh, man, that looks like it's a little bit high or you thought, Oh, yeah, Alex can get to that?
JULIUS RANDLE: I didn't think it was too high. We have seen Alex do some freak things in practice and there was no way he wasn't getting that ball.
Q. For James, Alex, and Dakari, when you guys were making a run, all three of you really seemed to be a play a catalyst in a part of the run, not normally the big stars on the team. What were you guys able to do to stay motivated and help your team really get back in the game?
DAKARI JOHNSON: Just that drive just to win. Anyway we can contribute to our team, whether it's rebounding, scoring, playing defense, I think all three of us want to do that, just to contribute.
ALEX POYTHRESS: Just thinking about your teammates out there. We need to start a run, just think about your brothers that have just been through all the hardships with you, been through all the tribulations, everything, just think about them.
JAMES YOUNG: I was just trying to bring a lot of energy to the defensive end, just slapping the ground and clapping and just trying to really pick us up.
Q. Cal, you have a super power, you called him out as the guy to watch in the last game and now Alex has done that. Is that as much as anything planting a positive seed in these guys' minds, I believe in you and you can go be the guy?
COACH CALIPARI: They know I believe in them. Aaron knows. You said about you're normally not the star, but if you watched us, we got a bunch of stars on this team. James Young has had 25‑point games, which I'll make a prediction he'll have in this Monday night game.
You listening to me? I'm putting a positive seed in your mind right now.
But these kids have been resilient. I didn't think Julius and Drew played to the level they have been playing. But these other guys stepped up and they played. Marcus Lee played, and in the first half Jarrod Polson and Dominique saved us.
We played seven freshmen, folks. We played seven freshmen. They're all performing in that stage, under those lights, which is an amazing story.
Q. Alex, TV showing that you might have got hurt in the post‑game celebration. Did you get hurt at all on the court?
ALEX POYTHRESS: No, I just got caught on the bottom of the dog pile, but I'll be fine.
Q. What you thought the atmosphere was like playing in your hometown and do you feel any sense of attainment at this point?
JULIUS RANDLE: No, I'm definitely not satisfied. We have one more game to go. We have been through a lot this year and we deserve to reward ourselves and go out there and play hard and give it all we got. So definitely not satisfied.
Playing in my hometown, that really doesn't mean anything. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy. Coach told us to go out there and just soak it in at first, and then just worry about what's going on on the court. So it was crazy and it was fun.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll excuse you to the locker room and take questions for coach.
Q. You told me before the SEC championship you didn't care what Willie said about wanting to face the Gators, that was the last team you wanted to face. How happy are you that you don't have to face them for the fourth time this season.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I would have liked them and us to have been in the finals for the SEC, like the league that had a down year. But to play them a fourth time? I'm not sure if that team has ever lost.
But I wasn't thinking about Florida or Connecticut. I didn't watch any of the game. I was in there in the back getting myself ready to coach against an unbelievable Wisconsin team.
So when you're playing this late in the year, you truly now don't care who you play. It's just let's keep playing. We got 40 more minutes to play basketball.
There's two teams standing and we're one of them. What? That's crazy.
Q. You did not call timeout as you were down two, so why not? When did you tell Aaron that you wanted him to take the shot, and I know this is a long question, but did you, when he ‑‑
COACH CALIPARI: I can't remember more than one, so which one do you want me to answer?
Q. All right. Why did you not call timeout?
COACH CALIPARI: You watched me coach for how long? You know I never call a timeout there. I want the kids to win the game. I don't need to be a hero.
I don't want to get Bo involved in this. I know how good a coach he is. We had called what we were going to do in the huddle when they were going to shoot the three free throws. So we knew what we were going to do.
Then I called Andrew over when he missed the shot and I said, Andrew, if you can get a layup or get it to Dakari, do that; if not, you got your brother.
When we huddled, I said, We're going at Aaron, boys, anybody got a problem with that?
Now, he wasn't open. It went to Dakari. Dakari threw it to his brother, his brother was smart enough to say, I'm going to give it to you. It was NBA three. I saw it on the TV after. It was a NBA three contested and he made it. It's crazy that he does it.
So what was the other one then?
Q. The other question was when he was backed up at that spot at 23, 24 feet, were you thinking, do it? Were you thinking go ahead shoot it?
COACH CALIPARI: I trust those kids. Now, there's a point that they weren't listening because we were taking jump shots we didn't want to take. We wanted to drive the ball. We were settling for shots we didn't need to.
But I trust them. See, guys that make game winners are not afraid to miss them, and he's not afraid to miss. If he misses, give me another one. I'll make another one. The best players I've had that played that way and can make those kind of plays, they have amnesia from play to play.
Q. Alex Poythress gave you some big minutes tonight and he's 13 or 17 in the tournament. What's been the biggest difference for him down the stretch here?
COACH CALIPARI: I think one, Marcus Lee kind of woke him up. Like if Marcus Lee can do that, I can do that. Everyone on this team is waiting for him to break out like he did and like he is now.
He's in the best shape of his life. Mentally, he's in a great place mentally. He's playing fearless and he's just almost reckless, which is great for him because of his athleticism.
I texted him before because I had a bunch of my friends say he's going to have a big game. I texted him, This is what they're saying, man, I love you.
He said, I love you, coach, let's go have some fun.
And he went out there and played great.
Q. We've seen you do it a bunch of times, but Wisconsin hits a three on the first possession of the second half and you immediately take a timeout. You go on a 15‑0 run. What did you tell them in that timeout?
COACH CALIPARI: I can't tell you. Basically they didn't listen to me at halftime. The first play the guy takes a bad shot, and then we leave and give up a three. I just said, Was anybody even paying attention to anything I said at halftime?
And that's like, Come on, now, we're going to have to fight and play and be concentrating and focused. This team, we started the game and I think a couple of the guys started anxious. Alex lost himself in the game. Aaron lost himself in the game. Dakari and Marcus Lee lost themselves in the game. Dominic lost himself in the game. I didn't think Andrew and Julius did.
You can't make this game bigger than it is. It's a basketball game. Keep your eyes on the lines and just play and do what you do. You have to lose yourself in the team and you have to lose yourself in the game.
Again, we have gotten better every game we played. If you look at our offensive numbers, Coach Thompson the Hall‑of‑Famer, guy that I respect immensely said to me, How did your young players play that offense that well, like play them defensively that well?
We broke down about four times, but the rest of the time we guarded them pretty good. That's a tough, tough offense to guard.
Q. You talk about how the guys don't listen sometimes. They don't do what the game plan is, you got to remind them. This tournament run, you've got five close victories, the last four or five points or less. Why are they able to listen and do exactly what they need to do in the last two, five minutes of a game?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, there's two parts of this. One, when we get down 10, it's amazing how we play. We're not real good up 10. But for some reason, down 10, they grow hair on their neck. And all of a sudden they're like, Who are these guys?
Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win, and part of that has come from how they have been treated all season. They have been ridiculed, criticized.
And, again, there's constructive criticism and then there's destructive criticism. They got that kind, again, questioning their attitudes. Are they good people? Are they selfish? I mean, they were absolutely mauled. I think it made them stronger and it made them come together.
But I'll tell you, late in the game they want to win. Different guys are making plays. Then you got Aaron, the assassin, making the shot that is the dagger shot.
But they're all making plays.
Q. Along those same lines, you talked about the hip replacement surgery and all that. How much has this team aged you with these last five games?
COACH CALIPARI: The hip's getting me more than the team. You don't get a lot of sleep. If anybody's had a hip stuff going on, you know that sleep is the tough thing.
No, I'm fine.
Let me just explain: I can get through Monday, to Tuesday. I know I can do that. So I'm fine.
Q. I think a lot people felt that Frank Kaminsky was the toughest matchup left in the tournament, especially with not having Cauley‑Stein. Can you talk about your strategy, what worked and really what limited him? He only took seven shots.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, one, I thought Dakari could play him some. Dakari could put that big body on him a little bit. Then we wanted to play all kinds of different people on him. We wanted Alex to guard him some, we wanted Julius to guard him some. I was going to put in Derek Willis because I woke up in the morning and dreamt that I put him in the game, and he played well. When that happens to me, I always play that guy.
I didn't do it, but I was going to. The whole idea was, Let's play a lot of people.
We also were going to switch in pick‑and‑rolls and see how they could take advantage of our guard sitting on them a little bit. Let's just say this now, they did everything they were supposed to do to win the game and we make a ridiculous shot. The last shot they have, just happens to miss. If it banks in, they win.
No genius on this side of the table. I mean, we hung on. So did Wisconsin. It was a heck of a game. It was a heck of a game.
He's a terrific player. The guy that killed us, and we were getting on our guys, where is my man? Was it Dekker? Yeah, Dekker was the one that was killing us, rebounding and making free throws. We were fouling him. He was the one that I thought hurt us.
That's why we were getting on Julius, You got to defend and rebound, man. That's the guy you're guarding.
And, again, I expect this next game to be the same kind of war we have just been through. We have been through, from LSU, unbelievable team, to Georgia, unbelievable team, to Florida. You know how good they are. Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin, and now we got Connecticut. It's nuts.
And we're still standing, which is great.