“We had two good wins. Feel good about that. Comically or with a little humor, the worst thing you can say about playing Sunday night at 8:00 is the next day is Monday morning. We talked about the Sunday night games not being what we enjoy in the least bit. It was a good week for us, and now we have two other top teams in the league this week, so it's a big-time week coming up.”
Coach, I've noticed a trend in your team. You've won 15 out of your last 17 games, which is remarkable. In that span, you've had three five-game winning streaks. First broken against Georgia Tech, second at Duke. You travel to Florida State for a tough one. How do you prevent that five-game winning streak from blocking that trend?
”How do I prevent it?”
”Score more points than they do (laughter). That's a big reach right there. I haven't thought about it like that.
”It's tough to have any kind of winning streaks at all when you're playing people on their home court, good teams like we have in the ACC. You feel fortunate to have a two-game winning streak. If you get a third, that's great. A fourth is great. If you get a fifth, that's great, too. You have to play everybody. You have to play all the games. I don't get concerned about a magic number of five being the maximum number we can win. The easiest way to prevent it - that was your question - is to score more points than they do.”
This is the week of Duke at home. How do you prevent such a young team from looking ahead to Duke on Saturday?
”I think that will be all it takes is because we know we have a big challenge at Florida State. This team is immature as all get-out about some things. But they've really been pretty focused on just playing the next game. They're funny, they're humorous, comical. They are immature, but they have done a good job of that. I'll congratulate them for it. I'll just say one thing and then we'll go on.”
Coach, did you really think that this team, that it was possible two months ago, this team would be 12-2 in league play with a chance to win the regular-season title?
”You have heard me say it so many times: I never look down and try to decide what our record can be. I'm trying to focus on right now, what we can do right now. I used to have a saying: The more you look down the road, before you know it, that's where you're going, going home down the road because you didn't play today's game.
”That really is the way I focus. I have never looked down and said, We have to win this one, this one will be easy, this one is on the road. I don't try to predict what we had.
”I said in the pre-season, I've been consistent with it, I thought our team would get better and better and better as the season went along. When we were 4-3, 5-4, I kept telling people, It's no time to panic. The teams that beat us were pretty doggone good teams. Minnesota beat us. That was before they lost their point guard. They have struggled recently, five out of six or six out of seven losses since they lost since they lost their point guard.
”But when Minnesota beat us, they should have beaten us. They had more returning players who came off of a better year. They were ranked. Vanderbilt, the same thing. I never know what the line is. I would have expected Vanderbilt, with more returning players. Same thing at Illinois. They had more returning players playing at home.
”I never got depressed, ready to jump off the top of the building then. I've been pretty consistent. I don't try to figure out where we're supposed to be, I just try to get better every single day.”
The reason I ask you that is you seemed concerned a couple months ago about how passive the team was. You don't see that any more. Specifically Tyler Zeller, what changed for a player like him as the season went along?
”I'm concerned about people being passive in every game or from game to game, possession to possession. That still doesn't mean that I can look into the future.
What I try to do is address it at that specific moment and talk about, We cannot play like this. The Georgia Tech game is the one that stands out. We just didn't not play in the second half. We did not compete. There was no fight. That's the game I told you guys I thought about changing three starters because I wasn't pleased. But that was in the process of the whole thing.
”Now, I don't allow myself - you guys have heard this before - we won two national championships, and I barely took time to look back and say, God, that's pretty neat. I'm definitely not going to look so far ahead and try to figure out where we're going to be. I do think you have to address those situations right then, whether or not they're aggressive enough, without the intensity. I think you have to address it right then and try to cure that. Then, if things work out better down the stretch, it's helpful that you did that.
”I think with these kids, I have been so impressed since the Georgia Tech game. I have been really impressed with my team, the way they've gotten better. That doesn't mean that we're perfect. Oh, my gosh, I go crazy on them at practice sometimes. Last night I went crazy a little bit during the game.
I've been really impressed with how the team has focused to try to improve.”
Given all the program has been through since last year, even some of the problems this year, how personally satisfying is it for you to see this team, you reference it as immature in some ways, be in this position going into the final week of the regular season?
”There's no question, you go back to last May when the Wears say they're not coming back, Will Graves, Larry Drew, there's been some adversity I never want to go through again. Lump it in one year on top of all these kids is something that has really been very difficult for them.
”Right now I'm ecstatic about what they have done and I hope we finish it out and play real well this next month, that you can even feel better. I am really proud of what my team has done. It hasn't been easy. I mean, it's been a hard year. Ol' Roy has had a hard year since last May. That has been really tough, but I'm really proud of them.”
We're having a regional here this year in New Orleans. You've been on the right side of Elite 8 games more than on the losing side. Can you talk about the emotion that goes into those games, how much a coach and team comes out of those games with a sense of satisfaction if you win or the disappointment if you don't win?
”Yeah, it's crazy, because I have been there, in New Orleans even in some of those NCAA tournament games, which is one of my favorite towns, by the way. The Round of 8, the finality, the swiftness, the suddenness with which your season can be over, I don't care how many times you've been through it, it's a shock to your system. You think, Oh, my gosh, we were that close. Four teams are going to keep going and we're not.
”That's the low side of it. It's so much lower than the high side. If you win, you cut the nets down, you're going to the Final Four, all that elation. But as soon as the game's over with, you're thinking, Who are we going to play? When are we going to leave? Where are we going to stay? All the work that is involved. The low is so much lower than the high is, even though the high is pretty doggone good, because that is the epitome of what you coach for, is to be playing in the Final Four to win a national championship.”