"Okay, we just finished practice. Everybody was still walking and laughing and cutting up, and they felt great about yesterday. But we've got an unbelievable challenge for tomorrow. We're extremely happy to still be here. Ed Cooley and the Providence team, I thought, did some great things last night. We were the luckier team down the stretch and I'm glad we were. We had a couple of players that made some big time plays for us when we were down, and I'm very appreciative of that. But trying to look forward now to Iowa State, and that's a big time challenge for us. You hate that they lost the youngster. I remember two or three years ago I went to watch a high school workout and Nerlens Noel was there, and I asked, who is that guy right there, because I love him. They told me he had already committed to Iowa State, and that was Georges Niang, and I just think he's a great, great player. You hate that for the kid.
"Coach Smith used to say he hated to play somebody when they just lost one of their front line players because everybody banded together even more and were more motivated and all that kind of thing. So hate it for that reason too, but I hate it even more for the youngster because I've watched him play three or four times this year, and he appears to be really the kind of kid I would love to coach."
With Niang, everything that you guys went through in 2012, particularly the situation with Kendall, you have empathy there for Fred and what he's going through trying to rearrange things so quickly here?
"You know, it was strange because in 2012 we had lost John Henson during the ACC Tournament and then we got him back, but he wasn't full speed. They say you cut off the head of the snake, you really bother him, and that's what happened when we lost Kendall.
"We're in the Elite Eight to play in Kansas to try to go to a Final Four with a little 5-foot-10 kid from Wilmington that I brought in at the end of the year just so we'd have another guy. He was our third point guard, and our back up was our back up power forward. It was just unfair. I'll never forget the feeling of disappointment for that team because I thought we're good enough to play on the last Monday night.
"We had beaten Duke at Duke on their Senior Day, and I got on the bus and said, guys, we're good enough to play the last Monday night, and I really believed that. Then Kendall got hurt, and there is nothing you can do about it. You've got to try to get everybody going. We had I'm drawing a complete blank who we played in the first game. Ohio, right. And I think that one went into overtime so we really blew them out, that kind of thing. But it is hard to do. He really does so many things. He scores from three. He rebounds and passes. He's just a complete player."
You hadn't allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent all season and you have in each of the last three games. Is there something you can pinpoint as to what's going on that end? How big a concern is that considering how Iowa State shot the ball last night?
"They shot 65 percent. They'll shoot 75 percent against us the way we've been playing defensively. But I haven't been pleased with our defense. We won 12 in a row and in the first ten of those, I think eight of those we held the other team under 45%. Nobody shot 50%. Everybody was saying, ‘boy, you guys are really good defensively.' I kept saying, ‘they've missed a lot of open shots.'
"Well, they stopped missing the dad gum open shots we've been giving them. We've got to play better defensively. There is no question about that. We've got to bother the shots more. It is a big time concern. I think Iowa State, it was almost 65% they shot last night.
"So we know that it's something that we're not doing well. We've got to get better. We did not rebound the ball well the last two weeks, and we've rebounded it very well last night. So we got better at that, so hopefully we'll get better on the defensive end too."
With Niang being out, does it complicate things for you guys as far as preparation not knowing what they're going to you know, it's whatever you were preparing before, he's not there. So how much does that complicate things?
"It does complicate things, as you know, because there is indecision. You don't know if they're sitting over there saying, North Carolina, boy, they rebounded it really well. We better play a big guy, or are they saying the heck with the big guy. Let's put our best five basketball players on the court. You know, my guess is that they would do that, but it is a guess.
"So there is some indecision. I wouldn't be surprised if Fred would say there is some indecision about what they're going to do and that kind of thing. But it's easier on their side because they control it, and we're reacting to what they do. But it is a big time loss for them. But they can spread you even more now, and that's something that's difficult for us because we like to play some big guys."
Brice Johnson described himself as a bad defender last year. How far has he come in that regard? Just talk about how valuable he is in that sixth man role?
"He was a bad defender last year. He's not as bad now. I'm not going to give him any more that. But there is one thing that he can do, and he had a couple of big ones last night. He can block some shots and protect the rim. Those were some big plays he made for us last night. He knows that he's got to get a lot better defensively, and he's trying. But he's got a long way to go. I really think that before it's over with, that he's going to be a very, very good defender. But he's extremely important to us. I always say when you make a substitution, you want him to add something. Not get worse, but to add something to your team. And Brice does most of it on the offensive end. Sometimes it's his rebounding that's really important. But every now and then those blocked shots are pretty darn important too. But hopefully he's going to be a fantastic defender, and really hopefully it will be in my lifetime."
Coach, a few weeks ago you described your team somewhat jokingly as slow compared to some of your previous teams. I'm curious - do you like this match up because of Iowa State's preferred pace of play? Or do you still have concerns that your team hasn't played as fast as you would have liked them to this year?
"Yeah, we still haven't played anywhere close to the pace that I want us to play. Iowa State's playing the way I want to play. I mean, their pace is really good. Five guys run. I mean, I don't know what we're averaging. We're averaging 70 something a game. I had a team that averaged 92 a game one time. We didn't shoot a thousand threes or anything like that. So we're not playing at the pace that I would like for us to.
"But we're still working on it. We played at a better pace last night. We got more fast break opportunities last night that we had gotten the last couple of games. But Iowa State's pace of all five guys running is really going to be a challenge for us. Our transition defense is going to be a big key for us in the game."
Coach, you talk about your players laughing and cutting up. How important is it for them to be loose in this kind of environment? Is that something you like to see out of them?
"Not just loose. I mean, loose can be a loose cannon I guess, too. But I like to see them have fun, and I think they're doing that. There is nobody in the world that likes to have more fun than me. But on game day, I want to beat your butt. On game day I want to beat your butt a heck of a lot more than I want to have fun. Because if I do that, then I'm going to have fun. Somebody would say how are you doing it? I said it depends on how my team plays. If my team plays well, I'm doing great. But I do think that basketball is a fun thing. Competing at a high level is something that should be fun and is fun. To be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems. We want to enjoy the heck out of it. It's a wonderful ride. I don't think of just what might be down at the end of the road. I think about enjoying the ride."