March 22, 2009
NCAA Tournament Second Round, Dayton, Ohio
Pitt vs. Oklahoma State, March 22, 2009
QUOTING PITT PLAYERS AND COACHES
COACH DIXON: Just first off, can't tell you how proud I am of our three seniors and how they've led us through this one. This one was obviously a great game, well-played game, and I was proud of how our guys responded to their barrage, really, as I called it afterwards, of the 3-pointers in the first half. This was not a game they lost it. We had to find a way to win it and we did it by gutting it out and outrebounding them and making big plays. And this was a great team effort, proud of these three guys up here, as well, unbelievable job making big shots and big plays all the way through.
So it was a great game. Two very good teams playing at a high level, and as I think anybody could see. And we had to find a way to beat a very good team on a good night, and we did. And we did it with the rebounding and our toughness, and defense really stepped up in the second half.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Levance, can you talk about how much you like having the ball in your hands at the end of the game?
Levance Fields: As a point guard that's what you always want. And I like to say I think my coach and my teammates, they all trust me in that situation, having the ball. It's one thing to want it, but to have the faith of your coach and teammates is another. So that's special in itself.
And down the stretch, with that play out of bounds, Sam did a great job being unselfish and throwing it back out to me and it was an open shot and I made it.
Q. Those guys, they threw a 1-3-1 at you, gave you problems three straight trips, what was the adjustment you guys made to beat the 1-3-1?
Levance Fields: Like I always say, when we have turnovers not for any reason I like to take the blame, being the leader out there on the floor. And today, again, it started with me with those three trips. I threw a horrible pass to Sam on the sidelines and I started the rest of the guys making floating passes.
So we just, we brung up the next couple times, Jermaine did a great job of just getting up the court again, getting it to Sam again, Sam looking across court to find me while I was coming up opposite.
Q. DeJuan, what was the game like for you? Was it typical of other games, the way they tried to confront you?
DeJuan Blair: It was a hard-fought game. Obviously I only had -- I didn't really give my team, not in the first half, but everybody, my three seniors and coaches and everybody, they kept me in the game and they kept my head in the game and I kept my head in the game.
So it was a good, tough battle. I made a couple big plays for my team. But I give all the props to them, like coach said, all the props to all three seniors, and the coach, he did an excellent job coaching and leading us through. And I'm going to have games like that. But the last game, these two wasn't clicking. We're all clicking and it's going to be tough for a lot of teams to beat us.
Q. What exactly did your coach do that was so good today that maybe he didn't do during the rest of the season?
DeJuan Blair: He just came in -- he gave us that spirit, that one talk you always need every game. He gave it to us at halftime. And we came out and we adjusted to his speech. And we obviously got it done. And I congratulate him again. Man, he's a motivator, and he just knew how to get it done, knew how to get his team to win. We responded real good in the second half, like we always do in the second half.
Q. Sam, did you feel like in the first half there that you had to take it upon yourself to keep the team in it the way they were hitting the 3s and you just kept putting up points?
Sam Young: I kind of wanted to make sure that we was going to get out to an early lead. And I was feeling good. And I was hot. So I felt like I'd be more aggressive.
But I guess players on the team over on their side felt the same way so we kept going back and forth and we could never really get the lead that we wanted. But we fought tough.
Q. DeJuan, you had the collision with Eaton there in the first half and left for a while. Could you tell us what happened there?
DeJuan Blair: Well, that was -- I was out for a hedge, and he came shoulder first into my leg and like it pushed my leg back a little bit. It was a little stinger, I guess. But you saw how I jumped up and I had everybody scared for a minute. I was scared myself.
But I had to jump up so everybody wouldn't be -- but when I went to the back, I was back there aching. It was hurting. But I got stretched back there and it was all right. I'm just going to ice it and hopefully it will be better.
Q. Levance, you guys have done what you needed to do to advance here. You've had two tough games. How do you feel you're playing as a team as you advance? DeJuan, you talk about playing on all cylinders, are you?
Levance Fields: Right now we're not. But it's just about getting it done and finding ways to win. And we had two tough games, but in both games we found a way to win. The thing that probably jump-start the most is turnovers, 18 yesterday and 14 today. We've got to cut down on that. We average about 10 in the season. With us cutting down on that gives us more opportunities for shots, gives us more opportunities for offensive rebounds for the ball and seeing them. Right now we're not, but this tournament is about surviving and advancing, and we did that this week, and we got past that one.
Q. Sam, you came out. You were the first person on the court today, had a lot of focus. Did you feel you were in the zone there in the first half?
Sam Young: Yeah, I kind of tried to piggyback off my last game, too. I was in the zone. I shot it well from 3 last game, and I wanted to come back out and try to piggyback off of that. And I started taking a couple of shots and everything started opening up for me. So it all just came together.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. When a team shoots like they did, with 3-pointers in the first half, do you stay with what you're doing figuring they're finally going to miss or do you make adjustments?
COACH DIXON: You have to have confidence. I think that's one thing we've got in our program. They're enjoying themselves. That's what they should do.
But I know there's -- I think probably coaches, or anyway, us, we believe in what we do, and I think you've got to make a commitment.
And there's going to be times when guys are making shots and you gotta believe in what you do. I think tendency for others would be to change everything and throw, go back to the drawing board, do something different. But we know what we're good at and we know what we're doing; if you continue to do it, you grind them out.
So we talked about it. We did play some zone, too. I don't know if you realize that. But we tried that and they made shots as well and got some rebounds. So we played a little of that.
We knew that going in, though, we were going to do that. We wanted to try to mess up their timing. They're obviously a team that's hard to guard because of how they play. They've got four guys, at least, on the floor that can shoot it at all times. And you have to hurt them in other ways. And what we did, we wanted to hurt them on the boards, and we did that.
Q. What was that speech that DeJuan was referring to?
COACH DIXON: I don't know. I think we were -- you know, when they were shooting, I just said they're not going to shoot it that well in the second half. And maybe that was wishful thinking, but it did turn out that way.
I thought our defense got better. I thought that was the key. I thought we guarded better on the perimeter. We adjusted slightly on the ball screen and what we wanted to do. And we seem to do a better job contesting shots, I would say. They really hurt us in penetration and kicking.
They really moved the ball well. They're very hard to guard. Again, we said before, they're going to hit some 3s, I didn't think they'd hit 10 in the first half but they're going to hit some 3s, we've got to stay and hurt them in other areas. And we did do that.
The only thing I'd say I was really disappointed in was the turnovers, and that's something that we have got to do a better job of, because we've been a low turnover team, the best in the country, but we've had more lately, higher-than-usual number.
Q. Does it help you to play two really tough games going into the tournament instead of having a blowout?
COACH DIXON: We don't play until Thursday again. It's like a lifetime now until our next game. So I don't think the last two games are going to have -- I'm sure you could go through and find stats of what other teams have done after winning by 30 or winning by 20 or winning by 10, and factor it in.
But I think all in all it's going to be -- we've got -- what we need to do is prepare these next four days and be ready for Xavier on Thursday.
Q. I want to ask you the same thing I asked Levance. Obviously Xavier is in Cincinnati, how do you think you're playing going into that game. Do you know anything about Xavier at all? What did you ask Mick Cronin about it?
COACH DIXON: I probably talked to Mick, Mick knows the game and he's a good friend. But as far as anybody that's left in the tournament, the 16 teams they're all playing well. If you're still alive, you're playing good basketball. I think any coach would tell you that. So we're very comfortable with what we're doing. We can do some things better, as always. But we'll have plenty of preparation here for Xavier here as we get ready for Thursday.
Q. With 1:13 left, Eaton had two free throws to get them within three, after that point they didn't score, you guys end up winning. Can you talk about the effort from that point on when you put them away?
COACH DIXON: We took tough shots. I think that was key. And then we finished off with rebounding. They didn't get second shots. That's often what happens when these guys take late shots like that, late 3s or quick ones, they get second shots. And then we had a couple of guys, I think DeJuan and Sam both got rebounds above the rim, which is what they've been doing all year long.
But we liked how the game was going that second half. We had about four bad possessions in a row where we turned it over and didn't get good shots against the man as well as the zone, the 1-3-1.
And we had Levance out for part of that. We need him on the floor, as well as Ashton played today. But at the end of the game we guarded. We made them take tough shots and then we rebounded and that's the big thing at the end of the game like that, those long 3s can turn into rebounds but we finished those off.
Q. The inbounds to Sam to Levance, was that a call to go that way?
COACH DIXON: Yeah, it was. We thought that Sam would get a look. But he was open so it looked like Levance's guy went to help then he made the extra pass. So we didn't know -- we weren't sure if they were going to go man or zone, so we called a play that could run against both. And that's how that came about. So it was a big -- it's two good players making big plays. The pass is -- we always talk about the pass makes the shooter. And that was the pass made that play.
Q. You talked yesterday about not maybe shooting like Tennessee, shooting a lot of 3s. Were you surprised at the number of 3s you had to take today?
COACH DIXON: You're right. We did take more than we wanted to going into the game. But when you're shooting 11 for 28 and Sam shooting like he is, you feel a little better about them. I thought they were good shots and the right guys were shooting them, when Sam's taking them, and Levance.
And we did realize they were going to double-team DeJuan. That was obvious from what they've done in the past. They're a smaller team. They double-team the big guy. When you double-team the big guy inside, that leaves other things open.
And I think we did a pretty good job of attacking that, getting the ball to the open guy, because DeJuan was double-teamed even before the catch, oftentimes, and that's something that they do game after game. So that was something that was pretty obvious to the eye, and we knew it was going to happen.
So I thought DeJuan was very patient with it at times, and obviously the first half we didn't quite have DeJuan at full -- even when he was in there, I didn't know quite where he stood.
Q. Can you talk about kind of the luxury that you have? Last game it was DeJuan that was doing all the scoring. This game, early on, Sam Young. You have two guys that can really carry the team for stretches offensively.
COACH DIXON: I thought Ashton was big in the first half, too, because we had to keep up -- we weren't getting the stops we needed to get. And we brought in some other guys and Ashton was big for us. And Tyrell hit some big shots. So it's a number of guys, but we run our stuff for Sam and DeJuan. We try to get them looks and play through them, and Sam was just hitting everything, and he's a matchup problem and we tried to do a pretty good job of that.
But we were going to have to hit some outside shots the way they were sagging, we knew that, and then get offensive rebounding opportunities. And we did.
Q. How encouraging was it to see Levance drive successfully in the last few minutes there to the basket?
COACH DIXON: I think it's been an interesting year for him. The injury, obviously, earlier in the year and obviously not being at full strength the start of the year and for almost into January, then the injury here at the end. And it's just -- it's just different not playing with your guy in practice and in a game, really, at full.
But I think he's getting back to where he wants to be and where he's going to be. And so, I mean, nine assists two turnovers, and he's playing much better defense down the stretch. I think he's really defending well and that's been big for us. So we're getting pretty good perimeter defense out of him.
And this was a game that was just -- I can't speak to -- say enough how good Oklahoma State played and how well we had to play to win it. When you talk about how well they shot the ball in the first half, I mean, some of them were just guarded and they hit. We fouled them and they hit a 3. That's the kind of play that was going on there.
So he led us through, Levance, no question. And those two very good point guards out there, Eaton and Fields, and those guys have now battled now for three straight years, and you've got two of the best point guards in the country right now.
Q. Is this the best offensive team without question since you've been at Pittsburgh?
COACH DIXON: I think it is. I don't know if I've already said that. But I think we are. We can put the ball in the basket. We're unselfish, and we've got balance inside and out. So I think as we've been -- our numbers kind of indicate that. I know they've got stats that show as far as points per possession and we've kind of been at the top of the country the entire year.
The only thing recently is the turnovers have been higher than usual. That's not characteristic of us, and that's the thing we've got to control, I think, do a better job of. So we're going to really emphasize that here in the coming days.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
QUOTING OKLAHOMA STATE PLAYERS AND COACHES
THE MODERATOR: Joining us are student-athletes Byron Eaton, Terrell Harris and Obi Muonelo. Coach, an opening statement.
TRAVIS FORD: I want to first congratulate Pittsburgh for a good -- I thought it was a hard-fought game, obviously a lot of lead changes. Our kids played extremely hard. I just thought we were a couple of rebounds shy of getting to where we wanted to be.
When you look at the stat sheet, the stats are what we wanted when a team outrebounds you by 14 -- has 14 more offensive rebounds more than you have but only shoots only three more shots than you do, it's not hard to tell what really hurt us tonight.
We knew coming into the game they were a big, physical basketball team. I thought our kids did everything they could to rebound the basketball. We blocked out. We did some good things, but Blair and Young seemed to come up with good plays when they needed them. Our kids played hard. They were very big on the glass.
We got them to take a lot of the first shots that we wanted. It's just in the first half, again, they missed 12 shots and had 10 offensive rebounds. So it's going to take its toll on your basketball team after a while.
But our kids fought back, got down 10, 11, 12, and followed all the way back to take the lead with a little over three minutes to go. Gave ourselves an opportunity. But Pittsburgh made a few plays down the stretch. Proud of our guys and the effort they gave and the season that they had, and just excited for these guys to be a part of this.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes only.
Q. Byron, getting to this point in your career and it taking so long to actually get to play in the tournament, what's your mindset now knowing that you made it? It was so close actually overcoming this Pittsburgh team.
BYRON EATON: Like you said, it was a long time coming. And I had to wait until my senior year before I was able to experience the tournament. But we was right there in the game. We was never out of it. And Pittsburgh is a good team. You can't take nothing from them guys. We had a great game plan, but we just wasn't able to accomplish what we wanted to do today.
They had a lot of second shots. That's what hurt us. I just want to just be thankful for making the tournament and able to play two games into the tournament my senior year.
Some guys go all four years and not be able to make it at all. So I think me and Terrel, we're thankful for making it, but we definitely wanted it to go a lot deeper than what we did.
Q. That collision with DeJuan, one, what happened with your shoulder, and two, how much pain were you playing with the rest of the way?
BYRON EATON: I think I hit his knee, it brought back an old injury I've been battling with since I got here. And a little thing like that, I can't let it stop me. It was hurting. I couldn't feel it for a minute, but I'm playing with a toe injury and I let that stop me. So I can't let a little nag in the shoulder injury stop me, either. I have to get back up, take a few seconds off, and get back in and help my team to fight. A little thing like that, like coach told us, you've got April and May to get -- to rest and get well.
So now I'm just kind of mad that I have to nurse it a little earlier than what I wanted to.
Q. Terrel, same question for you, coming so close and it taking so long to actually get to this point with the NCAA Tournament, what's your mindset looking forward?
TERREL HARRIS: I'm just glad we made it. I thought we had a good chance, had a good run this season. It didn't happen earlier, but that's just how it goes sometimes. I can't look at what didn't happen, I can just look at what has happened in my past and look forward to the future.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Questions for Coach.
Q. Travis, did you have the kind of game in the first half, did you have it going the way you wanted it? Was that the way you wanted to play?
TRAVIS FORD: No question. We actually wanted to get out on the break as much as possible and get the game going as fast as possible. I wish we could have stopped them a few more times, but I think both teams were making a lot of shots, we were making 3s and they were making 3s.
But the pace of the game was exactly the way we wanted to play in the first half. No question it changed in the second half and it became more of a half court game for both teams.
But when we were able to make our run in the second half to take the lead, late in the game, it was off some transition baskets, getting the pace back the way we wanted. We knew in a half court game we wouldn't be able to survive against a bigger, stronger, deeper team like Pittsburgh.
But it was going the way we wanted it.
Q. Was it discouraging at all that you shot so well in the first half but you only were tied at halftime?
TRAVIS FORD: Oh, no. We have a great amount of respect for Pittsburgh. So we knew we shot well. We knew they played well. But when you're going up against the No. 1 seed and you're tied at halftime, you know you've got a shot the second half, sure, we'd like to have been up more. We could have had some opportunities to be up a few points if we had rebounded the basketball. We just couldn't -- I thought our guys were fighting. It wasn't something you could sit back and say we weren't blocking out or guys weren't playing hard.
It wasn't that at all. They were in there scrapping and clawing and doing everything possible they could to rebound. It was just we would go up 10 feet and Blair and Young would go up maybe 11 feet.
So you just gotta give Pittsburgh a lot of credit. They're a great team. They're going to obviously do very well in this tournament. But our kids played hard. They played hard. We were just, again, a few rebounds shy of being, of having the success that we wanted.
Q. Travis, compared to like Oklahoma and some other teams you played this year, seemed like Pitt just had, they just kept bringing guys in with bodies.
TRAVIS FORD: The more guys, bigger guys, all their guys are rebounders. Again, watch the tape. And we talked to our team as much as we could talking to them about, hey, you've played Michigan State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma three times.
Watching film we knew these guys were probably the biggest most physical team we played against because of the numbers they have that are big and physical and they keep running them at you. When you block off Blair, Young gets it. When you block off Young, Blair's going to get it. And Biggs and other guys who are just great rebounders and physical players.
You can go back, Pittsburgh's done a great job the past four, five, six, seven years. It's all about rebounding with them. They're just a great rebounding program, much less a rebounding team. Their numbers are about rebounding every single year, and they do a great job of getting second shots.
We kept telling our team they are taking the first shots we want. Even when we took the lead with three minutes to go, they came down and missed. They got the rebound, though. And we just couldn't get -- we couldn't get those percentages on our side.
Q. Working on a story about Louisville and what Pitino has done. You obviously know him very well. What are your thoughts on what he's done, and do you see similarities between where Louisville is now and where he got Kentucky when you were there?
TRAVIS FORD: Obviously I think Coach Pitino's the greatest college coach in America, just somebody who I look up as a mentor of mine and somebody who I rely on tremendously. No question he's built this Louisville basketball team up to one of the elite programs in America.
He's already taken them to one Final Four already. And he's just -- he's doing the job he's done everywhere he's been in college basketball. He gets his players to believe in themselves. He makes every player better than they ever thought they could be. He's a great motivator, great X and O coach.
But he knows always how to push the right buttons when they need to be pushed. And, again, I wish him a lot of success. I went in the locker room and spoke to him a couple minutes ago and wished him the best of luck. He's obviously someone who has meant a lot to me and meant a lot to my career.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.