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March 31, 2012

From the podium: KU Q&A

After a brief celebration, Bill Self, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey left KU's locker room and made their way to the media room inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. For a complete recap of Saturdays media Q&A, come inside.

COACH SELF: Well, it's kind of a tale of two halves, two games. They dominated us the first half. We were playing in quicksand, it looked like. The light came on and then we were much more aggressive the second half. They missed some shots; we controlled the glass, were able to play through our bigs, get out and run. The biggest thing is we got stops and rebounded.
Certainly it wasn't a pretty game, not artistic at all. But I'm so proud of our guys' toughness. Ohio State is obviously terrific. They controlled the game the first half, for sure and part of the second half.

After we got it down to under 6 or 4, these guys have been in so many close games, they have so much confidence, they just stepped up and made plays.

Q. Talk about Tyshawn's play down the stretch:

COACH SELF: Tyshawn didn't play very well the first half. I thought Aaron controlled the half for them. Second half Tyshawn guarded him. He was a factor defensively. We pressured more. Certainly he made some plays that weren't great, but he played so well down the stretch.

The steal he got after he made his free throws were huge. Then, of course, he passed it to me on the sideline, which wasn't smart. But he was big. We turned the ball over. Several of them were careless and unforced. He, Elijah and Travis, our guards down the stretch were good.

Q. What did you tell your team being down by 9 in the first half? How did you tell them to play a little bit differently in the second half? How do you get ready for Kentucky?

COACH SELF: Well, these guys will tell you. I told them at halftime, C'mon, boys, we're a little bit better than this. Basically I think its okay being on a stage like this and not play well if you give yourself a best chance. You play to who you are. That was not who we are at all the first half. I want our guys to be in attack mode and be aggressive. We did that the second half. This game took a lot of energy, there's no question.

Kentucky had to play for 40 minutes today, too. The thing about it is they're terrific. Our second half performance, if we could play both halves, it's still good enough to get beat. We got to play a lot better than that playing a terrific team.
It's pretty cool to having the winningest program of all time and the second winningest program of all time hooking up on Monday night.

Q. Like against Carolina when you went to the triangle and two in the final four minutes, was there something you saw that you were able to exploit?:

COACH SELF: I think we caught a break when Deshaun got his third foul early and fourth foul early. We only trapped Jared two or three times. Big fella here I thought played as good of low post defenses on a great player as he could. Not only got seven blocks, but he altered or adjusted four or five at least. I thought that was a huge key for us.

Also being aggressive. We have athletic guards, but we didn't play to our athletic ability at all the first half. Second half Travis ran through a pass, Elijah after he got back in the game made an unbelievable play in transition, and Tyshawn was very active defensively and got a huge steal. Little things like that are what spurred us. Then we rebounded the heck out of the ball.

Q. Jeff, there was one stretch when you blocked Sullinger's shot three times in a row, then got Craft and Buford. Can you give me an idea how you thought you were affecting them whenever they got close. Give me your impression of the basket that was disallowed.:

JEFF WITHEY: My teammates definitely look at me and see me as a protector. They know if they get beat, I'm there. I'm there to help them block shots. When I blocked Jared, I was standing straight up. I guess my length bothered him. Against Aaron, he's a great guard. But, yeah, he just jumped into my body and I kept my arms straight up and the ball hit that, too.
So, yeah, I mean, I was just in the right place at the right time, I guess.

Q. Jeff, the lock on Buford, you were up 1, the ball goes into him, you came out of nowhere and blocked the shot. Do you remember how that play developed, where you were? :

JEFF WITHEY: Yeah, yeah. Jared was at the three point line, he picked up the dribble. I went up and tried guarding him making it a five second call. Buford was obviously on the post and sealed Tyshawn, was going to have an easy bucket.

I turned around, jumped up, put my arm out and I hit the ball.

Q. Travis, you did play well in the first half. That very last basket of the half, how big was it? Did you know what the time was on the clock?:

TRAVIS RELEFORD: Yes, at the time I knew. After Jeff got the block, I looked up at the shot clock, it was three seconds. I saw Ty with a one on one. I put my head down and ran as fast as I could. Happened to get the shot off.

Q. Travis, you made four straight free throws right at the end there. Talk about the confidence that you had going through that and stepping up when some of the other guys were kind of going quiet.:

TRAVIS RELEFORD: I mean, I just went to the line, relaxed, took a deep breath, did what I always been doing all year, just take three dribbles and shoot the ball. I mean, I felt very confident even before I even let the ball go, so...
The result is they went in.

Q. Elijah, you seemed to laugh when coach said that he told you guys you just needed to play better at halftime. What did he really say in the locker room? :

ELIJAH JOHNSON: That's what he said (smiling). He didn't say it probably how he just told you he said it. I think that the first half, coach told us we was going to have to trust him. I don't think our starting five did a good job of doing that. I think we spaced out and were individual. We didn't really trust what he told us we should trust. That's what we've been doing all year long.

Once we got in the locker room, he basically told us we better than this and do what we do. We not doing what we do, so we can't expect to win. It clicked. We went out, we did what we do, and we performed better in the second half.

Q. What does it mean to be in the championship game? How good is Kentucky?:

COACH SELF: Well, you know, we've been there twice is all. But certainly, you know, it's a dream for these kids to play on the biggest stage that college basketball has to offer this year, get to play the best team in the country hands down from day one to now, most consistent. It's a thrill.

I think it's even more of a thrill for us right now because I don't think anybody probably thought that we could get here. We still hadn't played terrific yet in the tournament, but somehow these guys find ways to win games. You know, Kentucky, I haven't studied 'em yet. But I've watched 'em enough all year long. They're terrific. They're great. They got guys that can make plays you can't coach.

They got pros, all that stuff. But I think we got good players, too.
Our players keep getting better. These guys, at least the second half, were very confident. We have to come out and play like a confident team. We can't be a team that is in any way, shape or form defensive or not in attack mode. We have to go take it, because I guarantee Kentucky will play like they're going to take it.

ELIJAH JOHNSON: I think Kentucky is a great program. I think they have great players, a great coach. I feel like earlier in the year they got us when we were vulnerable. We wasn't a team yet, still trying to figure everything out. A big atmosphere in the Garden. I don't know if that was our best basketball.

So I'm just curious to see what coach draw up and I'm ready to listen to him. I think he got the plan. He been here. This is his second time in the last couple of years. Obviously what he said worked. I don't want to fight him on that. I don't think the starters want to fight him. We're going to listen to him.

Q. Somebody asked Rick Pitino after the first game if Kentucky was beatable. He said, Yeah, but they will have to play their B game. Isn't that something you take a lot of pride in, making the other team not play their best?:

COACH SELF: I think that's kind of who we are. We got to make other teams not be rhythmic, take away what they want to do. With Kentucky, you got to take away layups. It sounds easy to say, but transition or second shots, you got to take away lobs.

We actually defended them very well the first time we played them the first half. It was a tied game, if I'm not mistaken, and then they just wore us out the second half. Our guys look forward to it. You play at a place like ours or the other teams in the Final Four, there's obviously many others. These guys want to play against the best.

They watched Kentucky all year long, listen to people talk about them. They already cleaned our clock once. I think it's exciting for these guys to do that, play against 'em, hopefully make it a non rhythmic type game. That's what we do, who we are. We certainly have to do that on Monday.

Q. How do you feel about fans pelting the court with the seat cushions at the end of the game?:

TRAVIS RELEFORD: I didn't notice that. A few of them got on the court. But I didn't notice.

COACH SELF: I didn't notice it either.

Q. Second trip to the title game, second meeting with John Calipari. Is there a common thread from that team to this one?:

COACH SELF: Common thread? The thing about it is the Memphis team that year was obviously as good a team as anybody in the country. We were fortunate to win that game. They controlled the game late, then we made a lot of plays down the stretch the last couple minutes.

But Cal gets a lot of credit for recruiting. But the thing that I think is sometimes lost is, you know, he's one of the very best coaches there is in the country. I mean, he can coach. And he takes guys that are so highly recruited, been told how good they are, you know, basically, like these cats, too, but even at a higher level. And he gets them to buy into 'we' instead of 'me.'

They're unselfish, they're tough, they're physical and they guard. That Memphis team is very similar. The Memphis team was really good, no question about that. But I think this Kentucky team is better than the Memphis team.

Q. Obviously Jeff has been very valuable for you. How key were the timing of his blocks leading into halftime and also late in the game?

COACH SELF: You bring up a great point. They were four point swings. We're down 11 and we're supposed to switch, dribble handoff, he fakes it, we don't make it, Craft is naked to the goal. We got two points off of them naked driving to the basket. That's a big play. The block on Buford was unbelievable. They had us. He turns two points for Ohio State into two points for us because Elijah made a great play.

Anthony Davis is the best shot blocker in the country. But I think Jeff is probably second best. I don't know anybody out there that blocks shots or alters better than Jeff does. So you're going to have two great shot blockers going against each other.

Q. Jeff, you had to guard a very good post player in Jared tonight. Now on Monday you're going to have to guard the Player of the Year in Anthony Davis. Talk about right off the top of your head what are the differences.:

JEFF WITHEY: It's going to be a lot different because Anthony Davis, you know, he gets a lot of points off of lobs in transition. He has a motor, he can run up and down the court for days.

Jared is just a power guy. He likes to pack you down on the post. So it's going to be a lot different guarding them. But it's going to be a challenge that I enjoy playing. I just got to get ready for the game and be in shape.

Q. You look like you just got done with a practice, not fazed at all. Any sense of accomplishment or excitement you're feeling? How significant is it to come back on this stage from 13 points down?:

TRAVIS RELEFORD: It feels great. We've been in those situations before throughout the season, where we played from behind, played grind it out games. We still got another goal. We can't be too excited about this win.

ELIJAH JOHNSON: Personally it hasn't hit me yet that it's only one other team playing still. I'm up here just taking it in right now. Just have got a lot on my mind. Just trying to enjoy it. I want to see my teammates again.

Q. Coach, do you think you started with a lack of confidence? Was it nerves? Are you going to prepare differently going into Monday night?

COACH SELF: I mean, I don't know how we would prepare differently. We only know one way to do it. The thing about it is, I don't know if a team can be looser. Would you guys agree the last week, I mean loose.

But it's a different pressure once you walk into the gym. We were just tight. Sometimes we thought instead of reacted and we looked slow. We looked tired early. I think a lot of that happens when you have so much adrenaline and the rush. We just didn't handle it very well.

So we obviously have to talk about some different things. But we're not going to change how we prepare.

Q. Jeff, there was a play in the first half where you put the ball in the paint and Craft stole it away, knocked you down, they went down and scored. What really happened there? How did that change the tempo?

JEFF WITHEY: Craft is crafty. He can steal a ball. Coach said it all week, you have to be careful when you put the ball on the ground because he's digging and trying to steal the ball. I thought I had a spin, but as soon as I put it down, he got it. I tried diving after it, but I didn't get to it.

But it was a pretty frustrating play. The way the game was going, it was in their favor at that time. But we came back and we showed a lot of heart in the second half.
COACH SELF: I thought they took control from the opening tip, to be honest. I thought they controlled the whole first half. What a big play it was to cut it to 9 at halftime. Who would have thought that.

But that play is big, but that's basketball. You look like you can get two and you end up giving up two. That's a four point swing. But we had several of those, it seemed like, the first half. We just couldn't catch a break. We missed some bunnies inside that normally Thomas or Jeff converts better.

But I don't really know if that play keyed anything because it looked like to me they wore us out the entire half many possessions.

Q. How do you plan to celebrate tonight? Coach, we're not that far away from Bourbon Street. How do you plan to keep your players focused on Monday night?

COACH SELF: I told them Bourbon Street was in the locker room tonight. That's as close as they're going to get to it. It's 11:00. We won't get back to the hotel until after midnight. We'll have dinner. Guys will go straight to their room. We don't even let them go to the lobby. Unless they got some sheets they can tie together and drop them from the 14th floor, they're not going to go anywhere tonight.

Q. This had a similar feel as the comeback against Purdue. How much did that give you confidence in this situation tonight?

COACH SELF: I think it gave us a lot of confidence. We were down 13 today five different times they told me after the game. Against Purdue, we had no answer, none. They wore us out the first half. It's a 40 minute game. We talk about that all the time. I know all coaches do. But it's a 40 minute game. You have to think about the next play. There's no 13 point plays. You have to grind it, get one stop at a time.

But these guys, even though we labored offensively obviously, these guys are explosive obviously. They can score seven real quick or nine real quick off their defense and getting out and running, get some easy baskets. That's kind of what happened tonight.

Q. The North Carolina game you controlled down the stretch, pulled away. The Purdue game you come down and get the win down the stretch. Bill, for you, I had an NBA executive tell me he liked Kansas because of returning players at a power school. How much of a factor do you think the experience and these returning players played into the win tonight?

COACH SELF: I think it obviously played a factor. But we're not that experienced going into the season. Jeff hadn't played much. Travis played a little bit. Elijah just a little bit. Thomas played 14 minutes a game. That's not the most experienced team. But it was an older team. These guys have matured a lot. They played a ton of minutes this year. They're far more experienced maybe than what some would be just because of the situations they've been in.

But you look at it, I mean, we had Missouri for us late, how we came back from 19 down. I think that gives you confidence. Purdue and North Carolina was a nip and tuck game. North Carolina State was a one possession game, too. We played basically four games in the tournament, although North Carolina didn't end up that way, but it was a one possession game with three minutes left.

These guys had to make all the plays down the stretch. We have to play a lot better obviously on Monday. But I think it gives these guys great confidence that no matter what happens we're okay.


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