March 20, 2008
COACH MILLER: Well, obviously today was a great game. When I saw that we drew Georgia, I think, like any coach in my position, you almost question, uh huh, just what happened in Atlanta. When we saw what they did in those games against three NCAA teams, you saw they were playing at a very high level.
We knew coming into the game it was going to be a war. I credit our team because Georgia played an excellent first half and we played an equally bad first half. In very few times can you flip it like we did at halftime.
I thought our tournament experience from years gone by, Josh and Stan, this is their third tournament, as it is Drew's, helped us. And we became more of the team that we've been all season long in the second half.
I also thought credit goes to Georgia for an excellent finish. You can't help but think it was to our advantage on what they just went through. The longer the game to me, the more we were able to wear them down, and I think we all know part of that reason was the energy they had to use this past weekend. We get a second chance here in a sense, and hopefully we can put a full game together as we move into the 2nd round.
I'm very, very proud of these four, in particular, these three seniors. Not only doing what they did in today's second half, but really how they've done things the whole season.
Q. Stanley, you were matched up with Sundiata Gaines most of the day. Talk about that match up and how that went and the way he played.
Stanley Burrell: He's a really good player, better than what I've seen on the film when I was doing my homework. He's physical and strong and does a great job at playing at his own pace. Other guys rattle him eventually, but he's poised and runs their squad at a great pace.
My guys were behind me a hundred percent, and I knew the second half I needed to turn it up defensively and make some plays. We got out on the break and got transition buckets. He's a great player and I wish him luck.
Q. Josh, you seemed animated the second half especially down low. Were you a little bit upset with the way you guys had played the first half?
Josh Duncan: Yeah, we didn't play our best in the first half. But we're a team that's been through a lot of tough situations and we tend to stay together throughout the year. We don't break down. We stay together and keep our focus and we came out in the second half a totally different team.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about that second chance that your coach referred to earlier and maybe the unfinished business that's left over from last year, coming so close to beating Ohio State and not advancing.
Drew Lavender: We have a great team, we're going to play Purdue or Baylor, and we're going to go out there and play our best.
Q. Coach Bob Knight has talked about expanding the team beyond or the tournament to 128 teams from 64. He's put that forth as top seed plays bottom seed as a way of expanding the opportunities for smaller schools. What do you think of that as a student athlete? What would that mean? How would that challenge you as far as your studies are concerned and stuff like that?
Derrick Brown: That's something I never even thought of (laughter), so I really don't have a voice on that yet, personally.
Drew Lavender: I'm not going to be here, so it doesn't matter to me. He can have 200 teams if he wants.
Josh Duncan: I don't have an answer, I'm just focused on where we're at right now.
Q. Just talk about what you feel you were able to take advantage of in the second half, 47 points for you guys after halftime. What went right after the break for you?
Drew Lavender: Just our defense created more opportunities than our offense. We got some easy buckets which we didn't get in the first half. We turned it up on defense.
Q. Can you take a stab at explaining the first 25 minutes, and then maybe explain the last 15.
COACH MILLER: Well, I will tell you this, Georgia is a heck of a basketball team. If they would have played the level they would have played at today from start to finish, I think their coach would probably echo my sentiments. I think you'd find they wouldn't be a 14th seed.
I really felt like we played a very good team. They're big, they have a senior guard. They came into the tournament playing with as much confidence as anybody in the field.
Having said that, we were a little tight the first half. I'm not sure why. I really believe that playing a noon game, first round NCAA tournament, we've been pointing towards getting back here for some time. And it almost worked against us in the first half. And we played an excellent team, like I mentioned.
I thought the big difference in the game was we attacked a lot more in the second half. When you look at the free throw differential, that's more of our style of play. Generally we make more free throws than our opponents attempt and I thought we put them in a position to foul us and we finished off that by making a great percentage, which again there's a lot of ways to be a good team. That's a big stat for us, being able to not only get to the foul line but shoot a high percentage. We've shot over 75 percent for the entire season.
Like Stan mentioned, I do think that our defense started to wear down Georgia. And on top of that, I thought Dante Jackson's shot coming off the bench that put us up three points was the biggest play in the game and seized the moment for us and allowed us to really finish the game off in a very good way from that point on.
Q. Talk a little bit about the hangover maybe from that loss last year, whether it hung with this team and did that have a little something to do with the pressure they were feeling going into this game or the way they got off to the start that they did?
COACH MILLER: I guess I've got to ask the question, when will I not answer a question about that game a year ago? Let me just say this to you, we played a second round game against Ohio State last year. They were in the National Championship game. We played a great game. We almost won and then we went home, like every team in this tournament does when they lose.
The thing that the Ohio State game from a year ago means to this team is it made us very hungry to get back to the tournament this year. We had a very focused offseason. We have several players on this team who were in that game a year ago, but we're a completely different team. Each year you have a different personality. We lost three seniors from last year's team. We've added two new players and a lot of guys on this year's team have different roles.
But other than the work ethic part of it and the motivating force, when that jump ball goes up, there's no one on our team thinking about Greg Oden. We're looking at the team we're playing. And we're in a round of 32. This isn't the first time we've made the tournament. This is 7 of 8 years or 8 of 9 years. We have a lot of players on our team who have tournament experience and great confidence.
For example, we're a No. 3 seed. A year ago we were a No. 9 seed. So we have a different personality. We've clearly moved on from that. If there's anything we take from that experience, I believe like any team would, it's the hunger to get back to this great moment. There's nothing better than the NCAA tournament for a player. I played in it a long time ago. I can remember everything about any game that I ever played in the NCAA tournament. And that's what this deal is about.
I'm excited, as I know our team is, to have an opportunity to be a part of the field of 32. We're going to play either Baylor or Purdue and when that game starts it's about this year, it's about the next play, it's about can we get to the Sweet 16. There will be no looking back on anything that's happened in the past.
Q. I'm just curious, if memory serves me, it looked like you took Drew off a bit right before that run start. Can you talk about what you were seeing at that point, what went into that?
COACH MILLER: Stanley Burrell usually guards the other team's best perimeter player. And once in awhile that match up allows him to take on the other team's point guard. That's not to our advantage sometimes, because Drew's height, guarding the good 2 guard, can be a disadvantage. But he has so much quickness when he's playing at his best defensively, it's the twosome that makes our defense tough, Burrell and him.
And I really believe in the second half Drew was a lot more active defensively than he was in the first half. But Stanley Burrell will always draw the toughest assignment.
Q. You said you were tight early. Was any of that the way of being a 3 seed? We've seen this a lot in the tournament. I can recall No. 1 seeds like UMass and UConn trailing the second half.
COACH MILLER: That first game, especially the first half of the first game, I think in our place playing a noon game, you know, you lose this game it's almost like you never made the tournament. You're gone so fast, you're headed home tonight. But it was on us quickly.
I'll tell you this, our team was ready. I just thought we played against a team in Georgia that has big bodies, a great senior guard who came into this tournament playing with great confidence and that had as much to do with the score at halftime, even as it did our own mindset.
However, in the second half we were more ourselves, obviously.
Q. You talked about the free throws made to Georgia's free throws attempted. It was 27 to 5. Can you put your finger on why such a wide margin, especially the pressure you were able to put in the second half.
COACH MILLER: Style of play has a lot to do with it. Their big guys had to guard forwards. When you look at Derrick Brown and Josh Duncan, their ability to attack the basket, C.J. Anderson's ability to attack the basket, that was our advantage. That's one of the reasons they went 1 3 1, as much as they did the second half to get away with fouling us.
We didn't do to Georgia anything different than we've done to a lot of teams this season. Being able to attack the basket and get to the foul line is something that all teams do. That and the fact that at the end of the game they had to foul us on purpose, which I think made it much more lopsided than it really was.
The other thing is we try not to foul on defense, we really don't. Our style of play, because we have quicker forwards, being able to challenge without fouling is something that we work hard at not doing.
Q. You were 3 seed this year, you've been as far down as a 14 seed. Do you agree with the way clearly Georgia was a fatigued team when they came in here, they played four games in two days. The selection process allowed them to come as a conference champion, even though their regular season record was nowhere near as good as your team. Do you agree with the way the selections fell? Do you think the selection needs to be changed?
COACH MILLER: No, I love the NCAA tournament. There's always going to be a coach or team that could have made it and didn't.
Same thing on the seeds. If I called the other three No. 3 seeds and asked if they would trade with me before today's game, I don't know if I'd have had any takers.
To me Georgia was a very difficult match up. But that's what makes the NCAA tournament what it is. Every game takes on its own personality. In a two hour period of time a lot of different swings can happen.
COACH FELTON: Well, I'd like to commend Xavier. They were every bit as good, as tough as I thought they were coming into the game. Having never seen them play in person, but watching a lot of tape and talking a lot to opponents of theirs throughout the season, I got the impression that they were really, really a hard nosed team. And you don't win as many games as they did this year and as many impressive games this year without being that first.
I did feel like our team played awfully well for maybe even the majority of the game. Had good control of the game. I thought Xavier definitely ramped up their aggression somewhere there in the middle of the second half and had good success with it.
No matter what we did, obviously Sundiata is a tremendous, powerful explosive driver, and it's hard to stay in front of him and keep out of the paint. David is a big, strong guy to run the basket.
And when things got tough and physical, we did everything that we could do to pound it in the paint and get to the free throw line, but it seemed no matter what we did, we couldn't get there.
So the difference in the second half certainly ended up being the difference at the free throw line. They managed to get 29 attempts to our five. And I thought that was the pivotal point of the game. We defended well, shot well, rebounded well enough to out rebound them, which is a task against Xavier. So we did a lot of things well, but I thought the game got separated in our inability to get to the line as much as Xavier.
Q. Could you feel the game changing in that stretch that Coach Felton is talking about, when you guys are up by 10, you've pretty much got control of the game and all of a sudden you can't get to the line? Could you feel the game changing in that stretch?
SUNDIATA GAINES: I definitely felt the game was changing. They definitely picked up the aggression on defense. I kind of felt our offense got stagnant, we weren't moving and executing as well as we normally do. Throughout that process, that causes the team to get momentum. And they found a way to get to the foul line. They hit some open shots. We just didn't find a way to stop their momentum.
But overall from a team standpoint, I think we played a great game, but we just lost our composure, and especially myself making some uncharacteristic plays toward the end of the game.
Q. Just curious, as you walk away from here today, how do you walk out? With the disappointment of having an 11 point lead and not being able to hold it up or the memories of last week and a half?
DAVE BLISS: You know, certainly this one stings a little bit right now with the proximity of the game. But what we were able to do not only last weekend but the whole season, which really enabled us to be in the position to be here this weekend is something that I'll be proud of forever. I hope that our younger guys have learned kind of what it takes to the kind of effort that it takes to win at this kind of level and take that forward.
SUNDIATA GAINES: I think our team, we made a special run. I'm just glad, I appreciate everybody that's playing hard, guys stepped up toward the end of the season that gave us a chance. We wasn't even supposed to be here, but we had a chance. We came into today's game realizing we have a chance to win this game.
The only thing I would probably say that's disappointing is us having the lead and just letting it slip away so easily. Overall standpoint, I'm just proud of the way the where the program came from over the course of my four years.
And Coach Felton, he's been good to the program and he's done the best he can. Just overall to see the growth of everything, but most of all just everybody just being a big family, I really appreciate the University of Georgia.
Q. With this being your 5th game in eight days, did you feel that you guys may get a little tired in the second half and it was getting away or did you not, did you think
DAVE BLISS: I didn't really think so. I thought we played at a high energy level that allowed us to get the lead in the first place. I just think that things went against us and Xavier was able to make more plays than us down the stretch. I don't think that was a result of fatigue, I just think that was the way that the game went and tip my cap to them.
Q. The foul situation seemed to frustrate you as much as anybody. Did you feel like you were getting a fair shake on that end?
DAVE BLISS: I won't comment on that.
Q. I know it's right after the game, but can you give us a sense of Sundiata's legacy, when you look back what this kid has meant to your program.
COACH FELTON: He's meant a tremendous amount to our program. He sort of ushered us through the most difficult period in Georgia basketball history, beginning with his choice to come to Georgia when it was hard to get anybody to even talk to us. And then he endured and led the program through that whole period and where it culminated in this.
He impacted the game in almost every way every night, defensively being really tough and kind of starting our defense, night after night. Offensively leading us, organizing us, making plays for his teammates, scoring, rebounding.
So I don't know if there's been a player that has ever come through Georgia that impacted the game in as many ways. And the whole time he did it, he really grew because he wasn't a point guard before coming to Georgia, but he really developed as a point guard to the point now where I think he has a great future in this game.
I think it's one of those real win win situations. I know certainly we've benefitted from his time with us, but I think he's had a chance to experience so much and learn so much where he's really benefitted from the experience at Georgia, also. But he's been the guy that we can least afford to lose since he arrived, off the floor.
Q. Can you talk about what Sundiata had to do in terms of Burrell's defense, and having to endure that through the whole game, and did you feel it wore him down physically or mentally at any point?
COACH FELTON: Well, no, I think Sundiata was his normal, strong self, from wire to wire today. Obviously he always has times where he has stretches of games where he has to battle through fatigue where he's playing 37 to 40 minutes a game. I just can't and he stayed aggressive the entire game, right down to the end. He probably spent more time on the floor getting knocked down and that sort of thing than any game I can remember.
But I think he was his normal self. He kept attacking the paint, kept attacking the rim. It's just a little baffling. I don't know if Sundiata has ever had a game where he didn't get to the free throw line for the entire game. I certainly can't remember that ever happening. But it certainly wasn't because he was not playing aggressively and not attacking the game like he normally does.
Q. With 1:21 left, they called time out, up three, and Sundiata fouled 40 feet out from the goal coming out of that. You didn't want a foul there, did you?
COACH FELTON: Absolutely not. It was absolutely critical at that point to get a stop without fouling, to get a stop without fouling. I almost fell out of my chair on that one.
Q. Second question, what did you think of the officiating, you've made several allusions to it, did you think they got more calls than you did?
COACH FELTON: All I can say is that I felt like the difference in the game was the fact that they were good enough to get to the free throw line 29 times to our five in the second half. Clearly that was the difference in the game. We made a lot more field goals than them. We kept them off the offensive glass, which was critical. They're a good rebounding team. But they didn't get we didn't put ourselves in position to foul them, because we were giving up offensive rebounds. And we just that was the difference.
But whether it was whether it was the officiating or not, I just we really worked at being aggressive and attack the paint, also, with hopes that we could get points there during the stretches where both teams were playing tough defense.
Q. I know players will never admit it, usually, but as a coach did you see maybe signs of fatigue? Obviously your team has been through a pretty grueling stretch lately.
COACH FELTON: No, no. I think, No. 1, our team has really we're a well conditioned team. I think our team has grown some awfully good toughness in terms of battling through fatigue issues. We're just coming off an experience where we had a real tangible experience of learning how we don't have to succumb to fatigue.
So I thought we remained aggressive and played really hard all the way to the end. I wouldn't count fatigue as an issue.
Q. What's your immediate plan, what do you do now, coming off of a pretty notable stretch here? Do you lose the 'stache in any part of it?
COACH FELTON: I think I made a promise to our student body that I would lose the moustache when we won the SEC championship. So I'm a man of my word. So I not only count on that, I look forward to.
What do we do now? We get right to work. We get right to work. We have a terrific core of players returning who have incredible upside in terms of you look at a guy like Jeremy Price, think about how much better he's going to get when he loses weight and becomes really well conditioned. He's going to multiply his ability as a pure athlete in terms of running and jumping and mobility and quickness.
Chris Barnes has been recovering from his knee injury at light speed, so we won't have to wait very long for him to get back to work and again improve his conditioning and improve his skill level and such.
Zac Swansey, I can't wait for him to get in the weight room and get stronger, and with that more explosive. J.J., got work to do with him in terms of individual development. Troy Brewer, he's got to get bigger and stronger. I think he's going to be a terrific player when he does. And basically start our new team. As of now we have a new team. This year's team is over with.
And along with the not wasting any time and getting right to work is also getting right to work in terms of developing the new leadership of next year's team. And when we we have a terrific group of new guys coming in. Two of them are local, so they'll actually be around a lot this spring and things like that. I just want our returning players to be ready to lead; lead themselves this spring and be ready to lead our new guys, take them under their wing and lead them.
I just want to have an incredible spring and summer of focus and determination to defend our SEC Championship and have a great year next year and make it back here with the determination to advance, just like Xavier came in determined to advance from their experience last season.
Q. Given what happened last weekend and the fact that you're up 11 on a No. 3 seed here today, was there ever a point where you looked out there and said, Are these the same guys that were 4 12 in the SEC, or did we just find a new team somewhere along the way?
COACH FELTON: I have a pretty simple answer as to why we've been better recently. No. 1, we've been better because we've always been pointed in this direction. Our players have stayed together. They stayed enthusiastic about working hard to get better. We really have been there's such a fine line between winning and losing. Especially when you look at our team this year, there were so many games where we competed and played well enough to win, except for just a moment here and there.
But then what happened was we just started making timely plays and instead of our confidence going in the direction of wondering whether we could make the play to get us over the hump, we started feeling like we can make the play to get over the hump and we did a lot of that. Even though we lost today, we did a lot of that today. We had many, many answers today until the end when it got away from us.
Even at the end when it got away from us, it's not like we had breakdowns to lead to great shots and stuff. It just kind of it snuck away from us at the free throw line, where they were able to neither team made many shots down the stretch to take over the game. It was foul shots that allowed them to turn a one possession game into a couple of possession game.
I came into this tournament feeling like there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to continue on what we did in the SEC Tournament. And I felt like we did a pretty good job of that and we did it against an excellent, excellent team. Xavier is very tough and they have a lot of NCAA experience as a team, as a program, and they had just the kind of toughness that I thought they did coming into the game. They really confirmed for me what I thought of them coming into the game. And I think they're just really mentally and physically tough and physical.