Home Press Conference: Belmont prepares for UVA in NCAA Tournament

Press Conference: Belmont prepares for UVA in NCAA Tournament


BELMONTBelmont coach Rick Byrd and players Taylor Barnette, Evan Bradds, Craig Bradshaw and Reese Chamberlain talk with reporters on the eve of the Bruins’ second-round NCAA Tournament game with UVA on Friday in Charlotte.


Q. Taylor as you look at the UVA defense, there were games this year, the Louisville game, they gave up 14 points in the first half, and you watched the film. Where do you see an opening, and do you think the fact that you guys shoot so well could be the equalizer?
TAYLOR BARNETTE: UVA, they’re the best defensive team in the country, and Coach Bennett is a very good defensive coach but Coach Byrd has a good game plan and he’s going to have us well prepared and we’re going to run with what he thinks best is going to work against their defense.

Q. Evan, I’m curious as you look at that defense, so much is talked about shooting over the top of it, but for inside guy, the way they post trap how do you view that match-up?
EVAN BRADDS: Yeah, as soon as I would catch the ball they’re going to be on me, so I’ve just got to look for someone quick, look for a quick shot and it looks like it’s going to be a quick pass to somebody around the perimeter.

Q. Taylor, can you compare and contrast the styles that, obviously you know Virginia’s style, obviously know Belmont’s style, how different are they?
TAYLOR BARNETTE: Very different. I mean, Virginia is a pack-it-in, seem to slow-it down team and grind-it out game and we like to get up and down and run. It’s kind of a contrast of styles for sure so it should be fun to watch.

Q. Taylor, tell me about what you remember from your time at Virginia and what it’s going to be like when the ball goes up in the air and you’re going up against some of the guys you used to practice with every day?
TAYLOR BARNETTE: It’s going to be fun, I’m excited, no matter who we play I’ll be excited. Those are some of my best friends from freshman year of college. It will be interesting and it will be fun, and I have a lot of respect for that program and Coach Bennett and all those guys, so it will be a lot of fun playing against them.

Q. Did you guys have a betting pool before this on how many Virginia questions you would get because I can’t help but notice the reaction on your face?
CRAIG BRADSHAW: Taylor said how many Virginia questions do you think I’m going to get when we walk in here, so we kind of knew that was going to happen.

Q. Craig, you’ve made first team all-conference and first team All-American, which has become somewhat of a tradition at Belmont. Can you talk a little bit about what the message is from Coach Byrd about all you guys getting your degrees, everyone is graduating?
CRAIG BRADSHAW: Academics are really important for us. He recruits guys who try to do good in the classroom as well as on the court. We’ve had a 10 year streak of having a 3.0 or higher and you don’t want to be the team to mess that up, so that’s what it’s all about for us, just doing really good in the classroom and on the court.

Q. First Reece, can you tell me a little bit about the match-up with their point guard Perrantes, what do you see for that? And for all the guys, how do you view the underdog seeding kind of situation you’re in?
REESE CHAMBERLAIN: Going into it, we’ve watched a lot of film, he’s a great player and kind of gets their team going, so any time I can shut him down offensively and kind of drop past them defensively and get these guys shots, that’s what we’re going for.

Q. Evan, regarding the underdog role?
EVAN BRADDS: Yeah, I think we just kind of embraced it. I don’t think we expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed so I think it’s just something we have to kind of take it as it is and just go out there and play and not pay too much attention to it during the game.

CRAIG BRADSHAW: We’re underdog every time we come to the tournament, so it’s nothing new for us. Same freshman year, we played a great Arizona team down to the wire, we are just going to be an underdog every time we come into the tournament, so it’s nothing new for us kind of used to it at this point.

Q. Reece, you’re no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, this is your fourth time. What has been your message as a senior to the rest of the team that’s playing in their first tournament?
REESE CHAMBERLAIN: I’ve just been talking to the guys and making sure they know it’s just like any other game playing. We have the same roles on the team, obviously we’re playing a great team in Virginia, but at the same time we’ve got to do what we do and take the coaches plan and execute it as well as we can.

Q. This is for Evan. It looks as if you guys had a big win over Morehead State, I believe you hit the 3 to get the winning streak started. Could you talk about your, I think you went in with a three-game losing streak, your mood going into the game and what that game might have done for you.
EVAN BRADDS: I think that was had a big turning point in our season. I think we had just been kind of playing average and we started turning things around and rode that momentum all the way into the conference tournament and hopefully we’re going to take some of that momentum with us tomorrow.

Q. Taylor, the Virginia players all rave about how much they love playing that defensive style. You know best, do they really like it and what style do you like?
TAYLOR BARNETTE: I trust those guys. If that’s what they say they like, then that’s what they like. I was very blessed to be able to play at Virginia and I’m blessed to play where I am now and I’m thankful for that.

Q. Do you like their style better?
TAYLOR BARNETTE: I like basketball in general, so it’s just a good opportunity to be able to play.

Q. Reece, I guess you’ve been with the program as long as anybody. Could you talk a little bit about Coach Byrd for those of us who don’t know him and what kind of coach he is?
REESE CHAMBERLAIN: He’s got a great reputation and he exceeds that and he’s a great X’s and O’s coach, but at the same time he does a great job of pushing his players, and gives us the freedom to make plays.

Q. Evan, have you seen video of your dad and grandfather? And if so, does your game resemble one more than the others?
EVAN BRADDS: I’ve seen a little of my dad. I don’t think he ever touched the paint, he was more of a shooter. My grandpa was probably as much inside as I am so I would say it resembles more him than me, but he played more during the peach basket day, they had to take the ball out of the basket so that was a long time ago.

MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Starting with Coach Byrd

COACH BYRD: Good afternoon. He asked me to make a general comment, so we’re obviously very happy to be here. This is a young basketball team for us compared to the last several years, a team that a lot of the year was not as good as our teams have been, but a young team has a better chance than most to improve throughout the year and by the time we played Murray State or Eastern Kentucky in the semi-final game, Murray State in the championship game, we were a better team than we were much of the year and obviously got a big win that’s been talked about because of the dramatic ending. And then the spot it put Murray State in because we were able to win that game. I feel bad for them, they had a great year and a great team, but happy for and proud of our kids.

Q. Coach, one of the simple ways of attacking this defense is passing out of the post trap. I was wondering if you could give us a scouting report on Evan, what kind of a passer is he offensively?
COACH BYRD: Evan’s a good passer, he’s not a strong kid, and so if he is going to create some rotation, then he’s going to have to get rid of it quick and make the right decision. That, of course, is the big problem. I’ve seen people score it when they’re doubling, I’ve seen people throw it in about the 15th row across the floor trying to take advantage of it. So we’ll see how that evolves for us. It’s something that we might do a little bit and it may be something we don’t do at all. They’re just so good at trapping, whether it’s trapping the ball screens or trapping the post that it’s real easy, it’s really easy to get — we can’t replicate that in practice and we’ve tried, so we’re going to have to react and be players during the game.

Q. As you’ve studied them, how much different are they when Justin Anderson’s at full health as opposed to when he’s not?
COACH BYRD: Well, certainly they seem to be a much better offensive team, the numbers prove that. He’s such an offensive talent in so many ways. So they’re better there. It looks to me like they’re good defensively no matter who they throw out there, I don’t see any weak links, but it impacts them and I’m sure that they hope and would much rather that he be at full strength.

Q. How much of an asset is Taylor having come from playing for Coach Bennett and really understanding how their defense works? How much of an asset is it for you guys getting ready for this game?
COACH BYRD: Well, some, we obviously have asked Taylor some questions and he’s offered opinions about things, but here’s the real difference: If you watch Virginia on video, you already know what they do. They’re one of those programs that do what they do and they do it great and they do it consistently and they’re not going to change. We’re not going to see a 1-3-1 zone tomorrow, we didn’t get ready for one. We’re going to see a really good man-to-man defense and a team that doesn’t do a whole lot of different things on offense. Certainly enough to prepare for, but it’s right there for you to see, and I think most coaches admire that kind of program more than any. Somebody that will just go in and tell you, this is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it so good that we’re going to beat you, and that’s what they do.

Q. You were quoted in Sports Illustrated, and I wrote it down here, that the gradual decline in offensive basketball is reaching a point where a lot of people think it’s just too ugly. Do you think Virginia basketball is ugly, and as you look to change possibly change some rules with the rules committee in the off season, would you do things to limit what Virginia — how Virginia plays?
COACH BYRD: Well, the quote says a lot of people think that, it doesn’t say that I think that. In fact, it’s just interesting to me that there’s all this discussion about there’s not enough scoring. Why do people even go to a soccer game? I mean, to me, it’s okay. I have total admiration for the way Virginia plays. As a coach and not necessarily as the chair of the rules committee, I think the game has evolved incrementally to where there is too much illegal physical contact and it ought to be called because it’s in the rule book. Really, whether it’s offensive or defensive — defensive or offensive, I should say. There’s guys that post up and you’ve got no way to guard them because they hold you off or they make illegal contact to get open. Illegal ball screens, illegal stagger screens. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that I wish was called by the rules but it slowly slides into that and you hardly notice it and this is where you are and this is what’s happened. The rules haven’t caused the low scoring in my opinion. Doesn’t mean we don’t have to try to tweak them to make that part better. But I don’t think, I don’t think so. In fact, I’ve watched an awful lot of Virginia defense in the last several days and they do it about as good and legally as you can do it.

Q. Earlier, Craig said that every time they come to the tournament you guys are an underdog, Belmont’s an underdog. Do you want them to embrace that? What’s the philosophy? What do you talk about in the locker room entering these tournaments?
COACH BYRD: You would be surprised how little we talk about that sort of thing. We approach this game like we would approach a regular season Saturday afternoon OVC game. We prepare the same way, we talk about personnel the same way. I’ve obviously told them a lot of things about how good they are defensively and also have said it’s easy to focus on their defense, but it’s going — the game may hinge more on our defensive end of things. You can’t overlook that they’re better offensively, they’re better offensively than you think they are because they’re so good defensively. I just don’t get into sort of the psychology of all this stuff. We’re 0-6 so maybe you could say you had better get into it, but we’re also 7 out of 8 conference championship games and a whole lot of other good wins to get there. So I think the way we prepare and the way we go about it, we’ll just stay the same.

Q. You obviously have had success with this group of players and other groups of players before them. Did you have any kind of master plan when you came in? What’s been the foundation of the program?
COACH BYRD: I hardly get from day-to-day sometimes, much less a master plan. What I’ve tried to do at Belmont is to recruit student-athletes that would choose Belmont as a school as much as they would a basketball program and try to make that a fit. I’ve tried to recruit guys with high character and that were unselfish and that would be good teammates and would represent Belmont in a good way and were still good basketball players. There’s just some things I was not willing to do because I think that much of Belmont as a university and its reputation, and so a lot of people would think that approach cannot be successful. At least in our case, I think it’s really part of a big reason why we have been successful. We’ve had so many good kids that like each other, that play hard, that love to play basketball, that are not trouble anywhere else off the court. I’m really, really fortunate to get to coach the kind of kids I get to coach.

Q. You touched on their offense. Can you speak to the challenge of facing an offense that doesn’t necessarily have a central figure, a go-to guy?
COACH BYRD: It’s the best kind of offense, if you ask me. They don’t, but they’ve got at least four guys on the floor most of the time that all have their different abilities offensively, different ways to score the basketball. They’re a capable 3-point shooting team without really having any great — a lot of teams have one guy that you just can’t let get a look, no matter what. They’ve got four, five guys that are going to shoot between 35 and 40 percent, which is plenty good, but we need them to shoot a little bit less tomorrow. I think the biggest challenge we have is the size and strength difference, and we’re just going to have to see if we can hold our own inside, and if we make a miss, if we can get the rebound. I thought we did that really good against a Murray State team that’s got a couple of big, strong post players particularly in our league and we out-rebounded them offensively and defensively and held their post players in check pretty good. They’re not Virginia’s team but they’re a good team and we’ve just gotten better at those kinds of things. That’s where we were weak at early on, too many offensive rebound baskets, too many easy baskets period. Our focus and purpose on defense has improved.

Q. Could you talk about the stretch where you lost three games in a row, including, I guess, back-to-back road games by two points and then you get the dramatic win by Morehead State?
COACH BYRD: If you look at our conference record at 11-5, we pretty much lost the games that we were, quote unquote, supposed to lose, the tougher games on the road. I would say we were disappointed in that last lost at Jacksonville State, it’s a game that a team that’s good in the OVC needs to win, and I was about as low as I can be personally about our team and how we were playing and preparing. After that game, and we did get a really good last-second win at home after losing those two straight two pointers against Morehead State and then we were 18 down in the second half against Eastern Kentucky at home and came back and won that game, and that one in particular just seemed to turn our whole season around and we’ve played much, much better since the last 15 minutes of the eastern Kentucky game at home. We’re finishing what I like about this team, and maybe even this program is that we’ve just — we finished well over the years. Even though a year ago we lost the championship game to Eastern Kentucky, we then went into NIT and won two games and almost beat Clemson at Clemson, and played our best basketball at that time of the year and sometimes it’s hard to keep teams fresh and happy and enthusiastic and ready to play at this time of year, even though it would seem to everybody in this room that would be easy, you’re playing in tournament basketball. We try to do that as the season goes along, we try, try hard that we’ll be excited about playing right now and the game will still be a game and not feel like work.

Q. Coach, when Taylor ended up coming to Belmont, what was it that brought him to Belmont and how has he fit into the program since he’s been here?
COACH BYRD: He fits terrific. I can say this, he’s obviously had a lot of media attention because he made the shot that got us here, and then as it turns out who we play, that he transferred from Virginia. I think Taylor came because he liked us the whole time we recruited him. We recruited him very hard and for a long time, and it just came down to one of those situations where all of a sudden we had two scholarship offers out and we only had one scholarship left, and Craig Bradshaw said yes faster than Taylor said yes. and those situations are unavoidable, and we tried to be really transparent in where we were in that process. Here is where we are, here’s what we’ve got. So he was, just like any kid does, he was before his senior year trying to find out if maybe he couldn’t get an offer from the very highest level, and we’re not the very highest level and he lost it. So he ended up going to a great program. There’s a lot of reasons and a lot of good reasons to transfer, a lot of okay, right reasons to transfer and I never get into that. But he’s been a great fit as a teammate and as a Belmont student-athlete. And he likes Virginia basketball and Coach Bennett and Coach McKay and he are particularly close, and has never said anything but positive things about his friends there and the coaching staff. I don’t see how you could do anything else. It’s a real shining example of what college basketball ought to be like, I think, Virginia basketball.

Q. Is it correct your dad was a sports writer?
COACH BYRD: It is, it is. I say that proudly, actually.

Q. What was that like for you?
COACH BYRD: It was great, it shaped my life. I was a little kid that loved sports and I got to go to all kinds of neat things. I got to go to Augusta and watch the Masters. His beat was Tennessee basketball. In the football season, his beat was SEC football games other than Tennessee. And we’re talking about Knoxville, talking about University of Tennessee. So I would take some road trips with him, go to Georgia Tech, watch Georgia Tech and Alabama play football. My favorite story or the one that people seem to be most interested in is when I was a little kid, I sold programs at the Tennessee basketball games and I was allowed to quit at tip-off, and I would scramble. At that time there were only press tables, just tables. They were open underneath and I would go sit under my dad on the edge of the court and watch great basketball, watch and Adolf Rupp’s Kentucky team and watch Pete Maravich and that kind of stuff. I’ve got to give him credit or blame for what I ended up doing, I guess.



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