Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, players Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek, Christian James, on loss to UVA

uva basketball bear creekTHE MODERATOR: Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger with student-athletes Christian James, Brady Manek, and Kristian Doolittle. Coach, a brief opening statement.

LON KRUGER: Virginia dictated there early, got off to a great start. Thought we got our feet under us a little bit after that. Virginia is good. They’re really good. I thought we had a rhythm on our offensive end. I thought they did what they wanted to on their offensive end. As they do, they dictate to you, and we didn’t fight that quite well enough.

But proud of our guys. Our guys fought like crazy throughout the year. Opportunity to qualify for the tournament and get a good win on Friday and didn’t get the result we wanted tonight, but proud of them. These guys have represented well, and happy for them.

Q. Kristian Doolittle, they made a change in the starting lineup, put Mamadi in the starting lineup covering you. How much did you think that affected your ability to get to the rim and make plays?
KRISTIAN DOOLITTLE: It changed a lot. Him being 6’10” and being very athletic, he was able to alter my shot and block a few of them there at the beginning of the game. Credit to him for playing really good defense. He made it really tough on me to get the shots that I wanted, and even when I was open, just kind of wasn’t in a rhythm, just being inconsistent on my part. So credit to them for that.

Q. Brady, you had 13 in the first half. Christian James, you had 13 in the second half. But you didn’t score in the other halves. What was happening that each of you had a really good half but struggled in the other half?
BRADY MANEK: I just think they got us out of rhythm. They played really good defense, solid defense. They’re a good team. I had some open looks, but it wasn’t really the shot I wanted. They just played really good, and I just think that the second half I got a little flustered, and it showed in that I was missing shots.

CHRISTIAN JAMES: As Brady said, they’re a great team. They did a great job of dictating on offense and defense. First half, I missed a couple open looks, kind of felt good, but they didn’t go in. The second half, I seen one go, and from there, they all felt good. Credit to them. They definitely took me out of my rhythm a little bit. They’re a great team.

Q. Christian James, was there any thought when you all were able to absorb that 7-0 blow, have that run where you took the lead, did you think that maybe you could get that punch in that might psychologically wound them enough where you could just knock them out?
CHRISTIAN JAMES: I wouldn’t say knock them out. We knew they were going to fight. We knew it was going to be a battle from the beginning. We did go on that run. We thought we could be able to go on another run after that, but it didn’t go like that. They did a great job on defense. Like Brady said, they kind of took us out of our rhythm.

Q. Christian James, you’ve played on a Final Four team. Did that look like a Final Four team to you, that Virginia team you were playing?
CHRISTIAN JAMES: Yeah. They’re a great team, and they’re going to the Sweet 16. Anything can happen from there. It’s March, and it’s all about who wants it more. But they slowed the pace down on offense, and they run their sets well. They do a great job on defense, helping, getting back recovering. They doubled us on the post. They did a great job of that. They’re an all around good basketball team. That’s why they’re the Number 1 seed.

Q. Kristian Doolittle and Brady, you’re going to lose a bunch of seniors, including the guy on your left. What do you like about what’s coming back and the core of the team that will be here next year?
KRISTIAN DOOLITTLE: This will be a starting point, taken from this game. We know what it takes to get here. So it will be up to me and Brady to kind of lead the pack this next year for the new guys coming in, freshmen and whoever’s coming in. We have to tell them what it takes to get here, hold ourselves accountable as well as holding them accountable whenever we’re doing our off-season workouts, starting from day one. You can’t take anything for granted because there’s probably some things we wish we could take back to change the outcome of the game, but you can’t do that. So you have to start from day one starting good habits.

BRADY MANEK: Yeah, what he said about just we’re losing a lot of good guys, a lot of good players, guys like Christian that shoot it, guys like that can take it to the rim. Jamuni, Miles, Aaron, they’re all very good. And we have very few of us coming back. We’re going to have to have some young guys, some JuCo guys, guys like Austin Reaves and Kerr, they’re coming.

Next year, we’ll just have to start over, like Doo said, and just work from the beginning.

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THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach?

Q. It looked like you played with them most of the game, but they’re clearly just a superior team. What do you need to get back to that level you once were at? What do you need?
LON KRUGER: Again, this group fought and did a good job, but I think you’re always looking to — Virginia’s a club, using them as a standard, that they can score in a lot of different ways. A lot of different individuals can make plays. They’re so sound defensively. Communication-wise, they’re great. Coach Bennett does a fantastic job. So the group we got coming back and the group we got coming in, it will be exciting to see where they go. We have to challenge them to take this as a base and take it a step forward.

Q. You had Trae Young and he went off to the NBA. You’re picked 8th in the Big 12, if I’m not mistaken, preseason. What do you think about this team and what they were able to accomplish getting into the second round of the NCAA?
LON KRUGER: They did a good job. Even if you look back into the middle part of the Big 12 where we lost five in a row, they were down and out at that point and kept fighting and kept plugging, and we’ll always have a great appreciation for the fact they kept working. It would have been pretty easy with the conference schedule coming up at that point. We’re going to TCU, and they’re tough at home, and we were able to win there, then come back home and beat Kansas in a big way. Then again, I thought they played as well as they have all year against Ole Miss Friday night.

So, yeah, a lot to hold their heads up. Again, you’d like to go through and win them all, but when you get to that point where you’re down and out a little bit, to respond is a pretty good challenge and a pretty good test of their character and their togetherness. They hung in there and had the opportunity to play in the tournament.

Q. How do you use games like this against this level of talent as teaching moments for your team?
LON KRUGER: Christian and Brady said — and Jamal, who played a lot of minutes, those guys coming back, a little different reference point. They know what a Number 1 seed looks like more clearly now than if they hadn’t played in the tournament. They’ll learn from it. They’ll be a bit more motivated in the off-season; spring, summer, fall.

They’re a good bunch that likes to be in the gym and likes to work. So they’ll get better.

Q. Tony made a change in his starting lineup, put Diakite in to cover Doolittle from the start. How much do you think that affected Doolittle and the entire game?
LON KRUGER: As Doo said, probably hard to measure, but definitely blocked a couple three shots, changed a couple of others. I think it probably had a pretty big impact on him. He’s a long rangy defender that made Doo play a little bit differently than he did Friday night for sure. So I think Diakite did a fantastic job.

Q. Followup to that, the way Doolittle’s progressed, especially since January, I think, he’s become sort of a go to player. Is it hard for you to win at this point in the season without him having a really good game? But does that also bode well for the future that he can become an even more impactful player?
LON KRUGER: Probably so, yeah. When he or Christian, Brady, those been the source of our scoring throughout the years. So if you take one or two of them out of the mix, it’s makes it tough, especially against a 1 seed and a very good club like Virginia. These guys will get better. Jamal, I thought a little uncomfortable in the first half. I thought he played much better in the second half. It’s a good experience for him to learn from and gain from. And certainly Doo and Brady will, as well.

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