Press Conference: UVA discusses Belmont on eve of NCAA Tournament
Q. Malcolm, what did you guys kind of take away from last year’s, your first game of the NCAA Tournament last year when you played Coastal Carolina and kind of came in as a heavy favorite, kind of similar to this year?
MALCOLM BROGDON: Really it was just us getting a taste in our mouth, knowing what it’s like to be in an elite tournament like this and compete for something special. I think we have a way more experienced group this year, because the year before that we went to the NIT tournament. We have guys that have been to the NCAA Tournament now and we’re poised and we know how to fight back on tough games on big stages, and I think that’s the strength that we’ve built over the last year.
ANTHONY GILL: Like Malcolm said, I think we have a lot more experience this year. Last year going into the NCAA Tournament when we played Coastal Carolina, if you guys remember, we got down by a lot and had to fight our way back and I think that really showed our toughness and I think this year we can’t come into this with the same mentality, we have to be more focused, we have to be ready. I think we have to be prepared for the teams that they say aren’t that good, I think we have to be ready for that.
Q. Anthony, when you play a team that plays three and sometimes as many as four guards, do you feel that you need to be more assertive offensively, that you need to take advantage of that discrepancy?
ANTHONY GILL: I think within reason. Within our offensive system when we have an opportunity to exploit something, I think we will. Coach Bennett puts us in great positions to succeed. We’ve been working on a couple things in practice to be able to exploit different things, and I think it creates match-up problems for us on the other end though as well. When they have four guards in and got guys coming off screens, and things of that nature, it creates match-up problems for us, too, so we’ll have to be ready at both ends.
Q. Anthony, you went to Charlotte Christian, is this a bit of a homecoming for you?
ANTHONY GILL: It’s great. Last year we were in Greensboro. I grew up in High Point, and this year we’re in Charlotte where I went to high school. I think it’s great, my whole family’s going to be here, I’m blessed to be in this situation.
Q. Anthony, I think when you were at South Carolina, you played a lot of zone there. How has your defense gotten better over these past two years at Virginia?
ANTHONY GILL: Coming into the UVA program, when you’re on your official visit, they tell you you’re going to play defense, and you’re like, yeah, I bet we’re going to play defense. But when you get here, it’s like a slap in the face, you’re going to play defense or you’re not going to play. I think last year that was the shock factor, I had it and I didn’t really understand it. Really developing, Coach Bennett and other coaches really working with me and getting me better on my defense, I think put me in the right position this year.
Q. Following up on your Charlotte return, Anthony, you mentioned your family’s going to be here. How many other folks have reached out to you this week, saying hey, can you get me a ticket, I would like to get in? What is that whole experience of coming back to a place where you spent so much time, like you did in Greensboro?
ANTHONY GILL: It’s great to see everybody at the game, but leading up to the game is really stressful, trying to figure out who’s going to get the tickets and things of that nature. Last week in Greensboro, I think I had a total of 28 tickets and I think it’s great to have the support but it gets kind of stressful at times but it’s just part of it though. You get a lot of love from your family and friends and people you never really talk to the whole year but once you come back home they want to get tickets, but I think it’s pretty cool though.
Q. Malcolm, obviously you guys have questions about Taylor Barnette early in the week. What did you know about Belmont coming into this tournament and how much of an education process is there?
MALCOLM BROGDON: With any team whether or not you know a lot about them, it’s different once you get on the court with them. There’s always going to be adjustments we have got to make during the game tomorrow that we can’t prepare for today. But watching Belmont in the past over the course of this season they’re a team that likes to get up a lot of 3s. They shoot it at a good percentage and they play a fast sort of motion offense with a few sets. I think the challenge they present to most teams is they play four guards, five guards, for a lot of teams that’s hard to match-up with but for us we play the pack line defense. We have very mobile bigs like Anthony that can move, that can guard, most players on the floor so I think we’ll present a challenge for them.
Q. Have you seen them play on TV?
MALCOLM BROGDON: I have, I’ve seen them play once or twice earlier this year.
Q. As a follow-up to that, is their style of play similar to Davidson’s at all?
MALCOLM BROGDON: Very similar. During our practice early today Coach Bennett actually drew that comparison because they have a lot of similarities in how they get down the court, how they spot up at the perimeter and just run at the three. So we have got to be able to close out with high hands and be very alert on defense tomorrow.
Q. You guys have had such really good regular season and then kind of tailed off a little bit. Do you feel that maybe you’re under the radar in terms of teams to really watch out for during this tournament?
ANTHONY GILL: I think everybody’s going to have their opinion. I think we know where we stand regardless of how many games we lost in the last week or so, I think we know what we’re capable of. It’s just up to us to go out there and do it. Everybody says that they don’t like our style of play or stuff like that, but I think that we know who we are and that’s how we’re going to win games and that’s the only way we are going to win games is to play defense like we do.
Q. Was there one game for you guys that maybe down the stretch felt like a turning point game? Malcolm, if you can address this. The one thing I’m thinking of, and I don’t know if you guys agree, was the slow start at Syracuse and the way you came back and really took over that game and ending up beating the Orange at the Carrier Dome?
MALCOLM BROGDON: A turning point in what way?
Q. In the sense that you faced adversity and you beat it back and you go on and end up getting a victory.
MALCOLM BROGDON: Absolutely. Syracuse was definitely one of those games for us, one of the games where we had one of the slower starts of our season and then come back. There had been a few games earlier but that was probably against the best competition and probably the most dramatic comeback, because we started off very slow in that game but again I think it speaks to our resiliency and our experience and maturity that we have on our team from playing in the NCAA Tournament last year and then from coming together and playing well through the whole season.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you.
Q. Tony, certainly you were here with Washington State a few years ago. You’ve got a lot of roots in Charlotte. Talk a little bit about what that means to you, and certainly I guess your wife’s from here and three years playing professional basketball before you got into coaching.
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, this is a special place. My wife’s actually from Baton Rouge, Louisiana but we met here. A terrific place. And it’s changed so much. I was here ’92 to ’95 and I just did an interview with Westwood One with Kelly Tripucka, and I missed him by — I think he was there, maybe he left in ’90 or ’91, and we were exchanging memories. We were kind of teasing each other, we were saying I can’t believe our numbers aren’t retired here, but I’ve been telling my team and my kids, hey, I saw someone had a 25 Hornets jersey, so I guess it’s not, but special time. I did an interview with Tom Sorensen yesterday about the memories of those years playing here and of course that was a very unique time, I think, in professional sports and then my memories of, for sure, meeting my wife here. That’s phenomenal for me, it was a great memory and our time here was special, the people we met. And even our Washington State team got here and played Carolina in the Sweet 16, and the opportunities I’ve had, and it’s such an exciting time of year with this tournament. We were in this arena, we played Davidson, so certainly know how beautiful it is. And I think it’s neat that the Hornets name is back, too.
Q. Can you update us on Justin’s status and how effective, do you think he’ll play more in this tournament than he did in the ACC tournament and how is he feeling?
COACH BENNETT: It all depends. He only had two days of practice after being off over a month with his hand injury heading into the ACC tournament, and the appendectomy. So these practices, I think, leading up I think were valuable from a stamina and conditioning standpoint, and even a feel standpoint of playing and getting the reps in games or practice-like settings. So again we’ll see how it goes and I’m hopeful that he is further along than where he was after those two games in the tournament and keep building on that because we obviously know what he can do when he’s right. I don’t think it’s fair to say, oh, yeah, he is a hundred percent. He still has to wear protective things and some of our reporters have asked me about do I still think he’ll wear the protective splint that he wore, and just see how it goes and hopefully he is more comfortable with everything.
Q. Could you talk about what you’ve learned about Belmont since Sunday night?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah. The more you watch them, they’re playing really good basketball obviously with how many games they’ve won in a row and just Coach Byrd’s experience and their ability to spread the floor. They are one of those teams, I’ve used the analogy, Notre Dame kind of will play the four guards, we played Davidson who really challenge you. It is a tremendous challenge because of their ability to shoot and they’re sound and tough, you just see it. Well-coached guys understand how to play, so it certainly puts a premium on our ability to try to bother as many shots as we can, but to be in position, and they rebound well because they have such long shots, and then they’re sound and steady defensively. When you get to this stage, you’re going to have to play and play well and against a team like that. Every team’s dangerous at this point, and we understand that, so the more I watch them, certainly the more respect I have for the job they’re doing and how they’re playing. Bradshaw is deceptive how he gets by people and we know obviously about Taylor, but their interior guy can really score, Bradds. Just an efficient, very good team.
Q. Tony, you guys against Coastal Carolina last year kind of came out a little bit tight in that first game of the NCAA Tournament. Is there anything that you tell the guys this time around?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, I remember Coastal Carolina, they hit some tough shots and the ability to just play, there’s so many possessions and again, we always talk about trying to win the majority of those possessions or the percentage of those. But yeah, you’ve got to rely on that experience, you want to be as ready as you can but in the case of Belmont they can hit shots with hands in the face, but if we’re going to be good we have to make them hit most of those shots, bothered shots. Just to be steady but ready. You can’t feel your way into everything, but there are going to be ebbs and flows. I think that is, you just watch any kinds of games whether it’s the conference tournament or NCAA games and that part is important. So having that experience, those guys who have been through it will understand it’s just how it is. We’ll hopefully be more ready than we did and you’re going to have to play it from start to finish, I do know that.
Q. As you know, Coach Byrd is head of the rules committee, and in the off-season, they’re going to talk about ways to try to help the offense with the decline. Is that something you even think about going into a game like this and is it something you think about longterm how it might impact your coaching going forward?
COACH BENNETT: I was one of the coaches who voted for the 30-second shot clock, which may surprise some in here it’s what’s best of the game. I’ve said so many times I think one of the strengths of the college game for those who watch it is there’s different styles, and I think that is the beautiful thing of the game. There always needs to be evaluation of the game, where can it improve. Some people will stand on this side of the fence than others. If the 30-second shot clock, it will be interesting with the NIT to see the stats on that and how it looks but I think there will probably be some good changes made and my hope is that but I don’t think about that right now. Whatever game we’ve got, we have to play how we have to play.
Q. Justin said that you had tried on that splint that he’s wearing and kind of tried shooting with it. How did that feel to you?
COACH BENNETT: I just wanted to see it. I actually put it on to see how it felt. It’s interesting, I think I’ve talked to you guys about this before. The shooting not so much because you shoot with the big three, at least that’s what I was always thought and you kind of frame it. A little more of your handles and your catching because you can’t spread your pinky when you buddy tape it and put it on. The question, the more he gets used to it or practices with it, plays with it, the better you get at adjusting to it. I didn’t notice it too much shooting, I wouldn’t say it was like without it, it was a little more trying to handle it or catch that seemed like it slid out a little bit.
Q. Mike Tobey had 11, I believe, against Florida State, did not score against Carolina. How important is it that you take advantage of the size differential?
COACH BENNETT: Certainly their ability to play four guards and spread you out, there are some things there that maybe lean towards an advantage for us and you’re right, we have to, we have to do a good job on the glass, defensively rebounding, offensively there’s opportunities to go inside. Mike’s got good moves and is a skilled big man that we hope we can get him some touches when he’s in there, and that goes with all of our guys but, yeah, he did a good job against Florida State. There weren’t as many post moves. They were a little more offs and ball screen and slip stuff, but certainly there will be some match-up issues defensively, but offensively he’ll have some advantages if he can get deep position.
Q. You mentioned that you are in favor of the Hornets’ name. What was your reaction to that and how many of those guys do you come in contact with or do you?
COACH BENNETT: I have such fond memories of those three years when we got to the playoffs and Alonzo hitting that shot against the Celtics. It’s a great memory for me so I’m glad that the name is back and it seems like the city kind of rallied around it. Occasionally I’ll see those guys, Muggsy or Dell, but not often, we don’t keep in touch that much. And that was you was such a special time. I learned so much from those guys from that time that I share a lot with our players. When I talk about Muggsy’s heart and Dell’s ability to lock in and get in the zone, just use those experiences, from Alonzo’s competitiveness, it’s always good, because when I tell my kids or other people, hey, I used to play for the Charlotte Hornets, they’re not in the NBA. So now at least I have some validation, that that was a team in the NBA when I was playing.
Q. Anthony Gill, who’s obviously from here, when you got him on transfer, what kind of rebounder, defender was he and what has he become for you guys in these two years?
COACH BENNETT: Anthony went to Charlotte Christian where Akil Mitchell went to, well-coached obviously. The Curry brothers went there, so Shaun Brown has done a great job there, and it’s such a good school, but Anthony was a great addition for us, he was an important part of us coming on to the scene and becoming real solid. Him, Anthony and Malcolm both sat out, Malcolm was injured so that was his red shirt year, Anthony was obviously the transfer and I can remember in practices saying it’s going to be nice when these two guys are on the floor and we’re going to have them. Anthony’s always been a war I don’t remember, very aggressive on the offensive glass and certainly improved. The coaches put him on the all-defensive team and he’s gotten better and better at that defensively and he’s just improved like most players do because he works at it, he’s very driven, and very committed to his individual development physically, skill development and he’s really a team guy, that’s the one thing about it that you just love. He came in that way. He has been a great addition and one of the better transfers you’re going to find.
Q. Tony, is this a team that presents a match-up problem in that you won’t be able to post trap them because they’re probably not going to play through the way Duke played through that Okafor for that approach?
COACH BENNETT: I’m sure their post guy they list them I think as a guard I saw Evan Bradds, but he can score in there. At times you have to be ready, just that the distances, they don’t put two guys along the lane, there’s usually four around one and they’re out. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible but they will challenge you if you’re going to do that. Again, as I said, it’s a difficult team to match-up with, I don’t care what kind of defensive system you play. When teams shoot that well and if they get it going, whether you’re pressuring or zoning or trying to play position pack defense like us, it presents problems. But again, it’s as I said, if we’re doing the job, we’re going to have to be there bothering as many shots as possible. If they’re getting wide open rhythm looks, then you get behind and play. They are so good. I’ve never seen a team, they’ll get into that lane and throw skip passes and they’re flanked wide, and they’re well-schooled in that regard.
Q. Taylor Barnette on Belmont used to play for you and it’s kind of ironic that he meets you in this game, player that you coached. What’s that like for you to face a player that you used to coach? And have you had a chance to talk to him what would you tell him?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, well, he had a huge reason why they’re here. The shot he hit even at the game before. Taylor’s a good young man and I’m happy for him and I know he really likes Belmont and his sister still plays at UVA and it’s a fine family. He’s done a real good job for them. As you were asking that, I was thinking had I ever coached against a player that had transferred. I don’t know that I have.
Q. (No microphone)
COACH BENNETT: I think so, yeah. And I’ve had a lot of players transfer, too. I probably should have by now. He knows our guys and our guys like him. He’s explosive, he can get that thing going, he’s a lefty. I know he’ll be excited. He’s a confident man in the right way but he’s humble, too. It will be I’m sure exciting for everybody.