Video: Tony Bennett, Rick Pitino, UVA players talk with media

UVA coach Tony Bennett, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Cavs seniors Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte talk with reporters after Virginia’s 68-46 win on Saturday.

 

Virginia coach Tony Bennett

On seeing all five seniors on the floor toward the end of the game:  “That was great. The way the four seniors started and then Caid [Kirven] hitting that shot. It reminded me of Thomas Rogers on his senior night [in 2014]. I’ve watched Caid shoot in practice a lot and him knocking down that three might have been the biggest surprise of the game. I was so happy for him. He’s had a role that’s been so significant in practice. He’s a true servant with a servant’s heart. To be able to pull those guys out with the game in hand and let the crowd appreciate what they’ve done was special.”

On being undefeated at home for the season: “I called the guys over to center-court after they did their TV interviews and I just said, ‘Look around. First, give thanks. Be so thankful for what has transpired in this building over your four years. You guys have honored the pillars of the program. And that’s the greatest gift to me. Look at what’s happened and the excitement that’s happened.’ I just wanted them to appreciate that. I wanted them to be thankful for what happened and also let them know how appreciative I was. That’s a gift to me. They honored what matters to me. To see their heart and their drive and how they protected their home-court, that was special.”

On the play of Mike Tobey: “I get so happy when guys play collectively, but also have great individual games. Especially Mike, who has had some ups and downs, seeing him play and rebound like that was inspiring. It brings me a lot of joy. He was really active and that was important for us. His size was helpful.”

On the team’s defensive performance: “We were a little sluggish offensively. Louisville did a good job and made it hard for us. We had some bad, uncharacteristic turnovers. But we played really hard defensively. I don’t think the crowd would have let us do anything but that. There was such effort and plays at the rim. They missed a couple of easy ones and were a little cold on offense. It was a unique game for them, knowing that it was their last game. It was a strange situation. They probably didn’t play their best, but I thought our spirited play and how we competed was good. It seemed like we contested a lot of shots and everybody was fighting. I told the seniors, ‘Don’t leave anything in the locker room.’ Our guys didn’t.”

On the balance of the team despite a poor shooting night from Malcolm Brogdon: “London [Perrantes] and Malcolm, if you look at their first half stats, they were two-of-something and had a few turnovers. You knew those guys would get going and get right. Our defense held us in there. It was sloppy both ways early, but Evan [Nolte] got us off to a good start by knocking down a couple of threes. We got it inside to Anthony [Gill]. Mike did a good job. That balance was important. That helps us.”

 

Virginia senior guard Malcolm Brogdon

On the tonight’s defense: “I think it speaks to us finding our identity at the right time and us peaking as a team defensively at the right time. Going into the postseason, I think we’re playing the best basketball of our season. I think that’s an example of how we played tonight.”

On the emotion of tonight’s game and how he was feeling: “I was really excited. I am really thankful to have had the career that I’ve had at UVA, to have the opportunity that I’ve had on and off the court here. I am really grateful and humbled for the opportunity and having been applauded like that is really awesome. At the same time, you’ve got to be able to switch your mindsets quick and get ready to play. You’ve got to hold down your emotions a little bit and focus in.”

On having an unbeaten season at home after 34 years: “It’s awesome. I didn’t know how many years it hadn’t been done. I knew we accomplished it after tonight but I think it speaks to us. It speaks to Coach Bennett and what he is really doing at UVA and the type of players he is recruiting. I think it goes not only on the court but off the court. It’s about the type of guys he recruits and their character. That character is what allows us to persevere through ups and downs and to really protect our home court every night, being resilient whether or not we’ve gone on the road and gotten beat.“

On the defense against Louisville’s Damion Lee and Trey Lewis: “They’re both dynamic scorers. What you have to do with them is make them uncomfortable. It’s not really one man that shuts either of them down. It’s really a team effort; we’re a team defense. They are great off the ball screens so the bigs have to hedge and disrupt the ball screen. It was really a collective effort and with great players, you have to do it as a team. It’s hard for one person to completely shut down another person so it’s definitely a team effort.”

 

Virginia senior forward Anthony Gill

On the senior night experience and its impact on tonight’s game: “It was a lot of fun. It was high emotions and everybody was overtaken with a lot of emotions. It was up to us to go out there and really control them and still try to play a basketball game throughout all of the craziness that was going on. It was a lot of fun. I think me and all of the seniors, we’ve had a great run here and we’ve been a part of building something special. It was a great opportunity to get recognized out there in front of all the fans.”

On Caid Kirven’s 3-point shot: “The only time I’ve ever seen Caid make a three in practice was when we were doing the JMU scout our first year here. Ever since then, he hasn’t hit a three in practice.  And then tonight, he finally hit one in the game, which was awesome. I thought we were going to get a technical foul because everybody pretty much ran onto the court when he hit it. It was just an awesome moment.”

On Mike Tobey’s rebounding performance: “I was so happy for him. That’s awesome. At the end when he had 19, I just wanted to box my guy out so he could get 20. He played awesome tonight. I couldn’t be happier for him. I couldn’t be happier for all of the other seniors tonight. We just went out with a bang, which was a great showing of what UVA basketball is all about.”

On Mike Tobey’s toughness: “He’s always working. He wants to be great. He has it in him and tonight he showed it. We’re going to need that going down the stretch. From here on out, it’s one game and we’re done. We’re going to need everybody to step up and tonight was a perfect opportunity for him to go ahead and show us what he can do. We knew what he can do, but it was great for him to get it back and show himself he can do it and get the confidence back.”

On what Coach Bennett’s said during the end of game huddle: “We were a part of doing something special here. We’ve helped put the building blocks down to have all the fans at the games and everything like that and to have the championships that we have. He said that he was really proud of us and he was expressing his feelings about the seniors and how he is going to miss coaching us.”

 

Virginia senior center Mike Tobey

On playing more aggressively: “Yeah that is something that I have been trying to work on, going into this game especially. I sat down with Coach Bennett, we actually went to lunch, and we talked about what I need to do at the end of the season, and stuff like that, to help make the team make a big run. He just said, ‘play with a reckless abandon,’ and I really just tried to do that tonight.”

On if his emotions affected him during senior night: “A little bit. I think that is why I airballed that one shot. It was definitely an emotional experience being able to go out there with my family. It was an amazing night and a great atmosphere.”

On his career-high 20 rebounds: “Honestly, Coach [Ron] Sanchez was keeping me updated on how many I had because I was like, ‘Coach, I want to get 20.’ I had never had 20 ever in my life, so he was keeping me updated. Even the last one, all of my teammates were saying on the foul line, ‘Get it! Get it! Get it!’ It was a pretty easy one that just fell down, so they all just boxed out and let me get the rebound. It was just a great night.”

On his off-balance shot that beat the shot clock: “So D.T. [Darius Thompson] hits those shots all the time in practice, so I told him that I was just trying to copy what he does.”

 

Virginia senior forward Evan Nolte

On the emotions of senior night: “It is hard to describe. I don’t even know what to say. I mean, it is just awesome. This is one of those things for me, it kind of hit me like a week or two ago that I am not going to be back here, but when Caid [Kirven] let that ball go, I thought, ‘This cannot be true. It is too good to be true,’ and it went in and it took me back to Thomas Rogers. Obviously, we did not win the regular season like in that game, but it was so awesome, and with [Mike] Tobey’s game and Malcolm [Brogdon] and [Anthony Gill], it was really cool.”

On having all five seniors on the court at the same time: “It was cool. It was so many emotions that in the moment you are worried about getting the ball past half-court. You look around and you are like, ‘wow,’ and then you look over at the bench and everybody else is going to be replacing everybody that was on the court. It is hard to describe, but it was awesome.”

 

Louisville coach Rick Pitino

Opening statement: “You can obviously see, you can feel that our locker room would be very emotional because we all admire Trey [Lewis], Damion [Lee] and Dillon [Avare] so much. But I told our guys, ‘You learned not about basketball. You learned to be a professional, how to treat people the right way, how to carry yourself with great dignity and grace. You learn so much from these guys and it’s going to pay huge dividends.’ What you have to be, with all these young guys, is you have to hope to be Virginia someday  a well oiled machine, like they are because they have guys that have played together that cover for each other. We have guys that give great effort, but they’re not a synchronized machine yet. But, the good thing is that they got a lot of experience this year. Off the court they learned how to act from those two guys and on the court they had a brilliant season. We were able to get a split last year because we were just as experienced and just as good defensively as they were. This year this team was not a good defensive team. Most young teams aren’t, but the team gave great effort. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Virginia. They’re a team that is fun to prepare for, fun to watch. They have a legitimate chance, because of their experience, the way they shoot the ball, the way they shoot free throws, the way they play defense, of doing a lot of great things in the tournament.”

On playing through the end of the season: “It was difficult for a while, but it was actually much easier because of these guys. They gave such great effort. They played as if they were fighting for a one-seed. Tonight we didn’t play great basketball, but they were all fight all the way until the end. They got beaten by a much more experienced team who took advantage of our inexperience. We did the best we could. We had a great year with two bad games. Sometimes you can say, ‘Oh, we didn’t shoot well.’ We didn’t shoot well but Virginia is a great defensive team. Nobody plays us as well as Virginia.”

On his future: “Well I’ve told ESPN. I’ll be very serious and very up front. I spoke to Steve Kerr today, for the first time in a while when he played. I said, ‘Look, I’d really like to coach Steph Curry. Can you step down for a year?’ (Laughs) He said he would let me have the reins for one year. So I’m going to Golden State next year and their going to go back-to-back and I’m going to try to get them the three-peat.”

On his team’s season: “They were great all year. They didn’t look great tonight but they were great all year. I think Damion and Trey, the last three or four games, didn’t play up to their level. I think they were going through the tunnel and they finally saw the end of the tunnel and it was a very emotional locker room. I think that some times the emotion, after our senior night, makes you have a game like this. They were a true privilege to coach. Not since Billy Donovan have I looked at two young men like that. They’re special young men. I’m going to miss them terribly.”

On reflecting now that the season is over: “What I’m going to do is I’m going to drink very heavily and pass out. (Laughs) No, I’m fine. Look. I’ll say what I said all along. I’m not going to patronize myself by saying I didn’t know anything, and if I did everyone would have been fired and gone in a second, because that’s true of any coach in America. That’s not a great statement to make. Some people did the wrong things and this team had to pay the price for that. So what you have to do is you have to—crisis management is about learning to do the right things. I’ve done the right things as a head coach all my life. Have I coached some bad games? Yes. Have I maybe should have put a guy on the ball on Christian Laettner? Yes. But, I’ve coached a lot of games, a lot of Final Fours and a lot of championships. I’ve enjoyed every step along the way. It was a difficult year. But I know I can look myself in the mirror, from the first day I coached at Boston University and knew I wouldn’t give anyone two dollars. Ralph Wood had a great line. He said, ‘You can’t work people as hard as Coach Pitino works them and get away with doing the wrong thing.’ I know I’ve done the right things in basketball for all those years. But, I’ve got a responsibility for who I hire. Certainly, I’m disappointed. I’m saddened, because I love that young man. That being said, crisis management is about dealing with adversity and doing the right things. We did the right things this year and we handled adversity with as much class as can possibly be held.”


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