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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What they said

Here is a transcript from LSU's press conference today in Greensboro, N.C., for the basketball tournament game on Thursday.

Q. The SEC only got three bids. I think you're the highest seeded team at 8. The conference got a lot of criticism all year. I was just wondering how good do y'all think the conference is this year? And do you feel in a sense you're representing the SEC because of all the press you've received?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, the whole season, you know, like I said, the SEC has been kind of down as far as teams that have been ranked in the top 25 and stuff like that. And we were on the team ranked. We do feel a lack of disrespect. But we're not going to talk about that. We're just all here to play ball. We're here at the NCAA Tournament, and we're very excited.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, you know, we were the only team toward the end of the season to be ranked. You know, whether it was strength of schedule or what, but the SEC just wasn't the old SEC this year. We went 13-3 in the SEC, so we did pretty good in terms of against our SEC foes. But the 8 seed wasn't expected, but it is what it is. And, you know, to get what you want to get in the NCAA Tournament. You've got to beat some good teams whatever seed you are. We're just ready to toss the ball up like Tas said, and play great tomorrow.
MARCUS THORNTON: Coming into the season like Tas said, coming into the season, everybody put the SEC to beat down. As far as the player in the SEC, you had to come out and play every night. You know, because any team could be beaten on any given night. Like Garrett said, I'm just happy to be here, and ready to throw the ball up.

Q: I don't know if you watched tape of Butler or what your coach has told you. But some teams have a little, it's awkward to prepare for Butler sometimes because of some of the things they do are unconventional. But would you comment a little on what some of the things that Butler does? If it's peculiar from what you're seeing, or if it resembles maybe what Florida and Mississippi State do a little bit?
TASMIN MITCHELL: From watching tape on them, they're talented. They play on a team of freshmen and sophomores. But, you know, they just run their offense. They run their offense. They're a very patient team. You know, they stay poised and guard them on the defensive end. But they've got to come back on the other end and guard us.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, they're a very impatient team. And I think we can go with the Washington State team that we played earlier in the year. In terms of we have to be patient on defense, and not gamble as much because they take their time. But also the way they have the four it's similar to Mississippi State. And they have guys that can shoot the ball. Their second tallest guy in Hayward can shoot the three. Ravern Johnson was a guy from Mississippi State who can shoot the three. So they're a guard-oriented team, but Matt Howard is the stud in the middle also. So it's going to be a great game to play.
MARCUS THORNTON: Like Garrett said, they're kind of like a Washington State. You know, they're patient in their offense. They don't take quick shots, bad shots, you know. They do what the coach says. Just like every other team we played this year, we can't take them lightly. They wouldn't be here if they weren't good, so we have to take them like we played everybody else and try to win the game.

Q. This is for Garrett as part of that first question, do you feel like LSU is representing the SEC in any respect because of the disrespect they showed y'all?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I mean, I feel like we were representing the SEC whether we had six teams, seven teams or two teams. Or if we're the only team because we're LSU and we're from the SEC. Us being the highest seed in the SEC, I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think Mississippi State is representing the SEC just like we are, as is Tennessee. You know, we're over the disrespecting thing. We're just ready to play ball. We're going to have to play, like I said, play good teams and beat good teams to get where we want to go in the NCAA Tournament. Our path might just be a little bit difficult at the beginning also.

Q. Last stretch of the season there things just haven't really gone your way. You kind of lost the Mojo there. Do you feel there's anything you can do that you can kind of get that back? Have you guys sensed getting that Mojo back?
MARCUS THORNTON: At the end of the season all the guys say they got complacent. You know, after we clinched the SEC, you know, people just got happy because we did that, wasn't worried about the games that we have remaining. But we knew we were going to start at practice today from the Mojo thing you're talking about. You know, that's the way it started at the beginning of the year. You know, grinding through the SEC, and we're just trying to get it back for the NCAA Tournament.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Marcus said, unfortunately, I think we got a little complacent clinching the SEC. But I think we were during that season we were hungry, trying to earn respect in the SEC and throughout the nation. And, you know, we have another reason to be hungry now. It's a one-game elimination. If you can't get up for this game, if you can't gain your Mojo back and find your Mojo for this game, you're in the wrong business.
TASMIN MITCHELL: Piggy back off what these guys said. We got lackadaisical at the end of the season. Lost three of our last four. But, you know, we've got to try to gain that back and have the same hunger that we had at the beginning of the season to get respect. But like Garrett said, nothing about the disrespect, it's about coming out here in this NCAA Tournament. Anybody that knows anything can happen. So we're just out here playing ball, getting our Mojo back.

Q: Y'all had a few off-shooting nights in a row here, do you think you're due to snap out of that as a team? And how much of the shooting is just sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're not? MARCUS THORNTON: You said it. In the game of basketball you know everything's not going to go the way you plan every game. Because if so, everybody would be the best. So, like I said, we've got to snap out of it a little bit. Get some shots, get a good feel for the area and the arena, and try to come out Thursday and make something happen.

Q: Tasmin, if you could take me back to 2006 your freshman year when you made it to the tournament back to the Final Four, back then, did you think that could be an every-year thing for LSU? And secondly, with everything you've been through since then, the injury and the rough couple of seasons the past two years, how has that changed and made you stronger? TASMIN MITCHELL: Yes, without a doubt, you know. Every team going into the season thinking they can make it to the Final Four, especially if we made it the year before that. So I was thinking that we can make it. The sky's the limit for the team. You know, as the season's played out, it didn't go as planned. But, yeah, you know, their run to the Final Four was unbelievable. Me and Garrett sit back and talk about it. We talk about it all the time. You know, remember it was like this, remember that, remember that game. But you know what I'm saying, that's over with. We've got to try to get back to what we were. But two years after that, you know, we kind of really, really dropped the ball. We really proved to teams that, OK, LSU is not the same as 2006. My injury made me stronger because it allowed me to see things not from being a coach, but from a coaching perspective. Like what I needed to do. I think it made my game stronger, you know, and some things in a lot of aspects. So the injury was, you know, it was almost a blessing from God because it just allowed me to come back and play with these guys and get back to what we were.

Q: In 2006, Darrel Mitchell was a guy that loved to take that big shot. When you look at Marcus's game, is it kind of similar to Darrel now that he likes and relishes that big shot? He's a guy that can knock down a lot of points for you? And Marcus, can you comment on wanting that big shot at crunch time?
GARRETT TEMPLE: Yeah, we saw that when we went to Maui last year. Tas played the first game, two games. But Marcus had a couple of big threes to send it into overtime. And at Auburn he hit a big three to win the game. So you have a guy like Marcus Thornton that can shoot the ball and almost 25, 26, 27 feet. You expect it to go in. And he had that confidence in himself. The team had the confidence in him for him to make that shot. You know, he's also the guy, if he's not open, he's going to pass it, use him as a decoy. But I do see a little bit of Darrel Mitchell in him. When he got here, I said he's a 6- Darrel Mitchell. Darrel used to hit that big shot hopefully. Hopefully we won't have to make a big shot. But if we do, I have confidence that if he's shooting it, it will go in.
TASMIN MITCHELL: It's hard to replace a Darrel Mitchell. He was a great leader, great point guard, stuff like that. But Marcus is in a category of his own. I think so. He's one of the greatest scorers I've ever seen. He's always up for the big shot. You know, his game has become complete, and, you know, we put the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
MARCUS THORNTON: Just to comment on that. It all comes from these guys having confidence and being able to know that I can make the shot or whatever. Like Garrett said, it's not just making the shot if people are guarding me too tight. You know, one of these guys are open, I'm going to get it to him, and I have enough confidence to know they'll make the shot.So it all goes back, you know, to the team. You need all your team players to win the game and have confidence in them. That's how we got here.

Q: Which one of you guys will guard Hayward? I guess I'm asking it to all of you guys. Just talk a little about the problems, a guy that's as versatile as him can cause?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I think I'm going to be guarding Hayward, Gordon Hayward, I think his name is. He's a very tall freshman that can shoot the ball, about 6-7, 6-8, but also has a lot of basketball skill in that he can dribble the ball, pass the ball. So, I mean, he's a very mature freshman. It's going to be tough because of his length and not because of the offense they run. But I've had to guard, you know, great players a long time. So, you know, with my teammates here playing great team defense is going to be the biggest thing. That is the biggest thing about guarding a guy that can score the ball is team defense.

COACH TRENT JOHNSON: Boy, the LSU Tigers are excited to have an opportunity to play. We're looking forward to competing against a very, very well coached and very good Butler team tomorrow morning. And it is morning for some of us.

Q: A lot has been made about the comparison between a veteran team featuring a lot of seniors and the fourth year junior as opposed to a freshman and sophomore team. Do you put any stock into those comparisons?
COACH JOHNSON: No, none whatsoever. Butler has a basketball team that defies their age. They're very mature for their age, they're very skilled and they're very good. With the amount of players that they play in the summer whether they're coming out of high school or still in college. Experience doesn't mean a thing at this time of the year.It's about your ability to play, and concentrate and do the things you've been doing all year long. Not to mention the fact they have a rich basketball tradition of postseason experience, and being consistent in having that postseason experience.

Q: Butler does a few unconventional things offense and defense. Are they particularly awkward to prepare for for a coach and a team? Or is it not that much different from preparing for Florida or Mississippi State or Washington State?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know what you mean by unconventional. I have the utmost respect for teams that play like they play. And I want to single out one player, though they have a good, balanced group, of very good basketball players. Matt Howard in a 35-second shot clock possession set the back screen, the on-ball screen, will seal his man. Will go inside to him in the post and go back out, and will not let him score. That's how he impacts one position. They have a bunch of guys that that are capable of doing that. So when you talk unconventional, any coach in America will say Butler University under Coach Stevens leadership are playing a game we all want to play. That is maximizing their ability.

Q: Earlier the players were asked about the word was used Mojo. I would say getting their confidence and their swagger back. And they talked about that with some eloquence. What has the coaching staff done to recapture what might have been lost over the last three, four games of the season with respect to swagger and confidence from your team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, I've said this for some of the local guys who cover me. That is this group of guys being hard on themselves. When we went into this year, we knew that we were going to have to do three things really well with a sense of urgency. Defend, rebound, take care of the ball, and offensively shots were going to come.We've lost three out of four games to people who have been better on a given afternoon, better on that day. Our margin of error has always been slim. When we won seven games in a row, the ball was going down for us. So, again, it's my responsibility to get them just to relax and understand that, hey, look, nothing's wrong. Yeah, we've lost three out of four, but it's not because of what we haven't been doing, other than the fact that the ball hasn't been going down. We've defended pretty well, rebounded pretty well. Everybody you're playing at this time of the year is good. And so that happens.

Q: Two questions, Marcus Thornton, I know it's not an individual team, but he seems like a guy that's always willing to take that big shot for your basketball team. And a lot of times he knocks it down. Second, Butler's offense, is it a good matchup for your team in terms of your defense? Because there are no 6-10, 6-11" guys. It's mainly a perimeter team?
COACH JOHNSON: To answer the first question. Marcus has taken shots down the stretch during the framework of our offense and our system. And his percentages along with Tasmin Mitchell's percentages in late clock situations are pretty good. So we have to go to them. They're our two best players offensively. In terms of a matchup, I mean, this game is predicated off quickness and mental toughness and skill sets and skill ability. So being 6-11, 6-10, 7-foot has nothing to do with it. It's your ability to be a basketball player and play above the rim or below the rim.I've been in situations where I've had guys that are two seven footers and we played a Texas team in the Sweet 16 last year, and got eliminated and their tallest guy was 6-6. So the bottom line is teams and players individually doing what they've done all year long to get to this point and not stepping outside the box or stepping outside their character.

Q: In the overall scheme of things, how important do you think seeding is? Obviously 1-8 is a big difference. But is there that much difference between being 6 and an 8?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, for me, and I've said this and feel this way, I don't think it's a big deal. I really don't. You know, players and other coaches who know a heck of a lot more than I do will say so. But for our basketball team which is the one point now, if we were a 3 seed or 4 seed or 5 seed or I should say 4 seed on up, the level of team that we're going to play against is going to be very capable and can beat us if we're not right. Now if you're talking about a 1 seed, which we're not worthy of that. This team is not worthy of a 2 seed or 3 or a 4. So that's how our team looks at it. So, no, it doesn't matter. It's about matchups at this time of the year. And there is so much parity in college basketball with the exception of maybe six or seven teams, and we're not one of them, that you need to be ready to do the things you've done all year long. So the answer to the question, the seeding and competition and being ready to play is everything to this guy.

Q: You mentioned Matt Howard a little bit. But I imagine you've watched their film, and I was wondering if you could comment on the energy and how hard that kid plays every time he's on the court in both directions?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, he plays no harder and with no more energy than anybody that steps on the floor for Butler. And that's what you respect. Those kids are always ready to play. And they know how to play. You know, I have a group just very similar in that regard.I can honestly sit up here and tell you going into every game this year, this group that I've been fortunate enough to coach this year has always been ready to play. They competed from start to finish. And if there's a loose ball we'd be the first ones on our way to get it. So this 8-9 game will be a game that if both teams play to their capability, it should be a very, very good basketball game.

Q: You alluded to the matchup situations, and this time of the year. What about Butler is a tough thing to matchup with?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think what's tough about Butler is it takes principles, and what I mean by that is you have to be patient, you have to have a level of discipline because going down on the other end offensively, they're going to take good shots. They don't take bad shots. So, you know, again, are there going to be any loose possessions in this game if you're guarding them? No. They'll be very position and detail oriented. And defensively they force you to take bad shots, so we're going to have to be disciplined in our offensive approach and take good shots.This was a team that was to me very similar to the likes of a Washington State. But probably a better basketball team than Washington State is with no question in terms of how they approach the game.

Q: I'm covering a Bearcats team that has a lot of newcomers to this tournament. I was wondering if you could reflect back on your first trip as a head coach to a tournament, and what that experience and challenge was like to you?
COACH JOHNSON: I can't even remember yesterday, you want me to go back to 2004? Well, again, I've always tried to -- is to stay grounded. Stay on an even keel. All I can tell you is in '04, I didn't have enough time to really enjoy it. Because we had to win likes six games in a row, and the team to win the WAC championship, and the next thing you know you're getting ready to go to Seattle to play a Michigan State team. So it was more of a different scenario in terms of me being able to enjoy it and sharing experiences as opposed to getting guys to understand that you have to be ready to play. And it's still just a game. The game's going to be decided on the floor. You know, this time of the year, everything's going on outside of you, the excitement and all of that is fine. And it's great. But you still have to at some point settle down and play the game. So that's all I've tried to do and relate to the guys. We have fun. I have fun with them. But to go back and reflect on '04 is pretty hard. Because we were under the grind. We didn't have anything sewed up until -- actually, we got beat by Georgia Tech, and it was like oh, wow, this is what we've accomplished the last month and a half. So.

Q: In your years of coaching in the NCAA Tournament, is there one overriding thing that you've learned about the difference between it and the regular season that you have used? Anything that you say to your teams? Any tactics you use? Something that you've learned from playing in the tournament that helps you to be successful?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah. To me it's always been pretty simple but yet so hard to do. You have to do the things you've done all year long to get to this point. Some way, somehow, guys have to enjoy it. But you still have to compete at a high level. And just stay and concentrate the best you can. And it's hard. It really is hard for kids. You know, you look at it, it's probably going to be one team that's going to walk away from it that's going to be happy. I don't care what anybody says. There's going to be one team that walks away that are going to be happy. But there are 65 teams that got themselves in a situation that they have a lot to be thankful for when it's all said and done.

Q: Just wondering in the year that you've been here, what kind of leadership qualities have you seen from Tasmin? And do you have any specific examples of things he's said or done to take a leadership role with the team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, Tasmin is number one, he's a man. He's not very vocal. But it's all been by example. Very inspirational. He has not missed a day since I've gotten here. Whether it's an individual workout, in the weight room or in practice. And when you stop and you look at it, you know, playing against sometimes in the position we put him in against 6-9, 6-10 and sometimes being on the perimeter chasing around guys that are 6-4, that's huge. You know, he's probably one of the more enjoyable men that I've had an opportunity to coach in a short period of time. And I'm hard on the guys, but, you know, he's especially a young man. I think the people in Baton Rouge understand that, because they get a chance to see him and be around him a lot. He's more of an example guy from a leadership standpoint, and some other guys are more vocal, ala Garrett Temple and so on and so forth.

Q: How late were you in the office Sunday night? What time did you leave?
COACH JOHNSON: On oh, on national TV you would ask me that question. I got my usual two hours of sleep. See these big bags under the eyes, they're good.

Q: What do you think it is that makes Garrett Temple such a good defensive player on a variety of players?
COACH JOHNSON: I think it's the understanding of the game. Obviously he's an older guy, he's been around. He's not the best of athletes. He's not the biggest and strongest guy, so he's a student of the game. But all that being said, I think he's got a unique matchup coming up tomorrow, because he's a young man that he's going to be guarding is very, very special in terms of his ability to make plays off the dribble and off the bounce. Like a lot of guys on this basketball team. And again, I just have been very impressed with Butler as a team. I mean, you need to go back no further than Xavier gets beat by Duke handily, and Xavier's next home game is against Butler. And Butler goes in there and beats them very precision and very efficient. So we're looking forward to it, and excited about the challenge that's in front of us.


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