KU Hoops Previews Weekend Matchup with Border Rival Missouri

Feb. 23, 2012

  • Coach Self 1
  • Self 2
  • Self 3
  • Self 4
  • T. Releford
  • T. Taylor
  • J. Withey

LAWRENCE, Kan. – On Thursday afternoon Kansas men’s basketball players, along with head coach Bill Self, met with members of the media in Allen Fieldhouse. As part of the weekly press conference, the Jayhawks discussed their upcoming opponent, the Missouri Tigers. Self fielded questions on how crazy the environment in Allen Fieldhouse will be, as well as how his team can learn to close out games.

Below are videos and transcripts of Self’s and select players’ interviews.

Bill Self Press Conference
February 23, 2012
Lawrence, Kan.

Kansas head coach Bill Self
On if it is easier to get the team focused after a game like the one at Texas A&M:
“This game coming up will not have anything to do with focus from the last game. These kids will be fired up to play, for a lot of reasons. They have a chance to get a ring, at least a piece of it, a chance to play Missouri, but more importantly, a chance to play a team that beat us the first time we played. That would be plenty to focus (on).”

On if he has personal feelings about playing Missouri for the last time:
“No. I love playing Missouri. I loved playing them when I was at Illinois and I’ve loved playing them since I’ve been here, but it’s not anything that I’m going to sit around and think about. I don’t feel that strongly at all about it.”

On if he has watched film of Kansas State’s two defeats over Missouri:
“I haven’t seen the game tape yet. It’s on my to-do list. One thing that K-State did the first time that was so impressive was that they were physical and got the ball in tight. Based on the little bit I’ve seen, I thought K-State, the other night, did a good job early getting their lead as far as getting the ball inside and getting it tight. Missouri is a terrific team. I love their players. We recruited (Marcus) Denmon and (Michael) Dixon, and I love their personnel. I love how the Presseys (Matt and Phil) play and (Ricardo) Ratliffe has had a monstrous year. (Kim) English is having a great senior year. You’ll hear nothing out of my mouth for their team and Frank (Haith) other than respect. I really admire the year they are having. We went over there and played pretty well. We put ourselves in a position to win and didn’t close. To me, I don’t know that there’s any correlation between that game and this game because I expect them to play better than they did over there. They (Missouri) played good enough to win, but I don’t think it was one of their stellar games. We’re going to have to do a great job defending them again and do some things differently to put us in good shape to win better than what we did over there, and what we did over there was pretty good.”

On if losing at Missouri was a turning point for KU:
“I thought the Baylor game was a turning point for us, coming back after losing a heartbreaker at Missouri. So much about this conference race is all luck of scheduling. If that had been a Big Monday game, we probably wouldn’t have won. At least it gave us enough time to recover. We were fortunate in getting them on Wednesday after the disappointing loss Saturday night. I don’t know if it put a different spin on our season. I think it ticked us off, which I don’t think is a bad thing most of the time.”

On junior forward Thomas Robinson’s emotions getting out of hand against Texas A&M:
“I think it happened strictly out of frustration because he hadn’t had a good game. I don’t think it had anything to do with the actual play. It was frustration for a lot of reasons, how they defended him and that kind of stuff. That is what disappoints me. I think kids can get emotional in a scuffle or a loose ball; that doesn’t bother me. You have to think for the team’s benefit and you can’t push anybody, which was a bad play on his behalf and probably gave them the only chance they had to possibly win the game. Thomas has had great composure this year. It was just in that one moment; that was frustration from a build up, it wasn’t just from that one play.”

On if he cautions Robinson about teams intentionally trying to get him frustrated:
“We talk about that all the time. He’s more valuable to us than some guy off the bench is valuable to the other team. We had a kid at Oklahoma State named Byron Houston that was a beast, but he was emotional. When you’d put a reserve or two reserves in to lay on him or something like that, he’d get frustrated. Thomas has really handled that, for the most part, really well this year. Last night, there was nothing that Texas A&M did that was even remotely worth getting frustrated over. You’ve just got to finish plays. That led to his frustration as much as anything.”

On if it was good to see junior guard Elijah Johnson’s shot start to fall:
“Yes, of course it was good to see. He had 18 points the first half and our second leading scorer had four. It was great to see the ball go in the hole, and I knew he was going to have a game like that. He’s too good of a player not to bust out of it. Hopefully, that will give him some confidence moving forward. It’s been a long time. That was great for us.”

On if he can feel the anticipation for this Missouri game more than in past years:
“I just watched taped with Ty (Tyshawn Taylor). I don’t know if this is the biggest game we’ve had. I told Ty that if I remember right, his freshman year, didn’t we play Texas at home, winner-take-all for the Big 12 Championship? To me, that’s a bigger game. That was for a conference championship. There are still games after this one and that was the last game of the season if I’m not mistaken. Regardless of what I say or how I look at it, it’s not how everybody else looks at it. It’s not how the players on both teams look at it; they’ll see it as a huge game. It has a different feel to it, but I don’t know, as a coach, that it has a different feel than a lot of the big games we played here because the most important thing is to win the game, to put yourself in a position to win the league. That’s every team’s goal. This gives you an opportunity to at least put yourself in a good position. It puts them in a good position, too, if they win.”

On having issues executing down the stretch:
“Last night, we were up 18 with 6:57 left, and it takes about one minute and 20 seconds to get it to eight. We haven’t learned how to close like great teams close. That doesn’t mean we can’t be a good closing team, but I think if you look at our season to date, we haven’t been a great closing team; but there haven’t been a lot of games where we’ve had an opportunity to be a great closing team. We closed great at Texas. We closed great against Georgetown and good against Ohio State. We didn’t close against Duke. Davidson controlled the game from start to finish. We haven’t had that many games that required us to close to win. If you go back to Manhattan, if we didn’t have a double-figure lead, we would have obviously had problems because we didn’t close as well. We certainly have to get better at that and making free throws. We had our two guards who are really good players go 2-for-6 (from the charity stripe) in the last minute (last night). So we have to do a better job of making free throws.”

On how he will make sure the emotions won’t get the best of his players on Saturday:
“I thought we did a really good job with that the first time. We were enthusiastic, but focused. There will be a lot of energy in the building and their players will be energized. It will be a great atmosphere for both teams to play in; of course, the atmosphere in Columbia was fabulous too. I certainly anticipate a maturity level being the key intangible in whoever plays the best. You have to put blinders on, you can’t look left and you can’t look right. You always wonder why race horses, when they get in the stalls, why they have them (blinders) on, so that way they can’t get distracted. Players have to do the same thing as well.”

On if he expects that the atmosphere on Saturday will be the greatest he’s ever coached in and if it will be a good recruiting tool:
“It should be a great recruiting tool. Recruiting tools like this are really good if you are successful, but not good if you aren’t successful. I haven’t been here that long, but this is my 10th year counting the year I was here with Larry (Brown) and I don’t think there will be anything that compares to it. The only night I can think of that would be close to as energized would be the inaugural event, the opening of the building. I would think that would have been a special, special night when KU played K-State to open the building.”

On if he has had a chance to talk with former head coach Larry Brown about the season:
“Yes, we watched tape together last night on the way home (from Texas A&M). He’s the best in this regard because he just likes to watch. He’s not telling me what we should be doing. I haven’t talked to him about this weekend.”

On what characteristics past teams have had when closing out games:
“Execution, free throws, getting stops when you need them. Basketball is like tennis because there are certain points you have to win and I think when you’re down five with under three (minutes to play) you have to get a stop. Or if you’re up five and you have the ball with under two minutes (to go), you have to have a good possession. I think there are certain things you have to do in games to become a really good closing team. That’s something we can certainly get better at. There are a lot of teams out there that are getting better at that.”

On what Jeff Withey needs to do this time against Missouri:
“I think there are a lot of keys to Jeff (Withey) staying on the floor. One is that he needs to be more aggressive and be more of a presence. Another thing is Thomas (Robinson) needs to be able to guard on the perimeter because if that is something we are not successful at doing, then you have to pick who is in the game: Thomas or Jeff. That is something I think is really important for our team. Everybody has a role and a job to do. Jeff’s job is to be a presence because we have to be able to play through him. He needs to get to the free throw line. His teammates can also help him be more aggressive by being able to defend out on the floor and do some different things.”

On not letting Marcus Denmon get hot from the field:
“We actually guarded them (Missouri) pretty good, but we didn’t guard him (Denmon). In large part because he made some great plays. It’s kind of a `pick your poison’ deal because if you stretch out too far, then that puts the ball in (Phil) Pressey’s hands to make plays. If you play too compact that may put the ball in somebody else’s hands to shoot uncontested shots. We have to find a rhythm and a balance on how to keep them out of the paint and still pressure outside. We have to do a better job on Denmon, there’s no question. (Michael) Dixon’s on a roll right now too, but their whole perimeter is terrific.”

On making sure the team doesn’t start trying to shoot three pointers at the same rate as Missouri:
“I think we may input a rule, if they make a three then we have to shoot it from the paint on our next possession. I’ve had coaches do that before. When the other team makes a three, we have to get it inside on the next possession. I don’t think it’s as much a tendency that we have to match them, because that’s not who we are, but the tendency is not letting our emotions get the best of us to where we get too excited and we feel like we have to match them. The first time we played them I think five of our first eight shots were threes and that wasn’t what we talked about. We’ll address it, but not in a way that we don’t want them being aggressive and looking to score.”

On how important it is to have somebody else step up when Tyshawn Taylor and Robinson aren’t scoring as much:
“Yes, absolutely, because we’ve rode those two pretty hard. Last night I don’t think Ty (Taylor) or Thomas were as engaged as they usually are, and they’ll be the first to tell you. Elijah (Johnson) carried us for a stretch, no question. We actually got a lot of good looks last night for Conner (Teahan), but the ball just didn’t go in the hole. He (Teahan) had eight rebounds though, a career-high, and Travis (Releford) had seven rebounds. I don’t think Travis scored after the first three minutes into the game, but he still gets seven rebounds and plays good defense. So, he found ways to help us win and I think that’s what teams do. We’ve done a decent job of that so far.”

On whether or not the game atmosphere can be more intense in Allen Fieldhouse:
“Since I’ve been here the Oklahoma State game when Wayne (Simien) went crazy and we were down eight or 10 with eight minutes left and came back. The Oklahoma game when we were down 17 with like eight minutes left and came back and won when Mario (Chalmers) and them were freshmen. The Baylor game this year was pretty good. There have been so many that have been good, but I think this one, with our fans, will have a different feel. Just like it was with their fans when we went over there to Columbia.”

On how this team has been to coach, despite preseason star power:
“Oh yes it’s been fun. It’s been great, but I disagree with the lack of star power. We’ve never had a kid that was in the debate for National Player of the Year and I don’t know if we’ve ever had a guard play better over a stretch than what Ty (Taylor) has. We have that (star power), but we don’t have as many. It has been a fun team to coach. We’ve come a long ways. We’re at the point in the season where you can play your best and you’ve worked your tail off all year long to put yourself in a good position, now you just have to go make it happen. Missouri’s done the same thing. They’ve had a fabulous season and they’ve worked their tail off. I’m sure their staff is telling them the same thing, now you have to go finish.”

Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor
On facing Missouri again:
“We’re still bitter about the first time we played them. We felt like we let that one slip away, so we’re going to try and bounce back at home.”

On the atmosphere being different for Missouri:
“I think it will the best that I’ve seen it in my four years here. It’s going to be crazy, but I’m excited and I’m ready for it.”

On what sticks out about the first time they played Missouri:
“We made plays down the stretch that we can’t make. Thomas (Robinson) and I made some plays down the stretch that big-time players can’t make. We can’t make those types of plays for our team and down the stretch we just didn’t close. We were up eight with the ball and like 1:50 left and we didn’t close.”

On sticking with the game plan if Missouri starts shooting a lot of threes:
“Yes, we definitely have to stick with our game plan. If we stick to our game plan and work the ball around like we are supposed to and get it to the bigs then we can fan out around the perimeter and get good shots.”

On if the team is talking about this possibly being the last Border War Showdown:
“We’re talking more about them beating us last time. We need to play better this time and that’s it. The end of the rivalry hasn’t really dawned on us yet and we haven’t paid too much attention to it. We just want to play.”

Junior center Jeff Withey
On if this game has bigger implications than usual:
“There’s a lot on the line. If we win this game we put ourselves in a really good position to win the Big 12. It’s against Missouri and that is always big for the university (of Kansas).”

On what he needs to do differently against Missouri:
“I have to be a lot more aggressive. Last time I didn’t score and I need to be a factor in the game and put pressure on (Kim) English and hopefully make them play bigger, so that can help our team out.”

On his confidence since the Missouri game:
“It’s grown a tremendous amount. I’m coming into this game really confident and ready to play.”

On what he learned from the first matchup with Missouri:
“I learned that I have to be much more aggressive. I let them get comfortable and I let English get off to a good start. This game, I know how important it is to get off to a good start and make it tough for them to play small.”

On if it will be tough to play in such a crazy environment:
“It’s definitely going to be loud and sometimes you can’t hear yourself think, but it’s really exciting playing in an atmosphere like that. It’s going to be really intimidating for the other team.”

On possibly playing Missouri for the last time:
“It’s too bad it is coming to an end. The fans seem to enjoy it a lot and it always makes for a great atmosphere. It’s a great rivalry that dates back to a long time ago, and we want to make sure and end it on a good note.”

Junior guard Travis Releford
On the importance of Saturday’s game against Missouri:
“We’re playing for a Big 12 title, and this is a big game for us. The rivalry, the title and they beat us at their place. There are a lot of factors to it.”

On the end of the rivalry being a big deal to the players:
“We’re really not into that. It’s been a big deal over the past years because of the history of it and the competition.”

On if he agrees with Coach Self about this being the biggest game in Allen Fieldhouse history:
“I think so too. (It will be) the loudest gym we’ve played in because we went to their place and they beat us, and there’s a lot on the line. We have a Big 12 title to play for.”

On the key to Saturday’s game:
“Executing and defending, and just running what we run.”

On this game meaning more being from the KC area:
“It means as much to me as it means to everybody else. It’s not just because I’m from here. We’re all together, and winning the Big 12 is everybody’s goal.”

On the most frustrating part of the first matchup:
“(The most frustrating part) is that we kind of gave the game away. We were up at the end. If we would have just run our stuff a little better and controlled the ball, maybe we would have had a better chance of winning.”

On feeling relieved that the Missouri game is finally here:
“It’s good to finally be here. The fans have been talking about it, and looking past other games. Now this is our next game so it’s where all the attention is.”