Jayhawks prep for Auburn on practice day
SALT LAKE CITY – As Kansas prepares for Saturday’s round of 32 match-up with the Auburn Tigers, head coach Bill Self and players met with members of the media to discuss the contest Friday inside Vivint Smart Home Arena.
From the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional, No. 4 seed Kansas (26-9, 12-6 Big 12) will take on No. 5 seed Auburn (27-9, 11-7 SEC) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Saturday’s game will start at approximately 8:40 p.m. (CT) and will be televised on TBS.
Kansas advanced with an 87-53 win against No. 13 seed Northeastern on March 21. Auburn won its first game of the event with a 78-77 victory against No. 12 New Mexico State. Prior to a closed practice session on Friday afternoon, Kansas head coach Bill Self, freshman guard Quentin Grimes and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot represented KU at the NCAA press conference.
THE MODERATOR: Let’s open it up to questions for Kansas student-athletes.
Q. Auburn’s been on a bit of a run here, obviously making their way, winning the SEC tournament, winning eight or nine straight games. What challenges does that present preparing for a team that’s on a hot streak in March?
QUENTIN GRIMES: We have to focus on the game plan. We know they are really good, like to play really fast, like to get a lot of threes, spread the court in different ways, so we have to be alert to the shooters.
THE MODERATOR: Mitch?
MITCH LIGHTFOOT: Like he said, they’re really fast, they shoot the ball really well. They do a lot of things well. They have big guys inside that can shoot, too. There’s a bunch of things that go into our scouting report that we have to lock into to guard them as best as possible.
Q. Mitch, you are one of the old guys on this squad despite being just a junior. For those who haven’t been here before, what kind of advice or what will you tell the younger guys as we head deeper into the tournament?
MITCH LIGHTFOOT: Telling the younger guys, my message has been: Enjoy it. You’re here, this is what you have worked for. They have done a great job of preparing themselves for it. It’s a big moment. There’s a lot — there’s pressure. But this is what you train for. This is what you spend all those hours working on your game for.
So, if we can listen to our scouting report and listen to our coaches, I think they will be okay.
Q. Quentin, take us through what was it like to have all five of you guys that started making your NCAA debut on Thursday? Did you guys talk or how did you calm the jitters down? What was it like?
QUENTIN GRIMES: It was great just knowing we had four freshmen that had never been in this experience. Dedric, it was his first time as well. There was nerves in the first couple of minutes, as you could see, when they made those couple of shots. But I feel like after the first time out, everybody kind of settled down, when you stick to the game plan, everything started flowing offensively. We had to get the first few minutes out of the way, and then everybody just play basketball how they know how to play.
Q. Just building on what you just said. The experience of being here, what’s it been like for you and the other freshmen first time?
QUENTIN GRIMES: It’s been great so far. All the freshmen are really enjoying it now we have that first game out of the way. Now we can focus on just playing basketball and just for the ultimate title, get to the Final Four and hopefully just win every game. We’ve got to take it every game at a time. Auburn are next so we have to prepare for them.
THE MODERATOR: More questions? Okay. Thank you, gentlemen. We will await Coach Self’s arrival.
Questions for Coach Self.
Q. Coach, I was curious with starting five guys who had never been in a NCAA tournament game, the result was good, but was there some anxiety and some jitters to get out or did they just go into it smoothly?
BILL SELF: I thought we played better as the game went on. But I — if you have some jitters, which I know we did, tried to take them out on the defensive end as much as possible. And I think we were pretty good at doing that yesterday. But I think they all handled it pretty well.
That’s going to be totally different playing speed like we’ll play tomorrow. But I thought our guys handled the moment pretty well.
Q. Coach, Auburn’s been on a bit of a run here, with their run to the SEC tournament, won eight or nine straight games now. How much of a challenge is it to prepare for a team that’s been this hot in March?
BILL SELF: I think that — it’s a challenge. Anybody that’s won a game in the tournament can make a case that they’re probably playing well at that moment. So, they’re probably as hot as anybody in the tournament, in their respective league, which is so good to run off eight in a row, and then yesterday was the ninth if I’m not mistaken. They beat a team yesterday that obviously went down to the last possession that we played them earlier in the year in Kansas City. So they’re hot, they’re hot.
You can look at it that we — I don’t know that we’re hot over time, but we played pretty well yesterday. So I can convince our guys that we’re hot, too.
Q. I wanted to know two things about coaching such a young team. First, has it taken a toll on you? Do you have more gray hair? Do you have to dye your hair now? Also, how does that make you a better coach when you’re constantly teaching guys?
BILL SELF: I’m not going to say I haven’t purchased Just For Men at some point in time over the last several months. (Laughter.)
I do think that at our place it’s a little different than a lot of places. There’s some places like that — we don’t use youth as an excuse. So regardless of what’s happened to us this year, if you’re out there, you still have to deliver and perform. Our guys have accepted that pretty well. We haven’t played to the level that past teams have. But I think I also believe there’s some reasons why we haven’t, and I’m not going to say youth is one of them. I just think we haven’t had our full complement of guys.
I’m really proud of our guys and how they have handled me all year-long. I haven’t been easy this year to deal with. For a large part because frustration sets in when you think about things, to a coach seems so simple, but to a player may be the first or second time they have ever heard something. So that is a challenge. They’ve handled it great.
I can honestly say it’s been fun coaching them, you know. I think sometimes the way that we play in the past isn’t as available to us now so we have to figure out different ways to do things. It’s been fun for me to try to tweak some things to get the most out of them. So it’s been an enjoyable year but it has been challenging.
Q. Bill, I know your game yesterday wasn’t close, but there have been tons of games that have been close where you have had reviews at the end of the games, long delays. Do you think that hurts the game, these long delays?
BILL SELF: You know what, I have watched a bit of the games but I haven’t been able to, like in our film room we have TVs going everywhere and our film stuff going, too. I haven’t been locked into knowing of the exact examples that you’re referring to.
But the long delays aren’t good. But I do think this time of year it’s more important to get it right than it is to have a delay. And I’m not, I don’t know which exact example you’re… excuse me?
Q. There have been a few of them. It happened in the Auburn game.
BILL SELF: That was obviously — and the thing about those situations that is unique, even though we look at it as I think people that watch it on television as fans or in the stands as fans and, Oh, it’s taking too long, but it also plays in the strategy too much, because you give a team an extra timeout that didn’t have one, or you allow a team to have to defend something when they wouldn’t have had a timeout to put something in that second.
So from a strategic standpoint, a late game, it certainly comes into play and that is one of the unintended consequences I believe of the reviews and the delays. I still think this time of year it is more important to get it right than it is to rush through it.
Q. Your team is playing against a team like Auburn, who leads the country in making their opponents turn the ball over. Is that something you talk about even more with your team about protecting the ball and hammering that home?
BILL SELF: Yes. We haven’t — you have seen us. We haven’t been great this year in ball security during stretches. There have been times we’ve been really good and times we haven’t been. And certainly a big key to playing them tomorrow from an offensive standpoint will be the elimination of — we’ll turn it over some, we’re going to do that, live ball turnovers where they can create numbers in transition or shoot threes in transition, things like that.
So, we’re going — “careful” is not the right word. We will need to be very strong with the ball.
Q. Coach, obviously you guys had a comfortable margin of victory. Auburn’s game went down to the last second, an emotional, intense game. Does that give either team an advantage or disadvantage moving forward?
BILL SELF: I personally don’t think so. We read into those things. So if I’m coaching, if we had the same game that Bruce had, I would say that’s perfect, it played out perfectly. Then if we had the game that we had, I would say that played out perfectly.
They’ve been in real game pressure, which could be an advantage for them, but who knows. I think we try to make so much of things like that and I’m not sure that there’s an exact science to which it benefits more.
Q. Just a general basketball question. When you look at sort of like the top five or ten guys who leave college and go to the NBA over the last few years, do you think the tournament impacts their status at all? I guess that would be the best way to put it.
BILL SELF: Statistically, I can’t answer that. From me just thinking off the top of my head, I would say the tournament certainly enhances it. I would say there’s been many times where the tournament hasn’t hurt anybody, but it’s certainly helped a lot. And you know you could go back over — think of Steph Curry, that would be the first one that comes to mind with me.
And I’ll be honest with you, there are some players playing collegiately right now if they don’t have a great tournament, they will still go at the very top of the draft. We’ve seen them too much. I do think it can really enhance.
But for maybe a fringe guy, maybe it would hurt a little bit. But I don’t see it that way. I think there are a lot of guys at Villanova last year that benefited from the NCAA tournament.
Q. Devon Dotson obviously has had a great year for you as a freshman, he’s matched up against Jared Harper tomorrow, both very quick, Jared has more experience. Quite a challenge but I guess you could say that at about every position for you guys tomorrow.
BILL SELF: Yeah, when you start four freshmen we’re going to be seeing some things that we haven’t seen before. There’s nobody in our league that plays like Auburn. You could say maybe when West Virginia with Miles and Carter back there, but it was still different, but at least the pressure of every possession. They put pressure on you defensively most every possession, but offensively, they put pressure on you most every possession as well. So, it is different.
But Devon will have his hands full. I love his mentality, his talent, I love his toughness. It will be a big challenge for all our people tomorrow, all our guards, but it will be one that they will welcome and are really looking forward to.
Q. When you talked a little bit about the challenge this year, obviously the regular season run ended. But does what you do in the tournament, can that kind of change how you look at it and change maybe how people back in Lawrence look at this year?
BILL SELF: I think so. I’ve always thought, you can win your league, win your Conference, you can do whatever, but if you don’t play well in tournaments, it’s just a good year. You have to do well in the tournaments to take it from a good to a great.
And even though — I shouldn’t apologize for being a four-seed. But even though the year didn’t go exactly as we had it scripted, I do think in our fans’ minds and certainly in my mind, in our players’ minds, it takes the sting off of that totally if you perform very well in the tournament.
So you don’t get a ring for winning a game in the tournament. You don’t get anything for winning the Championship. And we’ve not done that twice in the Conference in the post-season. So the only way we have a chance to get a ring would be to advance and to advance quite a way.
So I do think the opportunity to get to a second weekend — of course Auburn has the same opportunity — is something that I think our guys will look at and say, considering everything we’ve been through, this has been a really good season. Still not great. But really good with a chance maybe to build on it.
THE MODERATOR: More questions? Okay, thank you, Coach.
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