HOUSTON HEAD COACH Kelvin Sampson
“I’m proud of our guys and proud of our effort. It took us a while to learn how to compete as a team and play as a team. There are a lot of ways to turn the ball over. Shot selection. You can have bad shots. Chuck (Cavon) Baker had a turnover today when he splatted a tomato off the side of that glass with one of his shot attempts. But, we’ve learned how to move the ball on offense, and who gets the ball where, and that takes a while to do that.
You have to be real careful about what you want to work on when you take over a program. For us, I chose to work on our culture and our foundation, which is how hard we play, playing together, passing up good shots for great shots, defending, and getting on the floor for loose balls. That has to be what Cougar basketball is. Once we learn how to play, the basketball stuff will come into play. Then, as the years go by we’ll get better and better players, and we’ll become a factor in this conference, but for this year this is our journey. It’s not our destination.
That’s a good win today, but for us it’s more about validating the things we’ve been working on. More than anything else I was really happy for our guys, because they’ve had so many close games this year, but as the season has gone on, give them credit, they’ve gotten better, better and better. Every time we go on the court we seem to get a little bit better.”
On the importance of taking care of the ball
“Yeah, that plus shot selection. As I said there are a lot of ways to turn the ball over. We do little drills in practice. We talk about taking care of the basketball. We’ve lost a lot of close games this year. We had to lose those games. You have to lose close games to figure out how to win close games. Unless you’re the Atlanta Hawks, I can’t believe I said the Atlanta Hawks, but they’re the best team in the NBA, but unless you’re a great team, you’ve got to figure out how to win close games.
I didn’t say much about it, but L.J. (Rose) didn’t break a sweat from the month of July until late December. From the middle of December on, I look at the games we were losing, and that was September for him. He didn’t get a chance to practice with the team or get in shape. He came off a broken foot that he broke twice. He re-broke it in September, and that’s why he didn’t come back until December. You saw what kind of point guard he is. He didn’t play like that in December when we were losing a bunch of games, but that shows you what he’s capable of doing.
When you have a smart, heady, cerebral point guard, and you have a system where they know where the ball goes, then it comes down to execution and playing smart. One of the things we talked about last night in film was that we didn’t have to play a great game to win this game today. And we didn’t. We only shot 37 percent and won. It’s not like we played great, but we didn’t play smart and that is what I was looking for.”
On how it feels to get the monkey off his back and get a conference win
“Never thought about that. If it was my fifth or sixth year I would probably think about it, but I’ve won a few conference championships over the years. With this team I was always focused on the journey and making sure we got better. As far as the first conference win I’m not sure that even matters to me.”
On the contribution of LeRon Barnes
“Every team needs a LeRon Barnes. Nothing flashy or pretty, or glitzy about him. He’s kind of like Old Man River. He just flows along. He just does his job. He’s an excellent rebounding wing. He can guard the other team’s best player. Today he did a good job on a tough matchup on (Daniel) Hamilton. LeRon stabilizes us. We have some guys that tend to get a little emotional. As they become more mature, they’ll be able to not get so high, or too low. They’ll learn how to handle their emotions, and they will after they go through moments like these. LeRon is like that all the time. That’s why he’s important for us on the floor.”
On the bench play of Cavon Baker and Eric Weary Junior
“I’ve been critical of our bench this year because it’s been sporadic, but the last couple of games; Mikhail, was tremendous the last game against Rice. We put L.J. on (Ryan) Boatright for a reason; so we didn’t get cross-matched in transition. Sometimes you put them in there and say just don’t hurt us. Well Chuck helped us. He was a difference maker. He made a couple threes, and made some good defensive plays. I wish I could have played him a little bit more. He probably deserved to play a little bit more, but that will give him a little motivation to work harder in practice.
Eric had eight rebounds in the first half. Eric is one of our best rebounders. We’ve got two really good rebounders in (LeRon) Barnes and (Devonta) Pollard, but the problem is they just don’t have any size. Those are our three best rebounders. The problem is all the teams we’re facing, like SMU who has four 6’10” guys, and Memphis and Cincinnati are just huge. We will be eventually, but this team is competing and doing the things that they need to do that this program will be known for going forward. That’s why this season is important.
There’s only one way this year could have been a failure, and that’s if we did not come out of this year knowing what our culture is: what it means to play Cougar basketball. If we didn’t get that then this year was a failure. That’s why this is a great year so far. I don’t care what our conference record is. So what? In two years nobody is going to remember what our conference record was. I’ve been doing this too many years, but the kids that come into the program next year, the kids coming back start teaching them, and that’s how you build a good program. I don’t want a good team.
It’s not hard to throw together some good players and look up and have a good team. I’ve never been interested in that. We’re going to build a great program. You build a great program by understanding who you are, having an identity, and kids understanding that. We’re building that, and we’ll continue to build. That was a good win against Rice, a good win against Connecticut, and we’ve got a good opportunity on Thursday against Tulsa.”
HOUSTON JUNIOR GUARD L.J. Rose
On team’s improvement
“Every day we’re learning how to win. Defensively we are playing hard and learning how to play hard and compete. That is all coach is stressing on every day is to keep getting better and we will start seeing the results.”
On team’s performance
“The past few days in practice we have gone over our offensive sets; what sets we want to run when we are going away from coach. Cavon (Baker) and I are taking what we have learned in practice and have to be more vocal on the floor and get guys in position so that we don’t have as many breakdowns.”
On Coach Sampson’s game plan
“Guys are in the right spots at the right time. We are learning how to play with each other. We are learning how to stay in our lanes, and not try to do too much. Everyday I’m feeling better and better with this team, and I myself am learning how to play hard and compete.”
UCONN HEAD COACH KEVIN OLLIE
“The second half they really killed us coming out on a 15-4 run coming out of halftime. We did a good job of getting back into the game. Of course, we couldn’t score in the first half, but you know we got it down to three. Then, in the second half we came out and made some bad mistakes. On our first possession we had a turnover and then fouled a three point shooter; came back then Amida (Brimah) had a turnover for a three point shot. Then it just snow ball effect on us. Good comeback by Ryan (Boatright) with the last 26 points out of 28 points. He really put it on his shoulders to try and will us to victory, but at the end of the day when you get down by that much it’s really hard to win games. You’ve got to play a perfect game and hopefully get some breaks.”
On Houston’s game
“They didn’t turn the ball over, and that’s good ball by them. We played our solid defense and put a little ball pressure, but we’ve got to take a little more gamble. That’s getting guys up and in the passing lane because we need cheap buckets. We have a hard time scoring at half court. That’s been all year. That’s one of our deficiencies. We’ve got to do something else. We’ve got to take a couple more gambles so we can get some steals and cheap buckets here and there.”
On Ryan Boatright’s game
“He’s holding up well. It’s a tough situation anytime you’re getting triple and double teamed. I’m not going to talk about the refs, but some of those calls he’s going to the bucket and getting hit. For some reason they’re not making the calls that I see out there. But, at the end of the day you’ve got to leave the refs alone and play this game.
He’s got the heart of a champion. He tried to will us to victory, but it was too late. We’ve got to stay positive. We have 10 games left. It does not make any sense for us to come around and have a pity party for ourselves because nobody is going to help us out. We’ve got to help ourselves out by playing hard, and looking at the tape, and everybody coming in, and chipping in and doing their part. That’s what we’ll do and we’re going to play hard each game until the end of the season.”
On establishing Ryan Boatright earlier
“He was trying to make his shots, but he had two, three guys draped on him. We’ve got to make our passes. We wanted to establish Amida. He had one dunk but got in foul trouble. I’m not here to try and run an AAU team and have him coming down running pick and rolls and jacking up on three people. If that’s what you’re asking I’m not going to do that. We want him to get more involved. He got to the rim and got fouled a couple of times, but just didn’t get the call. That’s on the ref to make the calls.”
On zone defense
“I just wanted to start off in zone because they have two 6’7 guys, and I wanted to keep Amida out of foul trouble. I knew they were going to isolate Amida with Pollard, and that was our matchup. He’s a 6’7 three-man. He’s athletic, but he’s a three man. He can shoot. It’s a mismatch problem for Amida.”
On Amida’s foul trouble
“I don’t agree with it, but I’m not getting paid to ref. I thought he slipped but at the end of the day that’s not what cost us the game. We should not have been down by 15 points with eight minutes left to go. I wish it would have been called the other way. There were three seconds on the clock. I thought it was a cheap foul. The refs did a good job. I’m not going to complain. There are a lot of things I can complain about other than the refs.”
UCONN SENIOR GUARD RYAN BOATRIGHT
“We have to figure something out. We have to change something. Something has to change. I don’t really have anything to say. I’m at a loss for words.”
On having 26 points in the last 10 minutes.
“I tried. Of my whole career, that was probably the most mentally tough I had to stay. Personally, I felt like I was getting hit a lot. Just getting fouled a lot. We weren’t getting the calls. I wasn’t the only one. I felt my teammates were getting hit too, but its basketball.
I was just trying to stay mentally tough, and keep my team tough and stay in the game so when it was time to hit shots I would be able to do it. I tried my hardest. I left everything on the floor. I feel like our team can play better, but like I said we have to change something.”
On defense when the opposing team shoots a lot of threes.
“Honestly, that should be the easy part of the game. Last year we loved when teams took a lot of threes. With long threes you get long rebounds. Our defense didn’t connect. They had open looks and knocked them down.”
On getting no help offensively.
“It’s hard. Like I said it’s probably the toughest game throughout my career where I had to stay mentally tough. I kept going over talking to coach, and he did a great job helping me stay in the game and stay mentally tough. He told me to keep playing and even though I was getting hit I have to play through it, and that’s what I did.”
On zero fast break points and how to play better in transition
“Play defense first. They took too many shots. I don’t know what they shot from the field. Teams know we want to get out in transition, so when they shoot they’re getting back. It’s tough, but we have to keep playing. Like I said we have to figure something out. We’re writing our own story.”
On not having a high percentage
“We shot the ball horribly today. We missed a lot of layups. Some of that had to do with getting hit, but at the end of the day we have to make layups no matter what. We didn’t play good.
On the fifth foul called on Brimah Amida
“Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Every time we come down here though there’s a call like that. Last year we lost and they called a crazy foul. I just don’t understand. There are three seconds on the clock, he caught the ball with his back to the basket. He tried to do a move he’s not comfortable doing. Personally it looked like he slipped to me, but that’s what the referees call and you have to live with it.”
On taking a lot of shots
“I just want to continue to lead: continue to play UConn basketball. I never set out to play outside of the system. Today I shot 26 shots, and I didn’t even know that. I don’t like shooting that much personally, but it was called for. I try to play within the system and let everybody eat. But sometimes it has to go like that. I feel how Shabazz (Napier) felt last year in some games. I can honestly see what he was going through sometimes. “