HOUSTON HEAD COACH KELVIN SAMPSON
“I am very proud of this team and the way they accepted what we were trying to teach them this year, the way they came together and handled the normal ups and downs of a season, but it’s all about getting better. You are going to have some tough ones, but when you have great player leadership, that’s when your team can really take off. I have been so blessed in my career to have that, and I knew that was something we had to develop here.
Devonta (Pollard) couldn’t be a leader last year, or even early in this year, but as he gained control of himself, his life and his academics, we began to see the real Devonta, and it’s a beautiful sight.
If you ask me what I am most proud of tonight, it’s not the 22 wins or the 12 conference wins. I have been there and done that for many years; it’s the development of this program and the players in it. It has been so gratifying to see Devonta overcome some obstacles and odds; LeRon Barnes, who had multiple chances to do what was right. This is a pretty good basketball program now, and it’s only going to get better.
I am really proud of LeRon Barnes and the kind of person and leader he is. Leadership like we have in Devonta and LeRon was the best thing that could have happened to Galen Robinson, Jr. Along the way comes Daymean Dotson. He began to develop into a leader and take ownership. These guys started taking pride in this program. I’m so proud of this team, and I give all the credit to these players. We have great player leadership. Teams who underachieve usually have poor player leadership. Teams that play to their ability level usually have a good system and great player leadership. I am proud of these guys.”
On the key to tonight’s defense
“We changed up some things. Every game is different for us because there are certain things that we are not very good at individually, so we have to be good as a team. We may play them again, so I will not go into what our game plan was, but I will say that they followed it. They followed instructions well, and the game plan was executed to a T. Ronnie Johnson and Bertrand Nkali were key to our defense early tonight. Every time we had a 50/50 ball, we got it. Our thing is, if we get a 50/50 ball, we are going, and we will play as fast as we can. Cincinnati is a hard team to play fast against because they are really good in the half court. That’s the way they practice. Most teams don’t practice defending our speed in transition, so it came down to can we impose our will. Our will is our speed in transition vs. playing their game. We did a good job in defending them and pushing it. We never slowed down. Our culture and our system is in place, and we have a clear understanding of how we want to win the game, not play, but win because we play to win. “
On the potential of his team
“No question, this team is an NCAA Tournament team. It’s not because of who we scheduled in non-conference. It is what we have done the last 11 games. So much emphasis is put on how you finish the season, but we finished our season winning nine out of 11 (games). We had some tough losses, but we played LSU in non-conference, and they had Ben Simmons. I thought that they would be the best team in the SEC this year; that was a great non-conference game for us, and Rhode Island was picked to win their league.
We have gotten lucky with our non-conference schedule. You might say that we haven’t played anybody, but at the times that we scheduled these teams, they were really good. Rhode Island was picked to win the Atlantic-10, and LSU was picked to win the SEC. We went out and scheduled these good teams, and these teams wind up having down years, through no fault of the coaches. These teams low RPIs have hurt our RPI. We have gotten some bad luck with our RPI because of some of the teams that we played had injuries and didn’t have years that they expected to have.”
On becoming a better team from earlier in the season
“I pounded them hard since we got back from Connecticut. I almost showed them our turnovers against UConn Sunday night but it was almost a 5-hour flight. I was sitting in the back of the plane watching our Cincinnati game and wanted to regurgitate watching our turnovers.
We are better than that. We’re not the same team we were because we had seven new players every two weeks. We were going to completely change our spots. Even though we won at USF, we won at Temple, and we came home and beat Tulane. We were 3-0 but we weren’t ready against a team that plays like them (Cincinnati). We caught Temple on the right night, let’s face it. It’s OK to admit that. USF was pretty good then, maybe not later, but they were pretty good then; we weren’t. Rob (Gray, Jr.) was hot then, but I could tell we were going to morph into something better. We had to get solid. We had to become a team that had less holes.
Look at Sunday when we won against UConn; we only had 10 turnovers. That’s not an easy place to go to and have almost single-digit turnovers. Our discipline has been outstanding. Our ball movement has been outstanding. These guys have gone from playing with each other to playing for each other, and that’s big. I couldn’t be more proud of this team going 22-8, 12-6 in the league. We’re the only team in the league to beat everybody (as of Thursday night). We beat everybody in the league, and we were the only team to do that (as of Thursday night). Who would’ve thought that?”
HOUSTON SENIOR FORWARD Devonta Pollard
On how he’s feeling
“It felt like we were right back in the gym playing against each other in practice. That is the way we play in practice on every possession. We get them to shoot, make them miss, get clean rebounds, and then we are out and running; we are at our best when we do that.”
On speaking to the fans after the game
“It felt good in a lot of ways. I’m not a big person to go out and just meet everybody that supports our basketball program. For me to take the microphone and let them know that I appreciate their support and everything they did for us meant a lot to me.”