NOTE: Villanova statements to CBS immediately following the final whistle appear at the end of the postgame press conference transcription
NCAA Men’s Regional Semifinals and Finals: Boston
Sunday, March 25, 2018
NCAA East Regional Final
Villanova – 71, Texas Tech – 59
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, juniors Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall. We’ll begin with an opening statement from Coach Wright and then take questions for Coach and the student-athletes. Coach, your thoughts, please.
JAY WRIGHT: We are very honored to be in this position. We played a really tough basketball team that had us scouted extremely well, took away our threes, really tested our ability to play tough and ugly. I think that was their game plan. I think Chris did a great job with it, and our guys responded. I was really proud of them.
We want to send out congratulations to Texas Tech for a great season, and we have a lot of respect for Chris. They’ve got a lot of young guys. They’re going to be good.
And I’m really proud of our guys. Once again, it’s leadership of the players. It’s Jalen, Mikal, Phil. They just keep our team together. They run the show on the court.
And, obviously, Eric was a beast today.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Coach and the student-athletes.
Q. This is for Coach: Every year, every roster, every team is different. This weekend you win one game with everyone putting the ball in the bucket. Today it seemed like everyone was missing, and you still win by double figures. How were you able to build this team to be so confident in itself, whether it’s the putting up 95 or they’re stuck here in the 60s and low 70s?
JAY WRIGHT: You know, it’s really the makeup of the players. It really is. We’ve been here 17 years. We do the same things. But when you have guys like — I know I say it all the time, but it’s just the truth. Jalen and Phil and Mikal, they don’t care whether the shots are going on — I still don’t think Phil Booth is 100 percent with his hand, but he does everything else — defends, rebounds, keeps our team together.
It’s the character of these guys. They don’t judge themselves by whether their shots or going in or whether they look pretty. It’s how they play for each other.
Q. For Jalen, in the second half, the offense looked a little stuck in the mud against Texas Tech. What did you try to do to try to open things up and just the difficulty in running a play against them?
JALEN BRUNSON: They’re a great defensive team, one of the best defensive teams in the country, and then one of the best teams we played against. So they did a really good job of sticking to the game plan, playing team defense. But for us, if shots aren’t falling for us, we try to make sure that’s not affecting us, that we’re getting stops on the defensive end. And still having confidence in ourselves that we can take shots on the offensive end.
Everyone has confidence in each other. And I specifically remember that I was missing a lot of shots, and my teammates looking me in the eye in the huddle and saying, “Jalen, keep shooting the ball. Keep shooting the ball. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.” That’s just the confidence they have in me and we have in each other.
Q. Eric, in 2016 you were part of that championship team, but because of the transfer, you didn’t get to participate. Can you tell me what your emotions are like when Donte was dribbling out those final seconds and to be a part of this team going to the Final Four?
ERIC PASCHALL: One thing I can say, I’ve been saying all day, is just being blessed. I’m just blessed to be here. I have great parents. I have a great coaching staff. I have great teammates. I feel like our teammates did a great job to be here, and I’m just so blessed to be here.
Q. Last 17 minutes of the first half, you held them to 14 points. I mean, obviously, it’s much more than a one-dimensional team, but that was the best stretch of defense I’ve seen your kids play.
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah, thank you. I was just thinking about this, this is the first time I saw the stats. We try to be the best we can be by the end of the year, and to outrebound that team and hold them to 33 percent, that was definitely our best defensive effort of the year. And that’s what your goal is as a team is to try to continue to get better, even when you’re in your league tournament, even when you’re in the first round of the NCAAs, keep using practice to improve. And I think that was a sign tonight of us doing that.
Q. Jalen — Jay, you can answer this too — what has been the best improvement in Eric since you’ve seen him these last couple years?
JALEN BRUNSON: Everything really. Eric’s, he’s been a great, great player since the day when he came here, and you just see him progress. But by the way his work ethic has changed, his demeanor. Obviously, his body’s gotten a lot stronger. He can handle the ball. He’s more aggressive. He has all the physical tools that he can do it. And his mentality is just having that killer instinct.
He’s playing for his teammates and coaches every time he goes on the floor. So he’s definitely gotten a lot better just because of how his mentality has changed and how his work ethic has definitely improved.
JAY WRIGHT: I would say, Jalen’s right in all of those, but defensively. He was a leading scorer in high school at Fordham, and he really couldn’t get in foul trouble. So he didn’t really defend too much. But he’s become really our best defensive player with Mikal. He can guard any position, and he can rebound against anybody. I mean, he’s just — you saw it tonight. He was switching onto Evans and guarding Evans at point guard, and he is truly an elite defender and an elite rebounder.
Q. For any of you guys, the phrase we all use a lot at this time of year is “survive and advance”, and I think, Jay, you might have even came in saying that yesterday when you came in. What does that phrase mean for you guys? How have you done it? It was a crazy year in the bracket. What does “survive and advance” mean, and why have you guys been able to do it, do you think?
ERIC PASCHALL: I guess for us it means we get to keep playing for each other. I mean, we keep getting better as a team, keep being able to play with each other more. I mean, that’s what it means for us, I feel like. Just keep getting better. We have more practices now. We can keep getting better from that.
JALEN BRUNSON: Towards the end of the season, Coach really did challenge us to be a better team defensively and together-wise. So we just had the opportunity to keep getting better every practice, and even in late February, even in March, we’re getting better and better and better. He just kept saying, if we keep winning, we have a chance to keep getting better. That’s what “survive and advance” means. We’re getting better. As soon as we get back to campus, in the film room, on the court, we’re recovering, and we’re going to get better.
JAY WRIGHT: Well said. That’s what I said to them. They’re telling you the truth. That’s it.
Q. Jay, I know you don’t take this for granted, and there’s always good fortune involved to get to this. But two years out of three, two of the last three years, to get to this level, what do you think that says as a reflection of the way you guys do it? And it’s not the way every program tries to do it or the way maybe you guys have to do it. It’s an affirmation of the way that’s working.
JAY WRIGHT: Bob, honestly, like Eric said — and I said it to Father Rob on the court — at this point, when you realize you’ve made it through the final eight and you’re going to go, you just feel so blessed. You think, why me? You know there’s a lot of great teams out there, a lot of great programs.
At this point, you don’t really try to figure out why. You figure out — you’re kind of saying, why us, you know, and just soaking it in.
I know we have really good guys. And we have talented — it’s always talented players. It really is. Jalen and Mikal and Phil and even Eric and Donte, they were on a National Championship team. So they’re pretty good players. And you still have them. That’s something that’s really important.
Q. This is for Jay and for Eric: You guys got a lot of attention this year for your offensive abilities and high-scoring offense. How gratifying then was it today to have this defense, especially with how much you’ve worked on it in the last couple of months?
ERIC PASCHALL: I mean, it means a lot to us. Just to know that we could tough a game out like that. They’re a very talented team. Their defense is great. They have some talented offensive players. Just to be able to do that with my brothers out there is, again, a blessing. We worked hard all year. We did a great job of it, and we just kept getting better. So it shows that we can fight through a lot. We keep playing for each other.
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah, I’ve learned a lot from these guys, this group, because we were not a good defensive team for most of the year. I really questioned, I thought, all right, maybe — actually, some things we didn’t do well as a staff early with this team that we normally do, and at some point we say, hey, we’ve got to go back to the basics defensively, and these guys really bought in.
That’s kind of what Eric was talking about. We were afraid we might run out of time. We had to keep practicing to get better defensively and rebounding-wise. And it’s specifically gratifying to see 33 percent and outrebounding them in the biggest game so far. That’s truly gratifying.
Q. For the players, early on, it’s a little bit more challenging to get a bucket on the floor, you guys found a bunch of different ways to get to the free-throw line. How much does that keep momentum going? You’re manufacturing some type of offense even if it’s not on the floor. And then for Jay, the number of different moves he has in the post, Jalen does, as a guard, how does that add a dimension to your offense?
JAY WRIGHT: You guys go first.
JALEN BRUNSON: You go first.
ERIC PASCHALL: You answer it.
JALEN BRUNSON: You go first. I’m older than you.
ERIC PASCHALL: Of course it keeps the momentum. We try to not even think about the offensive plays. We try to pride ourselves on defense and rebounding, and we just did a great job of that. I feel like that kept us in the game more than anything.
JALEN BRUNSON: Just to add onto that, we just try so hard not to worry about if our shots aren’t falling or not. It’s, what are we doing on the defensive end? Are we getting stops? Are we just sitting back and just sulking to the fact we’re not making shots?
We’re going to keep being aggressive. We’re going to keep take the shots, taking open shots. We’re going to get stops. And when it comes to the offensive end, we have confidence in each other no matter what. We know we’re good enough that we’re going to make shots eventually. We’re going to get fouled eventually. So it’s all about us tapping at the rock.
JAY WRIGHT: You know about Jalen’s footwork in the post, it’s incredible. We took no credit for that. A couple of years ago we did a drill in the summer where we were defending the post and putting different guys in the post to defend the post, and we were watching him, and coaches, all of us just said, whoa, he’s the best post player we’ve seen in a long time with his footwork. So we’ve said we got to take advantage of that. He came to us with that. We just threw him in there kind of after watching defensive drills.
Q. Hoops had a stat for you before about your defense. I’ll give you a stat about Texas Tech’s defense: In the second half, you had a ten-minute stretch where you only scored nine points.
JAY WRIGHT: Wow. I remember the stretch.
Q. I know everything revolved around defense, and that’s what pulled you out of it. Was there any concern about the way they were defending you? It just seemed like they had everything locked up on you. What was your concern about the way the guys were handling that? Did you tell them anything, like in a time-out, about just keep on keeping on?
JAY WRIGHT: If you remember at that time, Donte had — under the basket, he had a followup. He had it in his hands. He just put it over the rim. Jalen had a post — like a bank shot and it went in and out. They were all tough shots, you know. We said to the guys, like, hey, don’t worry about our offense. Let’s keep grinding out defensively. If we can get a stop, we can get out in transition and get one.
But coming into the game, we knew they were going to be really difficult to score on. To the earlier question, I thought we did a good job of being aggressive early, getting to the foul line. In that stretch, we weren’t doing as good a job. Remember even Eric had a layup on one side of the rim, and he went underneath and missed. We were getting decent shots. We were just making some poor decisions.
So we just said, don’t worry about it. I just wanted them to keep doing what they were doing. I thought it would pay off eventually.
Q. First for Eric and then Jalen: What dynamic and added dimension does Donte bring to this team? It seemed like, every time he put a ball in the bucket, you blew the roof off the arena. On top of that for Jalen, what did you and Donte say to each other in the final seconds?
ERIC PASCHALL: Donte is like our sixth starter. He’s so dynamic, he brings a lot of energy for us, and he’s a great player. He keeps a great attitude. He defends. He passes the ball well. He does a lot for us. Just having a player like that, it means a lot.
JALEN BRUNSON: Just to add onto that about him, Donte, he brings so much energy off the bench. I mean, it definitely was not easy for him to come off the bench early in the year, but he accepted that role. He took upon that challenge. He knew he was the best player in that position. So I mean, we’re really thankful that we have him, and it’s great.
Just what me and Donte said, it was just showing excitement. We were just happy for each other. Just thankful to have him on my team and have these guys as brothers and have Coach Wright and the coaching staff as coaches. But really it’s just us just saying, we’re not done. We’re not satisfied. We’ve got to keep getting better.
Q. Jay, was there any particular game, maybe Butler early, where you realized, we have to upgrade our defense? Because you were just outscoring people in a game. They literally could have put a hundred on you.
JAY WRIGHT: It probably was the Butler game. It probably was. Because we were on a road trip we won at DePaul, and we played pretty good defense. When we got a lead in that game, we kind of relaxed defensively, and we won, but they made a run at us. In the Butler game, we started the game that way, just giving up buckets and trying to outscore them.
So that kind of was a slap in the face to us. But we said at that time, we’re not going to just change this — it’s going to take time, you know. It’s going to go back to basics. It’s going to take a lot of time. The guys really did work at it, and I’m glad to hear them say it because they have worked hard at this. They really have. And it’s starting to pay off now at the right time.
THE MODERATOR: Villanova, thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #181 at 2018-03-25 21:33:00 GMT
#1 Villanova Postgame Statements to CBS/Turner
Reporter: At this point in the year it’s about surviving, what made this one so difficult to survive?
Jay Wright: That’s just a very well coached Texas Tech team. They had us very well scouted. They did a great job defensively and it wasn’t a very pretty offensive game, but we played pretty good defensively too, so I am proud of those guys.
Reporter: You made more three-pointers through three games of the tournament than any other team in history. Only four threes tonight, what are you telling your team when things aren’t going your way from a shooting perspective?
Wright: Well that’s why I gave Texas Tech so much credit, they did a great job, but we don’t try to rely on our shooting. There is a lot more to the game and our guys take pride in that. We never worry about missing shots, it’s fun when they go in, but we don’t worry about that.
Reporter: Jalen, you’re a senior and this team is so special and you’ve been a part of some pretty special runs. What make this team a team that can make it all the way?
Jalen Brunson: Our togetherness. You can just see how together we are. Every Villanova team I’ve been on has been like that, but every time you get to do this, it’s special. Every time we take that court together it’s special and I just love being a part of this team and this program means the world to me.