March 13, 2009
CLAUDE FELTON: We'll continue with Tennessee. Coach Pearl, opening comments on the game.
COACH PEARL: Well, I'm just I guess I'm a fan of history. You know, we've got a great history. We're celebrating 100 years of Tennessee basketball this year. We've got a terrific history. Just here recently in the SEC Tournament we've just not played it enough Saturdays, and we've not played it enough Sundays.
I'm proud of our fans for traveling. What a beautiful place this is for the SEC Tournament. I think our kids are enjoying it. It's postseason. And I think our kids are enjoying being here, and they certainly played like it tonight.
Q. Did just losing to Alabama a few days ago get you even more psyched up for this game, or was this more about being in the tournament and wanting to do well in the tournament do you think?
Tyler Smith: I think it's more about our seed that we wanted to worry about. If we come in and play these three games the way we want to, we'll be up in the top seed which is what we're looking for.
I mean, it's always human nature to say that they beat us at home and ruined our Senior Night. But it was just something that we came out and wanted to prove to ourselves, not to them.
J.P. Prince: I think we wanted to come out and play harder. We didn't give our best effort on Sunday. Coach always tells us these people travel a long way, they spend a lot of money to come see us play, so we need to show them the right game. We came out and played Tennessee basketball, and tried to show the fans the support they show us by traveling so far.
Q. Right out the gate, 20 seconds into the game you've got a steal and a dunk. Just want to ask you how much you guys set the tone in transition tonight?
J.P. Prince: I think we really wanted to set the tone on defensive rebounds. That's what Coach told us. Control the board and play good half court defense, you have a good chance to win the game. When it started off, we had a good scout, Ty caught the switch and got the steal and got the easy bucket.
Q. Looked like before the game that Alabama might have come through your warm ups a little bit. You seemed to get a little fired up?
Tyler Smith: You're paying attention to all of that?
Q. What happened to Florida, are you going to have somebody run into you before every game?
Tyler Smith: They need to start doing that. But I think we were warming up, and he just run through the middle of our lines, and that's something like we wouldn't do that to anybody else. Because we feel like that's disrespecting a team. Us warming up and them trying to come in our way. But it was just something that added to it, and we just tried to come out and play our ball.
Q. It seemed like almost every transition bucket in the first half there was somebody streaking ahead and you found them. It seemed really easy. You made it look easy, and you were always looking ahead. How easy was it because it looked easy from where we were?
J.P. Prince: I have to give my credit to the teammates. They ran the floor hard. Coach told us, he said run. Beat them in transition, they were kind of lazy getting back. We got some easy looks. We ran hard and we finished at the hole.
CLAUDE FELTON: We'll excuse the student athletes. Thank you. Questions for Coach Pearl.
Q. Is there anyway you saw this one coming like this, that there would be that big of a lead and that much on both sides of the ball?
COACH PEARL: No, we were concerned about 40 minutes of 2 3 zone that was going to be very stationery and very packed in. And it was important that we scored in transition in this game. The way you get that is by playing defense and rebounding it.
We didn't think we could get down the floor and advance past it. Sometimes when you play against zone, you walk it up. We really didn't want to do that. We made the easy advance pass. The second and third passes. I thought our five man did a nice job running the floor. It opened up the wings. And they played very unselfishly. There were a lot of extra passes. 20 assists was very, very significant.
Q. Sometimes, often times after you've won or lost games you've explained it about match ups, some favorable some not. Alabama's a team you think well you wouldn't match up that well against, but you really played well against?
COACH PEARL: One of the things that was a concern, first half we were 1 for 14 from the three, and we were still 4 for 24 from three. And probably 20 to 24 were good looks.
So our three point shooting has got to continue to improve. Because J.P. Prince and Tyler are very difficult to cover off the bounce. And we've got, I don't know how many points we had in the paint, but 60 points in the paint today. That's against a really big, physical Alabama team. And I think that more had to do with us in transition, and also the spacing in our zone offensive attack was good.
We did a better job on the foul line. We didn't miss 15 free throws or whatever we missed last time we played.
Q. You sell tickets with offence, you win championships with defense. The phrase that comes to my mind is you defended like there was no tomorrow. Was that basically what it was like?
COACH PEARL: It was. It was. And you've got against Alabama, they make one on one plays. If you look' they had four assists in the game on 22 baskets. One on one, Gee, Hillman, Torrance, posting up Jamychal Green. You can't guard them one on one. So our emphasis was really team defense. Rarely did a guy put the ball down the floor or help wasn't some place very, very nearby.
Then from our defense we created a great deal of offense.
Q. Just about it appeared that there was a very aggressive mindset. Was it focus? Was that something that you made an issue out of? There were warnings for you being too close to the court, J.P. fouled. It seemed you were aggressive tonight?
COACH PEARL: The court's tight. It's really, really tight. And I don't have very good wheels, so I'm not a very good kneeler. So I'm usually up. Between the bench and the sideline, and the playing, there's only about a foot and a half space in there. So the coaches' box was pretty narrow.
Q. You noted the 20 assists and you had ten players that played scoring. How big was the distribution of the basketball in winning tonight, and how big is it going to be throughout the rest of the tournament?
COACH PEARL: We played best when everybody contributes. If you look at our stat line since we lost at Kentucky where we did not make the extra pass, we've done that. We were pretty with great consistency. And so I think the team is playing together on both ends of the floor. How well we're playing, I think it depends on the match ups and what the match ups bring up.
We pressed more tonight. We tried to speed Alabama up a little bit and certainly tried to wear them out a little bit with full court pressure. We didn't turn them over in full court pressure. Though they did have 18 turnovers. But it was enough just to wear them out a little bit and to see if they could hand us a few.
Q. When you sub, your personality almost changes completely with each sub. You don't get worse you get better a lot of times. Is that a real advantage for you coaching?
COACH PEARL: It is. When J.P. Prince came off the bench last year, it was like bringing another starter off the bench. You know, we've got a good thing going as far as like Bobby Maze and Josh Tabb. Bobby Maze gets in foul trouble, and Josh Tabb comes in and plays a lot of the first half. Doesn't turn a ball over at all in the game.
That's really solid. Plays good defense. And then Bobby Maze comes back and makes the first basket in the second half after sitting there and watching the action.
Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson, we tried to play nine or ten. And between those two guys can you be the best player on the floor? That's hard when you go up against a talented player like Gee. I thought that our guys did a good job with their minutes.
And we're going to keep them fresh. That's why I think one of the things about our teams over the years is because we're committed to the depth, you're able to win championships.
It's a long season. And if you've got one guy that you're counting on every single night, they get tired. And if they get injured, you're in trouble. We'd like to think we've got too many weapons.
Q. Could you just couple words about Florida and Auburn. Don't know who you're going to play, but what each team might present?
COACH PEARL: Well, you know, can we beat Florida three in a row? I don't know. I mean, it's almost too difficult to think about. Because what you do is you play your hand. Okay, then you've got to play your hand again. What hand do we play when it's pretty much been somewhat successful.
I'm just every time I take the court against Florida when we can be competitive, it's just an honor because they're such a great program. Billy Donovan, you know, is one of the very, very best in the country.
I'm really happy for Jeff Lebo and the job he's done at Auburn. I thought they'd be good with all those seniors and veterans. Those kids paid their dues. They're one of the toughest, most physical, hard nosed team we've played against. They will just flat out hit you in the mouth. You've got to be ready for that.
We lost at the buzzer at Auburn this year in a really good basketball game. And that was the start, I think one of the key wins for Auburn them taking off the rest of their season. And so either way, you know, we know that we've got a team that we can play with. A team we know if we play well we can beat. And they're very, very different teams. Very, very different teams.
But our guys got a pretty good feel, obviously, for both of them.
Q. It seeps like this time of year everyone's emphasis is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and to do well if you can qualify. But Tennessee hasn't won SEC Tournament in 30 years. If you can get a couple more victories, how big of a milestone will that be for your program?
COACH PEARL: Just right now we'd like to try to get one on Saturday and see if we have an opportunity to play in a championship. Obviously, take one at a time. As we celebrate 100 years of Tennessee basketball history, we're trying to build something here.
Certainly, you know, when you win these things it's almost as much for your fans as it is for anything. But I think right now we've got to focus on Auburn and Florida. And the things we've got to do tonight and tomorrow to get ready to continue to advance.
Q. Whether it's Auburn or Florida, they're not going to be able to get their kids in bed until 2:00 in the morning. How big an advantage is it for you playing the early game and getting some kids some rest?
COACH PEARL: Who says our kids are going to be in bed before 2:00 o'clock in the morning? I don't know what an advantage is. It's a couple of hours is all. I don't think that will be a factor.
Q. Because of Tennessee's history in this tournament long before you arrived, is it more meaningful to you the fact that Tennessee was so dominant tonight more than the fact that you just won the game?
COACH PEARL: As it relates to our dominance, I think it was more meaningful that the NCAA selection committee is watching. Tyler talked about seeding. He wasn't talking about the SEC seeding, he was talking about the tournament. We've talked about that all year long. And the key to advancing is to get a good seed. Right now our seed is going to be just okay.
We'd like to try to keep winning to try to improve our seed, which gives you the best chance to advance in the tournament so I was very interested to hear Tyler say tonight's win was more about seeding than anything else. Yes, certainly. You know, we like to play for a championship, and I'm just really glad our fans don't have to go home tonight.
Q. Did you want your team to learn any lessons from the Alabama loss? It seemed like they just came out very relaxed tonight and maybe it was a huge em pa sis on anything or not?
COACH PEARL: I think at this point it's been long. For everybody, it's been a long season. You know, we've played 30 games now. Sort of been there done that. We've taken advantage of opportunities, and there have been some opportunities that were presented to us that we did not take advantage of.
I think at this time of the year your backs are up against the wall, you lose. You don't play well, you go home. If our defense and our rebounding can continue to hold up, we can continue to advance.
CLAUDE FELTON: Coach Pearson, a couple of opening comments on the game.
COACH PEARSON: Well, obviously, it was a tough and difficult ball game for us. I felt like Tennessee did a really nice job. Give them a lot of credit. From a defensive standpoint, an offensive standpoint. I thought they got off to a great start early in the game.
Got us back on our heels a little bit. We recovered there a little bit before the half. And a little bit like our game last night with Vanderbilt. Thought the first four or five minutes of the second half would be critical just as they are in about every basketball game.
To Tennessee's credit, they came out and threw another punch or two. And we just weren't able to recover from that point. Awfully proud of our guys, certainly these two, and those guys in the locker room for the way they've hung in there in a difficult circumstance, trying situation. I think our guys have really done a nice job with it. Awfully proud of them, and we'll move forward.
Q. Did Tennessee do anything differently on Sunday than they did on Sunday? Were they just executing better? What was the difference?
ALONZO GEE: I thought they just came ready to play. They were physical the whole game. They were just ready to play tonight.
Q. Could you comment on J.P. Prince's play tonight?
ALONZO GEE: I think he played pretty good. He was very aggressive tonight. He did a lot of things out there to help them win.
Q. As the game was ending and you were sitting on the bench, if you could take me through what you were thinking, watching? You know, you probably played your last game, what was going through your head?
ALONZO GEE: It was a lot, you know? It was tough to lose this game, but I think my teammates, they played strong in the end. We just couldn't win.
Q. They seemed to be able to get the ball inside, you know, real deep when you guys were especially in the first half. What were they doing well to get the ball in so deep? How did they kind of handle your zone?
JAMYCHAL GREEN: I mean they had Tyler Smith in the middle. They had a couple of people running baseline. So that's how they led the bottom inside.
Q. Can you talk about just the season and what did you learn? I mean there is a lot that happened, what did you learn and take away from this season?
ALONZO GEE: I learned a lot. Coach Pearson helped me out a lot, just to stay focused and stay mentally and physically ready for everything I do in practice and games and everything. So I learned a lot.
I took a lot from this season. My teammates helped me out this year. So I've learned a lot.
Q. It was your first year, just talk about what you expect the difference from your first year to your second year to be coming up?
JAMYCHAL GREEN: Well, first off, I'm going to get stronger. I'm going to go in the weight room and get something to expand my game. Just hope for a better outcome next year.
CLAUDE FELTON: We'll continue with questions for Coach Pearson.
Q. Now that the season's likely over, how can you reflect on this experience for you and how it's all gone?
COACH PEARSON: Well, it's been a very unique experience. It will probably take a few days for this all to sink in. I'm very proud of the way our players have performed. I've told them in the locker room over the last six to eight weeks.
You know, when this whole thing happened and we had three out of four on the road to start with, and three difficult games. We were in a game or two there that we lost early on. We had the tough loss at home with South Carolina. I just am real proud of the way our guys hung in there with our coaching staff and with each other. I felt like we had a really good finish to the year. Very proud of that. I think I was 5 out of 7 after tonight. But some good wins in there. I thought we played some very good basketball down the stretch.
Q. As they were kind of building their lead in the first half, did you consider changing defenses and what was coming to mind as they built that up?
COACH PEARSON: Yeah, we just played them here in the last week. We felt like the way to defend them was with the zone. We were better geared to defend them in that manner. Whether we were man or zone, it felt like the key to the game from a defensive standpoint outside of transition defense would be our ability to contain the dribble or contain the ball.
They were able to get too many penetrating opportunities that led to easy baskets, easy shots in the paint. They made a few jumpers off the penetration. I thought that was real key for them.
Q. You know these guys as well as anybody. Do you feel the pieces are in place for whoever the coach is going to be next year?
COACH PEARSON: I think so. When you look across the locker room and you look at a guy that I think has really come along the second half of the year, Mikhail Torrance. He was I thought outstanding last night.
And wasn't as good tonight. But I think he's a guy that's got a lot of things people like. He's got athleticism, size, and experience. And a little more success maybe as an individual. I think that he can build on.
Andrew Steele can do some nice things, and Hillman is a great athlete. Obviously, Jamychal Green is on the all freshman team. Anybody in our league would like to have him on their roster, I can assure you.
The other post players, Justin Knox has had some bright moments and certainly Demetrius and Yamene Coleman. So there are enough guys in that locker room that if led in the right direction they can have some success.
Q. Tennessee may not be the best basketball team in the country, but 1 through 8 is there a more athletic and long team than Tennessee?
COACH PEARSON: I don't know around the country. But certainly within our league, I think you would probably have to cast a vote for them. Just as you said, they're very long, very athletic. Certainly I thought they came out as a very focused basketball team tonight.
I thought outside of us containing the basketball, I thought that their defensive pressure and it wasn't necessarily the pressing sort of nature, but it was the even in the half court, they really guard us and defend us well in the half court.
Q. You made no bones about as an assistant wanting to be a head coach. Then obviously this is probably not the way you wanted to get the head coaching job. But nonetheless, what did you learn from this and what are we going to see Phillip Pearson do in the future, very near future?
COACH PEARSON: I don't know. We'll see what happens. I haven't had a chance to think about it. I think the pregame meal doesn't go down quite as well. But from a basketball standpoint for me, it's been a lot of fun. Certainly everything we've probably tried, it didn't work.
I think there are things that have. The practices have been fun, the relationships with the players. You know, we've done a lot of different things. We've had officials come in two or three different times. So it's been a learning experience for them. It's been one for me, too. And hopefully something that awe all can build on.
Q. They seem to really, particularly early on, pressure Mikhail and knock him out of what he was able to do last night. Y'all weren't able to recover from that offensively?
COACH PEARSON: No, again, I felt like they got some transition baskets I thought early in the game. They were geared and ready to play the game, and certainly they should be. We got down six or eight or ten there, and we were fighting an uphill battle. I did everything as a result of their pressure I didn't think we were able to get into any flow offensively that we have in some other games.
For example, last night I thought Mikhail was great with the ball screen. But tonight Tennessee did a much better job of defending that.
Q. Washington, studying them on video any time this year, have you ever seen them play any better defensively or be more effective inside offensively and aggressively going to the basket?
COACH PEARSON: I thought their defense was obviously very good. You know, again, I thought that the way they got the ball at the basket wasn't as much of throw it to the wing and post feed it in there.
It was off penetration, I felt like. We gave up ten offensive rebounds in the first half. Obviously I gave them a chance to capitalize on some easy shots around the basket.