Press Conference Notes: Badgers set to take on Notre Dame in Philly

Players and coaches from both sides of the highly anticipated regional semi-final clash between the Badgers and Notre Dame took the podium Thursday morning to discuss their respective teams and their upcoming matchup. Quotes below come from Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard, Wisconsin players Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, and Notre Dame players Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste.

Greg Gard

On his experiences over the past year:

“Going back to the Final Four last year and that whole run, into the spring with my dad and that whole journey with him with cancer. And then obviously everything that played out in December with Coach Ryan retiring, it’s been a whirlwind. Someday maybe it will be in my book. But it’s been surreal. Everything has happened so fast and there have been so many events. It’s been the worst year of my life and it’s been the best year of my life rolled into one. So hopefully we’ve got a couple of more weeks left in us here, and weekends. Then at that point in time, maybe in May, I’ll be able to sit back and really reflect on it. But fortunately these guys have kept me busy so I don’t have to worry about looking in the rearview mirror right yet.”

On his contract:

“The loss of the interim tag was our best loss of the season.”

On comparing his program to Notre Dame’s:

“Much like us, the names change, the numbers change, but the production in terms of what they do on the floor together and how they grow together, their ability to develop players, I think, doesn’t change. And I think there’s a lot of similarities between [us and them].”

“You can go through the lineup and, much like us, they’ve had different guys contribute and help them in different roles throughout the season, help them grow. For us, we know we’ll have to be very good to beat them.”

On steadying the ship after Bo Ryan’s departure:

“They always say do what you know and know what you do. And so I really trusted on the last 23 years of experience with Bo and went back to what I really believed in and kept it simple. I talked a lot both to our team about the process and not worrying about the results, not worrying about the scoreboard. I get that from Nick Saban in several of his books that I’ve read.”

On the origins of the season’s turnaround:

“Even when we started 1-4 and 9-9, I saw a lot of good things happening. I saw a lot of things happening very positively in practice. Everybody focused on the last 18 seconds against Maryland when Melo Trimble hit the 25-footer against us, or the two 3s that Purdue hit in the last minute to beat us or our last possession at Indiana where we turned it over and they hit free throws to get a larger lead. But I saw a lot of good things happening. It was a matter of getting better in those first 50 to 65 possessions of the game. So the last possession of the game maybe wasn’t magnified or we were even in better position.”

On getting introduced to adversity:

“We didn’t have anybody in our locker room that had gone through ups and downs. You were 66-12 in the last two years, so there’s Hayes’ and Koenig’s freshmen and sophomore years — two Final Fours, 66-12. That’s not the normal college basketball athlete’s experience. They’ll usually have to go through some form of adversity, and this was the real first time that the boat had been rocked in two years. So we had to grow through that a little bit.”

On the swing offense:

“Well, I think the one thing, it helped our younger guys. Two things it helped establish for us — it put Hayes and Happ in their comfort zone on the block. And it also gave us better spacing away from the ball and gave them more room to operate. The second thing was it gave all our younger guys a comfort level — a continuity offense helped them, put them on track, so to speak, and allowed them to develop within it. We break off the pattern. We’re still not — we still are a little robotic in it. And that will take time as we run it through the summer and into next year. As they become more accustomed to it in the offseason.”

“There’s a lot of motion concepts within it. It’s basically ball-side triangle, and we have options that we play out of the ball side and we have options that we play out of the weak side. So from that standpoint, trying to get to the free-throw line was key for us, and we did. We were able to get there a lot through that stretch in January and early February. I think that helped — this team is different than last year’s team in terms of how they score and how they can score. So we had to manufacture other ways and part of that was trying to really touch the post and play inside out. And that resulted in us getting to the free-throw line more and it also resulted in getting better looks from the perimeter and better outside shots, we were able to play inside out and take better 3s than what we were taking in the year.”

On his team’s defensive growth during the NCAA tournament:

“Last week we grew as much defensively as we had all year in the two games against Pittsburgh and Xavier. And hopefully that experience and developing that mindset and that maturity — and understand this is the first time in 15 years we have not had a senior starter or senior player in the rotation. So our maturity level, we’ve had to expedite that through this season. I think last week we took a huge jump, especially on the defensive end. We had 60 days ago we couldn’t defend like we did last weekend. So our toughness level and our commitment to the defensive end has grown exponentially in the last two, three weeks, but really showed its face last weekend.”

On the threats posed by Notre Dame:

“We’ll have to be very good in transition. We’re going to have to be very good in the gaps in terms of taking away dribble penetration. We obviously have got to get out on shooters. We’ll have our hands full with Auguste inside and Colson inside.”

“Whenever you have a really good point guard you always have a chance. They have a terrific one in Demetrius Jackson. And then the other [factors] — how Auguste has developed through the year, how Beachem is shooting the ball for them, what Vasturia does for them — you can go through the whole lineup.”

On the Koenig game-winner:

“Well, I don’t know if I drew it up and said run to the corner and shoot a step-back 24-footer. Our players make plays. And Bronson hit an unbelievable shot, probably one of the best shots in Wisconsin basketball history.”

“It was Nigel’s idea to advance instead of taking the timeout.”

“I’ve seen [Bronson] take a lot of big shots. He hasn’t made every big one that I’ve seen him take, but you have to have a confidence inside of you.”

On his respect for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey:

“Mike’s got a great team. Seems like every year nobody talks about Notre Dame in the Selection Sunday or that first week, but you get to the second weekend, there they are. I think he’s done a tremendous job of really identifying the type of student-athlete he needs at Notre Dame to fit to his system.”

“Mike’s been terrific every time I’ve run into him. Haven’t seen him yet this weekend but he’s actually going to be our keynote speaker at our Coaches Versus Cancer gala in May, that we raise a lot of money for the American Cancer Society for. But I think just that, how he’s done it year in, year out.”

Mike Brey

On his respect for Greg Gard and Wisconsin Basketball:

“I have the utmost respect for the Wisconsin program and Bo Ryan…Greg Gard should be mentioned for national coach of the year stuff. I mean, this team was 9-9, 1-4. They lost to Milwaukee and Western-Illinois at home. And he’s got them really playing. I think they’re extremely confident.”

On strategy against the Badgers:

“[Steve] Vasturia will have to do a job guarding [Nigel] Hayes tomorrow night.”

“You have to try and get down on the floor on them a little bit and not play against their set defense. One of the things that’s helped us with Matt Farrell in the lineup, we have another guy that can push it in transition other than Jackson, and we can maybe get some easy buckets. Because if you have to play against their set defense, it becomes kind of a long night.”

Nigel Hayes

On former AAU teammate and current Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem:

“I was just texting him actually a second ago. I’ll probably go into Notre Dame’s locker room and say what’s up to him. If that causes any trouble, I’ve got my guys with me. We’ll settle that quickly.”

On the episode after the Northwestern game and coming together as a team:

“Again, with that question, I don’t know if essentially we came together. I mean, we’ve always been close with one another, hung out with one another. I think what happened was it was more a sense of urgency combined with guys starting to believe in themselves.”

On getting to the line:

“I’ve watched James Harden, how he accumulates a lot of fouls. I watched his technique and the way he’s able to draw fouls. I would not share that technique with you guys because I don’t want [officials and opponents] using it against us. But what he’s done with those fouls I’ve tried to replicate.”

On Coach Gard’s attention to detail:

“One of the things he always harps on me is when I drive through, I need to focus on jump stopping instead of going off one foot. And that jump stopping allows you to, if you don’t have a shot right away you have a chance to pump fake, you can pivot, you can find an open teammate.”

Bronson Koenig

On how Coach Gard smoothed the transition from Coach Ryan:

“It wasn’t really much of a change because they had the same, generated the same philosophies on everything. He told us right from the start that it wasn’t about him, that it was about the players, and he was going to do his best to make sure that we are in the best position possible for success and that’s what he did. And he told us it wasn’t an audition.”

On how his one-on-one pre-game match ups with Nigel prepared him for his big shot:

“The rule is that neither of us could go to the basket, so we have to shoot all jump shots basically. It’s pretty tough getting it over his outstretched arms. So that’s just one of the shots that I have to perfect, basically, if I want to beat him in the one-on-one games which I do most of the time.”

On how his life has changed since the shot:

“I just get asked more questions like this. That’s pretty much it.”

Notre Dame leading-scorer Demetrius Jackson

On Bronson Koenig:

“He’s a really great player. I saw him play a little bit of high school as well. He can really shoot the ball. And he has great fundamentals. And so he’s just a really great player. So it’s going to be fun being matched up as a competitive person. I just love being matched up against other great guards.”

On their offensive approach against the Badgers:

“We’re going to throw the ball into Zach [Auguste] a bunch, give him a bunch of post feeds and let him go to work.”

Notre Dame Forward Zach Auguste

On his teammate’s suggested strategy:

“Yeah, I agree.”

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