After the Bulldogs get their 15th victory on the season, a 99-89 victory over Arkansas at home in Athens, UGA men’s basketball head coach Tom Crean talks about the game and the win.
And with the win over the Razorbacks, the Bulldogs have picked up three victories in their last four games. Coach Crean shared his thoughts on what the difference has been for the team in these last four contests.
“First off, I just can’t thank the fans enough for setting this record. I thanked the students again on Wednesday night when we set that record with the student attendance, and we had our 10th game of 10,000 plus, which is another school record. We don’t win this game without the fans tonight. I mean, we just don’t. It was a game — momentum was up for grabs so much inside of this game, and we were rolling obviously and then all of a sudden the fouls and it’s like the air went out of the building. The air went out of us at the end of the first half, and we regrouped and it was a game of runs, it was a game of adjustments. Exciting game, trying to figure out different things. But at the end of the day, when we had to get the stops and we had to get the finishes, our crowd went to another level, and that’s the way it’s been all year. That is the way it’s been all year. That’s what you envision when you have a desire to build a program, you envision fans doing that with you, and I can’t thank them enough. I really can’t. As far as the game, I’ll answer any question you have. That is a high, high-level team that we played. Extremely well-coached. I told Eric after the game, it was an education preparing for him, and I’ve respected Eric for a long, long time, and his father, even though I only met him once or twice, I looked at as one of the great coaches to ever coach basketball, and Eric is a tremendous coach. And the way they play and the way he’s gotten those guys to play is very, very hard to defend. We wanted to get zone when they were beating us off the dribble, but that three that Isaiah Joe took and missed, with the range that he took it from, I said, it’s just a matter of time before he hits that, we’ve got to live with it, we’ve got to guard this, we’ve got to live with this because they’ve got to guard this on the other end. But we got a lot of good ball from a lot of guys. I wish I’d have got Anthony out in the first half. I told him when I took him out in the second half it was my fault because he was running on fumes at that point. He doesn’t agree with that, but at the same time I knew we were going to need him for the stretch run, and I should have got him a blow in the first half, especially with the way the momentum of the game was changing. But we got a lot of really good ball from a lot of guys, and Rayshaun had a tremendous game. I don’t want to miss anybody. Tyree Crump, it was very, very fitting for him to have the game that he had with the way that he has tried to help lead this team. Same with Jordan Harris the last couple of days, and those guys know that we were down to two home games, and they played like they were going to leave it all out there. Toumani, again, just as steady as can possibly be in so many areas. Again, I don’t want to miss anybody and I don’t want to miss your questions, but very, very proud of the effort, very, very proud of the belief that these guys continue to have and the way that they persevered when it looked like we may get the tide swung the other way.”
Q. Can you talk about what we saw in Isaiah Joe and Mason?
“Those are high-level guards. That’s why there’s probably 20 NBA teams here tonight. Those are high-level guards. And to me, they’re different, but Jones is so good, and we didn’t want to let him go right the way that he was going right, and he was beating us with his right hand, he was beating us with his left hand. He’s hard to guard. We had some things that we wanted to do in the game. At times we were able to do them, it was good, but then other times we got where we had the wrong switch. It wasn’t that we were discombobulated, we just had maybe the wrong guy on him at that time based on the actions that they were running. Eric does a phenomenal job of getting the match-up that he wants, and he’s coached that way for a long, long time, coached that way in the NBA, coached that way in the CBA, coached that way at Nevada and he’s coaching that way at Arkansas. He’s masterful at it, and he’s got some really good guys that can get downhill and play, but we had some, too, and so they had to guard ours, too. Again, I thought when Anthony went back in the game after getting him out there in the second half, he never lost stride inside of that. A lot of high-level players on the court tonight definitely.”
Q. You’ve won three out of the last four and the other one was an OT loss. W has been the biggest difference?
“Well, I use the term, and I know a lot of coaches use it, but sometimes you can lose sight of it, it’s a process, right. If you’re in a process, you’ve got to make progress in it, and I think that’s what these guys are doing. We can never lose sight of the fact that progress has got to be made in practice. Progress has got to be made in how we study film. Progress has got to be made in our X’s and O’s schemes, whatever it is. Progress has got to be made. And when you have a young team, you start to focus on two or three things, and maybe you get that in the game, well, maybe you didn’t spend as much time at these two or three things, then all of a sudden it looks like you never spend any time on it, right, and I think we’re starting to work through some of that, right, whether there’s a little more experience of things. We’re spending so much time trying to get situational basketball down for these guys, whether it’s the opponent, whether it’s what we’re trying to run, whether it’s what we’re trying to come out of a timeout with, the movement, those type of things, that sometimes we lose that ability, just okay, let’s just play free, and sometimes you’ve got to figure out, okay, we’ve got to let them play free, but now if we’re overstamping that, now we’ve got to bring it back and we’ve got to make sure we’re getting the right shot depending on where the game is. I think that’s another area that we’re making strides in because a couple weeks ago we lose to Texas A&M and South Carolina, we gave up 50 points in turnovers and we only had 13. That’s a huge — those things are starting to turn for us, and we’ve got to continue to do that. We’ve got to deliver the basketball on time on target. Our guys are doing a better job with some of the fundamental things that we try to really spend a lot of time with in practice.”
Q. With just over two minutes left, twice they cut the lead to one. Both times you guys answered. Just the composure of your team at that point in time?
“I’m very proud of them. The ball was moving. Anthony played with his head up. He really did. He scored. He passed the ball. He got to the rim. Settled a few times, but that happens. But he played with his eyes up, and I think when you’re doing that — when he adds that consistently to his game, playing with his eyes up, not just here and there but eyes up and being able to see and being able to make those decisions like that, that’s another level for him. We ask a lot of him, and I hope nobody is losing sight of how much progress he’s making. I said this on the radio, when you’re ranked like he is and when you have the expectation level that he has, there is nowhere to go but down. Truly, I lived this with Cody Zeller, there’s nowhere to go but down in the eyes of the public when you’re ranked that high. Well, he’s going up. He’s getting better all the time, and he’s getting better at so many different things, and today he persevered and he bounced back a couple times in that game and made a huge difference.”
Q. Talking about that first half momentum, you went down the list of players a little bit, but can you talk more about how Rayshaun specifically kind of with those 17 points impacted momentum in the first half?
“Well, he was really ready to play. Coaches were raving about how he was shooting the ball today in the walk-through and raving about how he shot it yesterday. He was ready to go. I mean, he knew — I didn’t even have to remind him that they were going to try to attack him defensively today with the match-ups, and his mind was really sharp on the game plan. He was talking. He was ready to go. And the ball was moving, which is where it’s got to be for him. We probably could have got it to him a couple more times in the first half based on some of the match-ups that we had, that he had, but he was really locked in, and he stepped it back up again. He was, again, running on fumes late and we got him back in, and he did a great job to help us close the game.”
Q. Coach, a few minutes left, it looked like Anthony and Mason Jones had their battle going and there was a call that looked like it could have gone either way and it looked like Jones might have flopped and got a foul. What did you say to Anthony to keep him poised because he was visibly frustrated by that?
“Oh, next play. And it’s just a matter of making eye contact. Took me a little bit longer to get that eye contact there, but next play, and take a breath. Take a deep breath. Actually saw him do it because we’d set a play up for him to go and he was going to come off double staggers out of the corner, and he just needed to regroup. He actually — for that age, it’s really amazing how quickly he can regroup. He really can. That’s a trait that I hope he never loses because it’s hard to have that, and to have that at his age and be able to get back to base or get back to the level that he’s got to be at, that’s a hard thing, because he’s competing, he’s playing, and it’s intense, it’s hot, it’s all those different things. That’s innate, but at the same time you’ve got to teach him how important that is to get there, and I don’t think he has any idea when I tell him that he has it, but some day he’ll figure that out, and that’ll be one of the things that really helps make him a great, great player.”
Q. You guys shot nearly 57 percent, but is it nice to have a guy like Toumani —
“Really, look at this, picks him for the game.”
Q. — in terms of his work on the offensive glass?
“Yeah, I mean, he was active. I mean, that’s what he’s been. He’s going to be such a good player in the sense he does so many — we’re not big. We’re not a big team, so he’s got to do a lot of different things. We’re never going to get away from switching here if we can help it, but we’ve had to have guys that we’re asking them to do a lot size-wise that they wouldn’t normally have to do if we were a bigger team, so with that being said, how quick he is, how active he is, he’s like a Swiss Army knife in the sense of different things he can bring to the table, but he can really move his feet. He’s got great wiggle in the sense of with the hips and he can change direction quickly, and when it comes with the ball, eventually he’s going to be a phenomenal driver when that day comes, but right now he does it more or less without the ball and then he can get on the glass, he can slither in and get a tip dunk or things like that. He’s getting better and better.”