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Well, needless to say, it was a fantastic day for us. Shoot 52 percent, outrebound them 42-35. Kendall (Marshall) was 11 (assists), two turnovers. (Tyler) Z(eller) 7-11 (from the field) and hit some crucial baskets when they got it inside double digits a couple of times. Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, they are a load. It was big for us that they missed some shots that they make a lot of times, there's no question about that. I was pleased overall with about everything we did. I've got no complaints about my guys. One of my buddies said I got a lot smarter the last couple of weeks. I don't know that I got smarter, but my team got a heck of a lot better. In November it was a team that I said I thought would get better, and better, and better as the season went along. We've got two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior that had never played a full season. We are down to eight scholarship guys, but those eight scholarship guys have those big-time hearts. And then I just love D.J. (Johnston), and Daniel (Bolick), and Van (Hatchell), what they did in there in their couple of minutes. The crowd was sensational. It was a wonderful day to be a Tar Heel.
You have won 14 regular-season titles. How special is this one given the things you have mentioned with the eight scholarship players and what you have been through in the last year?
I told them—this last 10 months hasn't been easy a lot of times—but that crowd in that locker room has been fantastic. As a coach, where you get your strength is your relationship with the players. And as a coach you get your strength from how they allow you to coach them. And this group has just been phenomenal to work with. They have allowed me to coach them. Even today, I jumped on Dexter (Strickland) there close to the end, and he gave me a look, and I said, 'Don't give me that look. I'm coaching you, son.' And he nodded his head OK. I stay on his rear end a lot. I told him he's like my little brother. I want to beat his butt up every single day, but he's still my brother. But I told him I'd finally seen him dunk on somebody too. He was pretty excited about that.
All those guys—it's been tough. You go back to last May. Two kids leave, dismiss one, kid, and them some other kid leaves. The whole, big program is better than any individual whether it's the coach or the players, and those kids have bought into that. It's been a marvelous, marvelous run. I told them I was still hungry. I want a little more too, so hopefully they will enjoy the dickens out of this. I'll give them tomorrow off and then get back to work on Monday.
Opening Remarks: I thought North Carolina played a terrific game. They were extremely difficult to defend. Marshall had a fantastic game, and he's been playing so well for them. They had balanced scoring. He really spreads the ball around well. I thought they just played really well. Our defense, in the first half, could not stop their offense. In order to have a chance, you have to hit your open looks; we had a lot of open looks and I thought us not hitting affected our defense. Especially early in the game, we had some really good looks, and you don't knock them down and they are pushing it down the court. You know, 51-39, that's a half that can only lead to a North Carolina win, it can't be that much. Second half, I thought we played a lot better defensively. Still, we could not knock down some shots. Even if we knocked them down—I'm not saying we'd win, but it would have been a little bit closer. They are really good, and we weren't as good, so congratulations to them. They have a great group of kids, they are well-coached, and they played really well tonight. We need to play a lot better than that in order to beat them—and especially here. The crowd was terrific, and it was just a good night for them. Congratulations to them, they are a classy group.
From the walk-ons starting, to the students rushing the court, is this your finest memory as a Tar Heel thus far?
It is. Just to see Blue Steel get some recognition out there and be able to start—they work so hard and are the unsung hero of this team. Then to have them rush the court, we haven't had that happen this year, and it's a great experience to have that, to know that a ring is on the way. That's the best feeling.
What was it like when you saw everyone coming out of the stands out onto the floor—what was going through your head? Anything, or were you just overwhelmed?
At first, I was thinking don't get trampled. The second thing was just to enjoy the moment, embrace it, and soak it all in.
You said the key to get past the game in Durham was to fix some minor mental mistakes. What did you guys fix, what did you not do in the second half of this game?
We didn't get complacent in the second half. We knew we had to attack, we knew we still had to go at them because they capitalized on our mistakes over in Durham so we just tried to keep that same intensity, that same aggressiveness, and we prevailed.
…What's it like to know that you've not only changed your season but to change the entire trajectory of a pretty prominent program?
You know, things weren't going well for Carolina, and I think everybody wanted to point a finger. It just happened to be at Larry (Drew). I kind of felt bad for him because I don't believe that it was all his fault. He still does great things out there. But to say that is me that is the big change, I wouldn't say that either. My teammates had a big part in it. It just so happened at the time when we made the change Harrison started taking what the defense was giving him, John was starting to be a terror on the defensive end, everybody was buying in, and we started getting stops on the defensive end. It definitely was not just me, but it was a full team effort.
A few months ago, we weren't seeing a whole lot of scoring production out of the guards—you, Leslie, and Dex. The last few games that has changed. You guys scored a lot points tonight. What has been the key to that progression?
Just maintaining our confidence and our bigs are so good down low that teams are starting not to help. We knew once we got to the rim that we had to finish strong. Seth and Nolan, they are great guards. We knew we had to attack them. Dexter, he got to the basket a couple of times and finished very strong with a dunk at the end, kind of put the nail in the coffin. And we knew that to get the most out of our bigs that we had to be able to keep the defense honest with our offensive production.
When they scored the first seven points of the second half, was there any concern, any flashback to Durham?
It was in the back of my head, obviously because we had talked about it all of halftime—don't let it happen again, but I knew that once we settled down and everybody wanted to win so badly that we weren't going to let it happen again.
Do you think Mason Plumlee getting into foul trouble early affected their defensive ability in the paint?
I think he's one of their best defenders down low, and especially with rebounding so that was kind of rough on them for him to get in foul trouble, and it was good for us. That's what you want to do.
Talk about what it's like to be part of this rivalry and have them on your court for the regular-season championship and be able to pull it out?
We were fortunate to have that chance, and that's something that last year we would have been on their court for and that is just how it works. I'm just glad we got the win on our court and played well.
To what would you attribute the turn-around that this team has made? It seems like you have a lot of parts coming together. You started out 4-3, 7-4, and a lot of people would have never predicted that you'd finish this way.
I think it's just believing in us, in ourselves and coming together as a team, knowing what we could do. I always thought we could be a great team, we just have to play like it, and we've been doing that as of late.