March 31, 2014
Watch Press Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's basketball head coach Bo Ryan, juniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson and sophomore Sam Dekker met with members of the media Monday at the Kohl Center to look ahead to UW's trip to Arlington, Texas, for the 2014 NCAA Final Four.
Q. You traveled to Anaheim, Calif., last weekend. You're going to be in Dallas, Texas this weekend. What are the challenges of traveling so far away and having to live in a different city for the games in terms of keeping the guys on task for routines and meals and sleep?
Bo Ryan: "Obviously, we try to do the best we can with our timing. We always try to practice somewhere around the time we're playing, if possible. We didn't know what time we were playing, in both instances, until later than we would have liked. But it's -- there's an extra day or two here with the game being Saturday, not Thursday.
The toughest part right now is getting our guys caught up with the classes that they missed and the classes that they're going to miss this week. So we've been spending more time getting that squared away than we have probably with basketball with them, but hopefully by the time we leave Wednesday, they'll be all caught up.
What we try to do with the meals and sleep schedules and things like that, it's not like we're moving three time zones for this. Anaheim was a little bit more of a challenge, but I think, at least last time I looked, Texas was on the same time schedule as us. So we should be all right.
The NCAA does a pretty good job of trying to help teams with practices and things like that so the guys can get some kind of sense of routine."
Q. Bo, when you're on the road recruiting and the assistants are out here looking at guys that you want to add to the program, how difficult can it be sometimes, or relatively easy, to project where a young kid might be when he comes here and how much he can develop when he's here? What are some things you have to see and look for in a kid?
RYAN: "Well, I didn't realize these questions were going to be about that. I thought it was about our journey.
But the things that you look for, it would be the same as if you're the head of personnel and you're hiring. If you're going to have scholarships being used, you want to make sure that the people that are using them are good students, going to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to them. You want people who have a vision of a better future, want to get better.
It's amazing how many times we get our first lead on a player where they say, 'Oh, this is a Wisconsin player. This is your kind of player'. And I say, 'Well, why do you say that'? 'Well, because right now he's a little raw, but if he gets with you, he's going to be really good'. Oh, okay, that's not bad, but it's -- so I said, 'Hey, how about the one and done guy? Why don't you tell him to come and see me'?
When (Kentucky head coach John Calipari) called last night, we talked about that a little bit. I said, I think they probably think I'm too old or something. I was thinking, you know, that might be an advantage for a one and done guy.
But anyhow, it's all about the character of the person. It's all about whether or not -- you look at the percentages and say, will this person make it here, and will this person make the most of their opportunity? And we've been very fortunate over the years that only a couple of guys have decided to go somewhere else, where it didn't work out for them.
But for the most part, the guys that come here and play at the University of Wisconsin stay and work and get better, and those are our kind of guys."
Q. Bo, what was it like on the ladder Saturday night versus when you were up on the ladder in '91 at Platteville?
RYAN: "In Division I they had a sturdier ladder. In Division III it was tough at Wittenburg, budget cuts, the budget.
Actually, I was a little more stable going up and down. I was so excited, I don't even remember going up the ladder or coming down. You always just make sure you don't poke your eye out with the scissors or stab yourself with the scissors. That's the key. That's very important.
I think we had one guy cut his finger, either in '98 or '99 in Salem when we won. I can't remember who that was, though, but I think there was blood."
Q. Coach, can you tell us about this journey so far, and what is your favorite part, being here right now, talking to us, knowing you're only one of four teams in Division I that were even practicing today?
RYAN: "Well, it's another week of practice. That's great. This has been a really long season starting with Canada in August. This is -- boy, this is quite the journey. We've had more practices, and we've been together more than any team I've ever coached.
If you take the hours that this squad has been together, by far, this is -- and we still get along. We still talk to one another. So that's not bad. It's been very enjoyable because we've got some young men that just are really outstanding and really know how to handle everything that's been given to them and all the obstacles, all the good parts, the bad parts, and everything in between.
It's always nice when you see in their eyes that they're so excited about this, to be able to play again. That's why we do it."
Q. Bo, what are the challenges of getting ready for simulating the length of Kentucky, specifically in their backcourt?
RYAN: "Same reasons with a lot of other teams that we play, it's hard to simulate that, but our scout team tries to -- you know, we just ask them to be like Go, Go Gadget, our scout players. If your arms go this far, then get them to go this far or get them to go this far. So that's how we ask them to play to simulate the length.
We do what we do. We have the other team simulate their cuts, their reads, their tendencies, and the assistants have done an unbelievable job with that. Our scout team has been so dedicated, and they take a lot of pride in what they do.
They just don't go out there and go through the motions because they realize that's how a guy like Frank (Kaminsky) and a guy like everybody else that's played here that's been on the scout team, that's how you can get noticed with how you follow directions and how you do the things that you're asked. It's like, hey, I know this helps the team, so they get better so that, when you have guys graduate, you have guys ready to step in.
But we can't simulate Kentucky."
Q. A lot of the local media has heard your Chester, Pa., stories over the years, and I just wanted to ask --
RYAN: "The vocal media or the local media?"
RYAN: "Oh, local, okay."
Q. Is there one that's your favorite or one that you like to tell for media or players who maybe don't know your stories as well as some of us do?
RYAN: "I've probably exhausted this group with the Chester stories. There's only one regret. The regret is that I had by far the best baseball card collection and the best marble collection of anybody in town in that city, and my mom gave them away when I was at college. It was like she was cleaning up and moving -- we were doing something to the house, and there were some boxes that were tossed. Mom, my baseball cards and my marbles that I had won over the years and collected were gone.
So that's a Chester story maybe that the local people hadn't heard. Can't get them back, though. Don't know where they are."
Q. Back to the preparations. Is it nice to have a couple extra days to practice, versus preparations for Baylor, or does it kind of hurt the momentum and you just kind of want to get out there and play?
RYAN: "It's okay. The primary concern is to get back and catch up in class. So physically, they're ready. We did 35 possessions both ways today, offense, defense. Did some shooting and some free throws, and we'll just put more in on Kentucky tomorrow. We put our initial report in today, and we'll add more to it tomorrow.
So it's all part of what it is with the way the tournament's set up. It's three weekend tournaments, three two-game tournaments."
Q. Coach, you mentioned it's been a long season. Erik Helland is new to the staff this year. He came from the Chicago Bulls, obviously, working 82-game seasons. Is that kind of the secret you have to keep guys operating at such a high level, you can go deeper and deeper into the tournament?
RYAN: Erik's done a great job for us. He's got a lot of energy. He's got the players' attention. He's got them working hard, just like they did with Scott Hettenbach.
We've been very fortunate to have the people in that position that truly understand what it takes to build stamina, to build strength, quickness. The nutritional value of these guys is unbelievable. They know exactly what's in everything. He knows especially what the guys should be eating, what they shouldn't be eating. He's the one that does all our meals on the road, orders the meals.
Can't get any better salmon than he orders. I don't know, he must tell them there's a certain -- salmon is pretty good. Erik's been very valuable, and the players believe in him, and that's what's important. Probably haven't noticed much change in me, but with the players you have."
Q. When you talk about the journey, how important was that three-week stretch mid-January to early February where you were taking some bumps? What kind of lessons do you think the guys took from those games that they could apply to get to this point?
RYAN: "Like I said, those games could have been played at different times during the year at the same venue, whether it's home or away. We never got one sideways with it. We didn't get too down, and we weren't riding sky high when we had won 16 in a row. So our practices were the same.
But you can learn from winning too. You don't just have to have bumps to learn, but you can learn a lot while you're being successful also."
Q. Coach, what is it like to coach someone like Josh Gasser, a Wisconsin kid, coming off an injury, and the way he's played this season?
RYAN: "Well, again, I tell the story that there's former players of mine and my son, Will (Ryan), guys -- Steve Showalter, Tyler Selk is another guy who's worked with players in Swing, the AAU program, and all these guys were telling me for a couple of years, Hey, this is your kind of guy, this is your kind of guy.
We hadn't made an offer until I was able to see him, and some things happened where, oh, yeah, we could take a guard. Sure enough, I went to see him play. He was really tough. He was really good, and then he sprained his ankle so bad -- it was so severe that he couldn't play football his senior year.
But after seeing him play in that game, in that AAU game, I offered him. Didn't take him long to say yes for Wisconsin, and I'm sure glad my former guys stayed on me about it and said, 'Hey, you need to get this guy. You need to get him'. I'm glad we did."
Q. Bo, with (Willie) Cauley-Stein doubtful for the next game, does that make the game tape against Michigan much more valuable in your preparation for this week?
RYAN: "Those other players are still who they are that are on the court. Then you find out who they've used to put him in -- I don't know. It's a sprained ankle, I guess. It's like with injuries you can't give or get too much information. We'll prepare like he's playing, and then also we'll go over things with him not being in the lineup.
We try to make sure that, when we get to a venue, that there aren't any surprises. So we'll prepare both ways."
Q. You sometimes hear about coaches going to their first Super Bowl reaching out to other coaches who have been there before for advice on preparation, things like that. Have you done that at all or received advice from other coaches?
RYAN: "I've had coaches come to me for advice because I was in five of these. Whether it's Division III or Division I, you're in five national tournaments. You're trying to win the National Championship. I've had people ask me what it was like and for advice.
This is a two-game tournament. Coaches that are going to go out and ask what question? Because it's the final two games, it's going to be different? Heck, no. You've got to win the 40 to get to 40. I don't mean North Dallas Forty.
So what would be different? What would you ask? What would you ask?
Yeah, everything's scheduled. They tell us when we can get a drink of water. You're pretty organized.
So it's not like we think we have all the answers, but we know our team. We know what we have to do. We're going to be ourselves. So I don't know, if you've got any suggestions, you can throw them my way. I'm not going to do anything different."
Q. Bo, at the start, you mentioned that you spoke with 'Cal' last night. I'm guessing that's not Cal Ripken, but head coach (John) Calipari. So what do two coaches who are going to square off against one another, or their teams are going to square off against one another on a big stage like this talk about before you meet?
RYAN: "Well, I used to tell him a lot of jokes like at Final Fours and stuff like that, but in the last 10 years or so, you don't really tell jokes anymore because of the climate.
So he wanted me to give him a couple one-liners, some jokes, and I said, I don't have any. I just don't use them anymore. He gave me a few. Not really.
We just talked like, Hey, Cal, congrats. Hey, Bo, congrats. Hey, see you down there. Let's have some fun with it. The normal guy talk.
We've known each other for a long time, and he's on the board now with us too, on the Board of Directors of the coaching association. So the only thing I heard from the NABC was it's sure as heck going to be a lot shorter meetings this year at the Final Four. I said, 'You mean because Cal's not going to be there'? 'Yeah, Bo, you can take it for whatever you think it's worth'.
Cal and I like to stir the pot a little bit. Imagine that. But for the good of the game. Like, 'Well, why shouldn't guys transfer and you play them right away'? Simply because they're looking at two curriculums and going, 'Oh, they got a Masters program in something that the school where I'm at now doesn't. All right, I got it'. Then when are they going to release the statistic of how many of those guys that transferred to play that year actually got their Masters? When's that coming out? It's ridiculous.
That's some of the things we talk about on the board. I think they all know how I feel."
Q. Bo, as a guy who's attended many, many Final Fours, how has the event itself changed over the years? And for Badger fans, any advice as to what to do besides watch basketball when they're down there?
RYAN: One thing you never have to tell a Badger fan is how to socialize. I'm pretty sure of that one.
The way it's changed, when we first started going in the '70s, they did so much for the coaches. All the shoe companies and all the basketball and equipment companies and all those used to do a lot for the coaches. We'd always look forward to going, and nothing wrong with getting a free pullover from Adidas or a couple basketballs from a company. I'd better not mention any companies other than Adidas.
Anyhow, it used to be more than that. Now -- and what my dad (Butch) used to do is collect all these things. They'd have posters back when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and they'd have all these posters, and he'd take them all back for the kids back home, and they thought he was like Santa Claus because he'd always have all these gifts, key chains and all these things he'd take back.
The kids, 'Oh, Mr. (Butch) Ryan, yeah, this is the Final Four, wait until he comes back. I'm going down to his house because I'm going to get the first pick'. But it used to be more of that, and tickets were a lot easier to get. The facilities weren't as big, or the venues. They were in 10,000, 12,000, 15,000.
And, of course, now what's there going to be on Saturday in case I look up? What am I going to see? Is it 100? How many?
RYAN: 77,000, how about that? How many of them will be good seats? Don't know that. But it's a lot more corporate tickets. It has become the event. I know people talk about the Super Bowl and talk about whatever, but it's the NCAA Tournament. Sure pays a lot of bills, I know that.
Q. You talked a little bit earlier about knowing the kids and what kind of person they are. What kind of person was Ben Brust when you first met him, and what did you think about his family atmosphere and his brothers being as into the game as they are?
RYAN: "They hid his brothers from me initially. No. No, Ben was -- we had a player that had decided that he was going to stop playing, and that freed up a scholarship. He was visiting USC, and after he had changed his mind about school, he was in a state of flux. Then we had something open up, and his parents were great. He's one of the few players that I've recruited who lived on a country club because I always used to kid about coaching country club kids. I always thought, now I belong to one.
You know, growing up in Chester, I wanted the hard scrabble guys, the tough guys. Well, you can be tough and grow up on a golf course, I found out later. But when you're younger, you're always thinking, 'oh, those rich guys that are out there'. We didn't know what golf was growing up. I thought it was kind of stupid to chase a white ball around a pasture.
So anyhow, yeah, Ben was -- he had a lot of fire. You could tell when he played. So getting him in our program and the fact that he's worked so hard and done what he's had a chance to accomplish to this point and still has more to go, we're very happy that he brought his family along with him too.
Because I don't think there's a better cheering section. I know the Gasser's give him a tussle at times who's the best family cheering sections, but they certainly don't get cheated out of any excitement or leave any energy at a venue. They expend it all."
Q. For Traevon (Jackson) and for Sam (Dekker), if I remember correctly, on media day, you guys were asked about this team and what you expected from this team. You guys talked about raising the bar, changing some things. Has it turned out the way you anticipated by what this team has accomplished this year, or do you need to do more?
Traevon Jackson: "We're definitely proud of how far we've come, the obstacles we've overcome this year. It's been a great ride. We had expectations from the beginning of the season back in the summertime. It's still not done yet. We're excited we made the Final Four. We're excited to go down and have an opportunity. But to complete the assignment is still at hand."
Sam Dekker: "Obviously, you've got to be proud of what you've done to this point. We really are. We're proud of what we've done as a team together, and we set goals in the summer where we wanted to be, and this is a place where we wanted to get. We didn't want to just stop there. We didn't want to get there and let it come short. We want to win this next 40 and then hopefully get to another one and win another.
We have all intentions of going down there and reaching another goal of ours, and we're excited to do it."
Q. This question is for Josh (Gasser) and Traevon. How have you handled the pressure, the increased pressure as each round has gone on, both on and off the court?
Josh Gasser: "I mean, all the off-the-court stuff, it's who handles it better. Once the game starts, all the media, all the nonsense throughout the week, it's kind of thrown out the window.
So it's not any more pressure. It's still a 40-minute game. It's still a 10-foot hoop. Everything's the same. I think that stems from our coach. He prepares. Coach Ryan prepares us the same for any game. It doesn't matter if it's now in April or it's back in November.
We prepare the same way, we get ready the same way, and just got to stay that way."
JACKSON: "Yeah, exactly what Josh said. I think just the process of just going through the same routine over and over again.
At the end of the day, it's just basketball. We just go out and have some fun and play the game. I think that it's more fun the farther we go. It's not more pressure actually, I don't feel like personally. And I can say the same thing for our team. We're just enjoying the moment and just try to get better every day."
Q. Josh, when you committed, or the guys in your class committed with you, did you check out recruiting rankings? Or after you got here, when guys like Sam or Trae would commit, did you check that? Was stuff like that important to you?
GASSER: "It's definitely not that important. I know, growing up against Wisconsin, all the talk is they don't get high recruits, but they always win. You just kind of know that coming in. We kind of joke about it. It's just kind of funny how we're not highly recruited, but yet we still win some games and stuff. It's the kind of tradition we have, and it's great to have.
We obviously have great talent. For Coach Ryan to do it year in and year out, it obviously means you're doing something right. That's all I can say about that."
Q. For Traevon and Sam again, going back to the beginning of the year when you guys set the goals, what were the catalysts for wanting more? Was there any connection to the way last season ended, or was it just in general to see this program reach a point that it hadn't reached since 2000?
DEKKER: "After we lost to Ole Miss last year (in the NCAA tournament), I was pretty up front saying, we're going to be working really hard this next season to not let this feeling happen again, and I fully meant that. If we wanted to reach our goals and if we wanted to do something big with the group we had, we've got to put in the work, and we've got to have the right mindset. If you have the right mindset going into anything, there's not much you can't do. Especially when you're together with 16 other great guys, you know, you can get almost anything done.
We all bought into it together, and we've gone on this ride together. We've gone through the ups and downs and having broken apart. That's what makes a special team, and a team that can get along on and off the court is a team that's going to stick together through everything. We've been able to do that to this point.
So I think definitely the way last year ended had a little bit of things to do, but we also knew we had the pieces there that we could get through it."
Q. Traevon, can you talk a little bit about what it is to be a leader? Josh and Ben have a little bit of age on you, but just how you've embraced that -- sorry, Josh. Just how you embraced that or the importance of that for you?
JACKSON: "This is such a senior laden program. To see guys like Josh and Ben and even (Zach Bohannon), I really look up to them in terms of how they handle themselves. They're always just solid.
I remember coming in freshman year just seeing Josh, and Jordan (Taylor) especially when he was here, and Josh being a guy that, no matter what it was, that he always was just rock solid. I just couldn't put a handle on it.
A lot of that had to do with his maturity and just learning from him, and I think that's just a blessing just being able to go through a couple years here and just embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity that has been given. You know, just trying to learn from the mistakes I made in the past or the past failures and stuff and just capitalize on it.
I've been given a special role on this team as a point guard, and it's important to embrace that."
Q. This question is for all of you guys, whoever wants to chime in first, but obviously focuses on the game. How cool is it that there's two pretty much legendary head coaches involved in it?
GASSER: "It's pretty cool. This is kind of where coaches get their name, making the Final Four. Coach (John) Calipari has done a great job wherever he's been at, especially with Kentucky the past few years, and Coach Ryan has been so consistent in his whole career no matter where he's been.
Like I said, if you're in the Final Four, you're obviously going to be a well-coached team. So we're not surprised by that."
JACKSON: "Yeah, Coach Cal is a great coach. He's won wherever he's been at. It's a great opportunity to go up against him, and it's a great opportunity for Coach Ryan as well. We're just happy that we got him here."
DEKKER: "It's exciting. It's an honor to play for someone like Coach Ryan and go up against someone like Coach Cal and Coach (Billy) Donovan and Coach (Kevin) Ollie on the other side, two other great coaches.
You get to this point for a reason, and they put their teams in the best opportunities to win, and it's worked for them."
Q. Coach Ryan spoke about yesterday and today you guys needing to stay on top of the schoolwork with all of the traveling. Have you guys managed to do that okay? Has it been a challenge?
JACKSON: "School?" (laughs)
GASSER: "For me personally, today, tomorrow, going to try to knock out as much as I can. You only get one shot. A lot of people get one shot to go to the Final Four and win the national title.
We're going to try to get the school stuff, grind these next two days out in school, work hard in the classroom, and then going to focus on that."
DEKKER: "Today I had two classes and a quiz. Tomorrow I've got a test to make up. Going to get through that, study with Frank (Kaminsky) a little bit tonight, and try to get through this week."
Q. For Josh, do you think this team is tougher mentally after that losing streak? I think it was four in a row and five of six after that hot start.
GASSER: "Yeah, I think so. Like I said before, you can learn a lot more from losses than from wins sometimes, kind of wake you up a little bit. I definitely think it was 5 of 6. It wasn't fun at the time, but I think ultimately it helped us in the end, it helped us get to this point, and we just got better.
Mentally, that was the big thing. We got a good mix of young and old guys, but to go through that, to kind of just see how you respond, how you react from some tough times, I think it helped us in games such as the Oregon game, we're down 15. We felt like we've been through it all this year. Getting to this point, it just helps out."
Q. Guys, Josh and Trae, now that you guys are in the Final Four, can you talk about what the new defensive rules this year, how that affected you guys, and especially with how Coach Ryan teaches defense? Was it not as big of a transition as maybe people led to believe? Sam, if you could chime in, how did you think those defensive rules help you guys become a better offensive team with other teams, maybe not as disciplined as you guys, being forced to adjust?
GASSER: "Earlier in the year, you definitely could notice it. Our first game in particular, it was just a ton of free throws and stuff. You've just got to learn from it. You've got to kind of figure out how things are being called throughout the game. As the season's gone on, you don't really think about it at all. It's just kind of part of the game.
Offensively, we've got multiple guys that can score, and that always helps. When we're sharing the ball, moving, cutting, that's what forces fouls and stuff like that. I think that's just where our offensive ability comes from, not necessarily the rest."
JACKSON: "Yeah, offensively, what Josh was saying, I think that we just have such a versatile lineup, 1 through 7, 8, even our guys that don't play, a lot of different skill sets, so it puts a lot of pressures on defenses.
Defensively, I think the refs have done a good job in terms of adjusting. It's tough for them to put them in that position because a lot of things now are -- some things are charges. Some things are blocks. It's a lot of social calls. So you've got to bear with them. I think for the most part, they've done a good job."
DEKKER: "You know, we just have a team that likes to put pressure on defenses now. We've got the guys that are able to do it, and we like to be aggressive and get to the hole and get to the rim. When you've got guys with that type of mindset and put that pressure on the defense, it makes it tougher for them. I think that's a lot of what's worked for us this year."
Q. Sam, whether or not (Willie) Cauley-Stein plays on Saturday, what kind of challenges does Kentucky's size pose to you guys?
DEKKER: "We've played big teams before. We've been outsized in multiple matchups this year, and I thought we've done all right with it. It's just going to be another fight and another test for us against a good team. They've got some big guys on the outside and inside. Their point guards stack up at 6-foot-6.
They've got good size. Everyone knows that. But we've got guys that are going to fight and claw and do everything they can to get a win. When you've got four guys on the court that are with you with the same mindset, it doesn't really matter how big you are. It just matters how much you want it and how much you're willing to fight for it."
Q. This is for the Wisconsinites on the panel, Josh and Sam. I'll begin with Josh. What does it mean to you to be a kid from Port Washington, growing up in Wisconsin, and to be in the position you're in. And after he's done, Sam, same thing, being from Sheboygan and being in the position you're in, representing the State of Wisconsin and UW?
GASSER: "It's crazy. It's a lot of fun. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment, embrace it a little bit. I mean, not many people get to experience this. So it's fun. We're not just, again, happy about making a Final Four. We're trying to finish the deal off.
But just the support that I've had personally and the whole team has had from the entire State of Wisconsin, me being from Port Washington, all the support I've gotten back home and on campus here, that's what it's all about. That's what makes it fun for us. Just to represent all of our students and the entire state, it's just awesome."
DEKKER: "It's really, really cool. Sheboygan is a big Wisconsin Badger rooting city, and I was always a big Badger fan growing up. So to be in this situation and have the jersey is really special to me and special to a lot of people back home.
Even for Trae, you know, it doesn't really matter where you're from, to be in this situation as a player growing up, watching March Madness and always wanting to be there, it's real special, and it's a basketball player's dream."
Q. This is for Josh and Trae about Frank. I think you said something on TV after the game that he screams at himself on the court sometimes when he gets upset. I never noticed that, but what are some of the things he criticizes himself for? Are you at all surprised, as some people around the country are, at where he is today as a player compared to where he was even at the beginning of this year?
GASSER: "Frank criticizes himself over everything, which is -- you know, he's always done that. That's where a lot of his growth has come. He's got a lot more maturity. Even just throughout this year, from the beginning of the year until now, he's got a different mindset. He's calling for the ball more. He wants the ball on the block more.
He's just -- I think he's realized how good he is, and we all realized it, not only like this summer, but just the past summers, past years, how good he is, how talented he can be.
Obviously, losing three really good players in the frontcourt last year just gave him more of an opportunity to step in and kind of give him some confidence. So we all saw how good of a player he can be. He just needed to keep growing mentally and getting more mature, and he's done that."
JACKSON: "Yeah, absolutely. He criticizes himself over some of the just most nonsense things. We try to tell him, like, 'Bro, just relax, like it's okay. Like get the next one'.
But since the beginning of the year, Josh said it right, he's grown so much. He's matured mentally so much. I've always told him, 'Man, like you're great. Just believe it'. I'm just so happy that he is really embracing it.
I remember freshman year telling him stuff like that, and just to see him come out and play with the confidence. He's always been there. It just didn't come out of nowhere. It's not a fluke or anything. He scored 40 at the beginning of the year. That just doesn't happen, like the guy can play.
Nowadays, he's just doing it on a bigger stage, and it's just great to see."
Q. Sam and Trae, kind of piggy-back off Jeff's (Potrykus) question from before about the losing streak back in January and February, do you think some of the lessons you guys learned during that stretch have been applied during this tournament run?
DEKKER: "Definitely. Ever since we went through that little stretch of losing, we buckled down mentally and physically as a group on defense, and that's what's really gotten us to this point is stopping teams and not letting them get the easy buckets like they were able to get when we were losing.
Our defense always -- if we're playing good defense, we'd always transition pretty well into our offense. We've got to focus on getting stops first, and then it will flow easily into our offense, and we're talented enough there to score. Mainly, the defense is what we really learned from there."
JACKSON: "Yeah, absolutely. I think we made some adjustments on specific parts of our defense and just tried to apply that. I think that now, when we get down in some of these games, that it definitely helps being in that situation before and not having that look of just, oh, crap, like we're in the same thing.
It's more of a let's fight through it and let's keep persisting. It's been good for us to experience that."
Q. Josh, I wanted to ask you about Ben's (Brust) family. They're pretty exuberant, pretty vocal. They've gotten a lot of national TV time although Bo says your family probably fights for that time too. Can you just give me your impressions about Team Brust?
GASSER: I'll give you the PG version, I guess. They're pretty crazy. I mean, they're just kind of a different breed of people, I guess, in a good way, in a good way. They like to have a good time, as does everyone, but they just are much more vocal about it, I guess, and they show it a little more.
You know, it's funny to hear. His brother Jonathan (Brust) has been screaming his whole life. Sometimes he's got -- I think he's like 30, but sometimes he acts like he's a college kid, which is awesome in the stands. When we don't have student sections in these tournament games, the Brust family really helps make that up.
So it's great to have all his family support us and come out to games to give us some sense of a home court advantage, and they're definitely on the top of that list."
Q. Josh, you spoke earlier about staying in your routine during all these games and trips. Any specific superstitions or routines you've done in the last two, in Milwaukee and Anaheim, that you're going to be doing again this weekend in Dallas?
GASSER: "We do a lot of superstitious things, I guess, just in terms of practicing. We have the same routine for practice every day, and like I said, it's making this Final Four run, the only thing that's going to be different is the outside stuff. We're still going to practice the same way. Coach Ryan is going to do the same thing he always does.
We're going to come prepared to practice like we always have. So it's just about kind of adjusting to the other stuff. That's pretty much it."
Q. For Josh and Traevon, I know you guys don't look at yourselves as underdogs at all, but do you feel like there's a perception from outside the building that you're underdogs or under the radar? Can that be a good thing for you guys?
JACKSON: "I don't know. I don't really know what the outside perception is. I just know from inside that we've got a great opportunity. We come together, and we're just trying to accomplish something that is -- that hasn't been done here in a while.
So in order to do that, we've got to stay focused on what we've been doing and just staying internally focused on what we can control. We can't really control what's outside."
GASSER: "Yeah, both teams need to be recognized for being good. You're in the Final Four, you obviously did something right. Kentucky deserves credit for being a good team, and I think so do we.
We've beaten a ton of good teams this year, and I think that speaks for itself. We don't really care what the outside perception is of us.
We know, like Trae said, internally we're confident. We believe that we're a good team and we can beat anyone on any given night if we play our game. So we're definitely confident in that, and that's really all that matters."