Dec. 22, 2007
Villanova head coach Jay Wright...
Opening statement: We are a team that has work to do but I thought we got a little bit better tonight. This was finals week and you can make as many excuses as you want and it wouldn't matter. I thought we benefited from our work this week. Columbia runs a lot of good stuff offensively and they shot 32 three-pointers. When you know a team is coming in to shoot like that it's tough to guard him. We lost K.J. Matsui a couple of times and that has been one of our problems this year but towards the end we did a good job on him. We have work to do but I feel like we're getting better.
On the game: I didn't think we had a bad effort. I didn't think we were sharp but we spent so much time working defensively this week that we were probably not as good offensively. I'm not worried about offense with this team because we need to get better defensively. I do think we made strides tonight.
On going nearly seven minutes without a field goal in the second half: I thought at that time that we didn't get it to Scottie enough. We had a lead and everybody took the first shot that came, whatever that shot was. I'm not worried about that now and that's a true statement. I am pleased we broke out and were a little bit better defensively tonight. That was good for us because after La Salle it's all business in the Big East and we have to be ready.
On the first 10 minutes of the game: I liked the way we played defense in the first half. We haven't been able to sustain that for 40 minutes yet. We haven't been able to do that yet but our offense has carried us. Defensively for probably 22-26 minutes we played pretty good tonight. There was a stretch when Matsui got going and they went inside that we got lax at times. We're going to get there.
On Dante Cunningham's rebounding: Dante has been amazing and he should be because he's very talented and tough. I can see that it's important to him. When it's important to someone and they are talented they're going to be good at it. His rebounding has been incredible the last three games. What great rebounders do is go out of their area to get them and that's what he's doing. He's getting rebounds everywhere. There are some times you can hear the crowd react too much for a rebound but that's some of what Dante is doing. People are shocked when he comes out of nowhere to get the ball.
On Villanova to this point in the season: I think we have a chance to be a very good team. I think we are very fragile because of our defense. If you are consistent defensively you can make up for poor offensive nights. Right now we are not consistent defensively yet. We are pretty good offensively. Tonight wasn't one of our better nights but Columbia does a good job. They switched up the defense well. I give them credit for that but I am still concerned until we got more consistent defensively. I am a little bit surprised with how good offensively we have been so far.
Junior forward Dante Cunningham...
On the crowd's reaction to his rebounds: That had a lot do with it but at the same time it was about knowing who is on the court with you. Sometimes we play a small lineup and I think that maybe I can rebound it a little more then. But I always go after rebounds regardless of who is on the court. Getting better defensively is a little bit of that too but really it's just about making sure you go after the rebound on every play and clean the boards.
On practice during the week of final exams: We tried to battle on and off the court. It was hard to get on the court as much this week so we tried to come right in and battle on the court every day.
Junior forward Shane Clark...
On the week leading up to the game: Like Dante said we had to battle on and off the court and take every chance to get on the court. I get excited about my defense. I always want to work on that and see where I stand. I try to get my teammates into it too and I love doing that. For someone like me I guess practice was fun the whole week.
On the team going almost seven minutes without a field goal in the second half: We just try to stay together at times like that and keep playing possession to possession. They hit some shots but we still had the lead and knew they were going to half to keep hitting them to try to get back in it.
Columbia head coach Joe Jones...
On the game: I thought I was going to run right to the bus after the first five minutes or so but I thought we competed. Towards the latter part of the first half and in the second half we competed. John Baumann and Ben Nwachukwu did a nice job getting after it. Also I think we built some energy and started playing with confidence. Early on, and we have been like that this year, where we come out in games and for whatever reason look not ready to play and it takes a while to get going. We are trying to push the tempo in practice and make it more like a game and get the guys playing at the intensity level we need to play at. We have also relied on the three-pointer so much in the past and right now we're not shooting as well as last year. We need to change our identity and become a more blue collar team inside. Tonight we did that in the second half.
On the rest of the game after the opening run by Villanova: I thought we defended better. The first 10 minutes of the game we couldn't stop them but then we started to defend them better. They are so talented offensively and have so many guys that can hurt you. If Scottie Reynolds doesn't get it going the freshmen are so good and Shane Clark is hitting three-pointers. When I was here [as assistant coach] we couldn't shoot and now Jay Wright has guys like Shane making 3's. At the start we were trying to guard them and we couldn't guard them. We did a good job defensively in the second half and they weren't hitting some of the shots that normally they probably do, so it was a little bit of both.
On K.J. Matsui: He has a really good stroke. One of the things we relied on last year was that a lot of different guys were shooting the ball well. Right now we're really struggling to shoot it. We had gotten on K.J. about defending the rebound. I learned that from Jay and how he has a bunch of guys making 3's. But with K.J. we weren't playing him as much because he doesn't rebound the ball great and some guys are better defensively. Now we rely more on him and he's a little more of a focal point. He responded well tonight. He played with some toughness and did a nice job on both ends of the court.
On what Matsui does for the team: Guys like John Baumann and Ben Nwachukwu can score around the basket but when K.J. makes some outside shots it gets us where teams don't key so much on our inside game. When he makes shots it spreads the defense out and opens up some driving lanes. He's an important piece for us and right now he's responding well. The other thing is he's always been confident and known he was a pretty good offensive player. That wasn't the problem. I like the way he's responded and he did a pretty good job tonight.
On Ben Nwachukwu's play in the second half: We have to get him and our whole team to play with more consistency. Ben needs to play more consistent. He's able to play like that. Tonight I think he didn't have a rebound in the first half and finished with seven. We need to get that from him at the beginning of the game. As a team we have to get things like that right from the start because we are talented but haven't played that way yet.
On practice during the week of final exams: We had some short practices with high intensity. We shortened it down and gave them some days off but too many days off. So we tried to go with a lot of intensity for shorter time. We have a veteran team that's got through this before and we have played well before in this game coming out of finals, from St. John's and Notre Dame in the last couple of years to tonight. They kids are very resilient and although they work hard in the classroom they balance it out and do both. We were ready to go tonight. I think the start of the game had more to do with Villanova and how talented they are. They made some unbelievable shots to start the game.
On coming back to Villanova: It means a great deal to me. I love Villanova. I had a great six years here and I was a big fan before I got here. I had a great experience as an assistant coach here first with Steve Lappas and then with Jay Wright. Jay is one of my best friends and a guy I have a great amount of respect for so it means a lot to come back here. It's always special and it was great to be back in the Pavilion.