Tom Izzo Talks UCONN, the Loss and Next Season
Q: What did you say to Keith after he fouled out.
A: I felt bad. I did not think he fouled him, I’ll be honest about it. That disappointed me. I thought Payne was getting killed down low. Killed. So that was frustrating for him and he said something. I just thanked him and I said I don’t know that I could have gone through what you went through. We all know he’s not probably half the player he was. It’s not from lack of work; it’s just the way the cards he was dealt. I could have played Trice a little more maybe, so that was asked of me. But he was struggling to get the ball up the court and that, where Keith wasn’t. But I felt bad for Keith, you know. It just seemed like he had a couple of tough calls on those. I thought we checked them pretty good. I thought they were a couple of tough calls.
Q: How difficult is it to see that streak end for your Seniors?
A: You know what, it ain’t difficult. I hate to say it, but it’s not. I’m a big believer…I’ve been in it long enough…you get what you deserve. We did not deserve to win tonight, guys. We probably played better defense than I thought. As I was telling a few guys, if you hold a team to 34% shooting and 22 from the 3 and out rebound, you’d win 99% of your games. Then the turnovers, and some of the free throws were tough… But we didn’t seem mentally as sharp as we needed to be. We started out poor. We looked drained, and I don’t know…somebody said there was a late night the other night. They were 2 hours difference…big deal. I think it was the season, then the travel of the Big 10, and I think we just kinda wore down. We did very little in our day in between. So maybe it wasn’t our time, wasn’t our turn. The streak – yeah, that’s important – but the streak’s more important to the team and the players than it is to the coach. I’ve been in Final Four’s that we didn’t deserve to be in. I kept the streak alive and I’ve been in Final… I think there’s a couple that we should have been in that we weren’t. So, in the end it always works out. Disappointing, yeah. But things like that aren’t why I coach. You don’t get a banner for that.
Q: The players understand the highs and lows they’ve been through this season, and there’s still a sense of accomplishment coming back from where they were in January/early February.
A: Well, I don’t think there’s any question. As I told a few of you at some of our press conferences, when it’s all said and done we’ll sit down and talk about what they really went through. It was an out-of-body experience. It was for me, for them. I can’t tell you how hard those press conferences were. Now that it’s over I can at least say that. It’s not anything you guys did either…I was always feeling like I was half lying to you and half not telling you and half making excuses. I was so sick of it that I didn’t even want to show up at a few of them because I didn’t know what to say. But it was way worse than what I did say and for that I give them a lot of credit. I can’t even tell you how much they had to put up with as far as grinding and grinding and grinding. But at the same time you hate to end it like this because sometimes… Like if we would have lost the other night I would have said, You know what, we played our best and lost. And when you lose now I give all the credit to UConn. I really mean that too. I give him way more credit than me. He had them more ready to play than I did. But we didn’t play very well and they were part of the reason. I can’t give them credit for some of those turnovers for touchdowns.
Q: Was it strange that turnovers were in both halves? I’m sure you were trying to push buttons, trying to get them to snap out of it.
A: They were in both halves, but they were in stretches. In other words, the game started… I think at halftime my assistants told me they had 21 points, 12 or 14 turnovers, and a couple of offensive rebound put-backs. That we don’t give up very often. Well, that means our half-court defense was phenomenal. I thought we shrunk the court, we did everything we could. They didn’t get in the lane much. The second half Payne was really tired and I had to keep him in there. That was hard. He was getting knocked around in there pretty good. And that’s harder too when you’re tired already. But I don’t know… I was disappointed that both stretches we were 9 up, and then we just made a couple of crazy decisions and we just didn’t look like… We came out of a time out and ran something completely different. That hasn’t happened, to be honest with you, all year with subs or no subs.
Q: Did this game, more than any other this season, epitomize the difference between freedom of movement on the perimeter and fouls vs. physicality inside and not having that same carryover?
A: Well, I didn’t know that there was supposed to be… I thought it was called the same way everywhere. I didn’t even know that. (?)…tell me that they changed the rule on me. (?) I would like to find that out. But I hope they feel good about they got what they wanted. I still like Tony Bennett. Our game was a man’s game…a man played it and both teams played hard and physical. To me that was a fun game – this touch foul stuff…if that’s what they want, they got it. I’ve been displeased with it all year. It ain’t gonna change now. It wouldn’t change if we went to a Final Four. I just don’t think it’s any fun, it puts a lot of pressure, and I think your best players are sitting on the bench.
Q: You had a front row seat for Keith and AP’s growth and transformation. Looking back now, what’s it been like to see that and see the men that they’ve grown into?
A: Both guys have come a long ways. Very few times do you see guys grow socially, athletically, and academically. Those graduations will be special ones. They weren’t two guys that maybe came in with that on the front of their minds. Not only did they do it, but they did it in 4 years. Just the stuff off the court, Adreian’s done a heck of a job on a lot of that. Keith has grown too, he really has. Sometimes we don’t appreciate that some of these kids have had it a little tougher coming up than others. I love those guys. I love Keith’s fight and fire, but it was really hard on Keith. He just couldn’t do half of what he was doing. Him and I sat down a couple nights ago before we came out here and looked at his first 20 game’s stats, and it’s almost mind boggling to look at. He had 12 shots a game and shooting 50%, 60%, and then all of the sudden wham-o. So that’s been hard on that kid. He’s hung in there. He hasn’t really complained about it, he dealt with it. I’m not sure I could have done as good a job as Keith did.
Q: Did that reduce him vocally during this Tournament?
A: Oh yeah. Jud Heathcote always had a great line, and it’s true, that it’s hard to lead others when you’re struggling with your own game. Not only was he struggling with his own game, but you just knew that the things he had done and the things he had worked all spring, summer and fall o n… You saw it guys, he couldn’t shoot the ball. He worked, he was in there mornings working. Some of it was his confidence, some of it was his form went, and yet… He did more than you think tonight guarding Shabazz. And I thought a couple of those, like I said, I’d say a couple of them were close. But he didn’t get in the paint, he didn’t do things… I mean the guy played good but he didn’t just go off and out for the free throws. The rest of the team I thought we handled pretty well.
Q: Did you see any of this coming in? You said they kinda wore down…
A: I didn’t. I was a little concerned…we flew back from Gonzaga, got in at 6 in the morning. We didn’t practice really well. You always listen to the people and they tell ya… I didn’t see it coming like this because we didn’t show that the other night. Now getting home at 1:30, 1:45 probably doesn’t help that and I think it affected some. But like I said, they got in 2 hours earlier…big deal. I think there’s some issues that we have to look at, but that didn’t have any difference in this game if you ask me.
Q: Has this become Denzel’s team now? Are you looking at it that way?
A: You know, I don’t know. Denzel’s got a ways to go now. The turnovers that… Everybody gets mad at me for getting mad at him. There were some foolish ones tonight. This will be my team for awhile and I’m gonna figure out exactly… But this year, this spring, it will be somebody’s team. It will be somebody’s team. I won’t do what I did last year. I don’t regret it. I had to do what I had to do as far as not really naming somebody and this and that, but that will now change and it will be somebody’s team. But whose yet, it’s gotta be someone who leads, Denzel’s a good candidate. It’s gotta be someone who plays disciplined, he’s gonna have to keep growing in that area. It’s just gonna have to be someone that cares, and he’s off the charts on that. So yeah, I’d probably say he’s leaning towards that but he’s gotta do some work yet.
Q: Is this the type of season that makes you wanna get away and reflect on it a little more than normal or get them back to work quicker than normal?
A: What a deep question. It’s been the hardest season since I’ve been here, maybe because I’m getting a little older, but I don’t really think so. I just think that it’s just been a tough year. A lot of the things you hoped… I said we’ll never be back to where we were, and I don’t think we were, but it’s been an enjoyable year because I saw so much adversity and guys kinda fight their way through it. I’m not a great guy at taking days off. They can take some time off, they deserve that now. What is tomorrow, Monday? I’ll take half a day and figure out what I’m gonna do and then just probably just keep moving on. I think we’ve got some good things. Everybody will worry about where the team’s at. A good lesson to learn for everybody…who’s left standing, where was UConn picked, where was different teams picked, where were the freshmen picked. Everybody thinks they have this thing figured out and I don’t think that it’s figure-out-able, because there’s an X factor here. Kids are distracted in many ways nowadays by many things. I’m not gonna put my advertisement in today, not that one for today. But they are distracted by many things. And finding guys that are not… One guy that we got that I think is not is Travis Trice, too. We just gotta get him through a summer where he… He had a pretty good run, and then got hurt and sick during the year, but get him up about 20 lbs… I actually love the way Travis played. He was our sixth man and a very good one most of this year.
Q: We know that Gary has a decision that will unfold in the next few weeks, but does Branden have a decision too?
A: You know what guys, you and I might have a decision…I mean, I don’t know anymore. I don’t follow that, I don’t talk about it to him. I’ve talked to Gary a little bit. He better play better than he did today. But in this day and age I’ve seen more guys go… But nothing that Branden ever talks about to me, I‘m sure, tomorrow and the next day we’ll sit down and talk. I think it’s worked out good for AP, but I definitely would never ever want a guy here that thinks he should be gone. So what I would tell Branden is he better figure it out. He better figure out what’s best for him and what’s his best opportunity. Because if it’s, ‘Oh jeez, I gotta go back”, then I’d wish you were gone. If it’s, ‘Oh jeez, I get to come back’, then… I think the kid can make tremendous strides if he kept working. If he doesn’t keep working then I think you’re better off gone. Give AP some credit that he did that. I think he (?) a lot on his play too. We made a big deal about Lacey, we made a small deal about it. What I mean is it’s been blown up out of proportion, but what is hard that isn’t blown up is the kid really, honestly has a sincere interest in her. It’s not made for TV, it’s not reality TV. There’s been times when we get the call that she’s back in the hospital and it bothers him. So I don’t know. I feel very comfortable with Gary that he’ll talk to me, or his parents will all talk, and he’ll make the right decision according to first of all about what he wants to do, and second of all what the NBA shares. I mean… How many #1 quarterbacks have we had, by the way? Anybody know? Like this year… It started out that this guy was gonna be, then Manziel was gonna be, then Johnny…then Manziel’s gonna be a third round pick. I mean, if there’s an exact science to it someone’s gotta tell me what it is. I think that’s the one thing I learned in this draft here with football. I talked to Mariucci about it, it’s amazing. You can easily see why there’s a lot of mis-picks because we’re looking at one day. You have shoulder pads on or rap music on or short pants on or long pants on and it made a difference… I’m just blown away by some of that.
Q: You talked about it being a tough season a moment ago. Does that have you doing some life-assessing type of things in your head?
A: Yeah, I do. Everybody does. But you know what, I worked more hours this year than I probably have in my life. And more in these past 3 weekends than I have in my life. I ran my 45 minutes this morning at 8:00 on the treadmill and probably felt the best I’ve felt in my life. Disappointed…I’m disappointed because I know you don’t get many opportunities to do this. This was a special group because of what they went through. Why? I will beat myself up for a week on why we laid an egg. And God, when I say that I feel like I’m taking something away from UConn, so please don’t think that. I just didn’t think it was the way we played. Some of our worst games I thought we played better and looked better than what I thought we did today. And the stats prove it. I’m just amazed at what happened.
Q: In the past you’ve gotten a good vibe on walk-throughs. Any clue on that this time?
A: That was one of the problems here. As much as I like New York, there were some issues there. There just weren’t a lot of walk–through spaces. Motels aren’t like they are in the Midwest where they have ballrooms that aren’t occupied most of the year. You’re in New York, the ballrooms… I mean, our hotel was a zoo. I’ve never seen anything like our hotel. And that would be one thing I’d like to talk to the NCAA about. I think it’s hard… I love the Garden, everything was great. But when you’re trying to think about going to practice and travelling and traffic and walk-throughs at the hotel…there wasn’t much of that. And that is something that we’ve always lived on. So you got something that you don’t want to make a big deal about, but I will be making some deal about because I didn’t think it was real good.