Capel's men's basketball team discusses Elite Eight matchup with No. 1 seed UNC.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. --
The Oklahoma men's basketball team is one win away from its fifth Final Four appearance. To secure a trip to Detroit next week, the Sooners must knock off South Region No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels are ranked second in the latest AP poll.
OU has won all three of its NCAA Tournament games by double figures and is coming off an 84-71 win over No. 3 seed Syracuse Friday -- a game in which the Sooners led by as many as 27 points. Jeff Capel's crew has been led on the court by sophomore forward Blake Griffin, who is averaging 30.3 points and 14.7 rebounds while shooting a gaudy .787 from the field. He is the first player since Elvin Hayes (Houston) in 1968 to rack up at least 91 points and 44 rebounds over a team's first three NCAA Tournament games.
The Sooners and Tar Heels both practiced and met with media at FedExForum Saturday in advance of Sunday's 4:05 p.m. CT tipoff. Seniors Taylor Griffin and Austin Johnson, junior Tony Crocker, Blake Griffin and freshman Willie Warren attended the media conference with Capel. Portions of the transcript are below.
Q. Taylor and Blake, could you guys talk about what it's going to take defensively inside to try to match up inside with Carolina and the things that they do and the personnel they have?
|| OU Players
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: "They're extremely skilled inside. I think one of the things about them that kind of separates them is they play extremely hard as well. That's something we're going to have to match. Just play, you know, strong defense and be smart about what we do."
BLAKE GRIFFIN: "Like Coach Capel said, they're a great team all over the board. Inside, they have the returning national player of the year and a supporting cast that is just as good as anybody in the country. So we're going to have to do a great job of really getting down and playing well defensively and also offensively. Just trying to slow them down and get into a rhythm."
Q. Blake, we obviously asked a lot of questions to Tyler Hansbrough moments ago about matching up with you. Your thoughts on that since everybody's talking about last year's player of the year, and you're probably going to be this year's player of the year. It's being highly anticipated by the fans and media. How do you look at that, going against a guy like that?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: "You know, it's exciting, but like I said last night, it's not going to be a one-on-one battle by any means. It's going to be Oklahoma versus North Carolina. That's how we plan to play them. I'm not going to try to break away from a team concept and try to show him up or anything like that. I have no problem with him. He's a great player. He's been a great player for four years now. I have a lot of respect for him."
Q. Willie, as a freshman, what's it been all about for you? Has it been what you thought it's been? Were you nervous last night?
WILLIE WARREN: "I wasn't really nervous. I've been playing basketball my whole life. Probably a little bit more fans than I've been used to, but you just go out and do everything you've been doing for your whole life."
Q. Blake and Taylor, I'm just curious. I know a lot of North Carolina fans are going to make something out of this being that Coach Capel played for Duke. Does he talk to you guys at all about that? Or do you guys put anything more in wanting to win this game for him because of that rivalry?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: "He just talked about, if we don't win, probably none of us will have scholarships next year. No, he hasn't said a word about it. I mean, this isn't about that. It's about us as Oklahoma playing well and competing with North Carolina."
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: "Like I said, it's another game. You know, yeah, it's to go to the Final Four. It's a huge game. But we're playing another team and another team that we're trying to beat."
Q. Tony and Austin, you faced one set of problems in your perimeter defense last night. What do you see tomorrow?
TONY CROCKER: "We're just going to go out and play team defense. Try to keep everyone out of the paint and from getting easy looks. We're just going to do what we've been doing."
AUSTIN JOHNSON: "We know they've got a great team, great guards. So we've just got to play together out there, try to limit open looks for them and make (them take) tough and contested shots."
Q. Tony, when you had a shooting night like you did last night, are you more likely to be aggressive tomorrow in the game?
TONY CROCKER: "Yeah. I will. Just depends on how things are going, what needs to be done out there. I'm going to be aggressive, yeah."
Q. To follow up on that question, with your game last night, how well did you sleep last night knowing that you got out of a slump? Do you wish the game were today instead of having to wait a day?
TONY CROCKER: "I slept regular. I mean, it felt good to go out there and make most of your shots, but I'm just going to go out and do the same thing I did yesterday."
Q. Austin, going on the assumption that two great players, Blake and Tyler, both bring their A game and play great tomorrow and kind of cancel each other out. Where does this game get won? Where's the important matchups?
AUSTIN JOHNSON: "Really, to me it's just on the defensive end, who can stop who. I think kind of the pace of the game too. Not get sped up and let's just play our game."
Q. Blake, when you make a decision about whether to come back or not, how much was it that you thought this team could be really good and go as far as they have this year?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: "I thought it was a big part of it. Talking to a lot of people last year, they always talked about how college is one of the best times of your life, and guys always remember the times they played in college. Just because it's so fun and you get to do things like this. So it was a big part of it, just being able to play on a team of this caliber and being able to contend for championships."
Q. Austin, I assume you're going to be matching up with Ty Lawson. Just how difficult is it to deal with his speed, and does he remind you of anybody you've seen so far this season?
AUSTIN JOHNSON: "He's a great, great guard, probably the best we're playing against this year so far. And it's not just going to be me. I think the posts will help corral him and (we'll play) team defense. But I'm just going to try to use my length to my advantage and stay in front of him and try to contest shots when I can."
Q. Willie, you were recruited by everybody in the country, but one of the things that you said at that time was that you thought, when you chose Oklahoma, especially with Blake coming back, that you could be in this position. How does it feel to know that's come true, that you have a chance to go to the Final Four if you win one more game?
WILLIE WARREN: "It feels great. Not everybody has this opportunity to play on this stage. You know, relieved to know that I made the right decision by coming to Oklahoma. And in the Elite Eight, to play against someone you could easily say is the number one team in the country. (North Carolina) and Louisville are both playing great right now. Being able to have a chance to win this game and go on to the Final Four is a great feeling."
Q. Tony, how do you follow up the shooting output of the last game, and have you visualized big shots versus North Carolina?
TONY CROCKER: "Just keep taking the open shots. Of course you always visualize, daydream about making big shots in big games. Yeah, I've done that. Just taking the open shots as I get them."
Q. Blake, one, you say you've watched Tyler. What do you like about his game? And, two, Deon Thompson called Taylor one of the most underrated big men in the country? Do you feel that about him? And if so, why?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: "About Tyler's game, just his, I guess, tenacity, the way he doesn't stop playing hard and he doesn't stop until he's either made it or he's gotten fouled, which happens a lot. And he just seems like he never gives up and he's always ready to go. And just also the consistency he's played with over four years. I don't know how many he's averaged over his career, but obviously if he's the ACC's leading scorer, he's done a great job.
"And then the second question, I do feel like (Taylor's) one of the most underrated post players in the country. Just because, you know, for us he's one of the guys that just does whatever we need at the time. He's had games where he scored 20. He's had games where he's had five points and 10 rebounds, four blocks. He's had games where he's had five steals, stuff like that. He kind of finds a way to do the little things, the things that need to get done that sometimes nobody else has done."
Q. Taylor, last night you guys beat a coach who was going for his 800th win. Tomorrow you're going against a hall of fame coach, who's already in the hall of fame. Last week a columnist wrote your coach can't coach. How gratifying and motivating is it for you to keep beating these coaches and proving people wrong?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: "I think I can speak for everybody up here. We love proving people wrong. You know, it kind of just fuels you more when people tell you you can't do something. I think that's true with every aspect of life. Nobody wants to hear they can't do something. That's even more motivation to be able to say, 'I told you so.'"
|| Head Coach Jeff Capel
OPENING COMMENT: "Again, I'm really proud of our guys for how we played last night and for the opportunity to play such a terrific basketball team tomorrow. Carolina is really good. They're as good as I've seen on tape this year, and in person. They're incredibly explosive. I was counting, when I was looking at their roster, I think they have nine McDonald's All Americans, four guys that (have) scored over 1,000 points. One of them is at almost 3,000 points. Coached by a hall of famer. They're really, really good, and it's going to be a tough challenge for us. But, again, our guys are excited about the opportunity. And hopefully we can play well."
Q. How often do people still approach you, talk to you about the shot you made against Carolina way back?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "You know, it happens a few times a week, maybe. Not as much out in Oklahoma. You know, when I go back and visit family in North Carolina it's mentioned. As the first Duke North Carolina game is getting ready to happen in basketball, I start to hear about it a little bit more then. Maybe not as frequently out in Oklahoma."
Q. You talked about point guards, traditional point guards, and Ty Lawson fits that mold. Without overusing the word great, how close is he to that and is he the fastest you've seen with the ball?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "Ty Lawson is a great college point guard. I don't know how that will translate to the pros, but especially what he's doing now this year, and especially when he's been healthy over the past few months. That North Carolina team maybe does not get past LSU if he doesn't play, especially how good he was in the second half. He was tremendous last night.
"Their program is known for having very, very good point guards. He's following right in line with the tradition of that. And as far as speed, it's tough to gauge speed on tape. Yesterday was the first time I'd ever seen him play live. And he's really, really fast. I think (Syracuse's Jonny) Flynn is fast. We had a kid in our league last year, D.J. Augustin, who was pretty fast. Sherron Collins is pretty fast. How does he measure up against those guys, I'm not sure. But he is really, really fast with the ball."
Q. Is there some poetry to the fact that your first major coaching break through will have to come through North Carolina?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "Not really because I don't look at it as my first major coaching breakthrough. When you're hired at 27 years old, that's a major breakthrough as a head coach, especially with only two years of experience. You know, guiding a team in the second year to an NCAA tournament at VCU, you don't appreciate how much pressure there is at those mid-major schools on a conference tournament. We went into a conference tournament 21 and whatever we were that year, but knowing that we had to win it. That was probably the most pressure that I felt as a coach.
"But it's exciting. I told someone on my staff, one of our GAs, in January, that eventually we're going to play North Carolina, and it's going to happen. I didn't know if it would happen in the Final Four, to get to the Final Four, or for a championship, but I just had a feeling that some way we were going to end up playing them.
"We're excited about it. I have a lot of respect, so much respect for that program. I grew up in that state. I know all about the history and the tradition. I have friends that played there. I have a brother that played there. So I have a lot of respect for them. And they're incredible. They're the best team we will have played all year long, and I haven't even played them yet.
"But I don't really want to watch a lot of tape on them because you try to find weaknesses, and I really don't see any, especially with them offensively. It will be a challenge, but we'll be ready for them."
Q. (Your brother) Jason (Capel) was wearing an OU shirt yesterday back there and cheering like crazy for you guys. Is he going to be wearing the same color shirt tomorrow, or is he going to change over to blue?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "He's going to have on a red shirt tomorrow. It will be a red OU shirt, and he'll be cheering for us, which he should. I know a lot of Carolina people may not like that, but he was my brother before he was a Tar Heel. And he'll always be my little brother. He'll be cheering hard for us tomorrow."
Q. Jeff, you've already talked a little bit about North Carolina's offensive prowess with the point totals and things. They're unique in that their big man goes outside quite a bit and does some things. Could you talk about defensively how difficult it is going to be to match up with some of the things and some of the switches you're going to have to do?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "They have pros at every position, and then they bring pros off the bench. And so there's no weakness. Sometimes you have a team where they don't shoot the ball as well. They're great in transition. They're great in half court offense. They can shoot the ball from behind the arc. They can beat you inside. They're a very good passing team. They have size. They have depth. I mean, there's no weakness.
"You have to play defense as best as you can and try to contest shots, and then you hope they miss them. So that's what makes them really, really difficult to defend. They do a great job of controlling tempo, getting the game kind of going like they want to up and down the floor, and we have to be really careful not to get in that kind of game with them."
Q. Coach, before this tournament began, you admitted that you're an East Coast basketball snob and trying to change your impressions about basketball in the Midwest. With that being said, do you find yourself campaigning for Oklahoma basketball, so to speak. Do you let the 30 wins do the talking for you? How much would a win over North Carolina enhance your campaign?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "I would never refer to myself as a snob with anything. So I never said that. I said that coming from the East Coast, you don't really think about basketball out here in the Midwest. You think of it more as football. You look at Kansas as a basketball school, but that's about it.
"You know what, what people think about us or what they write about us, that doesn't really matter. We've won 30 games. We've had a really good year. We're in the Elite Eight. We have a kid that may be the national player of the year, may be the number one pick. We have a kid that was a freshman all American. We have two McDonald's All Americans coming in next year. I think we've done enough to kind of deal with that stuff. We're just going to play the game, and hopefully we can go out and play really well tomorrow and win. If that happens, then that will speak for itself."
Q. Coach, from the journey that you've had from VCU to here, how do you enjoy this moment? Can you enjoy this moment?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: "You know, I enjoy it. One of the things I try to talk to our guys about all the time is really enjoying the journey. Every season is a journey. To try to enjoy every step of the way. You know, this year has been great. I mean, we've had some ups. We've had some downs. We've had some in between. This has been a really fun group to coach. Obviously, we have another day, but hopefully we have another week for this team to be together. I think we've done something really special already. But we have a chance to make it even more special. And so that's what we're looking forward to. It's an honor to be in the final eight. It's an honor to be at this stage. And it means that you've done something really good. For us, you look at our whole body of work, and we've been that way all year long. I'm really proud of these guys. We'll see what happens tomorrow."