Mar 18, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson (15) pulls down a pass against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second half in the third round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the CenturyLink Center. Kansas defeated Purdue 63-60. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
Sunday night the Kansas Jayhawks squeaked out a big win against the Purdue Boildermakers to advance to the Sweet 16 in St. Louis. Kansas led the game for less than a minute, but the timing of that lead was the right time. After the game coach Bill Self, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson met with the media to discuss the game and some of the key plays down the stretch.
What a great game. It wasn't the best played but it was a grinded‑out, typical Big Ten game. I coached three years in the league and we had a lot of them like that and that was a typical Illinois/Purdue game. They were better than us for the majority of the game and Robbie Hummel was great. We hung in there. We had guys make individual plays. Fabulous game. I thought Purdue played great.
Q. Tyshawn was there nonverbal communication between you and Elijah when he threw you the lob?
Not really, he got the ball and I was out and he seen me. That's what we do, you know, we got that play so many times, me throwin' it to him, him to me. It was probably a question of who is the tallest. He trusts me and I went and got it for him.
Q. Elijah, what was going through your head when you took that three‑pointer?
I don't even exactly know. I was confident in the shot and I took it. I didn't want to second guess it. I second guessed a couple in the first half and I came up with air balls. At halftime we talked as a team. We said no more second guessing.
He took that shot with a smile on his face, too. He smiled when he shot that.
Q. Elijah, give us a description of the steal and the driving layup and what you saw there.
I saw a break with two of my teammates on the wing. Early in the game I dished the ball to the wing and we came up short. So I felt like I had to attack the rim and stop being so passive. It ended up working out for me. It gave me confidence. It gave our bench confidence. It was probably that the layup was more valuable than a three‑pointer.
Q. Tyshawn, this was a weird, crazy game. Was that on your mind, the early exits of the past?
I wasn't thinking about the past. I was trying to stay focused on the task at hand. We kept telling each other, "We got to trust other and keep grindin' it." That's exactly what we did. We trusted in each other and in our coaching staff. We kept grindin' and we made big plays down the stretch.
Q. Tyshawn on that last layup did the thought cross your mind about headin' for the corner?
I asked three people after I did it, I asked Coach Self, Coach Townsend, and I thought about it and I thought I got to dunk it, because you can go up three points and they would have to make a 3‑pointer with only 2 seconds left so they would have to make a long pass. I layed it up but I did think about it.
Q. Elijah, the steal at the end, 23 seconds left, their guard got in the lane. Can you talk about how you came up with the ball and took it down the court?
In the time‑out Coach T. Yelled at me about rebounding. He knew it came down to rebounding. When I saw a loose ball they got control of it but with my momentum I decided to go for it. I put my handout and got a hand on the ball, no contact. I was able to push it out in front of me. I started to break.
Q. Elijah did you have any second thoughts on throwing that lob?
No, because in my opinion Tyshawn and myself are the most athletic guards on the same time so if I was down there I knew Ty would have thrown it to me. Once again there was no second guessing. I trusted him and he came up with the 2 points.
Q. Couple of the guys said that they felt some tightness throughout this game. It was Robbie Hummel's three's that did that? What was it that made you feel tight throughout the course of the game?
The momentum of the game. They had the momentum of the game, they seemed confident on the floor, the coach seemed confident. Although we had most of the arena screaming for us I heard their fans and they seemed confident. They took care of the ball. They took good shots. I felt like at one point we had to knuckle down and grind possession‑for‑possession on each end. We did it and came up successful.
I think early in the game, Robbie came out and made some huge shots. I felt like he was throwing a rock in the ocean, man, he was knocking everything down. When stuff like that happens, you kinda‑‑ it's hard not to be just like, "Dang, when is he going to miss?" But we had to change something defensively. He was getting good looks and they were tough‑guarded looks but when a guy is hot like that he's going to make some. We knew they had guys to take tough shots and make them. The message was to keep defending, if they take a shot make sure we rebound. In the second half we switched our defense. I think that confused 'em. We rebounded the ball better in the second half. I think that helped.
Q. Tyshawn, you and Thomas are the team‑scoring leaders, and teams are always looking to stop you. Talk about how you felt about Elijah's game and the way he handled himself in the last three minutes and what he meant to this team tonight?
He was huge tonight, and the last few weeks he's been huge for us. Me and Thomas didn't have our best game tonight, not even close, but Travis played good in the first half, got a couple of offensive rebounds and had a couple of pull‑ups, and Elijah was involved in every play in the last couple of minutes. He's been playin' good and I'm sure he's going to keep it up.
Q. You guys have had a lot of games down to the wire and you've had to grind it out, most notably against Missouri. How much did that help?
Huge. In my message to my team at halftime was "We've been here before. Don't get discouraged. Just keep playin'."
It's a long game, it's a game of runs, Coach always says that. They went on a run for most of the game. We kept grinding it out and trusting in our teammates and ourselves. We made plays down the stretch.
I think that one thing that stuck in my head the whole time, Coach preached to us it's going to come down to one possession. No matter the score I felt like it would come down to one possession, no matter what. I kept that in mind. I remember a couple of times where it came down to one possession where we came up short. In Maui, where we let games get away from us. We kept playing.
As a team, we thought about that. Maybe individually, but we thought about it. We knuckled down and put our past experiences into affect today.
Q. Coach, I know you have seen hundreds of seniors have performances before but Robbie Hummel came out on fire. What was going through your mind as you watched Robbie Hummel play tonight?
You know, I've been a fan from afar for a while. With everything he's gone through, he deserved‑‑ and I thought this before the game. I thought he played great because I thought he deserved to play great in the NCAA Tournament. He was fabulous. He was fabulous. I think he and Byrd started out 5 for 5 in the first five minutes. He was great. Most of 'em weren't easy shots, but it was a bad match‑up for us. We knew that going in. We started conventional with Thomas on him.
We switched and were switchin' ball screens. When you only have 30 minutes to practice for them, we never got in a rhythm. We were awful. They made us pay for our mistakes. He's a big‑time player. I'm happy we won the game, but if we were going to win I was happy to see him have a good game. He deserves it.
Q. Coach, you and Painter were matching substitutions and changing defenses and changing guys around the triangle. Do you feel like you coached a harder game?
That was a grind game. I thought Matt did a good job of keepin' us off balance. He knew it was a hard match‑up with us playing two bigs, and one of 'em guarding Robbie. So if he put Travis on him, now Thomas has to guard one of their guards. He actually did a good job doing that, but now you're switching ball screens. It's just different when you haven't practiced that way a ton.
I thought we defended their motion a lot better second half. First half we didn't do a good job at all. Matt did a really good job with this game. He kept us off balance. They put two guys around Thomas the whole time. He was 2 for 12 but the majority of shots he missed were guarded, hard shots. That created frustration. There was more going on, at least in our mind, maybe my mind, than what there is most games. It felt like every possession there was a chance you were going to have to try to change something.
Q. Elijah has been maybe too passive for you guys and seems to have come on for late. What is his recent play meant for you guys?
He's played better than his numbers, he just hasn't shot the ball consistently. He was under 30% for the season from threes, just until two or three weeks ago. Now he has rhythm. His confidence seems higher. I don't know if there is anything specifically other than the fact that maybe he's realized he's talented. He's a good guard. I would say he was our best player in Omaha when you think of both games.
He played good in Kansas City when our team struggled. He's a really good guard. I think that he's going to continue to get better and better.
Q. Bill, has anybody asked you about going to the Sweet 16. Is it gettin' old?
No, no, it's not gettin' old. I don't know what‑‑ I think there have been three years we haven't gotten to the Sweet 16 since I've been at Kansas. To play in the NCAA Tournament is great, but to feel the full benefit from an exposure standpoint for your program you need to get to the second weekend, because there are only 16 teams getting publicity rather than 68.
That's good for our program. You should never take for granted getting there. Of course we're excited. To me in the tournament, I've been around long enough that usually teams that have great success in the tournament, they figure out how to win a game when they don't play their best.
We shot 34%. That's unheard of. We didn't make free‑throws. We were 6 of 24 from three. Hopefully this was that game. They alluded to this earlier, when Robbie Hummel and Byrd have us down 13‑2 to start the game, whatever it was, we didn't have any rhythm. You guys saw how they guarded us, they weren't ‑‑ they were going to dare us to make shots.
When we didn't make shots early, I did think that guys felt pressure. That's when you got to guard and rebound and we waited until the second half to do it but fortunately we did.
Q. Bill, what's the emotion after escaping like that?
I would say in years past it's probably been more relief. I feel relieved, but I feel some jubilation. The kids are excited. If you look at our team and somebody said you will be 29‑7 and playing in St. Louis in the Sweet 16, everybody would have said "What a great year."
I'm proud of ours guys because a testimony to a team's toughness is to figure out a way to win when things aren't going well. That was probably more stressful for our guys than Purdue guys. When you don't have that momentum and that energy, it takes toughness, and I'm proud of what we did. How we won is who we are. We rebounded and played defense when the game came down to the end. You have to make shots, and we didn't do that.
Q. Coach, at halftime your two big guys combined for 3 points. I understand you have the advantage at one end but the disadvantage of the smaller lineup at the other end. What was your message to the two bigs?
I don't talk to our bigs about they have to score. I talk to them about‑‑ Thomas needed to move around more. We thought that would create fouls. I thought he was posting on one block too much. I thought Jeff didn't go out to the ball, I told him to go after the ball. He had a couple of chances to do that and he didn't.
I thought all along we weren't going to be able to play 'em together much in this game. Kevin did some good things offensive rebounding of the ball. My message to the team was "Trust each other. We told you you're not going to score on the first or second side, you've got to get to the third or fourth side." We guarded ourselves the fist half. Second half we ran offense better, just missed shots.
Q. Coach, after Tyshawn's dehydration, was he playing leg‑weary?
I don't think so. He tried to do too much. They did a great job of keeping Thomas out and keeping Tyshawn out of the lane. He forced a couple of shots and had some bad possessions. He was trying to force too much. I don't think it had anything to do with him being leg weary.