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Kansas Basketball Press Conference: Jayhawks Talk Final Four

Following the Jayhawks Elite Eight win over North Carolina, Bill Self and the Kansas starting five met with the media to talk about the Midwest Regional win and heading to New Orleans for the Final Four. You can watch it, or you can read it here. Enjoy!

COACH SELF: It was anyone's game for the first 32 minutes or whatever, and then we got some consecutive defensive stops which we hadn't been able to get the first 30 minutes and made a ton of plays, individual plays, great team plays down the stretch.

But we know as a group we also caught a break today, too, with Kendall not playing. I'm not saying that would have changed any the outcome, but we caught a break. But these guys, they wanted him to play. We talked about that.

But these guys did an unbelievable job, kind of just staying the course and not playing tight. I kind of had a calm about myself today. I felt good about it. And these guys obviously played at a very, very high level.

Player Q&A

Q. Tyshawn, North Carolina shoots 63, 64 percent in the first half, and about less than half of that the second half. What was the difference?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: They played terrific the first half. Offensively, I feel like they made everything they put up. In that second half, it kind of started off the same way. We switched our defenses up a little bit and just kind of confused them. And we put their players, who are not used to scoring in positions, to score, and it kind of confused them a little bit. So I think that helped a lot.

Our bigs were beasts on the boards. They fought hard down there. And so I think that helped because they kept Tyler Zeller and Henson off the boards. So that was huge for us, too.

Q. Picked up your fourth foul, but you seemed to stay aggressive. What did you tell yourself in that moment? You stayed in the game and you stayed aggressive. What were you telling yourself?

JEFF WITHEY: I wasn't really too worried about fouling out. I knew that if I would have backed up, they would have made a couple extra shots. So I knew I had to be aggressive still. If I fouled out, I fouled out. So I just knew I had to be aggressive and keep on trying to block shots.

Q. Elijah, comment on that shot you took with the 3‑pointer that you made. You had five points in the game to that point. Coach Williams cited that as maybe the turning point in the game. Take us through that shot going up for it.

ELIJAH JOHNSON: It was a shot that I was comfortable taking. I took them before in the game. I made one in the first half. I shot some over the rim off the back board. I had a couple of them that just didn't have a chance to go in.

But I couldn't stop shooting. I wouldn't want to go home tonight saying I could have shot that three that he backed off of me on. He took a step backwards and I made him pay for it. I pulled up. I keep finding myself in these situations where in a late game I'm taking that shot.

So it wasn't something that I panicked about or got nervous about. I just did what I do. I shot the ball.

Q. Thomas, you just seemed to look more aggressive early on in this game, very emotional, a little bit different than you looked in past games this year, at least on Friday. What was it tonight that you just felt kind of took over your emotion a little bit?

THOMAS ROBINSON: Mainly because this game meant a lot to us and to the people that support this program. For one, I wanted to let them know that I was on the court and that I just wanted to be aggressive.

Q. For Jeff and Tyshawn, can you guys take us through a play where, Jeff, you got four fouls, you make the block, and then you kind of tip it to Tyshawn, and Tyshawn goes with the end one. Kind of seemed like the tipping point. Can you guys take us through that.

JEFF WITHEY: I think T‑Rob took away Zeller and that left John Henson right in the middle. And I saw him just coming down the lane, and I stepped up and I just put my hands up, and he kind of just shot it into my hands. And then I looked while the ball was still in the air, I locked at Ty, and I just knew I had to tip it to him. So I just put all my force into it and tried tipping it to him.

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: He made eye contact with me after the block, and as soon as he landed back on the ground, he just tipped it as hard as he could, and I just started leaking out. And Stilman, he was there, like he should have been getting back, as a point guard he was getting back, and Jeff tipped it hard enough kind of out of his reach and right into my hands and it was just a perfect play.

It was a huge play for us, too. I said something to him as soon as we got in the locker room like that was a huge play. He came down with it with four fouls to get that block and to tip it out, that was huge.

Q. Ty, North Carolina shot almost 64 percent in the first half, but like only 23 percent in the second half. What did you guys do differently defensively in the second half?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: We switched our defenses up and went to a triangle and two, and it just put their guys who are not used to scoring the ball in position to score. It confused them a little bit. And that's just what it was. We just switched our defense up a little bit and it kind of took them out of what they wanted to run. And that's it, really.

Q. Tyshawn, you guys now face a rematch with Ohio State. What do you think?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: I think it's going to be good game. The last time we played them they had their best player on the bench and it was a home game, so it's definitely their chance to get back at us.

But we feel like we didn't play our best that game either. I didn't play my best individually that game, and I'm sure Thomas is excited to play against Jared, so I think it's going to be an exciting game.

Q. Travis, at what point in the season did you start thinking that maybe this could be a Final Four team, that you could be a starter on a Final Four team?

TRAVIS RELEFORD: The beginning. Coach probably didn't agree with it, but we all came together outside of the gym and just was talking and told ourselves that we're coming together this year and listen to coach and listen to the things he want us to do and play the way he wants us to play, then we can get there. And we buckled down and we just listened.

Q. Tyshawn, apparently you still haven't made a 3‑pointer in a dome.


Q. I'm going to guess that that's not bothering you too much right now?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: I don't even care. I don't care one bit. I don't like domes, but you know what, domes love me it seems like because we won, you know. Is New Orleans a dome, too?

Q. Yeah.


You know what, man, hopefully that can change in New Orleans. But like I said yesterday, I'm going to keep shooting it because I got to. I got to make the defense respect that. I got to keep them honest. I'm going to get it to fall. I'm going to get it to fall. Don't worry about it, Bob. Thank you, though.

Q. You talked yesterday about how you guys didn't want to speed this process up. You had seen in the past that you guys tried to speed the process a little bit and look ahead. How big was that just kind of staying in the moment throughout the course of this tournament?

ELIJAH JOHNSON: I honestly think that helped us more than a lot of people can know. I think that we held each other accountable. Sometimes one person would look ahead. We talked about how Tyshawn and Thomas got into it at the dinner table the other day, because one person was looking ahead and the other one had to snatch him back, like, Okay, we got to take care of tomorrow.

And sometimes it's reversed. You can't help but think in the future. But I think that you don't make it to the future unless you take care of the present, and I think we didn't let that slip each other's mind. Although it happened a lot, you might wander or you might just have that feeling in your stomach of excitement, just some people got to calm you down and let you know you got to focus to get there. It don't just happen. You got to take care of what you got in front of you first.

Q. Jeff, you talked about the first big block. Can you take us through what happened on the second one.

JEFF WITHEY: We were still in the triangle and two, and what's his name? Stilman white, he started driving, and I saw the guy in the corner, but I knew I had to cut off the drive and I just stepped up, and he kind of made a move in the air. But I think I was just too big and I blocked it. And what was it, and I forget who got the rebound but it was a huge block and a sigh of relief.

Q. Thomas, talk about how satisfying this is when from the outside, you guys weren't supposed to do this this year, yet you guys thought you could and then you proved everybody wrong. Talk about how much extra satisfying that is for you.

THOMAS ROBINSON: That makes the feeling even more better. When people doubt you, I know myself personally, I think that's when I perform my best, when somebody doubts me. And as a team together, we knew that we could do it. But it took a lot of work. It just wasn't a cake walk. This moment is great to have, but you just want to finish our business now.

Q. Jeff, could you comment in general about the play of the two front courts in this game? It looked like you guys were sort of a point of pride just matching shots back and forth each trip up the court there for awhile.

THOMAS ROBINSON: First half? Well, yeah, they're good players. Zeller probably the strongest post player I had to go against all year. And Henson is a great talent also.

But me and Jeff, we did a good job. Definitely Jeff coming down there in the game and blocking those shots. And I just tried to be aggressive. And we came out on top tonight.

JEFF WITHEY: Zeller and Henson, they're a great front court. It was tough playing against them. They're really big. But I think that defensively we threw a lot of different things at Tyler Zeller and that kind of made it so he didn't get easy shots. And we just boxed out and we rebounded and we knew that that was going to be important. And I think that we did a good job on that.

Q. For Ty and T‑Rob, over the last 5:43, they don't hit a field goal. Last 3:58, that don't score a point. Was there a point where you decided we can kind of amp up our defense a little more and kind of had a little more energy or kind of went in for the kill, I guess?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: Like I said, we switched our defenses up I can't remember at what point in the second half. But we came to a timeout and coach, one of our assistant coaches, Coach Dooley said that they scored five points and we played the triangle and two 12 possessions and they scored five points in it, and they were just offensive rebounds. Once we realized that and once we realized that they were really scoring, I think that kind of hyped us up to want to be more active in that triangle and two.

And once we did that, and when we understood that they couldn't score in it, we just kept playing it. And we knew we had to rebound out of it, which we did. Offensively, we made the plays that is we needed to to score. And I think it helped us get a lot of breakaways. We got like two or three dunks, a layup, and it was huge for us.

Q. Do you remember which timeout that was or what time?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: I think it was under eight. The under eight timeout.

Q. Tyshawn, I think most folks that cover sports here in St.Louis will say that's the loudest the dome has been in quite some time. Did it feel like Lawrence East out there?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: It did. We had a lot of love in there tonight. I appreciate our fans. They're always with us. No matter where we're at, I feel like we always got a good fan base. So shout out to our fans for just supporting us and showing us a lot of love.

Q. In their locker room, the words that kept getting repeated were how physical y'all were. They were so physical, they were so physical. Is that something y'all went in saying and is there a point in the game where you can break a team's will?

TYSHAWN TAYLOR: You hear that coach?


TYSHAWN TAYLOR: We knew they were going to come out and be tough. So we understood that we had to do the same thing. They got really good players over there. They're well coached and I know Coach Williams was coming out there telling them to be tough with us and to kind of nudge us around a little bit. And we understood that we had to do the same thing and be physical and just be tough with them.

And I think that kind of starts with our bigs, I think they were huge in the post tonight. They played amazing. Our guards just kind of followed their lead when it comes to being physical and tough.

THOMAS ROBINSON: To add on that, coach said last night going over the report that we want to throw the first punch, not literally, but we wanted to be the aggressors. We wanted to make them feel us every play and not let them get comfortable. And Jeff did a great job today. I tried to do my best also with that.

Bill Self Q&A

Q. How long did you go with the triangle and two and what was the plan coming in as far as when and how to use that?

COACH SELF: We thought we'd go to it, but I thought we could really pressure White and Watts. And we did. We did a great job on them the first half. They had nine points, eight assists, and zero turnovers. Unbelievable. They played great. And we didn't do a good job of that. So much for pressuring.

They did a good job of releasing pressure in the back court with ball screens and things like that. And then we knew we were going to go to it, I thought the key was just pick the right time to go to it. And fortunately kind of worked out for us.

It was about maybe nine, maybe it was under eight, I don't know. But we played it the last eight or nine minutes of the game. They got some open looks. Fortunately they didn't knock them down. And then sometimes when you get an open look, you don't knock it down, you think a little bit, and that's kind of what it does.

But we were able to keep the ball out of their bigs hands and take away their two shooters. And the thing about it is, you got to rebound out of it. And you know, they're a great rebounding team, but I thought we rebounded the ball as well as we have in a long time tonight.

Q. How do you rate this team defensively to the other Kansas teams you've coached?

COACH SELF: First half, I put us at the very bottom of any list. One of our key points of emphasis was keep them off the offensive glass. I think our guys, once again, outsmarted me by, Well, if they make every shot, they can't get an offensive rebound. So that wasn't very good.

But I would say this ranks in the top two or three that we have had. I still don't know if this is National Championship year defensive good. I thought we were the best defensive team in the country that year. I don't know that we're that this year. But I do think that what we have become is a team that can get stops at the most opportune times and we get confidence from that.

First half, we didn't guard anybody. It was a horse contest. And they're not the type of team you want to get in a horse contest with. But second half, I thought we just did such a good job of not letting them be comfortable.

Q. It's so rare that KU gets a chance to overachieve. Has that made this season more gratifying or would you view this as a season where you overachieved?

COACH SELF: I don't know if overachieved is ever a true expression, because it means you had it in you the whole time. I say that this team's probably played as close to a ceiling as any team that I've had. I felt like we had to beat Ohio State back in December to put us in a position to have a quality win to get in the NCAA tournament. That was my mindset. We have gotten so much better. We're like 8‑3, lose to Davidson, and you know, no chemistry whatever. I mean just bad.

But the guys kind of woke up once conference play started. But this team has played as close to a ceiling as it possible could. I don't think you can give 110 percent. I think all you can give is a hundred. And then I think this team has given as close to hundred as any team that I've probably ever coached.
I will say this, I don't know if I ever enjoyed coaching a team more than this one. I love them. We fight, it's combative sometimes, all those things. But I love coaching these guys. They have done so much as far as their work habits and representing our school in a way that has given us a chance. And it is just remarkable to see me to see them cutting down nets out here. Because this would not be the year that anybody would have thought we would do it. It's a pretty cool feeling.

Q. I was going to ask you, four new starters, to do this with four new starters, and I don't know if you call it an inexperienced team, but can you just discuss doing this with entirely new team almost?

COACH SELF: We have caught some breaks this year, too. So much of basketball in a season is such a long grind is staying healthy, those sorts of things. And we have been fortunate in that regard. But I said before the season, and I meant it, even though I didn't know for sure if I 100‑percent bought into it, that for us to be really good this year, Thomas was going to have to play like an All‑American and Tyshawn was going to have to be as good as any guard around, and those two things have come true.

And to see how Travis and Elijah and Jeff and Conner and Kevin has come a long way. Kevin got eight rebounds tonight. To see how they have come so far individually and then fitting into our schemes is pretty remarkable to me.

I think this would have been a year if we got to the second weekend, most Kansas faithful would be happy. But I don't think those guys are satisfied or would ever think that. I think they think this is our year and I'm certainly not going to tell them differently.

Q. So much has been made about lack of depth this year. How good was it to see these five guys at the end take over the game the way they did on both ends?

COACH SELF: We don't have the luxury like some teams of guys aren't playing well, you put somebody in, and you kind of mix and match, like we have in the past, to get a five out there that's working pretty good. Conner's been a staple for us, Kevin has been kind of hit and miss, but been hitting lately. But to play and win a big game like this, you got to have your key guys playing minutes. And when you play everybody 30‑plus minutes, those guys got to play well. And to see those guys all play well tonight in a big game, especially after laboring so much offensively the last two games or really in this tournament, I thought was really cool to see.

Q. Thomas, he had a big first half. He was 0‑5 shooting in the second half. But what other contributions did he make throughout in the second half when he wasn't shooting well?

COACH SELF: : You can look at him and he is our presence. When he's on the court, he is our presence. He's our horse. And he didn't score the ball the second half. He made his free throws, though. He drew a couple of fouls. But he's got a motor. He played to his motor today. Guys just get confidence through him, and through Tyshawn. And it's so important for those two to play well, and they obviously did today.

Q. This team has a lot of mental toughness and a lot of intestinal fortitude. Where does it rank in terms of mental toughness that you have had in years past?

COACH SELF: I would say that that 2008 team was pretty tough. But this team has done some things, coming from 19 down against Missouri, when they're on fire, basically the last two NCAA tournament games, people could say we didn't play well, I don't know that we didn't play well. I thought the other teams played really well. But this team is pretty tough. Pretty tough.

And NCAA tournaments are full of kind of subtle breaks, that kind of stuff. But it's so cool for us to be in St. Louis, which basically was like a home game for us. I don't know. I bet we had 25,000 people here today and guys get energy from that. So that was good for us.

But these guys, nothing fazes them. No matter what the situation is, they just think that they're going to figure it out. And certainly they figured it out tonight.

Q. Coming back to the depth issue a little bit. There's a stretch midway through the second half, you had both Tyshawn and Thomas on the bench together for two minutes of game time. And I think that your lead increased from two to four points, and then they also got a timeout. Was that a key factor having those guys more rested than perhaps they usually are coming into that swing into the last part of the second half?

COACH SELF: I don't know. Ty still played 36. If you followed us, when Ty gets really tired, that's when his decision making can go down some. But he had a couple of marginal plays and we wanted to get him, let him catch his breath. But Kevin Young has given us ‑‑ I have confidence with Kevin and Jeff out there together, and I've got confidence with Conner and Travis and Elijah on the floor. Elijah has established us as a back‑up point guard, so I don't see any issues with that.

Q. When Withey picked up his fourth foul, you didn't take him out. Was that sort of a moment of truth in the ball game or talk about that.

COACH SELF: I think there was only four minutes left when he picked it up. At that time, if I'm not mistaken, we were up either one or four. I can't remember if Elijah had made the shot yet. So you got to win the game and some coaches will take him out. If we had a four‑point lead, I may have taken him out for a possession or two. But in a tight game like that, I was going to let it ride.

Q. After the VCU game last year, you said that you might go back and change how you prepare from Sweet 16 to Elite8. Was there anything that you changed this year?

COACH SELF: : No. No, there really wasn't. Our guys were relaxed. Last year, we played tight. No question. Of course, that was a concern of mine coming in, we would play tight. But these guys didn't play tight. You can tell if we play tight, when we don't make shots, and we matched them shot for shot the first half for the most part.

And that's with us missing two dunks. We ran good stuff and got the ball where we wanted it to go. But I don't think we did anything really different. I've tried to be loose and I think coaches can impact the locker room or the mood of a team more than anybody else. And with these guys, I enjoy being around them so much, I'm so proud of them. It just amazes me what these guys have done and how hard they worked. This is a time that we should love each other and enjoy each other and maybe a little bit more of that. I don't know. But I don't think there's been many changes.

Q. I don't mean to jump ahead, but I'm from Columbus. What do you see different about Ohio State with Sullinger now. I'm sure you watched a little bit of that last night.

COACH SELF: I really didn't watch much of it last night. I couldn't sleep the night before, so I slept. It will be a great game. We caught a break the first time when Jared didn't play, and we were just kind of finding ourself. And we knew they would be a team that could obviously make a run and win a National Championship.

There's so many, they have so many pieces that are so good and it starts with Jared. But they got a stretch four that can score. Craft is as good as any guard in the country. There's a lot of positives that they have. And of course Buford has made as many big shots in his career as anybody left in the field probably.

And there's more. But Thad's done a great job. We're just fortunate and happy about playing. I'm not going to think about Ohio State until probably tomorrow. I'm going to try to enjoy this.

But you know if you get this far, you're going to play a great team, no matter what. And they get a chance to play a pretty good team, too. It should be a lot of fun.