ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Kansas standouts Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey controlled the interior and proved to be the difference Friday in the Jayhawks' 60-57 win over NC State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas coach Bill Self, Robinson and Withey addressed the media following the game.
Below is a transcript of Self, followed by the players:
"It wasn't the prettiest game that I've ever seen on both sides because neither team made shots. But I thought we guarded, we didn't rebound great, but our first shot defense was terrific for the most part all night long. And on a night when we couldn't throw it in the ocean, we just kind of hung around and were able to play with the lead. And didn't play great down the stretch, but certainly made enough plays to eke out a win.
"But really proud of our guys because the last two games that we played, they have had to figure out a way to win it when the ball wasn't going in the hole, and hopefully that will be a positive moving forward."
How instrumental was Jeff defensively? And not playing but 15 minutes the other night, did that help him maybe energy wise?
"It might have. I don't know for sure. I think his energy level was good, but the big thing is that even though they're still undersized in their post guys, we could at least play conventional. And Jeff did a great job of protecting the rim and stage down on fakes and sliding and he was a huge factor.
"There in the second half, it seemed like to me there were three or four possessions where they got three or four looks and if he didn't block it, he altered it seemed like everyone of them, so really proud of him. I thought he stepped up and played extremely well."
After the Baylor game, I know you were disappointed in how you guys defended. How pleased have you been just throughout the tournament and is this kind of what you envisioned the defense that your team was capable of playing?
"Yeah, I think so. I still think we can play better. But we really played the scouting report well tonight. They may have scored 15 or 20 points off the scouting report, and the rest of it was second shots or broken floor plays or transition.
"First half, I thought we did a better job defensively than what the score indicated. They scored six points on loose ball plays, where we went after it hard, but they just came up with it and stuck a three or got a put back or whatever.
"But I think we're doing a better job defensively. We defended Detroit, we defended Purdue the last 30 minutes and we defended tonight. And of course we're going to have to play as well as we played all year defensively against the best offensive team we played all year offensively on Sunday."
What do you expect on Sunday, a game that's going to have more than likely four future NBA post players going up against each other?
"I think there's five. I think McAdoo's one, too. So it will be a game in which I'm sure we'll bring great energy. They will bring great energy. The programs are certainly tied together for a lot of different reasons and it will be two really good teams hooking up.
"Obviously they weren't at full strength tonight and I have no idea what's going to happen with that moving forward. But you look at their stats, I got them out rebound an opponent by 33 and you look at our stats and a team gets what was it? What did they get - 21 offensive rebounds. That's not exactly a great formula for success on the defensive rebounding end.
"So we got to tighten up a lot of stuff and play bigger and stronger. But I am really proud of our guys. According to the shot chart we made two shots for the game outside of five feet. For the game. For the game. And won. That's unbelievable. And Elijah was red hot. He made one three and a 15 footer. Nobody else made a basket outside of five feet. And somehow you win.
"We can't be like that Sunday, but I think that should give us some confidence saying, hey, we haven't done it yet and we still found a way, and, hey, NC State's athletic, they're good, [Lorenzo] Brown's a pro. And of course their big guys can all catch, rip, and go.
"We caught a break when C.J. [Leslie] didn't get a chance to play as much in the second half because of fouls. But they got a good team, a really good team, explosive. And if I'm not mistaken, North Carolina beat them by one possession in their tournament. Of course, I don't think that Henson played in that particular game. I could be off, but the bottom line is that we got to play better. But certainly just so fortunate and happy that we get an opportunity to try to do so."
How do you get Tyshawn to play better and how important will him elevating his game where he has been the last few against North Carolina to be successful Sunday?
"Ty didn't have one of his best games, obviously, but he also had 10 rebounds and five assists. So that's not awful. He made some plays that I think he made because he's pressing, trying too hard, but he's a terrific guard. He's a terrific guard. He'll play on Sunday. I don't have any reservations about that at all.
"You stop and you look at our team and you say, Well, Thomas missed some bunnies. We didn't make our free throws. Ty was not a really a factor offensively like he could be. Conner missed open looks. You could go back and look and you say, Well, how did they win, and it's because the guys are tough. Man, they're tough. And they find a way.
"And certainly we have got to tighten some things up, but the biggest things is guys just got to relax and go play offensively. I mean the best thing about great offensive, great offensive players, they have a short memory. They can't remember their misses, only remember their makes, and that's what we need to do moving forward."
Between this game and your game against Purdue, and the only one that comes to mind in the regular season late was Missouri. Is it happenstance that you guys are able to pull these games out late or does it say something about your team?
"Well, I would like to say - we won 30 games this year, so they all haven't been real close like this. I think it says something about our team. We have also lost close games. We gave one away in Columbia and didn't finish the game against Duke early. We haven't been a picture perfect team all year long. But that's one thing that's kind of exciting the guys take pride in, not being picture perfect. The guys take pride in winning ugly. We finally convinced them to say it is okay. It's cool to do that. To win a muddy game.
"And of course I would love for it to be free flowing and shots are falling and all that stuff. But one thing about it, when shots usually fall, at least for my teams, we loosen the screws a little bit defensively. And right now our guys are focused defensively because they know they have to be.
"But I'm really excited about the opportunity on Sunday and we had an opportunity last year and didn't play our best and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to play really well Sunday."
Thomas, against Purdue your jump hook kind of left you a little bit and I know coach was on you to keep shooting that. How big was it to kind of get that going when you guys offensively, especially early couldn't do much.
Thomas Robinson: "I think it's the only thing I had going for me offensively. Instead of going away from me like in the past couple games, it was just I was listening to coach and just kept throwing it over my left shoulder and I came up good with it."
When Jeff is blocking shots like he did tonight, how much of a lift does it give the whole team?
Thomas Robinson: "Bales us out of games, especially like this. We were down 14 3, I think, without Jeff in there blocking those shots, the score could have been a little bit worse without him there."
And Jeff, what made you so effective blocking shots tonight? What do you think you were able to take advantage of with them?
Jeff Withey: "We knew they were going to attack us, catch, rip and go, and I kind of just was in the zone. After the first block, I just kind of got in a rhythm and kind of knew that they were just going to keep on attacking and it just was coming to me I guess tonight."
Thomas, can you guys comment on the fact you guys really haven't even played your best yet, yet you're in the Elite 8, in the tournament. Can you talk about what that means for your team right now?
Thomas Robinson: "It's a good sign. It says that we're still hoping that the lid comes off our offense for us hopefully Sunday. But we found a way for us to win, like coach said, on the defensive end. And we knew that coming into the season that we would have to find a way to get out of ugly games like this."
Jeff Withey: "It was definitely a tough game tonight and a physical one and we didn't shoot the ball really great and just to get the win feels really, really good. It was all defensively and we're dancing. We're still in the tournament. So it feels good to be able to play against a historic program like North Carolina, and I think that we have a great chance to play our best game Sunday."
You mentioned hoping that the lid comes off. Outside of hoping that the lid comes off, what can you guys do to help your shooters regaining their confidence, get their confidence and get the ball back going in?
Thomas Robinson: "There's nothing we're doing wrong. The looks are there. The shots are just not going down. So just keep running our offense, keep doing what we do and we won't do anything different. Like I said it will come off eventually. And keep it up defensively, but the offense will come."