Men's Basketball-Houston Postgame quotes

March 15, 2018

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THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll get a statement on a very heartbreaking loss.

COACH DUTCHER: It's always bitterly disappointing when a season ends, especially when you feel like you have good basketball left in you. And we over came a rough first half, fought them the entire second half, fought back to tie the game. It's March. We had a March-type shot to win the game and didn't go in. We're going home. And we're disappointed over that.

Congratulations to Houston. They fought hard, too. That's what happens this time of the year, two good teams fighting hard to the end, and they got one more play than we did. And we're going home and they're moving on. I'm so proud of my team, the effort they put forward today. To come from 13 down in the second half and fight all the way back in the game and have a shot to win it in the end, I couldn't be more proud of a group than I am of this one.

Q. Trey, there wasn't much time, but you were able to get your shoulders squared and get a shot in there. Could you just explain that sequence and the kind of look you wanted to get and the kind of look you did get.
Trey Kell: Yeah. We have a play for that. It's called home run. Like you said, I got a good look. Simple read. It's either catch it and throw it to the guy streaking to the corner or if I have a good look, turn around and square up and shoot it. And I wasn't able to knock it down.

Q. Trey, obviously Gray had a huge night, but it wasn't like he was making open shots. He was making ridiculously contested shots. Is there anything at that point you can do as a defender? Isn't it sort of the job to try to make take hard shots?
Trey Kell: Yes. He made tough shots all night. But good players do that. It's always easy to look back and say you could have did some things different, but just like you said, he's a really, really good player and he made some really hard shots.

Q. Back to Trey, I think in the first half you guys as a team had 10 turnovers and then you had one turnover the next 17 1/2 minutes. How tough did you make it on yourselves collectively in that first half in terms of ball security, and how much did taking care of the basketball allow you guys to get back in it in the second?
Trey Kell: Yeah. That was something we talked about it at halftime. We're usually a team that doesn't turn the ball over a lot, and in the first half we did that. And we felt like that led to some easy baskets for them. So that felt like that was part of the comeback. We took care of the ball in the second half. And that's why we were able to get back in the game.

Q. I got one for Malik and one for Jalen. Start with you, Malik. You got your fourth foul pretty early in the second half, and you didn't come out. What was going through your mind? And I'm assuming you did not want to come out.
Jalen McDaniels: You know, you just gotta keep playing, even though I had four fouls, just had to keep playing, don't give up. It wasn't worth. You can't give up just because of four fouls.

Q. Same thing for you, Malik?
Malik Pope: Pretty much telling myself and Bug to stay disciplined, you know. They were calling some gimmes, so it was just pretty much on us. And we just had to come out and make those corrections, stay out of foul trouble, finish the game strong.

Q. Maybe for Malik, you know, that first half with all the turnovers and Coach mentioned that 13-point hole that you guys came back from. There was a sequence where you jumped on a break situation, came down with the ball, could have went up with it and you kicked it out for the three. In that moment it seemed like body language of a lot of guys on your bench changed. Did you think that might be a moment when you get over the hump or were you waiting for that moment when collectively you might get over the hump?
Malik Pope: Yeah. We were pretty much waiting. You know, Devin was having a difficult time early on, and we just told him to stay confident, stay aggressive, and you just gotta know time and score situation. And at that time I saw Devin it was an open shot, and he was able to put it down.

Q. Other two guys had played in the NCAA Tournament. You hadn't. What did you learn about playing in this tournament in a game of this magnitude, and how will you take that to carry on in your career?
Jalen McDaniels: You know, it's not going to be given to you. You just gotta go out there and play hard. Every team is good out here, so just gotta play hard, play great defense, you know, just stick to the game plan.

Q. Circling back on the difference in turnovers in both halves, in the first half those turnovers created a real hole, and in the second half it allowed you to get back in it. Compare those halves and what looked different to you in those halves in terms of how you took care of the ball or didn't take care of the ball?
COACH DUTCHER: Yeah. Obviously you can't turn the ball over ten times in the half and expect to have great success. We felt a lot of them were we just were careless with the ball and some of them were obviously forced by Houston, so there was a mix of them.

Then the second half we played with two turnovers, and that allowed us to get back in the game. The first half they ran out on us. They had fast breaks. I gotta imagine the majority of those were off turnovers.

So once we stopped turning the ball over and turned it into a half-court game, they struggled more to score against us in the half court than they did on the break obviously.

Q. Talk us through the decision to keep Trey on, Gray, obviously, he was scoring a lot, but he was making contested shots, and Jeremy seemed to have a pretty good spell against him there. But did you want Trey in for the offensive end?
COACH DUTCHER: Yeah. You walk the fine line, offense for defense. I would have liked to give Trey a minute here, you know, and let Jeremy sub in. But seems like we were always playing catchup the entire game.

I just felt Trey was so good offensively, making plays for other people that I couldn't sacrifice having him out of the game. And then a lot of what Gray did was tough. He made tough contested shots. We provided a lot of help on ball screens, tried to stop his momentum going forward, but I think the three-point shots were kind of the daggers. We know he's good going to the basket. But I think the four threes were huge for him when he bounced up and made those.

Q. Seemed like in the second half when you guys mopped up the turnover ball security stuff, you had a stretch there where you just couldn't hit a free-throw or you were missing the front end of one and ones. What did free-throw shooting mean as you guys were trying to climb back in this one?
COACH DUTCHER: Obviously in a close game you can't miss 14 free throws. That's an awful lot to miss. So we left some points on the free-throw line obviously. If we could have made a few more of those, the outcome might have been different. But that's basketball. You have to step up there and make them when they're important.

And we've done that for most of the year. We've been a pretty good free-throw shooting team, and we shot free throws here every day in practice, whether it was 20, 30, make 30. We shot them. Made sure everyone knew they were important.

But you see all these teams in all these games, the pressure free throws are different at this time. So I wish we'd have made a few more of them. I was so proud of the guys attacking and getting to the foul line. We were very aggressive. And, you know, in the first half, you come in at halftime and you say, well, what should we be running different offensively, and you think, my goodness, how many layups are we going to get to the rim and not get in the basket? And I thought we had great opportunities, and I told the kids at halftime: Just get your swagger back. Know you're good and take those same shots, run that same action and this time finish.

And I thought we did a better job finishing and drawing contact in the second half than we did in the first half.

Q. Dutch, obviously no loss is fun, particularly in this tournament, but is it better because -- is it mitigated because of the way you came back and fought back and tied the game, or is it worse because, as you just said, you left a ton of points on the table, you had a lot of unforced turnovers and all the missed free throws that you could kick yourselves about?
COACH DUTCHER: I think it would have been worse if we'd have just got beat by 15. Even though a loss is a loss. I think my team showed its character. You know, and sometimes -- I said this all during the year. It's like hard work and character, sometimes you're not rewarded for it all the time. But when people see it enough and you do it enough, eventually you're going to be rewarded for it.

So I think our program showed great character, and that's a great reflection on my three seniors that played their last game in an Aztec uniform. And it's a great formula for the future with all these new kids that they got a chance to fight in this environment, know what it's about and have that hunger to come back and do it again.

Q. From your vantage point, what did you see with the look that Trey got? And then on the release, what did it look like to you out of his hands? I guess that last sequence?
COACH DUTCHER: You know, it's funny, you work on that play and we call it home run. It's the length of the floor pass, and you work on it and then you never use it. You never use it and then the opportunity comes. And I thought we executed it great. I mean, at that point in the game to throw the length of the floor, catch it at the top of the key and a turn shoot from your senior captain to win the game, you can't have a better look.

So I know Trey was probably heartbroken it didn't go in. But there's no play you're going to draw up to get a better look than that with length of the floor and one second to go. The kids executed it for something they hadn't done all year, and did it at that moment and the ball didn't go in.

And that's March. I mean, I watched Loyola beat Miami today and rolls up knocked deep three down. And there's going to be a thousand of those moments. And the ones they're going to talk about the most are the ones that go in. And when it doesn't go in, it's heartbreak.

But it's March and it's the NCAA Tournament and that's going to happen eight or nine more times in this weekend.

Q. Had you not made it to the NCAA Tournament, there was a chance that you could sort of break this chain of having players in your roster who have played in the tournament before. You might have had nobody left next year on next year's roster. Now that you made it, you're a first-year head coach, how important is it to your program now to have a roster full of guys, particularly some freshmen who have played in this environment and this tournament?
COACH DUTCHER: You know, talent is one thing, and we obviously have that. I mean, we have some wonderful players coming back. And desire is another thing. You can have talent, but then you have to want to direct it towards something. And now they have something to direct it toward, which is getting back here.

And the route may be different. Maybe we'll be good enough to play magic basketball all season and get an at-large earlier. Maybe we'll have to fight through the conference tournament. Every team is different. Every path is different. But like Coach Fisher always says, we have a program now. We're not a one-hit wonder. Been seven of the last nine years of the NCAA Tournament. I thought we should have gone two years ago when we were 16 in the Mountain West and I think 28 and 10 overall.

We've had good basketball. We'll continue to have good basketball and we will try to recruit kids that this is the goal, to win titles and hang banners. And like I said, our goal was to make it to a Final Four, to win a national championship.

So was this team good enough? I guess we'll never know. But it was awful good. So all we can play for now at this point is send our seniors off with congratulations and get our underclassmen started to work next week already and work toward next season.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach, for your class and professionalism.

THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll get an opening statement from Coach Sampson. If there's ever a reason they call it March Madness, we just saw it, Coach.

COACH SAMPSON: First of all, congratulations to Brian, Coach Dutcher, and his kids, first of all, on a great, great year. I know this was his first year, and for them to win their conference championship and then get to the NCAA Tournament is unbelievable accomplishment. So congratulations to them.

There's a lot of ways you have to win games. A lot of times you just have to do it from the seat of your pants. We certainly didn't go into this game thinking that offensively this was what we were going to have to do. But I think we said that -- what was the number we said, Devin? 24?

You know, our three best shooters tonight went 6 for 28. If you'd have told me that Corey Davis would go 2 for 10, Armoni Brooks 0 for 4, and Devin 4 for 14, go 6 for 28 and was going to win, I'd say there's no way. Especially with the shots they were getting.

But that's -- NCAA Tournament will do that to you. Coaching these games, a lot of these games, and I've always thought the hardest one is the first one. If you can get by the first one, usually your kids relax and play a little bit better.

But difference in this game tonight is we had Rob Gray and they didn't.

THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll open it up for questions for our student-athletes.

Q. Rob, can you take us through those last few seconds there and what you saw on that last play to make that driving layup?
ROB GRAY: Well, you know, I had the ball. I was dribbling the clock out, just kind of thinking to myself, you know, I'm a senior, never been in March Madness. This is what I live for. You know, I've been from junior college to Houston just working, working my tail off with my teammates from summer conditioning to doing war drills in practice, and I just didn't want to let my team down.

A small thought ran through my head. I was thinking about Cincinnati, how I had a final chance to win the game for us and I didn't. So I just wanted to come through for my team and my family and just give all the U of H fans the feeling they haven't had since 1984.

Q. Rob, we talked to Elvin Hayes after the game. You tied his record here for most points scored. And his quote was: Rob Gray refused to lose tonight. I know how much you think of Elvin. What does that mean when a Hall of Famer says that about you?
ROB GRAY: It means a lot. Ever since I've been at U of H, Elvin has had nothing but love and great comments to give to me. He gives me great confidence. Looking back at the records he's set, everything he's done in the NBA and being a top basketball player ever, for him to be in my corner and supporting me so much means a lot. And I will say I should have beat them because I missed four free throws. I just can't believe that. I need to get back in the gym and work on those free throws ASAP.

Q. Rob, was there a point in the game where you just felt like, hey, I can take this game over? Looked like in the second half you really started going to the rim and really taking the defenders off the dribble.
ROB GRAY: My guy right here to my left he told me rob take over. And I didn't really say anything. I was just trying to stay composed and just stay in the moment and just make the right basketball play. Maybe I could have done some things better, but in the end I'm just glad that we got the win and we were able to pull it out for the city.

Q. You talked about in the second half taking over, but it seemed like from the beginning you took it to them very aggressive. Is that a mindset you had or just kind of how it presented itself when the defense plays?
ROB GRAY: Yeah. I try to be aggressive all the time. If I'm going to pass or score, I have to be aggressive to draw the defense in and help get guys off or shooters and our bigs so I can get them in position to score easy baskets. So that's just a constant thing everyone is telling me, Rob, stay aggressive. Stay aggressive. Don't be passive.

It also leads to getting to the foul line a lot. Most of the times when I'm aggressive, it does good things for our teammates. Just gotta take care of the ball at the same time.

Q. Rob, they used primarily two guys, Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley. And it seemed like Jeremy had a little success middle of that half. They went back to Trey. Did that surprise you at all, and was there something you were able to do against Trey that you couldn't do against Jeremy?
ROB GRAY: You know, I don't really pay much attention to that. They're both about the same size. That's pretty much all I pay attention to, how big they are or what's their weakness.

Hemsley, I'll give him credit. He's a good defender and he was staying low, moving his feet very well. And he blocked my shot one time on a jumper, and hats off to him for playing good defense. But I just try to stay aggressive no matter who's guarding me.

Q. Devin, as one of the seniors, what's this win mean to your program and your coach?
DEVIN DAVIS: It means a lot to our program, especially sitting next to Coach Sampson. He's an big part of why I'm here. Rob's a big part. It's a great win. And we survived to play another day.

Q. Kelvin, could you describe your emotions watching that last sequence go back and forth, Rob, Watson and then Rob?
COACH SAMPSON: It's two really good teams that neither one wanted to lose. You know, the way they were defending us, you know, we went a lot to Devin tonight. Devin's a really good shooter. I think he's shooting over 50 percent for the year. And for those of you that haven't seen him, he's one of the better mid-range 15- to 18-foot jump shooters I think in the country. He's a really good shooter. He just didn't make any shots tonight.

Corey has made 102 threes this year. He made 102 threes this year. And top 15 in the nation. Three-point field goal percentage. But neither one could knock down a shot tonight.

But when you're at this time of the year, you don't keep going back to the well to see if they're going to make one. Rob had it going. When he has it going, you know, we're going to ride that horse until they stop it. But when he hit that three and then I think it was -- was it Watson that made the three? That was a great shot. They're a good team.

You know, I mean, obviously we have great teams in our conference. We have two teams ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in our conference, Wichita State and Cincinnati. But they're really well coached. Brian does a good job of exploiting, taking advantage of his players' strengths. He puts Kell in that mid-picking role. They spread you out. Their bigs slip. We hadn't seen that much. We had to make an adjustment by staying back on the pick and roll.

But I felt really good when Rob's shot went in and there's 1.1 second left. And then if I was ever going to have a premature death, it would have been when Mitchell caught that ball and had a clean look. All I could think was, oh, God, there's Christian Lattner, because that's kind of what it reminded me of.

Again, hats off to San Diego State. They played great tonight.

THE MODERATOR: A couple of notes here. Rob scored 21 of Houston's last 22 points of the game, including 14 in a row. And, Coach, you held San Diego State without a basket the last 6:39 of the first half.

COACH SAMPSON: Our defense was tough. We had a hard time keeping them off the free-throw line. But it was just a rock fight. You know, we're used to being in rock fights.

Q. Kelvin, you had mentioned going into the game just about the opportunities that were here, but to get that win that hadn't been in this program, a tournament win since '84, what does that do now for the program?
COACH SAMPSON: Yeah. I don't really know how to answer the question because I wasn't here in '84. I've been here since 2014. I mean, we're one for one. Why do you keep bringing up '84? You know. Corey Davis and -- I got a lot of guys, this is their first NCAA Tournament game. I don't know if thinking about how many we've won since 1984 even comes into our -- I'm just glad we won tonight, you know. That means that we have -- we're 40 minutes away from going to the Sweet 16. You know, we've won 27 games this year. You know, that to me is for -- I think it's just more significant, you know.

I'm glad we won for -- you know, it's been a long time. But, you know, if I'd been here since '84, I'd been on my fifth job by now. I'd have been fired a long time ago. We've gone from building this program to the point where we get to the tournament and the very first time we're here we beat a really good team and we're getting ready, I think that's more significant.

But I'm glad we won, and I'm glad -- you know who I'm happy for. I'm happy for all those fans at all those watch parties all over the city of Houston. I'm happy for all those Cougars that the well has been dry for all these years that have wanted something to support and get behind. I'm happy for Mack Rhoades for fighting to make sure that that development center was built. I'm happy for Renu Khator, our president, and Tilman Fertitta, and Hunter Yurachek and Chris Pezman, our administration for giving us the resources to be successful.

And I've said this once, I've said it 100 times. Coaches win games, but administrators win championships. So our administration started with Mack Rhoades, but they put us in the position to be successful. And shout out to Rob Gray, too.

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