March 10, 2011
Auburn Locker Room
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by Auburn. We'll start with an opening statement from Coach Barbee.
COACH BARBEE: I'm proud of the way my kids fought all year long. What could have been a long and difficult year because of the wins and the losses can separate or divide a team, and this team has stayed together all season long. And fight, they did all the way to the end. So I'm proud of them for that. But again, Georgia, they're a talented team. I said that coming in. Their size and their strength and their bulk up front was a major concern. We had to win the paint to win this game and we didn't. Hats off to Georgia because they dominated us in that area of the game.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll take your questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Kenny, you guys just about every game seems like you've been down a lot of points and been able to come back. But you weren't able to do that today. What was the difference today?
Kenny Gabriel: We couldn't get stops and rebounds. I didn't rebound the ball very well today. And we just got out-rebounded.
Q. Chris, talk about your progress from the start to the finish of the season. This is probably one of your better games.
Chris Denson: Yes, sir. I progressed a lot in the season. Coach Barbee give me a little hard time at practice, but I had to work on my game and progress defensively and otherwise. And as I progressed defense-wise, I got more playing time.
Q. Kenny, how hard has this season been for you guys with all the ups and downs, mostly downs, this year?
Kenny Gabriel: It's been real hard. After every loss, we would say we always say, "Family," and that's one thing that we can lean on, we can lean on each other. But with all the tough losses that we had and all the bad losses that we had, we know that we have been in every game. But when it's all said and done, at the end of the day, I mean, we stuck together and that's how we got this far in the season.
Q. You talked about the positive things you got out of this season. Just talk about what that means to you going forward to next season and what that will do for you coming back.
Chris Denson: We got a lot of rebuilding to do. We're young. We got a lot of good dudes coming in next year, so hopefully we'll do way better than this. I know we will, because Coach Barbee and the coaching staff is great and we'll have great players next year.
Kenny Gabriel: I feel like that we can take a lot of stuff and learn from this year because we had a lot of young guys. But now all of us young guys have experience. The experience plays a big role in basketball games in late game situations.
Then with the guys that we have coming in this year, they can contribute. So we just got to put them on our back, show them the ropes off the court. And on the court, stay together as a family and just get the season going next year.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We'll take questions for Coach Barbee.
Q. Talked about all year you struggled to score the ball. How do you generate offense in the offseason. What do you got to do, other than just get more guys on the floor who can score?
COACH BARBEE: That's the answer. I mean, it's two-fold. I told the guys in the locker room how they got a lot to be proud of this season. In terms of just the players is always difficult in terms of wins and losses, when you rack up that many losses, but give these guys credit. I think as a staff, we never showed that we were quitting on them. I think that went a long way.
They stayed together as teammates and didn't point, didn't blame. They knew they had a lot of growing to do because of the inexperience. And I talked about the growing pains from day one. And you see how we progressed as a team and got gradually better over the course of the season. And that's what we want to try to do every year.
But in the locker room just now, I said a lot of things, but one of the things that I did was I challenged them, I challenged them all individually, because we're nowhere near good enough individually to take the next step that we need to take. So individuals have to commit to physically improving themselves, because we're not strong enough.
We played against some men today, and I had some boys out on the floor physically. So we got to make some serious gains in terms of the weight room. We have got to make some serious strides in terms of our skill level, our ability to finish at the rim, our ability to make shots from the perimeter.
But we have to improve in a lot of areas. A lot of that is this team individually committing to that and a lot of that is recruiting, I think the way we are going to upgrade our talent level in terms of who we have got coming in, transfers sitting out and our recruiting class. So we have got some immediate help, but there's guys in that locker room that are going to be able to help, too. But they got to commit to improving. If not, they will get left behind.
Q. You mentioned the building blocks, the foundation that this team has set so far, and you mentioned the recruiting class. Talk about the ups and downs and what that means for the future of the program and going forward with the recruiting class and these guys getting better?
COACH BARBEE: The main thing, one, my expectations are always going to be higher on the season than anybody can put on the season. Obviously, there weren't many expectations on this season, but I don't look at a schedule and see a game that we can't win. That's just how I am.
But at the same time, the main focus for this year was laying the foundation of what this team is going to be like, or this program is going to be like on the floor while I'm coaching it. And that's a mean, tough, nasty team that doesn't quit fighting. And I think we embodied that over the course of the season.
Again we built a lot of big deficits that we don't want to make a habit of, but we never, never folded up the tent. Same thing today. We got down offensively. I thought defensively we did a lot of good things. We just couldn't. We got them to shoot jump shots early against our zone, which is what we wanted to do because we couldn't guard them in the post. We just couldn't rebound those balls. And it's hard when they're as big as they are. But at the same time we didn't quit.
Guys didn't hang their heads. They kept fighting all the way to the end and that's what this season was about, laying that foundation. And now we go from there.
Can't look back, we got to look ahead. These guys got a lot of work to do individually that I talked about and excited about the group we have got coming in. We have got some immediate experience, obviously, when you talk about Varez Ward and Noel Johnson, two Division-I transfers who played at a high level already.
So now we have got immediate experience there. You can add Frankie Sullivan to the recruiting class because this was a loss year for him with the injury. So you add those three in the back court, we go from a very inexperienced back court to maybe one of the most experienced in the league.
And then our front line. We have got to improve there. We have got to get stronger. We got to bulk up, work in the weight room and get better in our individual skills. So we can come back next year and take another step in the building of this program.
Q. A lot was made prior to this game about Georgia needing a win to play themselves into the NCAA tournament. From what you saw today is that a team worthy of the NCAA tournament and why?
COACH BARBEE: There's no question because I don't know of another team maybe in our league or across the country that can matchup with them physically. Across the front line. It seems like they go to the bench and there's another 6'9" guy that's about 260 that they bring off the bench.
But they're not just big, they're skilled. They can play, and their guards are big. They're not long, but they're all physical. They're all men out there.
So I said it all year long, we were lucky to play the way we were, the way we played them in Athens. And I knew this was going to be a difficult game tonight because not only they're big, they're talented, and well coached. Coach Fox does a great job.
Q. Trey Thompkins said he's healthier than he's been this season?
COACH BARBEE: He looked like it.
Q. Could you tell any difference and what kind of matchup challenge does he provide?
COACH BARBEE: When he shoots the ball like that from the perimeter, which he can and that's not like that was a shock to us today, but when you got a guy that's that talented in terms of his skill level at that size, he's hard to guard man on man in the block. And he can stretch out a four-man like he did today and be able to knock down long jumpers or put it on the floor and make plays for not only himself, but his teammates, he's going to be a tough matchup for anybody that they play, whether it's in this tournament or whether it's in that NCAA tournament, where I think they belong.
Q. You talked about some of the guys that are here already helping you some more next year, how good was it to see Chris have a game like he had today going into next year?
COACH BARBEE: I was proud of Chris. I was proud of Chris the way he's grown all year long, and I said it early on that he was one of the least prepared players that I've ever coached starting on this level as a freshman. He just had no understanding of individual defense, of team defense, of offensive concepts. And until he was ready, I was never going to put him on the floor where he wasn't going to be successful.
And I knew he couldn't help our team be successful, but I give him credit because he didn't hang his head because he wasn't playing. He understood what I was saying. He took it on to get extra work with the coaches, not only the floor, but in film sessions.
So we can improve his IQ, he's started to grasp offensive and defensive concepts, team. And so now I knew what he could do for us offensively. Because we struggled to score all year long, he's a guy that was capable of creating points. Now not a shooter, but more of a scorer, a guy who could slash and get to the rim. And he showed it again here tonight, but he showed it a lot over the course of the last half of the season because he earned that opportunity. Because of how he improved.
Georgia Locker Room
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with Georgia and an opening statement from Coach Fox.
COACH FOX: It's good to start the tournament with a win, with us playing the first game. We did not want to be the first team to go home. So I was proud of how we were able to defend and play from really in front most of the game and get the win.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll take your questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Could you both just talk about the difference in the team in the offense when Trey is hitting the way he's hitting like he did today.
CHRIS BARNES: Trey, he's a very good offensive player. When he is scoring, it really helps us a lot. He can really pull up some points. With him scoring inside, it really opens it up for our guards, like Dustin and Travis and Gerald to really hit that outside shot.
And also that gives us like a lot of confidence on the team, and it also gives himself a lot of confidence. Because when he's not scoring, he really get down on himself and he's a big part of our offensive game.
JEREMY PRICE: Trey's a great offensive player. When he's rolling like that, it opens up a lot of other players' games. He can score inside and outside and he forces the other team when he plays the way he plays today, and that allows everybody else to open their game up and kind of get going scoring just like Trey is.
Q. Guys, how much do you pay attention to people talking about where Georgia sits in terms of making the NCAA tournament and being on the bubble or not, and how much were you aware of obviously this being a critical game based on your chances of securing your spot in the tournament.
CHRIS BARNES: We don't. We try not to look at that. We just try to take it one game at a time. Every game is critical. We got to come out and play every game the same, no matter who the opponent is. And that's how we go into every game. We just got to come out and just play hard.
A lot of people been saying stuff about the NCAA, but us as team, are not looking at that right now. We're just looking forward to the next game. We can't look to the future right now.
JEREMY PRICE: We try to take it one game at a time. We don't really look into the NCAA tournament seed or where we're going to be. We just try to take it one game at a time. We still have more games to win in our conference tournament, so we're just trying to take care of business here and whatever happens after that happens.
Q. Chris, talk about getting another crack at Alabama having played them just this past Saturday.
CHRIS BARNES: Alabama, they're a great team. They gave us a good beating at their house. It's going to be hard playing them. They play great D, they got some very outstanding inside post players with Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. It's going to be a hard game. That's all. It's just going to be a very hard game playing against them.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We'll take questions now for Coach Fox.
Q. Obviously Trey Thompkins was very active today. Was this his best game this year?
COACH FOX: Wow, that's a good question. It's his best game in a long time. I think he had 25 against Kentucky, maybe. But he really played well. It's the best he's played in a long time. Whether or not it's his best game of the year, I don't know. But he did play very well.
Q. Did you see that coming from Trey? Did you expect that, that he was in position to play his best game?
COACH FOX: I felt like on Monday he was moving around pretty good, but I really felt Tuesday was probably the first time in practice I thought, Wow, he's looking healthy.
And I felt like he had a chance to play well. I think he has some confidence because he felt better. I really think that was a big part of it. That he felt like, Hey, my body feels a little better right now.
And I think that gave him a confident feeling.
Q. When Trey is playing well, how does that impact the other guys on the team, giving them opportunities and so on or confidence.
COACH FOX: Well, usually with Trey, we have been able to build around him. With as much as he's been through this year, that hasn't always been the case. Auburn has a good defensive team and we beat a hard-nosed team today. But when he's scoring as well as he is, we didn't have to go too many other places. We didn't shoot the ball great today. But we had some open shots because Trey was playing well.
Q. It's no secret that this was probably a play-your-way-into-the-NCAA-tournament game, and despite these guys saying one game at a time, and by the way congratulations on coaching them on that, I'm just wondering if that's something that you embraced or is that something that you even think about?
COACH FOX: Well, let me tell you, I didn't coach them on anything. What we have done this entire year is play it one game at a time. And we begin talking about the NCAA tournament and resume games and those types of things back in November. This week we haven't talked about it one time. So they looked at it that way. We never looked at it that way. Today was a chance to play in the SEC tournament and a day to try and advance. And that's all we have talked about all week. And I haven't allowed them to talk about anything else.
Q. You guys played Alabama last weekend. What do you think you need to do better tomorrow that you didn't do last time?
COACH FOX: They have a good team. We have to play better in a lot of areas. We didn't take care of the ball, we didn't rebound it very well, we didn't defend well. They caused a great deal of that, because they have a very good team.
But they're a team that I think Anthony's done a terrific job with. And so we'll have to go back tonight and get geared up in a lot of areas.
Q. Auburn had been down 15-plus points in the second half their last two regular season games and had won. Was anything to that effect said in the locker room at halftime, and what did y'all do? They didn't really make any kind of run in the second half. What did you do to keep them from doing that?
COACH FOX: We didn't talk about it at halftime. Auburn, I tell you, give them credit. Those kids have had some terrific runs this year. I think in SEC games, they have had some runs where they outscored people by nearly 30 points.
And we did talk about their explosiveness in our preparation, and said, Listen, if we get ahead, this is an explosive team, you can't quit playing, you can't quit doing the little things.
So we didn't talk about it necessarily at the half, but we did talk about just sustaining our efforts defensively and our poise on the offensive end.
Q. You mentioned throughout the game you guys didn't shoot particularly well, neither team really did shoot well. How much do you think can that be attributed to playing in the George Dome where it's not a conventional basketball arena, not the same aesthetics? So how much do you think can be attributed to that?
COACH FOX: We tried to practice outside so we could get used to it, but it rained on Monday (smiling). I'm just kidding.
A part of it probably a little bit is that. Another part of it probably is the first game of the tournament. Both teams, I thought we were a little bit up tight. I don't think either team was probably as relaxed to start the game. That may have had something to do with it.
But I think that we started relax a little bit. I think we made our first three, Dustin did, and then we just seemed a little bit tense.
Q. Some people have said that tomorrow sets up as play-in game or an elimination game for the tournament. Do you have any thoughts any reaction on that?
COACH FOX: No, we have played the entire season to create a tournament resume in which the committee will evaluate. And we have tried to do what the committee's asked us to do. Play a schedule that's arranged in the top 40 in the country, win enough games with their RPI's in the top 40, win more games than we lose in our league, have a winning record on road. We tried to do the things that the NCAA committee has traditionally asked for.
So that body of work hopefully will be evaluated as it always has been. Alabama's probably tried to do the same thing. I'm not sure where their RPI numbers and all that is. This is a great league. Everybody says, Well, the SEC's down. Well, the top sure isn't down. And there's a lot of leagues that across the country, the big leagues that the top's not down, but the middle and bottom are down.
Well, that's not true of this league. There's two good teams playing tomorrow, I have no idea where either one of us sit in the eyes of the committee, and we can't control that. So all we're going to worry about is trying to advance in this tournament.
Q. Some folks have said about your team it's been a good year, but you're yet to really play your best on a consistent basis that really shows everything that this team is capable of. Do you agree with that statement and do you get any kind of sense that this club may be ready to kind of start to flex their muscles a little bit and get into that kind of dominance that folks maybe think you guys could have had earlier?
COACH FOX: One thing that we have had, certainly with Trey's health, we have never probably had a game where everybody was on fire. But that's only one half of the floor. You got to defend also at the same time. Have we had some good performances? Yes. Have we had our best performance? I don't know. I do think that there's more good plays in this group, and hopefully they will happen at the same time.
Q. Ross scored 30 on you in the regular season in the overtime game. I think it was 2, I know it was something a whole lot less than 30 today. Is there anything different y'all were doing in how you drew up your defense toward him or was it just a difference in intensity effort, execution?
COACH FOX: He's a great player. And probably wasn't a lot of fun for our players to watch him score 30 against us on the game film. So today we had a much better approach. He's a very good player and we gave him a little special attention today, because he whooped us the first time. And I thought today that Travis did a much better job.
Q. You talked a little bit about it in the locker room, not having to over exert yourself energy-wise by holding on to a pretty steady lead throughout the second half. How much do you think that will help you going forward to Alabama and how nice was that to really not give up the lead?
COACH FOX: We still had some guys play 30 minutes. It just wasn't the wrestling match that sometimes games can be. Alabama didn't play today. So they will probably be a little bit fresher, but this is the time of year where you have got just overcome that. It shouldn't be a factor.
Q. You got to roll a lot of guys in and out of there. Do you think that Chris playing a lot for Jeremy today will help Jeremy at all tomorrow?
COACH FOX: Yeah, Jeremy was in some foul trouble, so it probably worked out good for us that he was in foul trouble, because he didn't have to play a ton of minutes, and I think he should be ready to go.