Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and players after 68-66 loss to Kentucky in a NCAA Elite Eight game in Cleveland on Saturday:
MIKE BREY’s OPENING COMMENTS: What a great college game. It was thrilling to be part of it. It lived up to the hype. We’re extremely disappointed. We really thought we had a great chance of beating them, and I thought we displayed that, but I think you’ve got to give them credit, they made some big plays, they made some timely 3-point shots at key times. And we got a little stagnant offensively, but it’s easy to get stagnant against that length. It takes its toll on you at times but I’m proud of our group, man. We emptied the tank tonight, and that’s all I asked them to do before the game.
Q. Mike, you lost the game, and I’m sure it’s still pretty raw, but how much do you think this game is testimony to the idea that there are no sure things? I think a lot of people didn’t see this kind of game coming.
COACH BREY: Yeah, I mean, we really thought we had a great chance as the game was going on, you know, I thought we just felt we could win the game. We were very confident. The first half gave us even more confidence. We played such a great schedule and played so many hard games and good teams, I think we’re really battle tested to absorb their punches. I’m really proud of our group. We were a little tired at the end. I used a couple timeouts just to rest us. We were fatigued a little bit because our guys play a lot. Their length at times shrinks the court and it just makes it a little difficult, and it did there a couple possessions at the end of the game.
Q. Mike, I know the last play didn’t have any timeouts, what was the plan, what was discussed?
COACH BREY: I told Jerian to try to get – can you get to the bucket, maybe you can just get to the bucket. They did such a great job kind of doubling him. He went for the win, I don’t fault him for that. He tried to get something off but I don’t think he could turn the corner. Even some of the shots he took in those possessions that were a little empty, you can say get to the basket, it’s a little harder to get to the basket against these guys, there’s not a lot of room in there. And I thought they doubled him out of bounds and they did a great job kind of riding him all the way to the end. You know, when we couldn’t get the key stop to get it to overtime, that’s where you lose the game really. You’ve got to get that stop. And it was Harrison, I think, right, that made the drive? Demetrius tried to get the charge. You don’t get a stop there, you know, you’re starting to doubt a little.
Q. Can you talk about the defensive game plan. And aside from Karl, it seemed like Kentucky’s bigs really struggled to get anything going down low?
COACH BREY: We just didn’t want to give up too many clean looks. We felt we could absorb two point shots from their bigs. Towns was fabulous. Our two big guys, God bless them, they were on their own most of the night. The one time I go zone, Booker hits a 3, and the one time we tell to help a little bit, Ulis hits a 3. So now you’re like, the rest of the game, fellas, you’re on your own, we’ve got to hug these guys because I think we can absorb 2s. I love how we battled on the board against their size. But we have played big teams and we’ve held our own on the backboard and we did that again tonight to give ourselves a chance to win.
Q. So how do you balance the emotion then of playing as well as you did, taking down to the last possession and knowing that this is the end and you lost the way you did?
COACH BREY: Yeah, I don’t know if it will sink in. I think I was in denial because walking down the hall, I had Auguste and Vasturia and I was talking about next season, that was my way of thinking ahead a little bit. The one thing I did tell them, I said, when we walk out of here, man, we’re champions now, we’re going to get championship rings, this group won a championship and hopefully it’s something to build on and I spent some time with Pat and Jerian, and just thanked them for what they’ve done for our program. I think it will still be a little raw here until tomorrow, but I’ve been in long enough, I’ll be abel able to look back and digest it, and my assistants will probably have some recruiting stuff for me tomorrow, knowing them.
Q. Mike, you mentioned Pat and Jerian, is that kind of the toughest part of losing in this tournament, is saying goodbye to seniors, especially two that have meant so much to you guys?
COACH BREY: Yeah, the one thing I said to them in the locker room, “You know what’s really depressing? We lost the game but we don’t get to practice tomorrow, I don’t get to be around this group.” And that includes certainly our two seniors because it was so energizing and rewarding to be with this team, it was uplifting. I was thinking, walking down the hall, that’s over, you don’t get to do that anymore. But those two guys are big-time winners, and man, have they left a mark for the young guys in our program.
Q. 34 seconds left, sorting through the loose ball. Did you care one way or the other whether it was a jump ball or your possession?
COACH BREY: Well, I loved that we had it. One second’s a little tough to operate with, and we tried to get something for Jerian curling. The problem is when Cauley-Stein is hot on the ball, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to get anything, and it’s too bad we at least couldn’t get a shot upright there. But I thought the ball pressure of a 7-footer, and wing span on Pat, we just couldn’t get anything. And then you’ve got to be really mentally tough. And this group, they have been all year to kind of flush that and guard to get it to overtime. We’ve done that a bunch, but we couldn’t do it tonight, and you give Kentucky credit.
Q. Coach, you joked about being the loosest coach in America. What are you telling them in the second half when you guys go on that 13-4 run, and also the final minute?
COACH BREY: We were talking about this is what we’ve done in the second half, we’ve had runs offensively and we’ve played with great emotion and spirit and fearlessness. I wasn’t saying a whole lot. They were talking in the timeouts like, we’re up five, let’s see if we can get it to 10. All things that we talked about through the year. I mean, we gave ourselves a chance, and it’s disappointing because, you know, you really had — you had the thing, you had a great chance to win it. But our guys felt we had a great chance to win it.
Q. Looking ahead to the Final Four, what type of team, what sort of style do you think can give Kentucky the kind of —
COACH BREY: Wisconsin, did they win? Yeah, that’s a great match-up, that’s a great match-up. Wisconsin’s a little bit like us, they’re skilled and they can spread people out a little bit. They have a little more bulk and frontline size, but they’re really skilled offensive guys, and certainly we were able to get some things tonight. But the size does get to you, over 40 minutes it can take its toll on you and I thought the defensive possessions, as good as Jerian was getting us there, getting us a couple possession lead, it kind of swallowed him a little bit a couple times. But we’ll go down with him making plays because he’s made all the plays for us all year to get us here.