Holy Cross Press Conference Quotes

March 15, 2007

2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship
First and Second Roundsv Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
March 15, 2007
Holy Cross Press Conference Transcript

REPORTER: Keith, what have you learned about your opponent?
SIMMONS: We watch a lot of film of them and we just continue to learn how good of a defensive team they are and how tough they are on the defensive end. And Coach has been telling us that they're probably the most physical team that we're going to play all year, even with the schedule we've played, they play physical for 40 minutes and they play hard for 40 minutes.

REPORTER: A lot of talk about both teams being very good defensively. Can you compare their defense to yours and kind of contrast what do you do the same, what do you do different?
THOMAS: Well, our defense is very similar, they try to keep everybody out of the middle. They give great weak side help. They only allow 56 points a game, we allow 57. So they play with a great deal of emotion and passion on the defensive end as we do and it's going to be a battle.
SIMMONS: Well, we switch up defenses a little bit, we switch from a man to a zone, they're primarily a man team. Like Torey said, I think the principles are the same, to keep people out of the middle and to give a lot of help defensively.

REPORTER: To both of these gentlemen, how does this feel to make it to the NCAA for the first time?
SIMMONS: It feels really good. We're just trying to enjoy the experience and trying to prepare ourselves to compete tomorrow, but we're enjoying this and it's our first trip, it's our last year as seniors so we're trying to enjoy the process of this.
THOMAS: Just going on what Keith said, we've been here for four years together, we're the only two seniors here, so it's a special moment, special feeling, so hopefully it will be a special tournament for us.

REPORTER: How much did your early season, 11 games in a row, prepare you for this, and games at Syracuse and Duke and other places, how much did that prepare you for this?
THOMAS: It prepared, I think, one hundred percent for a game of this magnitude, Southern Illinois is a very physical team with the likes of Providence, Syracuse and Duke that we played early in the season. It keeps our mentality, because we have to play teams with high majors, the mentality for us is to be able to stay in the game and play tough defense and try to execute from the offensive end so those games helped a hundred percent.
SIMMONS: I think it gives us a little bit of experience going into this game to have played teams that are really tough and teams that are in the tournament, we've played some tournament teams. It gives us some experience and we were really just lucky to have the schedule that we did to prepare us for this time of the year.

REPORTER: Torey, what has Coach Willard told you about the whole NCAA experience, and have you talked to any of your former teammates who have been here before?
THOMAS: Well, a funny joke, when we were coming over here we had about three polices courts and I was like, Coach, we've got escorts, he said, if you would have made it to the tournament a couple more times, you would have known that. So he jokes, so really relishing the opportunity to be here, he's not telling me any logistics or anything, he's saying go out there, be yourself, have fun out there and that's exactly what he's preaching. He's giving us the experience that we came here for business, but also, this opportunity only comes once.

REPORTER: Keith, can you talk a little bit about coming back from the cramping issues that you had last season and just how you felt physically throughout this season.
SIMMONS: We, I felt a lot better this season, I haven't had any problems with the cramping. It just felt really good this season to be able to play at my full strength. Last year I was dealing with the cramps throughout the whole season. It was refreshing not to have to sit on the sidelines. That's why this is even a little more special for me because I didn't even know if I would be healthy enough to even play this year and to be healthy and to be back and be a hundred percent is and be here is really special.

REPORTER: And you've maintained that special diet and hydration plan that you got over the summer?
SIMMONS: Yes, I do some things with the trainer, Anthony, and just watching my hydration and watching my salt intake and potassium intake and some other things. It's not a hassle anymore. I'm used to it now, and just ready to play.

REPORTER: Both of you gentlemen, key or keys to your successful season this year.
THOMAS: One of our major keys is defense, but not only defense, but we play good field goal percentage defense, our rebound margin has been tops on our team and also transition, getting out in the open and transition. But when we don't have any transition baskets, our execution down the stretch has been good, different plays being drawn up.
SIMMONS: I think just staying in the moment. I think there was a time this year where we went through the rough patch where we lost four in a row. Things were really -- everyone was really frustrated and we looked at each other like, we're going to compete and play, but we need to enjoy every moment of this and really pay attention in practice and focus and stay in the moment and once we started to do that, we are able to build a little confidence even from practices and we were able to execute better at both ends of the floor and every possession is the most important possession.

REPORTER: Guys, if you could talk a little bit about, they are very experienced, been here four years in a row, you guys are making your first trip, does that make a difference and if so, how?
THOMAS: I feel like that that definitely makes a big difference that they've been here. The experience is always key. But for us, two seniors, our leadership, we've been in big games, we've played in big games, so we just understand the ability to keep your composure in big stages like this and help our team get through this and I think we'll be all right.
SIMMONS: Like Torey said, experience is definitely something that they have on their side. It's a definite advantage for them. But we've developed a game plan and we're going to go out there and try and execute our game plan. We're really focusing ourselves in doing what we do best. Southern Illinois is a very good team and they are really experienced but we're going to concentrate on executing our game plan and playing the way Holy Cross plays.

REPORTER: Torey, you've been known for your defense, but as of late, you've been the top rebounder as one of the smallest players on the floor; explain.
THOMAS: We're boxing out very well, our big men have been in position to box the big men out, so I've been able to get over the top rebounds and chase the guards down, so I really credit the big men down low, and the guards, putting the body on them and I'm just taking the scrap and I'm very aggressive to the ball, if you have the ball in your hand, you're going to win the game. As many times we have the possession, is a better chance we can win the game.

REPORTER: You guys both have played a lot of minutes this year. Torey, I guess neither of you will likely come out of the game for more than a minute tomorrow. Do you have to caution against coming out too amped up on this big stage to avoid running out of gas by the end of the game against a team that's deeper than you?
THOMAS: I feel like we've been playing. I'm accustomed to playing 40 minutes a game for the past two seasons. The biggest thing is hopefully not getting injured. That's what happened to me last year against Bucknell, I got injured in the game. If I can avoid an injury, I don't feel like the minutes will be a factor. My body got accustomed to it, my workout regimen is structured to handle that. You don't know how you're going to feel until the game comes so I'll see how that is when the game tips off at 9:40.

REPORTER: Could both of you comment on Coach Willard?
SIMMONS: Coach Willard is a great Coach, he's been doing this for a long time, he's been at every level of college and the NBA. We've been trying to take a lot from his experience, he's been here with Holy Cross three times and with other teams so we try to look to him for guidance and I think he's done a really good job this week in preparing us for this situation and leading us with his experience and he's a great asset in this game because he's our leader and he's our coach and hopefully he can steer us in the right path.
THOMAS: I feel like Coach Willard is a great coach in this situation, you've got a chance to prepare, plenty of days to prepare for a team for one game and I feel like he's always got a great game plan to help us to a victory in that regard. He's going to help us play to our strengths and try to help us make them play to their weaknesses. So Coach Willard, there is no other coach I would want to play for my four years, it's been a great experience much me and Keith have been with him for four years, and we learned a lot, we learned a lot about our leadership qualities and he drove us to be better leaders and better people.

REPORTER: A really big key this year has been Tim Clifford and the way that he's improved his game and been able to really plug up the middle. You guys have seen him mature and seen his game mature. What can you say about him and his contribution to the team this year?
SIMMONS: Tim has been huge for us this year. To be a good team, you need to have different looks, you need to have an inside/outside game. Tim's play down the stretch has been incredible. He had six blocks in the first half of our championship game. And like you say, he's been plugging up the middle. He's been a force on the boards, block shots, down on the post on offense, and his play really opens up our play, for him to be playing well in the middle allows the guards to get some open looks on the outside, so his play is tremendous and we've seen him mature and Tim's been playing really well and I'm really happy for him and he's going to be a really good player.

REPORTER: For Holy Cross to get a win, what will be a key or keys?
THOMAS: Got to be able to handle Southern Illinois's pressure, staying composed and making plays. I think it's going to be a defensive slugfest, but whoever executes the best is going to win the game.
SIMMONS: Keeping them off the offensive glass and having the transition work for every basket and keeping them to one shot.

COACH WILLARD: Well, I'm happy for the two young men that were just here. They're great leaders. Our only two seniors, they've done a great job in our program. They've been a real credit to our school, both on the basketball floor and off the floor and couldn't be happier for those two guys.

REPORTER: How important is your inside play going to be against Southern? You have quite a big size advantage.
COACH WILLARD: We're going to try and get the ball inside. Obviously we try and do that against every opponent. They're quicker and more athletic than we are, but one of the things they do a great job is putting tremendous pressure on the basketball much so one way to relieve that is by getting the ball to the middle of the floor and getting it inside to your big guys. So they double, they take away the post in a lot of different ways, they do a great job rotating, but it's obviously something we're going to have to try and exploit in order to -- really in order to get our guards more looks at the basket too.

REPORTER: When you look at the Southern Illinois team, is there anything that makes you say, hey, they're like us, especially on the defensive end? I mean, are there things that they do that are very similar to what you do?
COACH WILLARD: Well, I don't know, I'll say this. They're committed to defense like we are committed to defense. I think that's the similarity. But they're so much more physical than we are. I saw the media guide and the Barry Hinson quote about getting the attack dogs from the police station and putting the meat juice on the players' arms, they're much more physical than we are. We do many more things on the defensive end in terms of trying to make you think, they're just trying to wear you down and keep constant pressure on you. Both teams, though both teams are committed to defense, I think there's a different philosophy between the two teams. Those kids are selfless, to play defense like that, you have to be totally selfless, and their team is, they are totally committed to that end of the floor first, and then to the offensive end. Which in today's game, it's tough to get kids to commit the way they do, but they certainly do a good job of it.

REPORTER: Coach Willard, what about their offense?
COACH WILLARD: Well, they have a great guard in Tatum, Young's a great shooter, Falker is great inside, 32, the other kid, the power forward stretches you because he can shoot the three. I've read where they're not a great offensive team, but looking at them, they do a lot of things that make it difficult to guard them. They used the high low pass exceptionally well with Falker and again, their guards are quick. The point guard is amazing to me, he reminds me of the Energizer bunny, he plays defense and never seems to tire. They're a good offensive team. They're also very patient. That's part of their philosophy in wearing you down too, making you defend for 25, 30 seconds before they take a shot. Now, obviously, the other thing is, because of their quickness, they are dangerous in transition, and that's one of the things we can't afford to let them do is transition and get out and get some easy baskets.

REPORTER: Ralph, you talked about your seniors, can you just talk a little more about how Keith came back from the whole cramping issue last year and Torey coming back from the off season knee surgery.
COACH WILLARD: Yeah, Keith's thing last year with the cramping, it really, if that didn't happen, we would have been a heck of a basketball team last year because we probably had two of the best wing players anywhere with Kevin Hamilton and if Keith would have been healthy. Unfortunately, he wasn't. He just did a great job of constantly battling. We tried everything in the world, pickle juice, the whole bit. We've tried everything to get rid of the cramps. He's just a great young man and I'm happy he had the year he's had. The fact he's been able to play 38, 40 minutes a game. Torey's getting hurt in the first half of the Bucknell game last year in the championship game was really devastating to him. And this year really he played on one and a half legs. The surgery was done, but he hadn't fully recovered going into the season and for the first, I would say, actually through the end of December, beginning of January, he was playing on one and a half legs, and he's got the heart of a champion, that kid. I hate to see this end. I want to keep this going for a lot of reasons, but saying good-bye to these guys is going to be very difficult.

REPORTER: Talk a little bit of their experience and what kind of a factor having them here these last four years.
COACH WILLARD: I think anytime you have experience in anything, it helps you. I'm sure that's one of the things that they feel good about. They try and compartmentalize their surroundings in the game. This is the NCAA, but it's also another basketball game. We compartmentalize the game into sections. We come with a very detailed game plan, so I think by concentrating on the little things, I think you can tend to block out the surroundings and the so-called stature of the stage or the magnitude of the stage. So I think our guys, I know the two seniors, this won't bother them at all. Some of the young guys, it may have an effect, but again, we pay so much attention to detail and concentrate on that so much, I don't think the stage will be that big a factor.

REPORTER: Talk about Alex Vander Baan.
COACH WILLARD: He's a tall, skinny kid. He shouldn't get the rebounds he gets. He plays good defense. He blocks shots. He's one of those kids you need to be a good basketball team, and his offense has improved as the year has gone on. I wish he would shoot the basketball more than he does because he's a very, very good shooter, but Alex is a glue-type player, you need glue players on your team and he's one of them.

REPORTER: Coach, a key for your season, 25 wins, what do you feel has been the major key? I know defense, but besides that.
COACH WILLARD: I think we've become a pretty good rebounding team. We've developed our players a little bit as we've gone along. Clifford has gotten better offensively, he's had some big point games for us. I think the consistency of Torey and Keith has been the thing that's enabled us to achieve what we've achieved. They're consistent on both ends of the floor. They both defend exceptionally well and are both good offensive players. Torey has the ability to go by just about anybody, especially on the open floor. So I think those things, the consistency of those two kids and the development of some of the role players, if you will, has been what's enabled us to be successful.