• November 29, 2021

What they said: Syracuse faces the media the day before the 2016 Final Four

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman and student-athletes Brittney Sykes, Alexis Peterson and Brianna Butler. Coach, an opening statement.

COACH HILLSMAN: Obviously we’re very glad to be here and still have our season intact and still playing. It’s been a good year for us, obviously, and our kids have played really hard. And we’ve been favored with some good fortune with our health and being healthy going into this time of year. I think it’s very important when you get to this point of the season to have your full roster, and we have that.

So we feel good about where we are. We’re healthy and we’re playing well. And it’s just one of those things where you want to get to this time of the year and have a competency and have an urgency and have a toughness, and we have all three of those. So I think all three of those things give you a chance to win basketball games.

So we’re looking forward to a tough challenge, and we know that Washington’s a very good team. I think you can get into looking at how many bodies they have available, but everyone that is healthy on their team is a very good player and contributes to their success. And Coach Neighbors is a very knowledgeable coach. He does a very good job, plays hard, and they play aggressive and they play in their scheme. So it’s going to be a tough game, and we are expecting that. And we wouldn’t think anything different being in the Final Four. So we’re looking forward to playing the game.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Brianna, you’re from Illinois, grew up in the shadow of Villanova. Your freshman year you were in the Big East. By sophomore year you transitioned into the ACC. Earlier we talked about the differences between the conferences. From a player’s perspective, what was the biggest adjustment for you going from the old Big East into the ACC of today?
BRIANNA BUTLER: The major difference for me was getting used to playing different teams have a lot of teams from the Big East go into the ACC you’re playing a whole bunch of teams you never had experience playing against.

Q. Brianna, going up against one of the top scorers in the country in Kelsey Plum. Talk about the challenges you guys will be facing going up against a player of her caliber?
BRIANNA BUTLER: She’s a great player. She has proven herself day in, day out, and in the conference or in NCAA Tournament she’s been doing a phenomenal job carrying her team. But we just have to do what we do and just contain her and try and do the best we can to stop her.

Q. Brittney, I don’t know how much of Chantel Osahor’s play you’ve seen, but she’s one of the more versatile players in the tournament. What are the challenges going up against a player who can get so many rebounds and stand back and shoot the 3?
BRITTNEY SYKES: She’s a great player and she’s a great passer, and she sees the post well. To have that in a post player, it’s deadly when you have players on Washington who can knock down open shots.

Q. Talk a second about Kelsey Plum. In the first game, just looking at the stats, she had eight turnovers. I’m assuming you got to her, did different things against her. Obviously, you can’t count on that two games in a row. Did you get a sense playing into it, was there something about that game or the way you attacked her you can say, okay, we rattled her once, maybe we can rattle her again?
ALEXIS PETERSON: We took a lot away from that game. We tried to come out and put pressure on her, not give her anything easy. She’s a great player, so we have to come out and stick to our game plan and keep pressure on her and keep a high hand on every shot and pressure her full court for 40 minutes.

Q. Brianna, following up on the question about Chantel Osahor, her 3-point shot, she doesn’t jump. As someone who has shot a fair amount of 3s this year, what do you think when you watch a player like her shoot, and have you ever seen something like that before?
BRIANNA BUTLER: I haven’t seen anyone shoot like that particularly. It’s a unique shot and takes a lot of talent to not jump and shoot the ball. I give her credit for being able to shoot a shot like that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

Q. In the conference call earlier this week, the Washington coach, Coach Neighbors, referenced a relationship he started building with you. I assume it was after the first game or after the game this year you started texting, have a lot in common, you keep in touch. Could you give us — how did that evolve and did that actually just start after that game or did you know him from before? What do you have in common?
COACH HILLSMAN: Well, obviously when you’re on the circuit and you’re run into these coaches recruiting, we have some common friends. We’ve been in the same restaurant and things like that. And he has an incredible newsletter, all the time you start reading his materials, things like that.

Once we got into the same tournament in Vegas we really had a chance to really meet. I met him in passing before. And he’s just a great guy. One of the things, when you hit off right away, and we just started talking and from that point we just became friends and texting and talking on the phone here and there.

And I’m following his season. He’s following our season. And I just think that he does an amazing job with his team and kind of the same path I took with assistant coach, then became the head coach. We had a lot of things in common and linked us together.

He’s an amazing coach. Does an amazing job. And to be in this position right now that he’s in with the limited roster says a lot about his ability to coach his kids.

Q. Back in December, ESPNW reported that UConn had requested a homecoming game for Breanna Stewart and the program at Syracuse turned them down. It had been more than a year in the making. So obviously timing wasn’t the issue. Could you take me through the process of how that decision was made and also if there’s any regrets about it, given that you see the quality of your team now to have that kind of test ahead of the Final Four?
COACH HILLSMAN: No, time was the issue, because when you schedule, you schedule about two years out. And we had return games. We had home games. And it didn’t fit into the schedule. I think what a lot of people need to understand is that Breanna is a great kid, has an unbelievable family. We’re still in touch. I still talk to her, still text with her dad. He still wishes us good luck, great game.

When it comes down to that, anybody that’s really versed in scheduling knows that every college team schedules about two years out. So as Coach said in the previous press conference, it didn’t fit in the schedule.

Q. How much does this Washington team resemble the one you’ve seen the last three games beating Maryland, Kentucky, those guys, how much do they resemble the teams you beat earlier in the year?
COACH HILLSMAN: I think they resemble themselves from them. But we just got off to an unbelievable start in that game. And the game kind of leveled off. They started playing well. And they explored some different things that we did pressure defense on the back end.

I have to give them a lot of credit. Coach Neighbors made a great adjustment. We made plays down the stretch to hold on and win that game. They’re just a very talented basketball team. I think when you have players that can score from all spots on the floor, you have a really, really dangerous team. And that’s what they have.

Q. Watching Washington on film, what are some of the things you implemented in your game plan, the first three things that you had to take care of business against them?
COACH HILLSMAN: Pressure. Make sure we keep pressure on them and try to speed the game up, make sure we’re getting to their shooters on the catch, not after they catch it. And react to the ball with their fingertips, because they’re a very good passing team and they’ll pass fake you, make you jump and step back and shoot the 3.

We’re really concentrating on those three things. And we feel if we can take care of those three things, we’ll have a chance.

Q. What are some of the challenges in guarding a player like Chantel Osahor?
COACH HILLSMAN: Well, the challenge is she’s a stretch 5. And a lot of systems you don’t have a 5 that can step out and shoot the ball at the rate she shoots it. And she’s struggling to break, and you’re trying to get the defense set and you forget about her coming down the floor.

But we didn’t forget about her the first time. We’re not going to forget about her this time. She’s an amazing shooter. She’s an amazing player. She’s very gifted passer. She’s a very good talent. And we know that she’s kind of player when the ball touches her hand she can make a play with it for herself and the team. She’s very successful on the floor.

We watched tape earlier this morning, and she was on the bounce three times. She’s a very talented player, and we really respect her and respect her game a lot.

Q. Some Oregon State players were asked earlier what’s it like guarding Kelsey Plum. They were adamant it’s never a one-person effort. It’s always a five-player effort to stop someone like her with all the picks set help defense and everything like that. Do you feel the same way, and how many players are there in the country that it’s a five-man effort?
COACH HILLSMAN: No question, she’s very talented. And she’s not — also, you can take a look at her numbers. The numbers are guarded, but she’s a willing passer. She’s not going to come off a ball screen and take a bad shot. You’re not going to close her down and she’s going to take a bad shot.

She’s really dangerous late clock. That’s when she has to go really into attack mode. I think early in the clock she’s pretty much trying to get the offense moving, but anytime she gets a look and an opportunity — she’s a very good basketball player. And it does, it takes team defense and you have to scheme it to where you’re playing her in a team scheme but also understanding that she has shooters on the backside of the zone.

So it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be challenging. Hopefully we can continue do the things we’ve done up to this point and stay in our scheme and we should be okay.

Q. Coach, two things real quick. First, you were talking about the texting. Has that been going on since you knew that you were going to play Washington, or is that sort of off limits? Second thing, how is your team different from when you played the first time in November?
COACH HILLSMAN: You know, we actually texted I think the day before we got here. So we texted as soon as the brackets came out. And I think that at the end of the day you want to win a game. But you still have to maintain some kind of normalcy in your life. And Neighbors is a good guy and really I respect him and respect what he does. That’s one of those things where you — I’m not that guy, we’re not playing against each other, we’ve got to put a game plan together and let our kids go and play.

I think that we’re just — we’re kind of much of the same. I really believe that. We tried to get our system in early. We got it in fairly early this year. And we’ve been playing the same way since the beginning of the season. I think that what’s happened as you go through the season, I think any coach will tell you, when you’re healthy this time of year, you’re obviously going to be a better team just because of your health and your depth.

But I think that we’re pretty much the same, but obviously going on that streak in the conference it was really big for us. I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Q. Earlier this week in the conference call you talked about the influence Coach Aaron Holder had on you at Forestville. Anything you applied in your coaching experience even though you moved away from (indiscernible), any pride you take representing that area?
COACH HILLSMAN: Coach Holder, I say it in the nicest way, he was very stubborn. Taught me discipline. You were doing it his way or you weren’t going to do it. That’s one of the biggest things, you have to be stubborn and demand a certain level from your players. He’s been that and he’s still that.

It’s so funny, he came down to see us play in the tournament. He was coaching me then. So he’s my coach and I can tell you he’s done a lot for me. He really took care of me when I was young and in high school, and he was a great influence in my life and still continues to be.

Q. One of the things looking through the stats, Washington’s a team that tends to go about at least six or seven deep. And you guys — you’ve had eight or nine players with regularly about 10 to 12 minutes a game. How big do you believe that depth will help Syracuse in Sunday’s game?
COACH HILLSMAN: Well, for us it’s more about being able to apply pressure. We can make some shots and get into our pressure. I think that could affect the game some. But if we’re not able to speed the game up and play fast, it’s not going to have any effect on the game at all.

So it really comes down to how we execute our game plan and if we’re making shots we’re able to get into our pressure, I think it can have some effect. If we’re not able to do that, it really doesn’t matter. That’s why we’re really concentrating on finding ways to get into our pressure early to push our pressure up to kind of make the game fast.

Q. Your team this year is I believe 12 and 6 against opponents that are either ranked or receiving votes. In other words, you played some of your best basketball against your best competition. That’s a sign of a good team. If you had to pick out one or two characteristics that allows your team to rise to these challenges consistently, why do you think that is?
COACH HILLSMAN: It’s toughness and effort. It really is. Because when you’re playing against good teams, this time of year we pretty much know what you’re going to run. They know what we’re going to run. So once you guard the action, you’ve got to guard the player. And it’s about effort. And your toughness comes down to when a team is making a run or you’re not playing well, what else can you do to get a W. And that’s hard to do.

We had some games this year where we had to fight back towards the end of the games and make some plays and get to some 50/50 balls and make sure we got some weak side box-outs to close games out, and it’s all about toughness and effort.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

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