Coach Chris Mack Postgame Press Conference

Opening Statement: Playing Virginia can be frustrating because they are so solid. If you had told me before the game that we would have held them, one of the top 10 three-point field goal efficiency teams in the country and how much they rely on the three, to go three-for-15 from the three and only had three turnovers for the entire game, I would have thought it was ours for the taking. I thought they are a very physical team and I say that with all the respect in the world. They do a terrific job of bodying your drives and playing on that fine line of legal versus hands-on. They just do a really good job. Our guards struggle against that physicality. You know we had our chances in the second half. We cut it to four and come out of that and miss two free throws and then we foul a three-point shooter at the other end because we don’t execute a non-switch. Like I said, it was frustrating. They are an excellent team. They were in a spell with a few lost games in a row.  Maybe they didn’t play as well but they are just a tough team to score against.  We had our moments. But left some points at the free throw line and missed some layups. That really cost us. And the other thing was as well as we played at times on the defensive end, we had some back-breaking things happen to us. A straight-line drive that results in a layup, giving up an offensive rebound, those are the things you can’t do against UVA. I will say this: (Sam) Hauser, no matter how we defend him I thought four or five of his makes were the kind that you can do nothing about. There is just nothing you can do. It doesn’t matter who was on him, they were all over him. He shot the ball on a high arc. He is one of the better players and shooters in the league. He has gotten so much better than he was when he was at Marquette. So, we chose to switch after every screen, which was new and different for us. But we were doing that with the intent of not letting him get the easy threes. If you chase a curl, their screener pops to the corner and now you are helping on the curl and they throw out and get a wide open three. You don’t switch a ball screen; they drag you out and throw back and I have watched Jay Huff over and over and over knock threes down along with Hauser. We chose to switch every screen. We knew there were going to be some mismatches, but we thought we would do a pretty good job of keeping the ball in front.  I mention those straight-line drives and when a guy catches it at 15 or 17 feet, he’s a triple threat. He looks at the defender and shoots a high arc and then it goes in. It can be deflating. We have to get mentally tougher on those type of scores. If we do, then that puts us in a better position. Give Virginia a lot of credit. They were really good today.

(About being down four and then Johnson missed a free throw got the team out of sorts)

We got back in it and sometimes when you climb to get to the mountaintop, it doesn’t allow you to slide down the other side of the mountain to go down easily. You lose your grip, and you fall back down. Good teams respond. UVA is a good team and they responded. We can debate whether it was the errors we made or the plays they made. In either case, you are right. We left some points at the foul line and we fouled a jump shooter which is a Cardinal sin.  You can’t do that. From that point on, when they got that separation, we ended up playing against that separation for the rest of the game.

(On Carlik Jones’ trouble getting to the rim)

“He’s been frustrated before. He’s human. They’re very physical. Kihei Clark is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he did a really good job. It’s that fine line. I’m crying for a foul on a few of those, and I think they were, but sometimes the defense gets good position and they let them play. I think Tony thought he was pushing off. The refs have a tough job to do. It wasn’t Carlik’s first game. I think he’d be the first to tell you that. We’re not the only team they’re physical against. It’s why they’re the regular season champions. They take a lot of pride on that end of the floor. I do think Carlik got some looks that no matter how physical they are, they normally go in. He’s a competitor so I can see him with a little fire in his belly and being much better as we head into the conference tournament, but it was a tough afternoon for him and for all of us. Give Virginia a lot of credit. I place no blame on the referees, they’re in a tough position. UVA plays very physical, and they’re very good at it.”

(On Jae’Lyn Withers’ second half performance)

“He’s a young guy, and we want so much out of him. Malik (Williams) goes down, and now he’s playing against guys like Jay Huff. What we gave him to do today in terms of switching onto a guy like an explosive and quintessential point guard like Kihei Clark, and then he’s on (Sam) Hauser. He made some errors. He’s a redshirt freshman. I wish he were older and more experienced. Instead of three or four plays being made on him in those crunch time moments, maybe he’s successful in three out of four instead of one out of four. But he’s learning. I can’t fault him. He didn’t have a good first half, he bounced back and made some really good plays in the second half. But we need him to be really good. We need all of our guys to be really good if we’re going to win games against really good competition.”

(On placement in the ACC Tournament)

“I certainly would have liked to go in having won three of three and four of the last five, but it’s not to be. I told our guys in the locker room that I don’t think there is a dominating team in this league. There are some really good teams, but there’s not a team in this league that we can’t beat if we play well. But at the same time, there’s not a team that can’t beat us if we’re not locked in and playing extremely hard and playing the right way offensively.  We have to use these next few days to go over to Greensboro and be ready to battle. These are the games we play for and work hard for all summer and preseason to put ourselves in a position where we’re playing for some things. So, we’re going to head to Greensboro with some excitement. I don’t want my guys to get down. We’re going to be excited to get there.”

(About going into the conference tournament, what is your position as far as the big dance is? You were projected as an 8 to 10 this morning, from some of the bracketologists. Safe, or do the Cards still have work to do?)
“Well, I don’t necessarily worry about that. The only thing that we need to really occupy our minds with is being ready to face whoever we face. We’re going to play the winner of a certain game that I don’t even know at this point. I think our team’s done a lot. You always want to do more as a coach. We’ve got a young group, we’ve lost some guys to injury, we lost Malik. Margin of victory stuff, that takes into account. Obviously our two defeats that were enormous, we were coming off two long pauses, so I’m just worried about our matchup on Wednesday.”

(About being a young team that lost a lot of games to COVID. What impact do you think that has had on the general development of this team?)
“Well, we’ve played a lot of young guys so that’s really going to help in terms of their development. I looked at Quinn Slazinski out there today … we had four sophomores that we’re starting along with Carlik. So, it’s given those guys have a lot of game experiences. Some negative, some positive, but I think in the end, they’re all positive because you learn from them. So, I like where our team is at. I wish we would have done a little bit better job in some areas today, but they’ve stuck together all year long. We’re going do the same here as we head into ACC tournament week.”

(About Carlik’s struggles today. Just 2 for 15. Did you think that they made it a point of emphasis to take him away, or is that just the way their defense works, just to make it tough on guards in general?)
“Well, I think both. I think he’s one of the best penetrators in the country. And he does so much for our team, he lives in the lane. I’d have to probably go and watch the film, but I thought he was in the lane a lot. Now, in the lane a lot against the 7-1 guys is a little different now, and so a few of his touch finishes that we’ve all seen go in went in and out. We got a couple of blocks. But we wanted to be aggressive. If he misses, and Huff comes over to block the shot, you usually have free lanes to offensive rebound. And for us to get 12, I mean our goal was 15. Virginia doesn’t miss block outs. I do think that as good as Virginia is defensively, I think Carlik would tell you that he missed a few that he normally makes. I think we got frustrated as a unit with their physicality, and instead of playing through the bumps and trying to figure it out, we could have done a better job in that area. But I want him living in the lane. He’s been a huge part of our success this year, and nothing’s changed. I got all the confidence in the world but as I said before, give Virginia a lot of credit.”

(I believe Jae’lyn scored all of his points in the second half. What do you think the difference was from the first to the second in terms of his scoring? Was it him getting used to the physicality?)
“I thought he was a lot more aggressive. I thought he was playing on his heels in the first half, shooting on the way down. I thought in the second half, he played more aggressive. Obviously, the baseline dunk that he had was a big indicator of the aggressiveness he was playing with. We need him to be a big part of our team. We tried to play him on the perimeter a little bit, he had a turnover or two. We tried to draw Huff away from the basket. But he’s a good player. He’s seen it all, Huff. He makes for tough finishes around the basket. But I thought Jae’lyn, to answer your question, was a lot more aggressive in the second half and we need him to be.”

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Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett Post-Game Quotes

(Coach Tony Bennett on what the win means)

“It feels great. I told them before the game that I took this job at Virginia to hopefully have chances at title fights. I can go back to the regular season game against Syracuse that first year in John Paul Jones Arena. It was one of the most special atmospheres and games, but this one was just as special. The conference this year was tough, there were so many different things that happened. We played the majority of our games on the road, but to get the regular-season title how we did it, I’m so grateful for that and it is not lost on me. I am sitting right now in the locker room where we had one of the biggest celebrations when we beat Purdue to go to the Final Four, and now right across the hallway we are throwing water again, I told our guys “Congratulations the 2021 ACC regular season champs”. Talk about a title fight today and being able to live with the results win or lose, but I told our guys that we had to lay it on the line and not yield in order to have those opportunities and special moments in this building. It was special to see how some of our guys played today and to get the contributions from our bench. To see what Sam (Hauser) did today was special, Trey (Murphy III), all of our guys played well. I think that is what made it so much sweeter. I am so grateful, I really am.”

(Coach Bennett on the contributions today across the board)

“A pivotal moment in the game was when Tomas (Woldentensae) got fouled shooting that three ball in the corner and he made all three free throws. Louisville was coming back before that, so I thought that was significant and then they (Louisville) went small a couple of times throughout the game. I thought Jay (Huff) played really well in the first half and in the start of the second half, but Louisville went small and our guys were able to match up. Sam (Hauser) gotten a little foul trouble, but our bench stepped up. Justin (McKoy) made a couple of big rebounds, Thomas (Woldentensae) got a few, everybody, Casey (Morsell), a lot of different guys stepped up for us today. Trey (Murphy III) played a real good game for us. I liked how Reese (Beekman) and Kihei (Clark) made good decisions for us. That kind of contribution we needed time and time again. That was an MVP type of performance in my opinion, what Sam did today and in the league this season. I think he and Jay (Huff) are probably running through that award, so, I hope they can share it, but I thought that was especially big to win the ACC today, we needed those types of performance.”

(Coach Bennett on limiting Carlik Jones)

“I think Kihei (Clark), and when Reese (Beekham) was on him, they defended him well. I thought they were really sound, and the other guys helped, but I thought those two guys, in particular, accepted the challenge. That’s the sign of a great team and yes, individual accolades matter, but to say we won a regular-season title, this year, how we won it, matters more. He’s an excellent player, obviously, he missed some shots that he usually makes, but it always comes back to, can we make a really good player take tough shots and earn their buckets. I thought that we caught a couple of breaks, they missed the layup, they had us a few times, but they couldn’t take the lead. We will take it. I think it was big that we played tough, sound basketball today.”

(Coach Bennett on responding this season)

“All you could do is control what’s in your power and prepare as well as you can. I felt we played poorly against Florida State, credit to them. I told you the Duke game I thought we competed and needed to tighten some things but played well, and NC State, we had a poor start but their stretches a good basketball. Miami was where we step in the right direction, and then I thought we had today we had a more complete game. I think the reality is, and I say it all the time in victory and defeat, that the margin is so razor-thin this year, in this conference. If you are sound and tough and you get some performances like we did today, then you can beat anybody, but if you’re not right, and this is college basketball as a whole, then you can be beaten on any given day. We did the job the right way tonight. you have to earn it, you have to play well, be solid, but you can’t get too caught up on, we feel great or we don’t feel great. When the ball gets tipped it’s about performing and battling with quality.”

(How Virginia has adapted to playing teams that have exposed them…)

“We’ve worked really hard to be as good as we can defensively and to handle different kinds of switching defenses or just different kinds of defenses. Again, sometimes you have to be humbled or exposed in a in a bad way or in a major way and you said, “Okay, can I be thankful for what this this taught me.” So again, it’s not perfect. We still have work to do, but we were better because of what we learned from Florida State, and then continuing to just work at things, taking time, and understand, okay these are these are things that we’re going to have to keep adjusting and work at.”

(On helping Sam Hauser win his first conference championship…)

“You get the privilege to coach so many great young men and the fact that we recruited him so hard out of high school and then he went to Marquette understandably, so being a hometown young man, but to get that second crack at him and to watch him sit out last year, to watch his unselfishness with this team, his humility he embodies the stuff that some of our great players have had and are great people and I just couldn’t be more excited and thankful for him being here and then getting to taste that. As I said we walked in here, I said Sam (Hauser), this is again, one of the reasons why he came here to be entitled once. That’s all I ever asked, just a chance at a title fight, you can’t determine if you’re going to get them, but I thought our guys did today.”

(Is your team built for big games and thoughts on the environment…)

“The energy so important because crowds aren’t the same now. We kind of kept them at bay most of the game, but you notice it when we play at the Clemson’s the Florida State’s and here that have the most fans. I just said when our guys play sound and tough when they’re good defensively, they take care of the ball and do the things that are in our control. Then we can be in games home and away because it’s about the possessions and the quality of play. It’s not based so much on, these amazing runs or crazy atmospheres now the JPJ crowd I think they sometimes inject us with energy to defend the way we’re supposed to. But today I thought we had it, but we’ve been studying. I think the experience of Sam (Hauser), Jay (Huff), Kihei (Clark), Trey (Murphy III), and then the young guys growing up was good and it was nice to be able to use some, some depth today. So to play nine guys I thought that was important.”

(On doubling a 6ft point guard…)

“Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t, but we just had some things kind of left it up to. At times we missed some doubles, if they’re bigger guards got us posted up, but (Carlik) Jones is pretty good in there and again we just wanted to keep making the looks hard and the way they were positioned we felt like we were in good spots and everybody was flooding in okay. If one of our smaller guards got stuck down there, we said today, for the most part, if it’s on, let’s go after it and see what happens with no adjustments in our back pocket.”

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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