CHICAGO — Tom Crean, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford met with the media following Indiana’s 80-64 win over Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals at the United Center.
Watch the complete press conference below and read a complete transcript after the jump:
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from coach.
TOM CREAN: We’re excited about the win. We thought we defended at a very high level to hold a really good shooting team and a high scoring team when they get their offense rolling the way they’re capable of, to hold them down in this game.
Our whole focus was getting ready to play our best basketball today and hopefully we play even better basketball tomorrow. Never to look ahead and to stay totally locked into the game at hand.
And I’m excited about the way our guys played. They should be too. And because they started off in a great way, they continued to play at a high level, and we closed the game the last seven minutes, not only defending pretty well, but scoring very well. That’s the key. To go 21-24 from the foul line, to rebound the ball the way that we did, those are big, big things for us. So we’re excited about the victory.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes?
Q. Victor and Cody, obviously you guys have been the subject of a lot of national headlines, but how important are some of the guys like Christian and Will and Jordan and some of the other guys on this team?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They’re huge. It takes our whole team to win. When guys off the bench step up and when Christian and Jordan step up, it’s huge for us. They’re very capable of that. Without them, we can’t win.
CODY ZELLER: It’s great. The guys that we have on this team are great as far as everyone is humble, no one’s — there’s no jealousy at all, which makes us a tough team to beat just because we’re such a close group. Whether it’s me that has 20 or Will or Jordan or anyone else, it doesn’t really matter to any of us, as long as we win.
Q. For any of you, I think it was 60-52 coming out of the under eight timeout and obviously a lot of people were kind of thinking about the game at home. What was it that just allowed you to close the game out. You hit them with a five point burst and they called timeout and from there you just kind of had control.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: We learned from that game. We looked at the film last night and we looked at some things. We know we shouldn’t have done some things. We let one get away. We knew what they do and we kept grinding it out and kept playing.
Q. For Victor, you spent a lot of time on Brandon Paul tonight. He was 2-13. Just talk about the job that you did on him to help your teammates and the pride you take defending the other team’s best player.
VICTOR OLADIPO: It was huge. But again I couldn’t have done a great job without my teammates. Cody did a great job of blitzing. And I wasn’t the only one, Will guarded him and Remy as well. He’s a great player and we tried to slow him down. He takes a lot of shots in order for them to win. So when you go against someone like that you got to force them to take tough shots and I think we did a great job of doing that.
Q. For Christian, what’s the season been like for you as the team’s added so many new players, so much young talent?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: It’s been great. We got a lot of guys that can score. Any time that you have a team like we have, it’s definitely been a fun year for me.
Q. Victor, at what point did you decide to go 360 on that dunk and is that the best one you got?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I know I was going to do something when I caught it, but I don’t know, it was just a last second thought. I thought about it while I was in the air, so I just kind of turned around when I was in the air. And, no, that’s not my best one.
Q. Cody, in the first half it seemed like for a time the ball got into you in the paint almost every single possession. How much of a priority was that in this game?
CODY ZELLER: It’s a priority for us every game, whether it’s me or Christian getting it inside. They were double teaming, so I was trying to find the open guy. But even if I don’t score it, it opens up a lot of things for our shooters on the outside. And I thought we did a nice job of that and it opened up a lot.
Q. You guys were really pushing the pace at the beginning of the game. Obviously that’s a priority for you guys in most of your games, but how much more of a priority was that with this Illini team?
VICTOR OLADIPO: It was huge. By watching film we know that when we do that we can excel on both ends of the floor. So they’re a good team and we know they’re going to make tough shots, so we were just trying to run it down on the other end as fast as we can to change the tempo of the game, because we like going up-and-down.
Q. Victor, talk about Jordan, he only had two points, but he played a really good defensive game. Talk about the role that he played. And also couple words about Sheehey coming off the bench going 4-4.
VICTOR OLADIPO: Jordan, he went 0-2, but he had a great defensive game and he also had seven assists. So he helped us win. He does a great job of that. He’s one of our leaders, he’s one of our seniors, and he’s very capable of changing the game as well with points. When we can win and he only has what? Two points and seven assists? It just shows how deep our team is and how capable he is of still playing defense at this time.
And Will Sheehey, he’s just Will Sheehey. He’s a sparkplug. He comes off the bench and he plays defense. He makes tough shots and he rebounds. He’s one of our leaders as well. So when they play at a high level, our team plays at a high level.
Q. For any of you, what did you do better defensively? What did you feel better about just in terms of just game plan today?
CODY ZELLER: I thought we were very active, especially on the ball screens. Sometimes, especially for me, it’s, we’re trying to blow out their screens and I thought we were aggressive overall. We had a lot of deflections, which is always a big key for us. I thought we were just active. The beauty of that is it leads into our offense I thought it really got our offense going.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You may return to the locker room. Take questions for coach.
Q. Same question I had for Victor and Cody, obviously those guys have been the subject of a lot of headlines, but how important are the veterans on this team, guys like Christian and Jordan in terms of the success y’all have had?
TOM CREAN: I think we have a team like we have had that’s answered the bell all year long. Responded from tough games. And sitting where we’re sitting, the team has been the headline maker. Because these guys are so unselfish and they’re so selfless with one another and the way that they work, the way that they share the credit, the way that they play offensively and defensively.
We have been in the top percentages of offense the entire year and we have been anywhere in the Top-20 with the defense. I don’t think that happens if you don’t have a team committed to both. I think it showed again today in five guys in double figures, Jordan Hulls with seven assists, no turnovers inside the game with tough assignments, great looks. Jeremy Hollowell coming in and playing solid, Remy Abell playing, making some big plays, Will Sheehey we consider a starter and he played that way. So I don’t think it’s anything uncharacteristic for us.
Q. Your ball reversal today and also having that rudder of Jordan to where he’s not scoring, but he doesn’t get frustrated and try to press.
TOM CREAN: I think we’re the kind of team that if you take somebody away from the game, and you don’t want them to be the one that scores, there’s still so many other guys that can play, because of the ball movement, because we understand that when we’re at our best we’re a ball reversal team.
There’s certain things we want to get early, there’s certain things we want to get late, but everything in between is about that ball spraying all over the court and reversing, being reversed.
Q. What specifically were you doing on defense? It seemed like you were really blitzing the ball screens and getting your bigs out very aggressively.
TOM CREAN: I think they were aggressive. I think that’s very important. We got guys that can cover a lot of ground when they step out. So there’s certain things that, whether we’re blitzing or switching, these guys have done a good job all year of being game plan specific, being very, very concept driven in how we guard. So we don’t have to spend a lot of time on something to prepare for a game. And they’re good at it. But they want to play an aggressive, attacking style and that’s, that was the number one key on the board today is attack on both ends.
Q. Almost regardless of what happens going forward you’re probably going to be the only team in the country on Selection Sunday with at least nine Top-50 wins and no losses outside of the Top-50. Do you think that’s enough to where you’ve already secured a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens tomorrow or Sunday?
TOM CREAN: I haven’t thought about that as much, but I was asked — well not just like that– after the Michigan game — but much the same. I would think that we have — I would hope we have done enough. I think when you have the league the way that it is and you win it outright the way that we did. And I think one of the bigger things is the way we played on the road and the only home losses that Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State have are to us. And that says a lot, because those are three teams that can win a national championship and have been considered that way most of the year. So I would hope that we have, but that just remains to be seen.
Q. You talked about the defensive effort in particular. What did rebounding do for you guys? I think you controlled the boards most of the game, you finished plus 12 in that regard. How important was that?
TOM CREAN: The key was that we had our rebounding going from the beginning and we were 26-10 at half and we were getting some putbacks. And where we had our lull in the second half is we weren’t rebounding the way that we totally needed to. Then we got that in order and we really closed the game right in the last seven minutes and had our biggest lead of the game with one minute to go.
So rebounding is a huge part of that. We kept stressing it all week, we had 53 rebounds in the Michigan game and if we only get 52 we might have lost the game. So everyone of those rebounds matter. I think our guys really, really understand how important rebounding on both ends are and specifically how important guard rebounding is.
Q. What did you guys do so much better this time than the first meeting in getting Cody established?
TOM CREAN: We closed the game better and we established him early. We kept it going late. He’s a better player, we’re a better team, they’re a better team. But we played a much better time and score situation this game. These guys have seen the last seven and a half minutes of that game numerous times. It’s not the buzzer beater, that was what obviously was the result, but it was the last seven and a half minutes of that game at Illinois that really hurt us.
And we didn’t start the game great. Eight of their first 11 were off turnovers. So we went back through and as we did after that game and we watched the beginning of the game and we watched the end of the game, but we watched the 30, 35 things, clips where we really did go a great job. Because you don’t get in games against these high level opponents without doing a lot of really good things.
So our guys understand fully and when we don’t get away from it, we’re really good. Where the ball needs to go early, middle, late.
Q. Do you feel like that the Big-10 obviously would be the best conference of the year, do you feel like eight teams is a possibility for them for the NCAA?
TOM CREAN: I would hope so. Yeah. At least. I mean, I think Iowa’s a NCAA tournament team. I have all year. I think Minnesota is. I’m not sure, I haven’t read any bubble forecasts or anything like that. We just played one. We just played a high level team.
So I don’t think there’s any question that Iowa and Minnesota are highly deserving of being in that. The other ones are probably pretty much givens.
Q. Jordan hasn’t been known for his defense that much. But today he did a terrific job on D.J. Richardson. It was a big turned around from the first game. Talk about how important that late development is.
TOM CREAN: We made some adjustments. We have been making some adjustments in our week, all week long, it was to really make sure that we knew what we were doing when the ball’s being penetrated and driven. And you cannot let somebody like D.J. Richardson loose.
And in the first game against us they both, they were, I believe, 14 of 29. And today we were able to hold them to 4-23. That’s the story of the game. It’s not just one person, when I look at this and how this is Victor’s second straight double double and Jordan has the seven assists and Cody and Will and all these different guys, but it’s a team. It’s team defense.
I think that there’s some individual matchups, certainly, but when that ball’s being penetrated, it is team defense and I thought our guys did a really good job of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.