Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings Opening Statement: COACH STALLINGS: I say this a lot, or not a lot, but when I think it's appropriate, but if you didn't care who won, that was a great college basketball game. Kentucky, they set the bar. They set the bar nationally this year. They set the bar in our league almost every year. They certainly did this year. They have got a great team. So we're proud to have beaten them. Proud to have won a SEC championship.
I couldn't be happier for my players because this season has had its ups and its downs and we have been the target of much criticism, and to my players' credit, they never let that get to them, they never let it create a seam in our squad or let it create any division in anything that we did. They stayed with us as coaches, they stayed with each other as teammates. This is the result of that sticking together.
As far as the game today, we battled, they battled. We had a little bit of a better plan, we felt like, going in this time. The stat sheet at halftime, I don't, I haven't really seen the stat sheet since the game's been over, but they had taken 16 threes at half and that was what we wanted. We wanted them to beat us from outside.
Then they made their runs, and we had responses and we made a run, and they had a response. And it kind of went back and forth a little bit. And then at the end, we have talked for a long time about wanting those last three or four minutes again because we got it to that point in the first two games and they outplayed us at the end of both games to win the game.
We wanted one more shot to see if we could do it. And today we played better than them in the last few minutes. I couldn't be prouder of these guys. It's to their credit. They deserve all the credit. I'm most happy for them and for our fans that have waited a long time to see us win a SEC tournament championship.
Q. John said after the game that at halftime, he said to his kids, There you go again. You've given a team hope. I was curious the last two minutes of the second half, it felt like there was kind of a significant sway in momentum in y'all's favor. I wondered if you felt like getting into the locker room on a surge was a significant factor in the game. COACH STALLINGS: Certainly we had gotten the lead in the first half, and then they made that run and came back and got a five-point lead. And that just is how good they are. They can take your eight-point lead and turn it into their five-point lead in about three minutes.
Might have been the biggest, one of the biggest parts of the game, because we were able to come back and score five straight to close the half and get the game tied. And I thought that was a big momentum shift.
But there were momentum shifts in the second half, too, and even though the numbers don't bear me out, I did not think that the first ten minutes of the second half that we defended as well as we had defended in the first half. Now the last eight minutes, I think that's correct. I think they went without a field goal. We did obviously do a great job on defense. I thought the zone was a big factor in the game there at the end.
We used our zone in the first game against them, and it allowed us to get back into the game in the second half at our place. Then at their place, we tried to use it, and they scored four out of the first, I don't want to say four out of the first five, but it was four out of the first five. We ran it. We used it, and we didn't use it any more because they were killing us.
And I thought if we could get the game at the end, we could go to the zone, because they do a lot of lobbing and things against zones and those lob passes get a little more tense in the last three minutes of the game than they do in the first 37. Especially if it's a tight game.
So now they're not quite as willing to throw that, or those 3-point shots get a little bit tougher to make right there at the end. And I was hoping we would be in position to use our zone in the last few minutes and fortunately we were, and even more fortunately it worked.
Q. Did you use anything that Kentucky's two previous opponents in this tournament used defensively? Did you use any of it? COACH STALLINGS: No, not a thing. I know that the LSU game was very physical game. The Florida game was a very fast game. We thought because of those two things that we wanted fatigue to be an issue because obviously they don't play a lot of guys and so we wanted the ball game going fast as much as we could make it fast, in hopes that fatigue would be a factor.
Whether or not it was or not, I'm not sure. But that was our goal and something worked, I'm not sure what did work, but something worked.
Q. There's some guys today who played the way you thought they could always play this year, and you can point to this next week in tournament and say, This is the way you need to play. I mean for us to be good, you have to play this way. COACH STALLINGS: Our team is like that proverbial box of chocolates. You just don't know. I would like to say that I know and I would like to say that they're the pillars of consistency, but they're not. And so that was the same Festus Ezeli today that went scoreless yesterday. And the same Jeffery Taylor that scored two points yesterday. So good for them that on an occasion like this they could rise up and give us a great game.
Good for them.
And I don't know if they just kind of decided when they think we need it, I doubt if that's what they do. But anyway, if that's what they do, I hope that they feel like we need it on Thursday or Friday.
Q. Yesterday Billy Donovan was talking about how one of the more remarkable things he found about Anthony Davis was that he can block all those shots and he has such body control that he stays out of foul trouble despite that. The fact that you got him into some early foul trouble, he admitted that this isn't something he's used to dealing with. How much do you think that might have changed the game? COACH STALLINGS: Well, it didn't seem like he was out for very long, so he played 34 minutes. So it's not like -- I don't know if it affected his play. I mean it certainly didn't affect the amount of time that he played.
Q. He said he was real self-conscious. COACH STALLINGS: Okay. Well, I don't know if there's a formula for beating Kentucky, because basically nobody's beaten them. But if there is, if you can get the best player in the country off the court, you got a better chance. And if you can get him playing in a different way you have a better chance. Because he's the darnedest thing I've ever seen. What a terrific player. What an unbelievable, unbelievable player that kid is. Wow, is he good. And great demeanor. Great disposition. Wow. He is the real, real deal.
Q. Going all the way back to SEC Media Day when you talked about these veterans coming back, you said something along the lines that they deserved success. Talk about what this veteran group has meant to you and obviously moving forward. COACH STALLINGS: They have done things today, it's just -- today is just another thing. But they have done things for Vanderbilt basketball that have never been done before. They have raised the awareness of our program. They have raised the status of our program. They have made us relevant on a national level.
And all anybody wants to talk about is the last two years, last two first round losses, and they deserve a lot better than that. I'm sure today will help alleviate some of that nay saying. But they deserve better than that.
They have done everything for our program and they have done it while being absolutely model human beings, and you couldn't ask for a better group of young men. They're great every day. They're great to coach. They're great to be around.
So because of their character and their work ethic and maybe the last thing putting up with me for four years, they deserve success. And I'm glad they got it today.
Q. The first two games were decided in the last couple of minutes, and when they kind of shut you down. Today it was the opposite, you get to the last two or three minutes, you're tied and then it was Kedren Johnson I think, who scored and put you ahead for good. Just wonder if you could talk about, A, Kedren's play there and that sequence of possessions in which you guys scored and you kept them from scoring. COACH STALLINGS: Well, one of the biggest plays in the game, Fes had a tip-in, didn't look like the prettiest tip-in in the world, but he had a tip-in of Lance's missed shot, and then Kedren had that layup that I think that might have given us a three-point lead. But when that happened, now I think we're inside of two minutes. And now the pressure is squarely on their shoulders now. And that's the position that you want to be in. It's hard enough playing in Rupp Arena south, but when all of a sudden you get that lead, and there's a little time left, and now they're not playing very well against a zone, now you got some things going. I knew if we could just get rebounds, which I wasn't sure that we could, but I knew if we got rebounds, we would be good.
I congratulate John and Kentucky. Those guys have been absolutely dominant, dominant like I haven't seen before in all my years in college basketball. Dominant in our league this year, and nationally, too. But in our league. They won the league by six games, for goodness sakes.
And we played them two tough games, and I thought that we were the team that had the best chance to beat them. I thought that all season long. But Kedren made several big plays for us at the end of the game and came up with a loose ball and got fouled. Made the and-one. He made some big plays for us going down the stretch.
John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor Q. You guys are such a veteran team, is that why you guys don't seem to get rattled when Kentucky makes that run and you don't get flustered and let the game get away from you. Jeffery Taylor: Yeah, we have been in these situations before. We played a really tough non-conference schedule. We went away and played road games in front of huge crowds. So when Kentucky made a run, they made a couple of them in the game and we just kept our poise and we battled back and we made key plays down the stretch.
John Jenkins: Basketball's a huge game of runs, and we knew they were going to make their runs for sure. Our thing was just to stay poised and that's what we did down the stretch.
Q. I think Kentucky went without a field goal the last 8:04 I think. Can you explain how it happens? Jeffery Taylor: We just played really solid defense all game. The coaches came up with a great defensive game plan for us, and I think for the most part we did a really good job of following that. Also you have to be a little bit lucky. I think they missed some open looks, but I think we did a really good job of contesting shots and really making it tough for them. And they did that to us the first two games. We went for a long time without scoring. So I felt like it was our turn.
John Jenkins: What he said for sure is perfect. Coach did a great job of calling zone and we made that call, and it was kind of a game changer for us. We were able to rebound out of it and get fouled.
Q. When the game was over, you were kind of lying on the court there for a few minutes. Can you talk about just the emotions that were going through your mind as time expired. John Jenkins: I had a tough week with my grandmother dying last week, so that's what all that emotion was coming from. It's been really tough for me. So just being out here with my teammates and the coaches has been kind of an outlet for me. So to win the championship after 60-some years is incredible.
Q. A lot of people thought you guys would be a dangerous NCAA tournament team anyway, but what does winning a title here over obviously a very good Kentucky team do for you guys moving forward? Jeffery Taylor: It's a huge momentum. It's something that we want to build on. We were coming off of our first SEC tournament championship in 62 years, so it's huge momentum for us. Huge confidence lift to beat the number one team. I mean they won some 20-some games in a row. So for us, we feel really good about ourselves. We're going to go practice and feel a lot more confident.
John Jenkins: It's huge confidence builder for us and we're going to go practice and get ready for the NCAA tournament now.
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari COACH CALIPARI: It was a hard fought game. And I thought Vanderbilt played very well down the stretch. We had our chances, we had our shots, we didn't make them.
You got to give them credit. That game was over and then all of a sudden it's like basket, basket, basket. It's anybody's ball game. And they played down the stretch well. Hats off to them, congratulations.
Q. What does it say about Michael and Darius in the way that Michael gave up his starting spot today and how Darius responded with that. COACH CALIPARI: That's Michael Gilchrist. That's what he is. He started the season and he told me, Coach, I know we got six starters so let me come off the bench. And I said, Michael I'll make that decision.
So today right before the game he just came in when I was sitting in the office in there and he just said, Why don't you start Darius today, and I'll come off the bench.
And he said, But obviously coach, you're the coach, you do what you want. But I think it would be good for our team and good for Darius.
So I said, You know what, appreciate that and I'll think about it.
And then right before I just said, I'm going to do it, D.
But that's the kind of young man he is. He's special. I would imagine he's one of the youngest freshmen in the country, too. He's really young. He's a young freshman. And he's got a good heart. He's just got that caring kind of heart, the kind of guy that makes a great teammate.
Q. Your team's been resilient all year in these types of games. Didn't happen today. But how do you expect them to bounce back in the tournament? COACH CALIPARI: Let me first of all say this, we were resilient. The only thing that I was disappointed at halftime, I thought we should have been up about 10. And what I told them, There you go again, and give a team a chance to think that they got hope. And then we get up again late in the game.
Now what happened was we missed every single shot down the stretch. That's what we hadn't done all year. When I say we missed every shot, we missed every shot. Now, they went zone, and I was really comfortable if I had to do it over again, we would have gone inside more. But I'm confident in Darius and Doron shooting balls. If you give them open look, they're going to make them. They missed every one. Unusual for us. Unusual for them.
So again, that was me saying, play that way. It wasn't them just shooting balls. I was saying, We're going to go this way and this is what we'll do. If I did it over again, I would say, Let's go inside.
And we did late. We kind of through it into Terrence late, but I would tell you I would have done that. But this team has been resilient. My comment to them after is maybe I'll have your attention now and you're really going to focus in and listen to what I'm saying, how we're going to have to play these next few weekends. And I said, You take each weekend by itself. You don't look ahead, you don't. You look at this coming weekend. And that's the kind of stuff that I told them after the game. One way I said, I'm fine now. We get this off our plate. We don't have to worry about a win streak, none of that. Let's just go play this tournament. I wish this would have happened yesterday so we got a home a day earlier, but...
Q. Since you mentioned that, I was curious if you thought that your team was affected at all by fatigue. COACH CALIPARI: I don't believe so. I don't think that was it. We just missed. I'm thinking of five point-blank two balls right in the middle of the lane, three open threes that were wide open.
And again, you give Vanderbilt credit. What they did was on those misses, they rebounded everyone of them. They didn't give us another shot to get the ball. The second thing is they went down the other end and they scored. And they made it a physical game. They were. What they did inside and the pushing and shoving going in there, they let it go. So they let it go. You got to play.
Q. I know that Michael had foul trouble, but he ended up I think with zero rebounds? COACH CALIPARI: I know.
Q. What was effecting his play today? COACH CALIPARI: I don't have any idea. And I told him that after the game. I've never been in a game that I've coached him that he played -- he only played 16 minutes, but he had no rebounds in 16 minutes. And I can probably look at the tape and say there were four or five, at least six opportunities, at least four, that he could have rebounded balls that he just didn't come up with. And that's unusual for him. So he'll be fine, though.
Look, I've got a good team. Bottom line, I got a good team. I don't like tournaments like this, three games in three day. I've said it before. We have a ton of fans here. I feel bad -- well, they saw all three games, so they should be happy. I know they wanted us to win. We did what we were supposed to do. We just missed shots and, folks, these kids are not machines. They're not computers. It's not automatic.
And how about this: maybe now everybody realizes we're not invincible. We're like everybody else out there. We're going to have to execute. We're going to have to play hard. We're going to have to play with some aggressiveness and intensity or we will get beat. That's just how it is.
And that's for any team out there. If you think you're walking into the tournament and there's a path, there is none. You got to grind it out each game and you're going to have to play well or you go home.
Q. Forgive me for asking this I'm from New Orleans. I got to ask, would you assess your chances of being back here in two and a half weeks? How do you feel about it? COACH CALIPARI: I hope we are. I love New Orleans. I hope we are. I don't know. I don't know. Where they're going to seed us, we don't know the path. Probably not going to be an easy path. I don't think they can make us play Tuesday. But other than that, we're going to get a lot thrown at us.
So I would tell you that it's going to be hard. But for anybody to reach here, and I've had three teams do it, it's hard. You're going to have ups and downs and bad games. You're trying to win anyway. And you play a hot team, or you get cold, you got to figure out how you play through it anyway. And then on top of it, we got a young team.
So I still like my team. Like my team last year, I said it from the entire time, we were 10-6 in this league. And I told everybody, I like my team. I'll coach my team. And then we went to a Final Four.
I will tell you again, I really like this team. I like the makeup of the team. I like our skill set. I like our defense. And again if you look at today, we shoot 35 percent and 21 from the three. Now a lot of it was their defense. A lot of it was us. When it got rough, we couldn't play through the bumps.
Now free throws, I don't think they guarded us. I don't think they were up on that line putting a hand in our face. So we shot 10 percent less than we normally do at the free throw line. But again, this is one of those ones that at the end of the day, I told the team, I said, Hey, I'm happy. Let's go. We're a good team. We'll be fine. You guys now will listen to what I'm going to tell you and how we're going to present the rest of this season for us.
Q. You guys, Syracuse, North Carolina, all lose your conference tournaments. What does that say about what the NCAA field will be like this year? COACH CALIPARI: It's going to be strong. The thing at these conference tournaments, we're not going to be playing each other in the NCAA tournament. These teams, we all know each other. And that's why they become wars and that's why they're low scoring games. We just played Florida three times and Vanderbilt three times. That's six of our games against teams that in my opinion have a chance to go Sweet 16 or beyond. Both of those guys.
So we played six games against those guys. Fortunate that we won five of them. This one we weren't so fortunate and we had a lead with a couple minutes to go. So now we get in, no one knows. We won't know the team we're playing. So it's a little different atmosphere and a little bit different way the game will play out.
Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller Q. Comment on the physical play in the post on both ends of the floor? ANTHONY DAVIS: First off, congrats to Vanderbilt. They got anything they wanted in the post. Got good position and it was hard for us to fight around it. Came to the point where we just started trying to front, and we got ourselves deep in the post, and when you get it that deep, it's very easy for them to score and hard for us to defend.
TERRENCE JONES: They got real deep and good position. And they got us in foul trouble and got just good position.
Q. Can you talk about your confidence seemed to be back today, how that might kind of help you get going here in the NCAA tournament. DARIUS MILLER: A big part of that was Mike went up to coach and talked to him about me starting today. And that really meant a lot to me, showing that he was with me, showing the support that he gave me. And coach allowing me to start the day also showed me support. That kind of gave me more confidence. But I still missed a lot of shots. I didn't shoot as well as I thought I should, so it didn't work out in the end.
Q. You've done really good job in general staying out of foul trouble. The fouls you got into early, how much did that limit what you would typically do to cover the basket? ANTHONY DAVIS: It limits you a lot. I didn't want to pick up any stupid fouls, especially when I was already in foul trouble. That kind of hurt my team, me having to sit on the bench with a couple minutes left. And guys know that now they can drive the lane and it was just kind of hard for me to sit on the bench and watch my team struggle like we did.
Q. Can you just talk about how this affects your confidence going into the NCAA tournament, a loss like this. DARIUS MILLER: I think we're still confident in our ability. Vandy's a good team. It would have been real tough to beat them three times in one season. They played extremely well and took advantage of every opportunity. I don't think this affects our confidence at all. We're going to get back in the gym and we're going to go to work.
TERRENCE JONES: I think it makes us more hungry and we want to go harder just taking an L like this, and our win streak being done. I think it's going to make us go back to just playing hungrier.
ANTHONY DAVIS: I think our confidence is still here. We never lost any confidence. We just got to go back in the gym and play hard in practice and get ready for the tournament.
Q. You guys have probably heard plenty of talking saying maybe these guys need a loss, maybe these guys need a loss. Is there any way you think that in a couple days you'll feel like this will help you? DARIUS MILLER: Hopefully it does. I think we'll be ready to go. We don't like the feeling of a loss. We wanted to win this championship, so we'll be back in the gym tomorrow and getting ready to go for the tournament.
TERRENCE JONES: I would rather lose this week than next week end or any weekend after this. So it's just a learning experience for us to execute later down the stretch.
ANTHONY DAVIS: When you take a loss like this it just makes us hungrier to get ready. But we just got to get back in the gym and get ready. There's nothing more to it.
Q. You guys have talked to us all I guess the last month about how much you hate the ESPN video of your one loss to Indiana. You said it angers you and motivates you. Talk about how you're processing this loss. DARIUS MILLER: I think it will be the same way. We wanted to win this game just like we want to win every game. I don't think any of us likes to lose. I feel like we all competitive people, so it's going to motivate us to get ready for the tournament.
TERRENCE JONES: We'll just use it as motivation for the tournament. That loss was a long time ago, it feels like to me anyway. And this one just brings us back to reality. Coach feels we were getting ignorant?
COACH CALIPARI: Arrogant.
TERRENCE JONES: Arrogant. And just not representing teams like we were in the beginning. And now that we took a loss, we could probably feel that way again.
ANTHONY DAVIS: For me, I definitely hate the feeling of losing. To lose here, especially in a championship when we were this close to winning it all, it just hurts. So I hope we can take this loss, learn from it, and have this as motivation going into the tournament.