THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Kevin Stallings just for opening thoughts on the Vanderbilt team headed into the tournament and then we'll take questions for the student athletes.
COACH Kevin Stallings: I think this is an exciting time for everybody. We're certainly excited to be here, at least I think we are. I think that we've had a very successful regular season, and obviously the thing that you're remembered by in any college basketball season is how you finish and how you do at tournament time.
So we're hoping to come down here and have what happens to a number of teams at this time of the year, and it's happened to us at different times when I've been at Vanderbilt, but to come down, start playing your best basketball, get on a roll, and it kind of happened shortly after the conference tournament for us last year. But nevertheless, we're looking forward to this week, we're hoping to be here through the weekend, and we're excited about the opportunity to play tomorrow and beyond, hopefully.
Q. Coach was just talking about how you guys would be remembered. You guys have done well in the NCAA tournament but not so well at this tournament. Is that something you'd like to get over the hump where you could say you made a run in the SEC tournament?
Shan Foster: I think it's important to us as a group and as a whole to have a good showing in this tournament. Unfortunately last year we didn't have great success, so we have an opportunity to do something that Coach mentioned, and that is be able to finish. You're always remembered about how you finish at the end of the year, and we definitely have a great opportunity to go out and do that.
Q. What do you think has been the struggles in the SEC Tournament for you guys? Can you put your finger on it?
Q. Talk a little bit about after losing two out of the last three, a career game for you, how anxious are you to start this postseason and get this going?
Shan Foster: Well, I think it's the same as any other time in the season where you lose a few games. You always start off in practice and you start off by paying attention to details and playing with energy and assertiveness and definitely staying together, and that's something we did a great job of doing last year and I think we'll do a great job of doing this year.
Andrew Ogilvy: We're really excited to come out and try to put on a good performance in the tournament, just try and do as best you can, we've been practicing really hard and I feel like we're ready to do some great things.
Q. A.J., what did you learn about foul trouble during the regular season that maybe you didn't understand about it, and how do you go about trying to avoid it in the postseason? Talk about the whole process, what you learned about that.
Andrew Ogilvy: Just have to be smarter playing with fouls, not commit so many fouls down the stretch and not to commit too many early fouls in the first half. Coach talked to me about it, and I just learned that I have to be a bit smarter with the way I play when I have fouls.
THE MODERATOR: We'll excuse the players. You can return to the locker room. Thank you very much for coming. We'll continue on with questions for Coach Kevin Stallings.
Q. If you could address, what do you think Vanderbilt's history is not real great in this tournament. Why do you think you guys have done better in the NCAA Tournament than you've done in this tournament?
COACH Kevin Stallings: I thought about that after you asked Shan, and we lost last year to Arkansas in a game that we had a wide open shot for this year's best player in the league that he missed. That's a game that was obviously very winnable. The year before if I recall we got beat by LSU just before they went to the Final Four, so I would say chances are we probably got beat by a better team.
Sometimes you just come down here and you play teams that are better than you. Now, I'm not saying that that was necessarily the case last year, but certainly it was two years ago, and I don't remember beyond that.
You know, in 2004 we made it to the semifinals, and then we went on to play in the Sweet 16, and we upset Mississippi State who had won the league that year. It sort of is what it is. I think that sometimes you come down here with good teams and you play well. Sometimes you might come down with good teams and not play well, come down with teams that aren't very good, get beat by better teams. There's a number of reasons as to why any team doesn't have success in anything.
We're here, and we feel like we've got a pretty solid team, and we'll see what happens.
Q. After the SEC tournament last year, did you have a good feel about your team going into the NCAA Tournament, or did that team maybe surprise you at how well it did?
COACH Kevin Stallings: Well, I think that so much of what happens in the NCAA tournament is match ups, and even in this tournament, I think that sometimes you can attribute whatever happens on a particular weekend to match ups. The NCAA Tournament especially is match ups, and we've apparently we've gotten match ups that we could handle in the NCAA Tournament.
To specifically answer your question, no, I wasn't surprised. We had the second best record in the league last year, or tied for the second best record in the league. As goofy as it sounds, we had beaten Florida three out of four halves. I know that sounds stupid. We lost one of the games but we were ahead by 11 at their place at halftime. So we knew that we were capable. We had beaten a number of highly ranked teams.
So we knew that we were playing good basketball and had become a very good team. I wasn't surprised at all at our success in the NCAA Tournament because I thought at that time, despite the fact that we lost those games back to back to Arkansas, I thought that we were a very good team that was playing pretty well.
Q. Your team has very good depth this year. I know you wouldn't be looking past the first game or anything, and you'd coach your players not to do that, but as a coach, also, you could possibly be playing four games in four days. I just wonder, do you go into the first couple of games maybe with a substitution plan that allows nobody to get too worn out, just on the possibility that you guys might be here for a few days?
COACH Kevin Stallings: No, and maybe that's the way to do it, but that's not how we do it. We'll go and we'll do whatever we have to do to win on Thursday. If that means Shan has got to play 38 minutes, then Shan will play 38 minutes if he can. And there won't be any self preservation going on because you can't win four if you don't win one.
So that will be our objective, to win tomorrow. Then we'll recover, and hopefully our depth will play well and allow us to play our starters less in the games. But I don't see any scenario where we would substitute more or play guys less because we might be here until Sunday or something like that. We'll just try to win tomorrow's game and then worry about Friday if we're able to accomplish tomorrow's objective.
Q. Coach Lebo mentioned what a tough match up this is for them. He also pointed out that you guys haven't been as strong outside of Nashville, at least they're not playing you there is what he pointed out. Is that whole away road game record blown out of proportion in your mind?
COACH Kevin Stallings: I don't know, I guess we'll see tomorrow. We were a good team at home, and again, we were 2 and 6 on the road in the league and had a double overtime loss and an overtime loss and another loss that was a one point game with ten seconds to play.
And so I wouldn't say that we're a bad road team. We were not playing very good basketball during the stretch that we lost at Tennessee and at Florida and at Mississippi and even that game where we played them they came in and played us at a time when we had lost four out of five, and we were a little bit fragile at that particular moment.
I guess we'll just have to see. That seems to be the thing that people want to throw on us. I'm guessing if we were 17 and 2 at home instead of 19 and 0 that people wouldn't be talking about a road record. I don't know, we'll see. We'll just have to tee it up and see what happens.
Q. Jeff Lebo kind of referred to his team as kind of an odd team to defend because Tolbert is basically a 6'2" power forward. Can you talk about that and the game Tolbert had against you and how that plays into going up against them tomorrow.
COACH Kevin Stallings: Well, we were an undersized team last year and we caused people problems last year because of our size and our perimeter orientation and our ability to shoot the basketball and things like that. They present the same kinds of problems with a bunch of shooters on the floor and drivers and ball handlers. So you have to modify your game plans your game plan when you play them because of their personnel and match ups and things like that.
So yeah, they're a different team to guard. You know, while we might enjoy some advantages on one end, they might enjoy those same advantages in a different way on the other end. It'll just be a matter of who can do what they do the best, I suppose.
Q. What about Tolbert?
COACH Kevin Stallings: Tolbert is a very good player, had a great game, great second half against us. I think he had 26 in the second half if I remember correctly. He really is a terrific competitor and a guy that plays with a very high motor, and any coach loves a guy with a big motor, and Tolbert certainly has one.
Q. Can you speak generally on the dangers of facing the big under dog, facing a team that it's them against the world, kind of like an Auburn this year, and the kind of the trap game that is?
COACH Kevin Stallings: I don't see it as a trap game because I think our guys are very aware of Auburn's capabilities. You know, we've done a very good job, I think, this year of not taking anybody lightly. I think that in terms of the psychology of being the under dog or being the favorite, I think once the game starts, I don't think that there's much bearing on that. I don't think that matters much.
I think what will happen is the team that plays the best tomorrow will win. You can forget who the under dog is. I mean, I was told, and I didn't check this, nor do I normally, but I was told that we were an under dog at Alabama, and so that's it really doesn't play into it because, you know, they've got their psychology, we've got our psychology and our motivation, and all of us coaches do what we do to try to make sure our teams are ready.
You know, I'm sure it'll take me all of about 30 seconds to tell our team how pitifully you people think we are on the road and or how pitifully we play on the road; that's an adverb isn't it, pitifully?
We all have our own methods and means, and I'm sure Jeff will use his and we'll try to use ours.
Q. What has the state of Tennessee tapped into to enable to look ahead and look at so many teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, and what are the secrets to building these kind of programs in a traditional football territory down here?
COACH Kevin Stallings: Well, I would say that they've certainly probably begins in most ways with except for Vanderbilt, it begins with the coach, and at Vanderbilt it begins with the players. I think you're talking about schools that have been able to get good players and have good coaches running their programs. So what Bruce has done at Tennessee and Calipari has done at Memphis and Rick Bird has done at Belmont, you know, there's just been a lot of success all spread around. And it's exciting for the college basketball fans in the state of Tennessee; it really is. It's a great time to be a college basketball fan in our state.
We're just happy that we're holding up our end of the bargain. We're glad that Rick isn't the lone representative from middle Tennessee.
Q. If there's not divisional play in this league, you're a No. 4 seed, you don't even play tomorrow. The ACC decided not to have divisional play when they went to 12 teams. How do you feel about divisional play, and from talking to the other coaches how do they feel about it?
COACH Kevin Stallings: I don't know how the other coaches feel about it because I really haven't spoken to them so much. I think I would be a proponent of not having divisions, and I would think that most of the people in the east, most of the coaches in the east, would feel that way. I think you would get some opposition from the coaches in the west.
But I would be a proponent of not having divisional play and figuring out a way to modify our schedule. Maybe keep not keep it the way, I'd want to change the schedule, too. Since I've been here in most years, our side has been more difficult to play.
But nevertheless, I would certainly be a proponent if we could figure out a way to eliminate divisions.
Q. Just to follow up on that, the east did win more games against the west.
Q. And it's the ninth straight year the east has done that.
COACH Kevin Stallings: It's ironic. I've been in the league nine years, so maybe before that I would have been a proponent of divisions (laughter).
Q. I guess I'm wondering, how do you account for that? That seems more than just an oddity or coincidence, nine straight years.
COACH Kevin Stallings: I think you begin with the fact that the two best programs in this league, since I've been in the league, have been Kentucky and Florida. And when I say best programs, they've been, I think, consistently more NCAA Tournaments, et cetera, and so I think you begin with the two marquee teams in our league are in the same division.
So now if Tennessee jumps up like they have or we jump up like we have and you get some others going like that on that side, then I think that it distorts it just a little bit. Again, obviously we've got some really good teams, really good programs in the western division. I mean, Gottfried went Mark went to five, I think, NCAA Tournaments in a row, and Arkansas has had a lot of success and LSU has been to the Final Four and Mississippi State. It's sprinkled all throughout.
But on a consistent basis, I think Kentucky and Florida have made the east more dominant.
Q. These conference tournaments are a great opportunity for people who don't have an NCAA Tournament locked up, which seemingly you do. What is the motivation for going in other than improving your seeding?
COACH Kevin Stallings: I think that's the only that really can be the only motivation, other than it's an opportunity to play. But an opportunity to play is an opportunity to add to your résumé. And right now we're all just jockeying for position in one form or another for the NCAA Tournament.
If you're a team that has no chance unless you win, then you're coming here to win four games and that's your only chance. If you're a team that's on the bubble, then obviously you've got you want to have immediate success. If you're a team that can improve its seeding maybe like us, then you come and you have objectives that way, and maybe in the case of Tennessee, they've got a chance for a No. 1 seed, and so they come in and get to The Finals or what everybody has got their own motivation, but I think it all revolves around pertaining to the NCAA Tournament.
Q. A.J.'s foul issues, can you address that? Is this something that now that you're in the postseason that's any different?
COACH Kevin Stallings: Usually they let you play a little bit more in the postseason, and so maybe that will be helpful.
The concern has been are the decisions he makes when he has fouls. I mean, some of his fourth fouls have just been they have defied any ability to logic that I have. I've searched my brain for a space in there that can justify how that happened, and they've been beyond me a little bit.
Q. That he did it or that it was called that way?
COACH Kevin Stallings: No, that he did. And he's gotten he got a third foul in a recent game where the guy tried to spin and go on him, and he was just there, and the guy just ran into his chest, and I mean, it was bad. Bad, bad.
But the fourth foul against Alabama was a moving screen that God and everybody saw, and the fourth foul in our last Auburn game was an attempt to take a charge where he fell this way. So yeah, we've had some bad decisions.
I think he's becoming more aware of it, and more importantly, I think he's understanding the impact that it has on our team. So I think that's what's going to stop him.
He can be a little stubborn, but I think that when he recognizes that it's hurting his team, then he is motivated to do something about it.
Q. I just wanted to follow on A.J., too. I thought I saw in the Alabama game where it looked like Alabama took a shot and it was around the rim, and he went up and knocked it off. I thought he did that in the first Kentucky game. I'm just wondering if that's like an international habit.
COACH Kevin Stallings: I don't recall it happening in the Alabama game, but I'm not saying it didn't. But he's done that a time or two this year, but I don't remember one recently to where he's gone up. But it is, the ball can be above the cylinder in international play and you can go rake it off. He learned that one pretty quickly, I think. He figured that rule out. He's a bright kid except for when he gets three fouls. I'm just kidding. He's an awesome guy.