Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings Opening Statement: Well, first of all, I think that I was really impressed with how Andy had his team ready to play and how they played down the stretch of this season.
We knew it wasn't going to be an easy game. We have been on the other end of that third game in three days and it's almost like when halftime comes of that third game, when the other team's only played, it's their second game, there's just something that's different. It happened to us last year. We played Florida and we had a really good first half, and came out, and they busted us in the second half.
So I congratulate them for what I thought was a great effort. Our guys really defended and rebounded. Our offense was a little suspect, but our effort level was great. And our intensity and our energy was great, and that was the difference for us. We kept our energy level up.
And on a night when we didn't shoot the ball well, our defense and rebounding won the game for us. That's a good thing for us, because we have had two nights in a row where we have not shot it particularly well, but our defense has been able to help us win.
They played zone, played a lot of zone. It was very effective. I give Andy credit. Teams are generally scared to zone us. Our belief is eventually we'll make some shots against you. And John made some and Brad made some. In the second half Dai-Jon Parker made a big one. So we were able to -- we just kind of stayed at it and stayed after it.
And then we got those guys loose for some good looks. And Lance was real key, I thought, not only with his points and his rebounds, but he did a great job of distributing the ball, getting into the inside part of the defense and kicking it out and making plays for his teammates.
So again, not a picturesque performance maybe like the one we had at their place a few weeks ago, but a gutty win nonetheless, and one that we're real proud of and happy to have.
Couple teams here have stuck with Kentucky pretty well, LSU and Florida playing different styles. Is there a style or formula that can beat Kentucky over 40 minutes? COACH STALLINGS: I'm not sure. They have lost one game and that was really a fluke. So I'm not sure there is a formula to beat them. It's a heck of a reward to get to play them after you come down here and slug it out for two games with people, and then you look up and be a road game, first of all, for us, and play the best team in the country.
Can anybody play any better than Florida played today? Holy cow. I mean, that's the best I've seen Florida play all year, and it wasn't enough. So just kind of speaks to the greatness of this Kentucky team.
And I know our guys will go out there and they will give it a shot. They will go out there and -- we have had two battles against them and haven't been good enough in either game to win.
But we're excited to have a third chance. I don't know that I agree with what Lance (Goulbourne) said, that thing about I never understood that it's hard to beat somebody three times in one year. You can't beat them three times, you haven't beaten them twice. They have already beaten us twice.
Somebody asked us the other day about Georgia, was it hard to beat somebody three times in a year. Well, you got to beat somebody two times before you can beat them three times. I never understood that logic. But I don't know. We're going to do all we can to win the game, obviously.
I'm wondering if winning with defense and rebounding when the shots were not going is sort of a crossing of the Rubicon, a step real big step? COACH STALLINGS: What are you trying to say, Jerry, we don't do that much?
Just showing off. I'm sorry. I was trying to say that you guys --
COACH STALLINGS: You have to understand that although I coach at Vanderbilt, I went to a state school, so... (Laughter.)
I would appreciate it if you would try not to complicate things for me. All right. I'm working with limited intellect, and you know that. So that's not something that's news to you. (Laughter.)
It was refreshing because we have been called a lot of things this year, a lot of unflattering things. One dimensional is one of them. And I think that the last two days that we have shown that we're not one dimensional. We can guard, we can rebound, and we can shoot, too. We can make shots. We haven't done it down here yet, but I'm glad I'm not sitting in here having a press conference saying, 'usually we just shoot better than that. If we would have made some shots, we would have won.' "
Fortunately, we were able to do some other things to win the game and I credit our team for that. Because I thought our two freshmen guards went in and really gave us a lift in the second half. They played with energy. They got inside the defense. They made some plays for other people, and that's a pretty neat thing to have your freshmen kind of step to the flour and give you those kind of minutes.
I was just going to ask you about your freshmen, but was it a conscious effort to play them more these last two games and maybe to rest some of the starters more and have them fresh for Sunday? COACH STALLINGS: No. We haven't been playing for Sunday's game. We were playing last night to try and beat Georgia, and we were playing today to try to beat Mississippi. And it's all hands on deck. And we played guys as many minutes as we thought we had to play them to win.
I learned something from Gene Keady a long, long time ago, and he used to say that your best five players aren't always your best five players on game night. And your job as a coach is on game night to figure out who your best five are, because that's going to move, it's going to change sometimes. It's going to shift.
There were times tonight when those two kids were two of our five best players, and that's why they played some. And I'm real happy for them and proud of them.
In defending Ole Miss, you held Nick Williams scoreless the whole game. Terrance Henry scoreless the first half. Was that kind of the focus on those outside shooters? COACH STALLINGS: They're a team that just -- they pound you. They just pound the ball at you. They drive it at you. They get to know the glass. And the miracle of the day is that they got four offensive rebounds. That's the reason we won. It's because they don't shoot a high percentage generally. You look at their stats, they're not a high percentage shooting team. But what they are is they're a terrific offensive rebounding team, and they pound you and get it in there, and you foul them, and they get to the foul line.
They're not a great free-throw-shooting team, but they shoot so many that they still get a lot of points from the foul line. So our ability to play them the way we did on the back board was the key for us really.
I would say that Williams and Henry -- Jeffery Taylor has done a good job on Henry in both games that we played them. So Williams hurt us in the first game. Honestly, he looked like his legs were exhausted. Again, I can't -- we're happy to win and we're proud of our defense and all that kind of stuff. I assure you that we were playing guys with tired legs, especially in the second half.
And last year, like I said, last year we played two games and won. We came out and played a great first half against Florida. We're up by six or seven or something at halftime, and we came out and we looked like we were in quick sand the second half. So it's just -- that's a tough proposition when you're playing somebody that's had to play less than you've had to play.
Seems like around this time every year there's always talk among teams that are going to make the NCAA tournament about the distraction and the fatigue that goes into these conference tournaments. But in your locker room, all your guys talked about how much it would mean to them to win a title for Vanderbilt. How do you balance that desire to succeed here with the obvious fatigue and everything else that goes into it with regard to the NCAAs? COACH STALLINGS: I guess we can only hope that we play on Friday instead of Thursday, and give us another day. But you play to win. That's why you play. Our players actually informed me, because I didn't know this, but Jeffery Taylor informed me yesterday that it's the first time since 1951 that Vanderbilt's been in the championship of this conference tournament. We appreciate that. We're proud of that. We're excited about that.
We'll have a tough game tomorrow. It's tough in every respect. It's tough on offense. It's tough on defense. It's tough on the boards. It's tough in every way when you play Kentucky. But we'll rest for a day or two after that and try to get ready to play on Thursday or Friday whenever we get to play.
We can't worry about fatigue right now. We'll worry about fatigue when we're done. And hopefully that won't be for awhile.
You mentioned earlier that your guys played Kentucky competitively for 80 minutes. COACH STALLINGS: By our standards. I don't know about Kentucky's standards, but by our standards.
And both times it came down to the last three, four minutes. You would think anything can happen. They pulled it out both times. Is there an edge that they have or it just happened that in those little four-minute segments that they got it? COACH STALLINGS: That's a good question. And you're right, it came down to the last three or four minutes in each game. The first game, I kind of blame on us, because we just made poor choices. And we had opportunities and didn't make them, didn't make the plays.
And the second time, they were just on top of us more. And the reason that they're something-and-one, whatever it is, is because they have a unique ability to kind of crank up the heat and crank the ratchet up whatever it takes to get the job done, just like they did today.
Florida played their behinds off. But at the end, Kentucky just has another gear that they can go to and get it done.
I thought that's what happened in the second game. In the first game, I thought it was more of our undoing rather than their doing. But in the second game they just made plays and were better.
You guys got by today with no points and four fouls on Fes. I know he gave you a few rebounds, but I assume you got to have smarter plays out of him tomorrow against Kentucky's bigs? COACH STALLINGS: Well, as I told the players after the game, in games against teams like the number one team in the country and maybe the best team in college basketball, if your marquee players don't play like marquee players then you might as well be spitting in the wind.
So that's all there is to it. We went to Kentucky, Anthony Davis played like a dude. And that's what marquee guys do. They play like marquee players.
So we know who our marquee players are. You guys know who our marquee players are and those guys need to play. They have to play good tomorrow for us to even have a chance.
We were able to get by without a couple of our better guys maybe playing their best today, but tomorrow that will get our butts whooped.
John Jenkins and Lance Goulbourne The way y'all just had trouble getting inside that zone, did the second half, you think, Okay, I'll just simply got to start making shots? John Jenkins: I think we were just very stagnant in the first half. We were trying to get into the game. We aren't used to seeing a lot of zone. So we were really stagnant. We didn't know what to do really. And second half, we went out there and moved the ball around and created for others, got the ball inside a little bit and people hit shots.
Could you talk about tomorrow and your matchup with Kentucky. John Jenkins: They're obviously an outstanding team and they beat us twice this year. They're undefeated in the conference, so we got to give our best shot tomorrow and just give it all we got.
Lance Goulbourne: I think it's pretty tough for a team to beat another team three times in one season. We know those guys pretty well, we played them twice and we played them down to the wire both games we played them. We know their tendencies.
We're a pretty experienced club and we know what we have to do to win the game tomorrow. We just have to play with a lot of energy and execute to the best we can, and I think we'll have the outcome that we want.
Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy Opening Statement: COACH KENNEDY: Proud of my guys' effort. Really battled, gave ourselves a chance. Obviously a couple of keys didn't go our way. Our inability to string together consecutive offensive possessions has been Achilles heel of ours all year, and it obviously came home to rest today. And our inability to find John Jenkins, what a terrific shooter and single-handedly, he put them in the championship game with his shooting, the timelines of it. I thought our zone was effective at times, and then we would lose him and he made us pay time and time again.
I think Vanderbilt, I told Kevin this, I think that they're really poised to make a run. Tomorrow obviously, it will be difficult in this neutral environment, but I think once they get into the NCAA tournament, I think that he's got his team playing where they could really stay awhile.
Same question I had for Terrance and Murph, now that the game is lost, do you think that there's still a case for the NCAA tournament or is it one short? COACH KENNEDY: I don't know. I don't know that. I know that we have basketball to play. I know that there will be basketball in our future. Where is that? I don't know.
Any time that you no longer have a say in that by having an opportunity to win games, obviously it's not the place that you want to be.
The players said they didn't think fatigue was a factor. It kind of looked from our perspective at times that guys were running out of gas. What did you see from your sideline? COACH KENNEDY: I appreciate them saying that because that's what we're telling them. The practicality of it is, obviously you play three games in three days, it's like my voice, three games in three days, it kind of leaves you at times. But for us, it was just -- basketball, you guys know, you cover it for a living. But it just comes down to a play here and a play there, making a shot, getting a stop, being where you're supposed to be. There's some telling things that we have to do to be successful.
And the thing that jumps off the page at me when I look at the stat sheet is we get out-rebounded and we're not very successful when we get out-rebounded. And we get four offensive rebounds. Reg going down early, obviously that affected that. Some other guys, like Murphy Holloway does not get an offensive rebound,, Terrance Henry does not get an offensive rebound. Nick Williams does not get an offensive rebound.
Then if you had told me that going into the game I would have said, Hey, it probably is not going to work out for us, and that certainly was the case.
You talked about the team's effort a lot during this stretch, where did that come from? There were times during the season that it looked like the effort might not have been the same, particularly the Vanderbilt game in Oxford. Could you address that and could you talk about, is this the closest you feel like you've been in watching the selection shows since you've been at Ole Miss? COACH KENNEDY: I don't know. It's difficult. This is a difficult part of being the coach, because you got so much going on through your head and you got a million things you're trying to deal with, and it's really -- I don't have time to reflect on six years. I felt like we were in control of our own destiny a number of times coming to this tournament. I think it was Atlanta, maybe Nashville, I can't remember, but we have been in a position where we could close the door, and we haven't been able to get that done.
So ultimately, no, the power is out of our control and that's not a place that you want to be at this time of year.
Nick's held scoreless, Terrance has eight. What were they doing to them or was it just them not being able to make their shots? COACH KENNEDY: We knew that coming into the game that Vanderbilt, how they were going to defend us. Ultimately we try to put our guys in a position to make plays. When your two leading scorer's are your two freshmen, Jarvis and Snoop, that's not going to bode well for you either.
You got to have guys step up. If it wasn't for Nick in the game that he had in round one, we wouldn't have been here very long. Terrance made huge plays last night or we wouldn't be in this position.
We have to have guys make plays, and for whatever reason, tonight we weren't as productive as we needed to be. And for them, when you look at it, if you would have told me, Hey, Jeffery Taylor's going to have two points, and Exeli's going to go scoreless, I would say, Boy, I like our chances there, most especially after what happened to us the first time we played.
Again Jenkins is a tremendous player. And he struggled early. And again, he is such a good player, it never shook him. I think he was probably, I don't know what it was at half, but I know he missed a ton of shots early and it didn't seem like he was in rhythm.
I told our team at halftime that I really believed the first half, if you would have asked me to scripted it -- say for Reg going down for an injury, I would have scripted it just like it played out because I thought it was kind of a lethargic game. That plays into our hands. We bought 20 minutes playing three games in three days. I would much rather play a 20-minute game than a 40-minute game. And it was right there for us.
And then John Jenkins said, Hey, this thing's getting close, hit two big ones. We left him a couple times when we were trying to trap him, which I thought was effective, but again didn't make the proper rotation. He made us pay. They advance. We go home.
Those two possessions after he got steals, and it seemed like maybe that was your best chance to make a run back at them. COACH KENNEDY: Well, I agree. We made some plays with some athleticism in the open floor. When we extended the floor, it scared me to death -- when you got a shooter like Jenkins, because we extended the floor, but it helped us, they turned it over, gave us possessions. And then our inability to score those, I can't tell you how many times this year we have had guys have and-one opportunities and we go 0-3. We leave three points on the table with the inability to finish.
And then obviously at .338 and fading in the nation in free-throw shooting, it's a miracle that this team has won 20 games. That would be a good study for you to do in the off-season. How many teams in the country have ever won 20 games regardless of class, that were .330 or above in free throw percentage. That's an incredible thing now when you're that poorly or that inefficient from the foul line and still find ways.
That's why I was proud of the guys' effort. Our execution failed us and that's why we're sitting here today.
I thought another big guy for them was Johnson off the bench. He had a couple and-one situations in that second half. Talk about him. COACH KENNEDY: I like their freshmen. I like their team. They have a good team. I thought Brad Tinsley made some big shots for them a couple of times at the end of the shot clock. We fouled Jenkins on three. We slowed the game and had the game at our pace, and then our inability to keep Number 2, Johnson, in front of us. Parker hit a couple threes. It was a good team effort and that's what teams do.
Vanderbilt's got a good basketball team. When their other guys are struggling, you find other guys to step up. Snoop did that for us. Kept us within striking distance, came out and was aggressive off the dribble, showed some real promise. I thought played really well for us the last half of the season.
What was the exact nature of Reg's injury there? COACH KENNEDY: Ankle sprain. I didn't see it. My trainer told me at halftime that he was surprised -- I shouldn't say surprised, but he was please that had Reg was fighting through it. So it must have -- I didn't see it. You guys have the monitor. I don't know the severity of it, but he said that he tweaked his ankle. He came back. We tried to keep him warm as much as possible, but obviously in 19 minutes with him having two rebounds, he was not nearly as effective as we would have hoped.
Murphy Holloway and Terrance Henry You had consecutive steals there with a little over six minutes to go. You were down five. Did you feel like that was maybe the biggest missed opportunity y'all had? MURPHY HOLLOWAY: It was. I guess it was. We didn't score off the steal, so I guess it was a missed opportunity. I feel like coach said, losing John Jenkins like coach said at the end of the game, I think that was maybe our biggest mistake when he hit that big shot.
Talk about fatigue, your legs, how fresh you felt in the second half. TERRANCE HENRY: I felt like fatigue wasn't really a factor. We were playing for our season, playing to get to the NCAA tournament, and you can't get tired at this point in the season.
MURPHY HOLLOWAY: I feel the same way. Man, just wasn't no fatigue, man, because ain't no matter how many games you play, when you're playing to try to reach a goal, you don't even think about being tired.
Scoreless in the first half, you hit eight points for the game. What were they doing on you and what did you find challenging about getting your shot off? TERRANCE HENRY: It wasn't really challenging. I was just getting too deep. I wasn't jump stopping, wasn't sticking to playing my game. Jeffery Taylor did a great job defending me tonight and we just got to look ahead.
Do y'all think y'all advocates for the tournament, do you think you're a game short, what are your thoughts on it? TERRANCE HENRY: I really don't know. Hopefully they show us some love, the committee tomorrow. But we just happy to still be playing basketball, if that's the case.
MURPHY HOLLOWAY: Man, me, I think like it's up to the committee now. I think that we let this one slip, so it's up to them, not us anymore.