First of all, I want to talk about USC because I thought the difference between where they were last year and this year, you can take a team overseas. I've had teams like that. And they figured out how to win. And I thought they were exceptional in terms of their confidence, their focus, we've seen them on tape a lot. They play with tremendous freedom and poise in their transition game, and we knew that was the No. 1 thing we need to stop, I don't think we did a very good job of it. I thought we started the game flat for whatever reason. I'll take responsibility for that because we certainly talked enough about the energy in the game. Playing a team on the road, over New Year's, that's coming in for practice, getting out of bed, curfew. They get up together, meet together, they go through walk-throughs. They were locked in. They were focused. I didn't think we were very locked in to start the game.
I thought the group that ended the first half, certainly started the second half – and throughout that second half when we had to do a little bit of small ball – played with a lot of grit, a lot more determination, a lot more fire, a lot more heart, and just a lot more energy, and that's what made the difference in the game. They out-energized us and really took the fight to us in the first half. I thought we did a much better job in the second half, but we ran out of gas, ran out of steam, ran out of time.
(Do you talk to starters about backups playing with more energy?)
I could note it, but it's obvious, also. What I like to do is go back and look at film, because that film doesn't lie. You can see who gives you effort, who's in the right position, those types of things. And then you can come back and talk to your team about, wait a minute here, where's the effort and the energy? Because I didn't think we played with a lot of intelligence and just not a lot of effort. They were the team that had the energy, they were in attack mode to start the game and it put us back on our heels. We kind of regrouped that when we went small ball and got more energy on the floor, and came back in the game, but you expand so much energy to get back in it. About three or four minutes to go, we cut it to 12, and I tried to get the timeout but the official didn't see it so we could get a breather. And they just kind of took the game back over from that point on.
(More tempo from USC than last year?)
I think the biggest thing between them last year and this year is just understanding how to close and win games. They were in a lot of close basketball games last year and couldn't quite get over the hump as to how to win. And a lot of those games came down to the last two-or-three minutes, and they weren't getting blown out. They were losing by nine, eight, seven, six. Well, go overseas, a year later they're much more mature, much more confident, and they figured out how to close, how to play through some situations where we started to come back. They took a timeout, came back out and kept moving again. I credit that to grow on their part and their players' parts. They've got a good team.
(Valentine Izundu's presence cause lazy perimeter defense?)
I don't know if it was that or the fact that we just weren't moving our feet. I don't think they ease up because Val's there. We were shocked, just about their athleticism and how much they took the fight to us early on. We kind of neutralized it later, and then obviously Conor wasn't scoring and he became a big liability having to guard that quickness on the floor, and we had to get him out of the game. So I don't know if I would say they were relaxed because Valentine was back there. I think it was more the mental part of having to get ready to play, that slippage was there and that team came out a lot more locked in than we did.
(Is that the reason for dunks?)
I think they're much more athletic than us. I think they played with much more energy and tempo than we did, and therefore they controlled the first half. It looked like a highlight reel out there, with some of the plays we had. We kind of neutralized that the second half just getting a group out there that played with more energy.
(Should Elijah Stewart's dunk have been a technical?)
I've got to see the play. When you dunk, you have to have an opportunity to protect yourself. So you've got to look at tape and see, was the protection part of it gone? And then, so, that's not a factor in my opinion as to what happened in the game. That's just one paly in the midst of many plays that were in our control where we didn't do the things we needed to do.
(How to create energy in time for UCLA on Sunday?)
We practice tomorrow. You've got to get ready, have practice, get a new game plan and do those things. There's no time off. We're into pac-12 play right now and these guys have had enough time to rest. Trust me. It's more about just getting ready to play and redeeming yourself. WE need to bounce back more and play much better on Sunday.
(Want to get to USC's tempo eventually?)
Eventually. But we don't have the athletes they have to play at that pace right now. And they didn't play at that pace last year. They learned how to run and finish. We'll look a lot different with those new guys a year from now, just in terms of pace, and confidence, and those things. But right now, I'm sure it was an eye-opener for those new guys. Just how good this conference is going to be. And you can talk about it all you want, but you have to go through it. Case in point, last year Colorado did to us, what Utah did to us, and we played those teams a lot tougher the second time around. This is an opportunity to teach, move on and get ready for the next one.