March 9, 2011
ATLANTA – Before squaring off with South Carolina during Thursday’s first round of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy and players met with media from around the Southeastern Conference on Wednesday.
Following the media session, the Rebels went through a one-hour practice at the Georgia Dome.
The West No. 3 seeded Rebels (19-12, 7-9) and East No. 6 seeded Gamecocks (14-15, 5-11) will play at 3:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, televised by the SEC Network. The winner will advance to play East No. 2 Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday in a quarterfinal matchup.
Below is a full transcript of the press conference with Kennedy and Rebel seniors Zach Graham and Chris Warren.
COACH KENNEDY OPENING STATEMENT: Excited to be here. This is a new life for everybody in the tournament, most definitely for a team in the situation that we are in. For us it's about survival and advance. And our goal is to play well enough on Thursday to have the opportunity to play on Friday.
Q. Chris, you’ve done a lot of stuff in your career, but you've never won an SEC tournament game. What would it mean to win a game?
Chris Warren: It would just spark us. We win one game and hopefully we can win another.
Q. Why do you think success has eluded you here in the past few years? Is there any kind of common theme other than playing some good teams?
COACH KENNEDY: SEC tournament-wise, I don't know. What has happened in the past has absolutely zero to do with this team and this year. It really is about us and South Carolina. We're very familiar with them, as I'm sure they are with us, having just played a few days ago. Obviously we have got to make some adjustments because the outcome was not what we wanted. For this team, I think we have certainly shown "capable." We have been consistently inconsistent in a number of areas and that's something that's got to get corrected if we want to stay.
Q. Zach, can you talk about the first South Carolina game and how Chris had the big night. What do you need to do to get going against their defense and help him out this time?
Zach Graham: Chris has been consistent for us all year long. He had a tremendous game that game, and we as a team, other than Chris, we really didn't contribute and help him out. I feel like if we're going to get a win in this game tomorrow, then we all collectively have to contribute.
Q. You said your team's been consistently inconsistent, in what areas and what gives you hope that it can smooth out?
COACH KENNEDY: What gives me hope is we have shown "capable," we're not hoping for something that we haven't seen. We just need to see it more consistently. We have been really all over the map offensively, even from half to half where we'll shoot as we did in our last game against Arkansas. We shoot 50-something percent from the floor over 60 percent from three, and we have done that in the past. And then to follow it up with a game in the 20s or 30s, really polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Defensively we've had the same issue. There are nights we're very good defensively, and there have been nights that we have not been able to string together enough consecutive stops to give ourselves a chance. With these two guys to my right, them being seniors, I know that they understand the sense of urgency with which we have to approach this tournament. And my hope is that they can lead and their teammates will follow.
Q. Can you talk about, there's been a lot of talk about reseeding or doing away with divisions and where you stand on it? How did you vote back in the spring on that?
COACH KENNEDY: We actually didn't get to a vote. There was some discussion about it, and, honestly, it didn't take on a lot of life. I think that different people for a variety of reasons had their own views. I'm for whatever would help men's basketball in the Southeastern Conference. And for me personally, I do believe that there's been a stigma attached over the last few years to East versus West. And at the end of the day, I'm for what is in the best interest of the league. And the powers that be will meet and make those decisions as to what they believe is the best. I have full confidence in the leadership in this conference.
Q. Zach, SEC tournament's moved around a few places. How do you feel about being back in Atlanta as a senior?
Zach Graham: As a senior, it definitely means a lot. Last time we were here was my freshman year, but I mean it feels good to be back in my home state. But we are here for business, so that's all I'm really worried about.
Q. Again, coach mentioned a sense of urgency. Do you feel that as a senior, and how do you convey that to the rest of your team?
Zach Graham: Definitely. I felt a sense of urgency since the beginning of the season, before the season even started. But I think really with our team, it just comes down to focus. When we're focused and ready to play and ready to come out and play hard, we do fine.
Q. I'm wondering if you look kind of at the bottom half of the bracket. Are there one or two teams, maybe including yourselves, that you feel like are kind of primed to surprise some people and make a deep run?
COACH KENNEDY: I think it's been proven over the course of the two months' season that everyone is certainly capable. When you bring it into a venue such as this, where it is a true neutral site in a dome setting, whoever happens to be playing the best over a four-day period has got a chance to win the championship. I've been in this league, this is my fifth tournament, so the four prior, a team has come out of nowhere to win four games in four days. So it certainly is shown possible. You just have to play well.
Q. Chris, I would think your status is safe as far as the SEC goes in free-throw shooting, but can you talk about shooting in an arena like this and the differences it has from shooting in a typical SEC gym?
Chris Warren: I think it will be the same. I keep my same routine, same focus. The goal's still 10 feet. So it should be the same.
Q. Can you talk about just the differences that you've made in your form and how you've been able to become such an improved free-throw shooter?
Chris Warren: It's been more so just repetition, get a lot of repetitions in practice and before the season started and rhythm and reps. That's all I can really say.
Q. Chris, free throws are kind of a boring, not a very sexy thing to be good at. What motivates you to try to be good at that?
Chris Warren: It's free extra points. You look at any great player, they always seem to make it to the free-throw line and make a lot of free throws. So they're just free points for me. So I try to knock them down, all of them.