Following the Villanova Wildcats' open practice at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday head coach Jay Wright met with the media along with his four captains; JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Daniel Ochefu.
Here is the transcript from Pittsburgh.
Q. For Darrun and Arch, you've been among the national leaders in assist-turnover ratio and assists all year. Can you two just talk about the premium on possessions and how much of an emphasis you guys have made on protecting the ball and being smart with it?
DARRUN HILLIARD: I just think that we're just comfortable with each other. We have confidence in each other and we're always on the attack. We're always aggressive and I think that that helps because we're so aggressive that we're not turning the ball over. And we share the ball because we know each person is going to make the right play.
Q. Ryan and Darrun again, Lafayette has got some pretty incredible 3-point numbers. Other than Creighton, you guys haven't seen a team that can spread the floor out and shoot threes. How do you plan to deal with their efficiency from three point?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: First off, probably just have to do what we do in communicating throughout each screen that they set. They move very well without the ball. We'll try to head turn and be able to see our ball, the ball and our defender -- the offensive player. But hopefully we can run them off the 3-point line and make them make tough twos.
Q. For Ryan and Darrun, I don't know if you guys you today, but the President of the United States has you guys in Finals against Kentucky. Is that more pressure for you guys, or do you like that the President of the United States has you guys going pretty deep here?
DARRUN HILLIARD: That's pretty cool. It's an honor for the President to think so highly of us, but we just know how hard it is to get to that position and to get to that level of play. In order to do that, we have to stay as humble as possible and just continue to do what we've been doing throughout the season.
Q. Ryan, Nick Lindner, Lafayette's point guard, another Philly area kid, how familiar were you with him from high school and then watching him now? After playing with him last year, how much growth have you seen in his game from last year to this season?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Well, we used to work out together back at Germantown Academy for a little bit after I had gotten surgery my senior year. So I'm kind of familiar with the way he plays, but he's definitely gotten a lot better and he's one of the best players on their team and he kind of controls the game with the ball, kind of has the ball in his hands, finds open shooters and makes plays for his guys. So we're just going to have to defend him as a team.
Q. Daniel, following up on Joe's question about the 3-point shooting, when the guards have to extend themselves out to match up with those guys, does that put some extra responsibility on you guys, like you and JayVaughn, inside to protect the middle to make sure that backdoor cuts and sort of the middle stays secure?
DANIEL OCHEFU: Definitely. I think our guards have done a great job all year in pressuring the perimeter. And knowing that, myself and JP are back there to protect the paint. Their big guys can shoot too so we're going to have to be cognizant of helping and getting the nod on the big man because they can knock down the three too.
Q. Darrun, how does Lafayette's style of play differ from what you're accustomed to seeing in the Big East?
DARRUN HILLIARD: They're a great shooting team. They shoot the ball very well. Their kind of style is set up to get the 3-point shot and they knock it down on a daily basis. So their style of play isn't too different from what we've been seeing. They just share the ball well and they're kind of like us. They share the ball well and are always on the attack.
Q. Daniel or JayVaughn, they've got two pretty veteran bigs that you'll have to contend with. What needs to happen in order to contain them?
DANIEL OCHEFU: I think just staying true to the scouting report. I know our coach has done a great job of getting us prepared and giving us their tendencies and stuff like that. I think just keeping them off the glass. I know they're good in the 15-footer and Hinrichs is a really good three-point shooter. So being in our stance and being aware they can step out, pop out and hit a three or a 15-footer if they need to.
Q. For the two seniors, you've been in this asked this before. If you don't mind talking about it again, JayVaughn and Darrun, three years ago was a rough year when you were freshmen and now you're here. Can you talk about what the journey was like, could you have ever imagined being in this position back then when things were kind of rough?
DARRUN HILLIARD: You kind of go through those things in life and going through that year, I just kind of think it prepared us for this moment, being in those situations and kind of going through that 13-19 year was a rough stretch for us, and just knowing we made it through, we made it through that tough time. And we were able to persevere and kind of come together and kind of share our wisdom on the younger guys now just so that they don't have to go through that same type of year.
Q. JayVaughn, could you answer that question?
JAYVAUGHN PINKSTON: Like Darrun said, it was a roller coaster ride. It's a great honor being here today, just coming from that, being able to show our experience and trickle it down to the young players.
Q. Darrun, what was your reaction when you found out that you guys would be playing Lafayette? Have you heard from people back home who are kind of split between rooting for you and rooting for the hometown team?
DARRUN HILLIARD: It's pretty cool. My years here at Nova, we kind of played everybody. That was the hometown team for me. We played Bucknell, Lehigh, schools that were close to my area. It was kind of like a surreal moment, knowing that we're playing Lafayette, who is kind of only 30 minutes from my house. So I didn't really get any phone calls from people rooting for Lafayette. I'm sure they wouldn't tell me that to my face, but it's all good. If they root for Lafayette, that's fine with me. We're just going to focus on doing what we have to do.
Q. There are a lot of 1985 guys in most of the games, guys like Chuck Everson and stuff always kind of rooting you on. Do either one of you have any kind of connection with those guys or talk to them or do they seek you out or have you guys had any chance to get together and talk about what they went through 30 years ago?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I know the one person that I occasionally talk to after games here and there is Harold Jensen, just what he went through throughout the whole season and the Georgetown game or I think he only missed one shot or was -- made every shot he took. Besides that, I don't really know. Daniel might have talked to Coach Pinckney a couple times when he's already in the summertime.
DANIEL OCHEFU: Them coming back and just giving us advice and telling us how proud they are of us is very humbling for us. We played for them because -- and all the alums that played before us, because they set a standard. We're trying to keep that standard, set the bar a little higher. It's definitely a great honor for us to see them at the games and have them cheer for us.
MODERATOR: Other questions for the student-athletes? Gentlemen, thank you very much. We have Villanova head coach Jay Wright. We'll start with an opening statement from Coach Wright. Coach?
JAY WRIGHT: Thrilled to be here, like everybody else. Best time of year and nice to be in Pittsburgh, an old Big East town where we've had a lot of great battles. I hope we have more success here than we have playing Pitt. Excited about playing against Lafayette. I think this is going to be a great basketball day for the Villanova family. I don't know if it's going to be great for me and Fran going against each other. They're a really tough opponent, one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. And we've had a really tough time figuring out how to defend them and prepare for them. We're looking forward to playing them tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Wright.
Q. Jay, you mentioned the difficulty in figuring out a way to defend them. You really haven't played a lot of teams that can stretch you out like they can. Creighton was probably the last one. Anything you can draw from the Creighton experience, which was just a week or two ago, and apply it to tomorrow?
JAY WRIGHT: That's the team that we talked to our guys about in terms of relating how Lafayette plays. I actually think they shoot the ball a lot better than Creighton. They might not be as big, but they shoot it a lot better. I hope we can do a better job of defending the three-point line and still containing them off the dribble. I thought against Creighton, we did a decent job on the three-point line but we got blown by off the dribble a lot. As I said, these guys stretch you a little bit more. So it's going to be a little bit more of a challenge.
Q. Jay, Nick Lindner's a Bucks County kid just like you. How much interaction have you had with him, if any? Did you take a look at him when he was at GA, anything like that?
JAY WRIGHT: We always watch GA because we watch the Inter-Ac games and Jim Finnerty is a good friend and I talked to Jim about him. Also, Jon Haynes, our former player, is an assistant coach there. He is tough and he works out. He had worked out with Ryan Arcidiacono. So we knew everything about him. I can't remember in the recruiting process somebody, maybe Phil Booth, you know, the guy we were looking at at that time. But, you know, last year he played against us and he was very effective and he's gotten a lot better this year. He's got a great Philadelphia guard teaching him how to play and I think he's going to be one of the toughest, quickest guards we've faced. He's a little undersized, but his quickness is at a level of anybody we've played against. We had a really tough time containing him when we played them last year. Proud of him being a Bucks County boy, though.
Q. Jay, this is the 30-year anniversary of the '85 team. What were you doing that night that they beat Georgetown? As a follow-up question, another No. 1 seed this year like in '06, do you feel like this is maybe your best chance of having a national title of your own?
JAY WRIGHT: I hope we have a good chance. Being a No. 1 seed definitely helps. One of the things that we've all learned through the years of this tournament, anything can happen. And I just think we're the kind of team that we really, honestly, we can beat anybody. We really could. But we're not super talented that we couldn't lose tomorrow, you know. It's just, you know, our closest game of the year this year was against Bucknell at home. Similar team to Lafayette. They won their league. We've got to take that one game at a time. In terms of last -- '85, that was my first year I was a college basketball coach. I was at the University of Rochester. I was assistant coach. It was the first Final Four I ever went to. So I went to the semifinal game, but I was the assistant intramural director also with assistant basketball coach, so I had to go back on Monday for intramurals. My wife, who I was dating at the time, stayed down there because she's a Villanova alum. She went to the championship game and I came back and ran intramurals Monday night and watched the game with Terry Gurnett, our women's soccer coach, at his house. Not a thrilling story, but truth.
Q. When you guys are stretched that much on defense, how imperative is it for a guy like Daniel to really recognize his responsibilities in the middle and what's his development been like between, okay, here's where I need to stop penetration, but I still have to have a responsibility to my own man? I mean, how important does that middle then become?
JAY WRIGHT: Daniel's the guy that can have a tremendous impact on this game and he can have -- he can be a liability. They're the guys that teams like this go after. They try to get your big guy out away from the basket. So Daniel's going to have a lot of difficult decisions during the game. Do I go out on the shooter? Do I stay in to help and protect the rim? But I probably would say that's his best -- he's improved in a lot of ways, but his intelligence defensively, being able to guard guys on the perimeter and still be a rim protector, I mean, that sounds simple, but there's not many guys that can do that. He can guard on the perimeter, and he can stay inside. I think he could have a big impact on the game.
Q. Jay, a lot of the top programs, Kentucky, Duke, Carolina on down, build around a lot of one-and-done players. That's not the way it works here. Is that a conscious decision by you? Would you go that route if you could? Would you explain why you have a lot of veteran guys here, kind of being able to find the ones that want to stay for four years.
JAY WRIGHT: We're looking for guys that fit in to our culture and our basketball culture and also our university's culture. I think there are guys that could be good -- could be one and done, could be good enough that could fit into that culture. Kyle Lowry as an example, he was there for two years, but he fit into our culture great and still does. Just most recently, Maalik Wayns was there for three years. Tim Thomas was there for one year and is still a big part of the Villanova family. It takes a really unique guy that's got the talent level to be one and done and then still wants to be challenged academically, be a part of a university community, be a part of a team family atmosphere. That combination is rare. So if we find those guys, we'd love to have them. It's most important we find guys that fit our culture.
Q. Lafayette has some veteran size that Daniel and JayVaughn will have to contend with. What do they need to do effectively in order to counter that?
JAY WRIGHT: I think that as good a 3-point shooting team as Lafayette is, I think that Trist and Hinrichs probably go unnoticed as pretty effective inside players too. Trist was their leading scorer and very effective inside during the Patriot League season and that's one of the things that makes them difficult to guard is that when they get you stretched out, or if they get you switched on a mismatch, they go right inside on you too. So I think not just Daniel and JayVaughn, but other guys, if they get caught on switches, could have to be tough against those guys inside also. That's going to be an important part of the game too.
Q. Jay, your two seniors earlier talked about what it was like three years ago, their first year and the difficulties involved, and yet here they are now. What was that like for you in '11-'12? I know it's a long story. Could you kind of walk us through or briefly take us through what changed and what evolved from then and now?
JAY WRIGHT: We had a rough season that a lot of factors played into it. We had no seniors on that team, and we really count on our senior leadership in our program. We had injuries to our top players. James Bell was injured during the year, Maalik Wayns was injured during the year, and we just didn't -- we lost -- man, we lost overtime games, you know, one-point games, every way you could lose a game. It just happens in one of those years where you realize the difference between winning and losing is so minute and, also, your culture has a great effect on how you play in close games. We just, we didn't have an established culture because we didn't have seniors. Our juniors were being counted on to be leaders for the first time. They weren't really prepared for that. So I just think since that year, the next year, we had seniors that went through that. Mouphtaou Yarou was a senior, Mo Sutton was a senior the next year. We made it to the tournament. The next year, James Bell, Tony Chennault, were seniors. We had a great season, got to the second round. So not having the leadership, not having the culture being embraced by the players because of the lack of leadership, I think, is really what happened and what has changed.
Q. You mentioned some of the old battles that you've had in this city and in the old Big East, which obviously was known for its physicality and tough games like that. I wonder what lessons, if any, have you taken from that Big East to this Big East that have helped you guys this season.
JAY WRIGHT: I'm pretty sure, because I think I would remember if it happened, I'm pretty sure when I was on the staff at Villanova, assistant or head coach, we never won a game here at Pitt. I'm pretty sure. The physicality of a -- a Villanova/Pitt game was always a battle of physical and mental will. Even to the last year, the Big East, we played a game out here, we led the whole way and I remember James Robinson hitting -- he hadn't hit a three in like four games. He hit a three to put them ahead at the end of the game. It was unbelievable. We purposely left him open and he hit it. I always thought by playing Pitt, you were prepared for the most physical challenges and the most mental challenges you would have in a game because they grind you out. I think our teams have always referred to that Pitt games and I think they've got physically and mentally tough because of it.
Q. Jay, Darrun seems to, after kind of a slow start, seems to have taken another step this year, as he has every year. Can you just comment on that?
JAY WRIGHT: I think that's the key to Darrun Hilliard. Every year that he's been here, he's gotten better. This year, as a senior, he's better at every aspect of the game. But most importantly, he's a great leader in our program. On the court, off the court, in the locker room, he and JayVaughn Pinkston have control over this team. He's very mature as a senior. We were referring to that later when we had a rough year a few years ago. We were missing that. This year, we probably have the best it's been in a long time because of Darrun Hilliard. He's just got great character on and off the court and he's an outstanding player that's hit big shots and made big plays. A senior can't do any more than that.
Q. The President filled out his bracket today and he had Kentucky and Villanova in the Finals. He had Kentucky winning. Is it a good thing that he hasn't picked the correct winner in a bracket since the first time he did it?
JAY WRIGHT: I was thinking that was pretty good. I would take that. I would take that. I wasn't looking at that as a negative. I was thinking he was a pretty smart guy. That's interesting. That's flattering. I know he's a Georgetown fan, so he's seen us a couple times, I'm sure. That's cool. I'll take that as a positive that he put us in the Finals and then let's -- if we could ever do that and get to the Finals against Kentucky, let's see what happens. We'll just take that.
Q. Jay, last year, they came down first game of the season and gave you guys a really tough game. What did you learn about that, and that was Nick Lindner's first game in college. How much growth have you seen in his game specifically from then until now?
JAY WRIGHT: I think both teams are very similar in that they've got everybody back from that team, and we do also except for James Bell is our only starter we're missing. But I can see the precision of their cuts and the decision making offensively. Specifically, Lindner as a point guard now. Last year, he was really explosive and dynamic, had some turnovers. This year, he makes all the right decisions. He's hit big shots in big games. He's won big games. So have they, as a team. So I just think they're a lot better. And I think watching the film, we're a lot better too. So probably going to be a close game again because both of us have gotten a lot better and we both have the same personnel.
Q. Jay, you guys have been among the national leaders in assist-turnover ratio all year. The way you play, you're playing at a pretty brisk clip. Can you just talk about how important that is that these guys have been protecting the ball and how that kind of works into the way you play just making sure every possession counts?
JAY WRIGHT: I think that's something in the last few years that this group is doing better than some of our other groups. We've got some very good teams offensively. But taking care of the ball and still creating turnovers is something that this group's probably been the best that we had. Part of that assist-to-turnover ratio, obviously, is us making the right offensive decisions too. Taking care of the ball, but making the right offensive decisions. I think that comes. Just what I was talking about earlier, I think Lafayette is doing a lot better job of that within their offense now than they did last year. So are we. I think you're going to see a higher level game from both of us tomorrow.
Q. Jay, coming from Bucknell, do you feel like a greater appreciation for Patriot League basketball. Second part, obviously, there's been some close calls. Do you feel like one of these years that a 16 seed will beat a No. 1 seed?
JAY WRIGHT: I hope not. I really don't. I think anybody would be crazy if they told you they didn't think about that when you get a one seed. We might be one of those close ones because if I'm correct, I never really know what seed we are, but these guys know. When we played American, were we a 1 seed? I mean, we were down 14 to American. Oh, we were a 3 seed that year? Well, that was an Ivy League -- I mean a Patriot League team similar to this team and they had us and we were playing at the Wells Fargo Center. We were down 14 in the second half. These teams have been tough for us to play. It happened this year against Lehigh and I don't think any Patriot League team should ever be 16 seeds. I thinks they're just too good. They're too well coached. They've had experience of knocking off big-time teams. Part what I didn't want was to play Franny and Lafayette, and part of what I didn't want was to play a Patriot League team because I know how good they are.