North Carolina players had a lot to say about Kentucky during their press conference Saturday leading up to this afternoon’s South Region title game in Memphis.
Q. Joel and Justin, everybody says that at this time of the year, guard play is just so important; you’re going up against two pretty good guards in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. When you signed up to play basketball for the University of North Carolina, isn’t that exactly the kind of game that you all were hoping to play in?
JUSTIN JACKSON: Yeah, I mean, we came to North Carolina to be in these type of games, to play against the top players in the country. You know, I don’t think it could be on any better stage. Obviously we played them already once and Malik went crazy. But it’s a different team, different time of the year. I think we’ve gotten better, they’ve gotten better, so we’ve got to pay attention to our scout and know personnel, but then we’ve just got to come out and play as hard as possible.
JOEL BERRY II: Yeah, I think what Justin said, that’s what we come to college basketball for, and it doesn’t get any better than this. We lost to them early in the season, so it was kind of another revenge game for us, and we just don’t want to give the game that Malik had. We want to be able to stay on him and not let him get 47 on us again, so that’s the biggest thing.
But regardless of that, I mean, these are the type of games we want to be in.
Q. Kennedy and Joel, Bam Adebayo fouled out in the first game, played 19 minutes. How did that game change when he left, and how have you seen his game evolve in the intervening months?
KENNEDY MEEKS: Well, I’m pretty sure I fouled out before he did (laughter), so I mean, you can figure that out. That’s our main goal is to definitely get their bigs in foul trouble. I think they’re limited in that position. I feel like Bam is definitely a great player, and we want to get him out of the game as much as possible.
JOEL BERRY II: Yeah, he’s a force on the blocking. When he catches it low, it’s kind of hard. It’s hard to stop him. If we can get him in foul trouble, attack him, even if he’s not in foul trouble, just get him up and down the court and make him run, I think that’ll make his legs a little tired. But at the end of the day, if we can get him in foul trouble and get him out of there, on the offensive end for us, we can attack the basket without having a shock blocker down low. And then when they’re on offense, they don’t have that force to be able to either get it down to him or throw those alleys that they like to throw.
Q. This is for anyone other than Theo. Since Theo didn’t play in the first game when you saw them, how much of a difference can his presence in the lineup make? And then Theo, what do you think you can add that wasn’t there in the first game?
KENNEDY MEEKS: We talked about this a couple times. Maybe if Theo was playing, Malik only has 30 points and we still win the game. That’s just the type of effect that he has. Even though all of us get tired sometimes, I think he’s definitely one of the best defenders, and I think he does a great job of coming in the game and giving us a lift.
Yesterday, he did a great job defending, but we could have done a better job rebounding.
JOEL BERRY II: Yeah, I think he gives us a presence just being a long defender. I think Kenny plays Malik the majority of the game, he doesn’t have as much length as Theo, so I think length can affect him. And then, I mean, just Theo with his game of just facilitating, that can help us on the offensive end. But just overall, just having that length on the defensive end on one of their guys that got hot, I think that would have made the difference.
THEO PINSON: I don’t think there was much that was going to stop him that night. He was unbelievable. I think it just comes to the point of just giving him different looks. We had a lot of rotation with Kenny and Nate that we put on him most of the game. He’s jumping over them, shooting right over them a little bit. But they did as much as they could to at least be there as much as they could to affect him. But I think just my length, I just try to bother him a little bit, not try to do anything more or anything less, just try to make it tough on him every time he gets the ball.
Q. Justin, can you talk about your relationship with De’Aaron Fox, and have you been surprised at all by what he’s done, especially in this tournament?
JUSTIN JACKSON: I mean, yeah, we played on the same AAU team; I guess my last AAU season, he was a freshman. I always knew even from the first time that he came in and tried out for our team — well, I guess not really tried out — but first practice that we had with him, that he was going to be good. I didn’t know that he was going to have this type of impact right away.
But I mean, the way he’s been playing, he had 39 last night. He’s gotten better and better as the season has gone on. So I mean, it’s great for him, but we have to key in and try to slow him down as much as possible. He’s fast. He’s explosive. And when he gets going, the rest of the team gets going.
You know, him and the rest of the guards, we really have to try to stop and try to at least slow them down. They’re going to hit tough shots. They’re going to make great plays, but we have to try to slow them down as much as possible.