Villanova's James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Jay Wright met with the media ahead of Saturday night's game against Connecticut in Buffalo. Here's a transcript of the press conference, courtesy of ASAP Sports.
Q. This is for both of you guys. You've played UConn several times, beat them last year in the overtime game the year before. What's your take on them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do you size them up as an opponent?
JAMES BELL: Great guard play, well coached, physical team, and it's just like an old Big East game. It's going to be real physical, great pace, and just going to be an all out good game.
DARRUN HILLIARD: Like James says, just another Big East team. They've been out of the league for only one year. It's just going to be another big time Big East game, great guard play and a great coach. It's going to be an outstanding game.
Q. The two of you both sort of alluded to this, but they've only been a not Big East team for one year. Is there any nostalgia playing these guys even though it's only been one year, or is it too soon for that?
JAMES BELL: I wouldn't say nostalgia. You miss the good teams in our league. We have great teams in our league now, like Syracuse, Connecticut, they brought an extra edge to our league that we kind of miss. It's just great playing them again.
DARRUN HILLIARD: Again, it's going to be a great game. It's good to see another old Big East team make it this far. It's a great tribute to the old Big East, and it will be a great game.
Q. Darrun or James, what's it like a day later, you know, getting that first game under your belt and getting the bit of a slow start and your approach now to looking ahead to tomorrow and knowing your opponent?
JAMES BELL: It's always good to get the first one. We always focus on our next game. Our last game was a tough one. Great team. We weren't making shots, but we did it with our defense. Now it's just time to focus on UConn, great team. It should be a good game.
DARRUN HILLIARD: It was just great. None of us had an NCAA win under our belts. I mean, it's just a great accomplishment for a lot of us. Milwaukee's a great team, and it was a hard fought game. It just feels pretty good to be moving on.
Q. Three‑point shooting is always been one of the strengths of your team throughout the regular season. It's been in a bit of a slump during the postseason. Are you guys looking at tape or working more on fundamentals? How do you propose to get three‑point shooting back to where it's been this season?
JAMES BELL: We've just got to take good ones. Some of the shots we were taking were highly contested, were very highly contested. We've just got to find the open ones. Make the extra pass, get our teammates better shots.
We took some all right shots, but just finding the best ones.
DARRUN HILLIARD: Same thing that James said, just finding the best shot. Our shots we were taking yesterday, they were good shots, and we just weren't making them.
But we don't really worry about that. We just worry about getting stops on the defensive end, and we're just going to keep working on making the extra pass and getting better shots.
Q. Can you guys just discuss the ability that Shabazz has and how difficult a challenge he presents for you guys.
JAMES BELL: He's a great player, a great point guard, gets everybody involved as well as himself. He's a senior at this point, very experienced. Been in this position before, just won a National Championship. He knows what it takes to win. He's just a great opponent, one of the best players in the country.
It should be interesting playing against him, trying to stop him.
Q. Darrun, can you just talk about the development Kris has gone through this year, just sort of how he's improved getting to campus to where he is now.
DARRUN HILLIARD: He made great improvements from the summertime until now with dropping weight and getting his body to where it needs to be to compete at this level. He's just been all in and didn't really complain about doing anything we asked him to, that coach has asked him to. It's showing right now.
Yesterday he had a great game. He's going to keep improving, and he's going to be a great player in this program.
Q. For both players, you know, we've talked about your struggles with the three‑point shot and shooting, but your defense has been getting better, too. Is there a correlation that you're spending maybe more time and concentration on defense?
JAMES BELL: I wouldn't say we're spending more time. It's just what we're focusing on. Shots will fall. If you play the percentages, maybe 1 out of 3 should drop. But defense should never change. Our effort or how tough we play, how together we are should never change. That's what the foundation of our program is, and that's what we try to focus on the most.
Making or missing shots, it just happens.
DARRUN HILLIARD: That's just the foundation of this program. Defensive rebounding. We just pride ourselves on getting stops and rebounding the ball and getting easy baskets.
Like James said, the shots will fall, but we don't really pride ourselves on that.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thanks for your time. Good luck tomorrow. Joined by Villanova head coach Jay Wright. Our last coach of the day. Coach, congrats on the win last night.
COACH WRIGHT: After last night's game, I think our team learned a great lesson in being able to win without shooting the ball. Now watching tape of Connecticut and watching that game over again, that was an incredible game last night, Saint Joe‑Connecticut. High level. Really well played.
This is going to be a heck of a battle. Just to think about it, we played Connecticut last year, and two of the guys that started last year come off the bench now and give them strength. They've got other starters in there now that have even taken them to another level. So I think they've improved their depth. Each guy that stayed has gotten a lot better.
I think Kevin Ollie has done an incredible job with his team. Having played them last year, having watched the film of our game last year and now watching them now, every individual on this team has gotten better, and they've gotten better as a team.
We've got a heck of a challenge. I hope we've gotten a lot better, too.
Q. Just the familiarity of knowing UConn, I'm not trying to say you overlooked Milwaukee, but to be familiar with an opponent such as UConn, how much does that hone in the focus of yourself and the team knowing what you're up against?
COACH WRIGHT: I think the point you're making, and it's true, for a coach, when you play Milwaukee, you know how good they are. Now our players know how good they are.
But young kids who are 18 and 19 who maybe got recruited by Villanova don't realize it until they're ten minutes into the game, no matter what you tell them. UConn, they know, and these guys were recruited by UConn, and they've watched UConn. So I think our guys are very dialed in because they have great respect for the tradition and also the current team.
Q. Jay, old home week with all these Big East teams plus an A‑10 team. How much does the actual conference affiliation in the grand scheme of things matter? You guys are all here, all three different leagues now. Does it really make that big of a difference?
COACH WRIGHT: I can only speak to the Big East. I think the Big East probably did the best job of any conference ever in the history of sports of creating camaraderie and a pride in the conference.
Think about our coaches meetings, you know, you'd go for three, four days, get to know everybody's wives. The experienced coaches in the league, you know, when I came into the league, Calhoun and Boeheim and Pitino and all those guys, they really took the younger guys under their wing and created a pride.
And the older guys like John Thompson, Rollie Massimino, P.J., those guys still stayed connected to the league. So the Big East means a lot.
And for UConn, I know we all still root for each other. I know we do, because Syracuse people are in our lobby. I'll never forget when we played for Syracuse in the Sweet 16 against North Carolina, when we walked into the dome, everyone is like, Hey, let's go, Big East, Big East, you know. And they cheered for us.
There's just something very special about the Big East. So conference means a lot when it comes to the Big East, the old Big East. I think the new Big East is creating the same thing.
Q. Jay, postseason, you guys are 8 for 42 from three. That three has been a strength‑‑
COACH WRIGHT: Thanks, Joe.
Q. Threes have been a strength all year for Villanova.
COACH WRIGHT: Is Mike Kern here? Usually Mike Kern can't wait to tell me that. He can't wait to throw that in my face and no one won an NCAA Tournament on this team. Is Mike Kern here? He called this into you.
Q. He texted it into me specifically.
COACH WRIGHT: Is it 8 for 42?
Q. 8 for 42. But you shot like 38 percent during the regular season. So you've done it well. Is it a great area of concern for you? Are you concerned about technique or anything else or confidence with regard to three‑point shooting and how much better are you going to have to shoot tomorrow night against UConn?
COACH WRIGHT: Not making shots. The name of the game is putting the ball in the basket. I thought last night's game subsided a lot of concern because we really do take pride in our defense and our rebounding. We believe that if we're going to be a good team, we've got to survive poor shooting nights. I just thought last night was a great example.
I know we're a good shooting team, and I really think our guys believe that. To answer your last question, I don't think we'll be able to shoot as poorly as we did last night and keep a Connecticut team down to 53 points.
Those missed shots against a team like Milwaukee, they want to control the tempo. Those missed shots against Milwaukee didn't turn into fast break. It turned into us having another 30 seconds of defense. But against Connecticut, that's going to be Napier and those guys out in transition, and that's going to be trouble.
Q. I just wanted to give you one stat that you may like. You were 14 of 18 from two in the second half last night, which was 77 percent.
COACH WRIGHT: Thank you, Joe. That's one I'll share with the team.
Q. The conversation about four‑year players and the value of four‑year players to a program, at a time where often younger kids don't understand that, younger players, Napier, the poster boy for that kind of thing with what he's become for Connecticut, rebounding, assists, always assists, but shot making. Can you just talk about his development that you've seen over the years.
COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. I think it was when he was a sophomore, he hit a shot at the buzzer against us at the Wells Fargo Center, about a 50‑footer. He was playing great as a sophomore. He was one of those guys that you would hear people talk about, you know, he's going to go early to the league. I don't know what happened between then and now, but he was a scorer then.
Now he is a complete guard, like what we like to teach our players to be. Great decision‑maker, scorer at the right time, leader, defensive player.
I don't know if a guy like him, if he would have left early, would have developed into as complete a player. He's one of the best guards in the country, obviously, but there's a great value for that in college basketball. A complete basketball player, mature, intelligent, physically capable. I don't know if there is in the NBA. I don't know.
I think the NBA kind of likes a younger, potential‑oriented guy that they might blossom into some type of superstar. I think that's the difference.
I don't look at it that way, but I think that's sometimes the way the business is right now.
Q. Hey, Jay, you touched on it the other day. I'm just wondering how much of Mike Morris' influence on the University of Rochester still, I guess, shines through in your approach today.
COACH WRIGHT: Always. Mike was the first guy that gave me a job. I didn't know anything about coaching, nothing until I got with him. I think he's one of the great coaches in college basketball. He proved it. He won a National Championship at Rochester and then retired. I seem to be around those kind of guys a lot.
Him, Rollie Massimino, Barry Brown. I don't know if I'm going to be that some day. He retired, but couldn't retire, so he had to come back and coach at Hobart. Really, he's one of those guys, a basketball genius, and his mind is always going. He really inspired me to love coaching and everything around it, the recruiting, the organization, practice schedules.
I just talked to him yesterday. He would have been here, but his player's getting the Academic National Player of the Year Award. Great guy, man, and outstanding coach. I hope there's a lot of him in me.
Q. When you see the type of player Shabazz has become, you sort of alluded to it earlier, he's sort of a guy, Kevin needs him to score, he scores. Needs a rebound, he rebounds. Generate offense, he does it. Did you see that kind of player four years ago when he was sort of the Robin to Kemba Walker a little bit?
COACH WRIGHT: I didn't, because at that time everybody was leaving early, going to the NBA, and Connecticut had a lot of guys that were leaving early going to the NBA. I thought that next year, his sophomore year, when Kemba left and then he took over, he was great. He was kind of an Allen Iverson type scorer.
But I wouldn't have said he was as complete a player as he is now. As I said, right now, I think he's arguably one of the best guards in the country. Now, how that projects at the next level, I don't want to try to figure out anymore because I don't know how they evaluate that.
But I thought he would be a guy that would go. I really respect him. I admire his decision. I think it was a smart one. I think it's going to pay off for him in the long run in terms of his professional career. I do. I know he'll get a degree, and he's been with Kevin Ollie who knows what to do at that next level. I just hope we can shut him down and he doesn't show everybody that tomorrow.
Q. You and your kids seem more willing to talk finally about the old Big East than Kevin or Jim. Jim even compared it to talking about your ex‑wife. Is it easier from your perspective as the one that kind of stayed in the house to talk about it in nostalgic terms about those old days?
COACH WRIGHT: I guess it is because we stayed, and it is tougher. I know Jim, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim, I know they miss it. But they're also loyal guys to their university. They realize they work for a university, and they go with the decision the university made.
But I know they miss it. It was so special for all of us. And I talked to Jim Calhoun about it the other night. So was Dave Gavitt and all those guys know. I was an assistant at the time watching this. None of us are where we are without Dave Gavitt. Those guys know it. I was working for Rollie Massimino. He knows it. And if it weren't for Rollie, I wouldn't be where I am.
He created this whole thing, college basketball, TV, the excitement. That was his dream. Everybody stays connected to that.
Q. Jay, you alluded to this earlier about you were amazed at how you were able to stay focused on defense even though you're missing shots. You've been able to do that for the last several games, six or seven games. Is it just a mindset that they've kind of got into your defensive concepts and principles?
COACH WRIGHT: As you know following us, earlier in the year, I would say early to mid part of the year, we were great offensively. We were just outscoring people. We were average defensively. But we started to get better and better defensively, and that might have affected our offense.
I really believe with our younger guys, even if we're going to continue to get better, even next year, that you've got to understand that. You can't just live on making shots. If we were a team that lived on making shots, we'd lose that game last night.
So it is our philosophy, and I do think the guys have bought in.
Q. Jay, it's been a while since you've been to the Sweet 16. But can you talk about the survival type instincts that you have to have now. There's still a lot of tournament and how to keep the players focused. What do you have to do to just kind of rewind to that last Sweet 16?
COACH WRIGHT: There's things that you go through‑ Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four‑ that the first time you go through, there's just little things, little distractions, little decisions you make as a coach that don't have anything to do with basketball that impact how they play.
At this point in the season, the guys know what they're doing. They know how to prepare. They know how to go through a scouting report. They know the plays. It's more what their mindset is.
Like you said, they've got to have a survival instinct where whatever's happening in this game, we can't get down. We've got to keep grinding, fighting, give ourselves a chance to win, and you learn that in tournament time.
So kids that are experienced in the tournament, they're usually good at that. That's why a team like Wichita State, I think has got a great shot because those kids have been through it. It's a unique experience. Unless the kids go through it, the coach can know it all he wants, but the kids have to have that mentality.
Q. Jay, guard play is a strength on both teams. How do you see the matchups and the importance of them tomorrow night?
COACH WRIGHT: It is. I think both teams are generally perimeter‑oriented but have good enough people inside that, if left alone, they can score. So I think the matchup of these guards, and I know our ability to defend their perimeter play, and I'm counting Giffey now, the way he's the shooting the ball, I'm counting him as a guard. I think the last time we played him, he's a four or five.
And they'll play him at the four sometimes, so they'll play like four perimeter guys. It's definitely going to be a perimeter matchup. With them, those two little guards are so special. We've got to contain them, man. We've got to contain them.
Q. Jay, you've talked about how much you adore, love this team that you have right here. What would it mean to you to take this team to the Sweet 16?
COACH WRIGHT: The longer you're in it, and you as a coach have experienced these things, it's not as important for you. When you're a young coach, you want to do those things for you, too.
When you're in it a while, you really want to see those kids experience it. You feel like the kids that deserve it, you want to see experience it. But it doesn't happen that way all the time.
But I would love to see this group get there. Like I said, they're such a good group. They play the right way. They're unselfish. I would love to see it for them.
But there's only one way you do it. You've got to go out there and play hard. You've got to defend. You've got to beat really good teams. So we'll see if we're ready.
Q. Jay, I know the guys asking you about your coaching roots here, but I think your first NCAA Tournament game was here, was it not? What do you remember about that? How are you different from what you were then?
COACH WRIGHT: My wife and I were riding over on the bus yesterday, and it was the exact same snowy, lake effect day. It was St. Patrick's Day. It was the exact same day. And we got hammered in this building by Oklahoma State, Eddie Sutton, big country, Doug Gottlieb, of all people. I heard Doug Gottlieb talking on TV the other day about somebody shooting. He couldn't make a foul shot that day. Everybody else made a shot.
We had Speedy Claxton at Hofstra, and he was a great guard. They were big and physical. They had the two guard that went to the NBA, too. Can't think of his name. He came off a ball screen early and came running over to me at the bench. He was like this, and his finger was like that (indicating). I was like, Oh, we're in trouble. We're dead now.
They reset it, but they hammered us. I think Bobby Knight played his last game with Indiana here, too, that same night. It was amazing night for me. It was my first NCAA Tournament, great Hofstra team. We got hammered, but it was a little different then. We were still happy. We got hammered, we were happy to be here. We got hammered, and we got hammered after the game because we were so happy to be here.
Q. How are you different now?
COACH WRIGHT: Because I wouldn't have been happy if we lost yesterday. I would not have been celebrating after that game.
Just, you know, I've been fortunate and blessed with a lot of good players and being at Villanova, that I got to go to a Sweet 16, go to a Final Four. So now when you're going through it, you understand what that's all about. That first time when we came, as a coach, you don't know what you're doing. You go into a meeting, they have a meeting here, and you're sitting there with John Chaney was here, Bobby Knight, Eddie Sutton, and you're sitting in the meeting like, Whoa, I was intimidated before we even got on the court.
Now you're thinking, Okay, I've been to these meetings. We've got to make sure the kids are right, their heads are right. I want these kids to experience this. It's just you're thinking a lot more about getting the kids right. You know what's going on, and you want the kids to experience it.
Q. Kris Jenkins is putting a lot of work to where he is today. Can you just talk about how much he's grown since he stepped on campus.
COACH WRIGHT: Really proud of him, man. He hasn't grown at all since he stepped on campus. He shrunk since he stepped on campus. 40 pounds. He's lost 40 pounds. He worked so hard.
He's a great shooter, and we knew that. He's a freshman that comes in and can't make shots. Playing defense harder than he ever has in his life. Running the floor harder than he ever has in his life. Not being able to eat candy like he has his whole life. All those things are going on, and he can't make a shot.
And he just keeps battling and keeps battling. His mom is a college coach at Jackson State, and she texted me every day. We talk every day. She always says, Keep your foot on his throat. That's her line to me. And we just keep pushing him, and he keeps working.
To see him, in these last four or five games find his shot while he's doing all the other things when we need it has been really exciting for me to see him get to that point. I'm really proud of him.