CLEVELAND -- Villanova faces George Mason tomorrow in a second-round game in Cleveland. Coach Jay Wright and Antonio Pena, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher met the media this afternoon. Here is what they had to say, covering a wide range of topics:
Q. Can you go through the experience of being in the Final Four a couple of years ago and playing on that level and just kind of having that to draw from, how much does that help or does it help at all at this point when you are kind of going through this again now?
ANTONIO PENA: It helps a lot. In that situation, we had leaders like Dante and Scotty and Dwayne Anderson and those guys. This time we get a chance to lead and show the underclassmen how to get it done.
COREY STOKES: It does help a lot. We had great leaders before us to teach us what it takes to get there and we're talking to young guys and teaching them the same thing.
COREY FISHER: Yeah, it helps a lot us being there, seeing the guys lead and now us getting a chance, like Antonio said, leading.
For us being there, being under a lot of pressure and playing one of the biggest stages of college basketball and just telling the guys we've been there, just what it takes doing all the little things that count on and off the court.
Q. Corey Fisher, the expectations this year don't seem to be as great at least from the outside world as they were last year in the Final Four. How do you view all that, and how do you plan to go about proving everybody wrong?
COREY FISHER: We can't control none of that, what nobody is saying on the outside.
But like I said, we played good all year. We struggled down the end with losing a couple of games, but we feel we worked hard. And we had great practices coming out here and before this, and I think we're ready.
We're not going to talk. We're just going to prove ourselves, and that's starting with me, Antonio and Stokes and the coaching staff. And we know how good we are and that's really all that matters is knowing how good we are.
Q. For all three of you, Jay over the years, has the way he's coached been the same as your freshman year or does it change from year to year? How would you go about describing that?
ANTONIO PENA: It stays the same. He's going to push the seniors, and he's going to get the best out of them until they're out of here. Every day is going to be a day where you have to learn. Every day is going to be a day where you have to teach other people.
But he stays the same whether you're a freshman or sophomore, junior, you are going to get the same thing out of him every day.
COREY STOKES: Antonio Pena said it all. He's on us every day. Even if we're doing our best job, he's just going to stay on us and motivate us because he wants us to be the best player we could be by the time we graduate.
COREY FISHER: They said it all. Just coming from freshman year, it stays the same, but you're going to make some mistakes coming from high school to playing in the top college basketball league, and when you're being a senior you've got to get it, gotta know everything and gotta help everybody and just being there, just gotta be the coach on the floor, and that's pretty much what all the coaches teach us, and that's something you just gain and just gain everybody's respect.
As you mature through your four years that's something you've got to be when you're a senior, just helping others, not worrying about yourself, just helping others before you.
Q. Fisher, Coach talked after the Rutgers game, the South Florida game, he talked about your psyche and confidence. How hard is it for you guys to keep up that confidence? Because you all seem like you still have that under the face of some tough losses.
COREY FISHER: We have it. We are playing basketball. You're going to win some games, you're going to lose some games. And being -- playing in one of the best leagues in the country in the Big East night out, night in, you're going to go out and compete.
Like I said, we lost some games down the stretch, but our confidence was -- everybody, when you're losing, it's tough. It's like if you're trying to achieve something, you're not going to stop, you're going to keep trying to get better, try to get to something you're trying to achieve. And that's something me, Antonio and Stokes is trying to do. I think our confidence is high right now. Like I said, we're going to come out and let our game speak for itself.
Q. Corey Fisher, I know you had a lot of success in high school and in college as well and this year. How important is it for you to close out your college career on a high note and get over this past month and a half?
COREY FISHER: It's real important. But I'm comfortable in what I'm doing on the court and off the court. And I've got two guys right here, seniors, too, just like me, we're going to go out strong. And we're just going to show that tomorrow.
And I think my four years have been great, and I know how good I am and my teammates know, and I'm just going to keep playing, continue to play basketball.
Q. Corey, you said your confidence is high right now. I'm wondering why, considering you guys have not played well the last couple of months. And in games like Rutgers, how far guys you have let big leads, lost big leads, what is it about having the big lead that you guys haven't been able to hold?
COREY FISHER: About the confidence, we're healthy now. I didn't complain all year. My knee started bothering me going towards the end of the year. And Stokes got hurt. And Antonio got hurt. We've been playing hurt. Making no excuses. And about winning and losing, we played great teams.
Rutgers is a good team. And you can see in the tournament game they played St. John's. It's not about records; it's how you play as a team. Just going down the stretch, we played good and we lost the lead, and we play in one of the best leagues in the country, and you could play any team night out, night in, it's just who brings it, and that's in the Big East you gotta bring it night out, night in.
Q. Corey Stokes and Antonio, we talked about the leadership you guys have carried based on what the Final Four guys, Dante and Dwayne, did. The losses from that are big, but what did you learn from that last year when the season ended on a disappointing note?
ANTONIO PENA: You know, we learned to bounce back from it. We learned that the most important thing is staying together, and whether we win or lose, we have to stay together as a team, and there's going to be times where we have to go through it together. And that's one thing that this year we hoped to give the sophomores just staying together and being positive at all times.
COREY STOKES: We just have a positive attitude, and we just did a great job after the loss last year. Me, Antonio and Fish, we got together and said we'll take care of the young guys and lead them and always keep a positive attitude and work just as hard as we can.
Q. Antonio, how important is it for the guys, the inside guys, you and Mouph and Sutton, whoever is playing, that you guys establish yourself and don't leave it all up to Corey, Corey and Maalik, and the guards tomorrow?
ANTONIO PENA: We played them last year and we didn't leave it up to them. Our job is to come out there and play as hard as we can every night, whether we're playing good inside guys or we're playing a team that's guard-oriented.
But our job is to come out and play every day for each other. So we're going to do our best and just play together as a team, basically.
Q. Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena, after losing that game to South Florida in the Garden, what were the next few hours and days like for you? It must have been very disappointing to lose your last game in the Garden.
COREY FISHER: We were down, lost a game, can't just keep worrying about that game. We came back. We watched some film, and we got better. We continue to play basketball, and that was the positive out of it.
We knew we were going to have games left, whether it was the NCAA Tournament, NIT, whatever it was. We knew we could come back with each other and continue to get better and play basketball.
So we kind of moved on from that, and, like I said, we had a big lead and we lost. And that's something we gotta do better on. And as we keep continuing to practice, that's the same situation we worked on in practice.
ANTONIO PENA: Like Fish said, we have a couple of days off, we watched film and we learned from our mistake. And the only thing to do better was to move on, and we have a new season starting now and we just hope to move forward and keep playing hard for each other.
Q. Corey Fisher, what's your sense of George Mason? Obviously this is a team from a mid-level league. And how much do you know about them, and is there a sense of mystery with a team like this?
COREY FISHER: Kind of didn't get to -- a lot to watch them this year, but just knowing we played them last year in Puerto Rico, they're undersized, but that's kind of like us.
Sometimes, in the Big East, playing against bigger guys and we go small guards, with Stokes being 6'6", can be a big one. Me and Maalik, and I know they're like us, they like to pressure, get out. The guards get in the lane, kick out, shoot 3s, and they've got good post plays.
And I know it's going to be a good game. We beat them at a buzzer with Isaiah Armwood hitting the shot at the buzzer to win the game, and I know they'll come out to play and we'll also do the same thing.
Q. Back to Jay. If a recruit -- you were showing a kid around campus, would you describe Jay as an Xs and Os guy first and rah-rah second, or a rah-rah first and Xs and Os second? And has that equation changed at all in the four years?
ANTONIO PENA: What do you mean rah-rah?
Q. Talking about enthusiasm, uses assistants to do the Xs and Os. He's the high priest, if you will.
ANTONIO PENA: He's involved in everything. He's not just leaving it up to his assistants to do anything. Coach Wright, he's a mentor for me. He's taught me so much, not only on the court but off the court, just teaching me how to become a man and teaching me the little things about basketball that everybody should learn.
So he is just involved in everything as far as Xs and Os and the rah-rah, as you said.
Q. Corey Fisher, before you had said that you knew you were going to play another game after the USF loss, whether it was the NIT or NCAA. Did the NIT ever enter your mind during that?
COREY FISHER: No, not at all. I was confident. My teammates was confident. The body of work that we did earlier in the season and throughout the season, like I said, we play one of the best leagues in the country. We went nine and nine. For a lot of people that's not good. But playing in one of the best leagues, you can be satisfied with that, and we try to achieve for better.
But just knowing we have basketball left, and just the body of our work and the style of play we played, we knew we had a chance, a good chance, and we were real positive with making the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Corey and Antonio, you both said you got better after that loss in the ensuing days. How? What got better?
COREY FISHER: Number one, health. Just getting more time, getting in the cold tub and stretching and just everybody getting healthy.
Me and Stokes, Antonio and other guys playing through injuries, that was number one. Number two, just clearing our minds, just getting back to being ourselves. And staying as a family and not listening to nothing on the outside, and just getting a few days off just to practice and work on situations like that. Like having the lead in practice and things going against you and not playing when things are going bad. That's something we worked on and I think we got better and it's going to help us in tomorrow's game.
Q. Fisher, you said a lot over the last few weeks, you made references to kind of blocking out what people say and not really being concerned. Do you think there's people out there that kind of don't look at what you guys have done in a fair way, and maybe have been unfair the way they've evaluated this team?
COREY FISHER: Yeah, you're always going to get that. If we would have won them games, everything would have been different. They would have been talking about going into this tournament as we we're hearing being the underdog. Being the underdog is good, but we don't consider ourselves being the underdog. We know how good we are. We struggled late. If we would have won them games, then you might hear from somebody else, Villanova can win this, can win that.
But you can't get into that. You can't control that. And that's -- everybody has their own decision. Like I said, we're going to continue to play basketball.
COACH WRIGHT: We're very happy to be in the tournament, very happy to be in Cleveland, and just had a good practice over at Cleveland State. And ran into Buzz Williams and it was really nice to see him and not have to be thinking about playing them. I can tell all the Big East guys are a lot more relaxed, we're not playing against each other.
But it's funny I saw Buzz and George Mason. That's kind of like a Marquette team, a really tough team to guard and very, very well coached and really tough, really mentally and physically tough. So we know we have a really tough game tomorrow and we're looking forward to it.
Q. Jay, your team has been to a Final Four and last year had the disappointment of going out in the second round. What lessons do you think that the seniors will carry over from the Final Four team and from the disappointment of last year?
COACH WRIGHT: I think that they realize how fragile all of this is and how to appreciate every moment. The senior class, in their first year, went to a Sweet 16, and it was kind of a satisfying Sweet 16. Then they went to a Final Four, and I think last year they kind of felt like it just happens. You come to Villanova and it just happens.
And I think last year they learned it doesn't just happen. It's very, very fragile. And I do think this team is coming into this tournament and it's because of our seniors with a great appreciation for being here and a respect for the process of preparing all the things we're doing here today. It's very business-like attitude this morning.
I really like that, and I've liked that about this team all year.
Q. Corey Fisher was talking about that the team is still really confident. During the time off you had between the Big East tournament and now, is that something you really had to work on with them was getting the confidence high, or were they there already?
COACH WRIGHT: I think those seniors have remained confident. But it is something that as a staff we have addressed, definitely. We had a lot of time. Time does heal wounds. The further you get away from the regular season and the more you're engaged in this tournament, it seems that everyone's mindset is about being in the tournament again.
George Mason, what a great game it's going to be. How fortunate we are to be here. So there's just a lot more positives now, a lot more confidence going into this game than there was a week and a half ago.
Q. Jay, you had mentioned before that kind of the feeling last year was this just happens at Villanova; you come to Villanova and you go to the Sweet 16. How much of an adjustment has this been for you to not -- to not be so, I guess, bulletproof anymore?
COACH WRIGHT: You mean the season? Yeah. You know, I think we all get better at what we do based on our experiences. There was a confidence level, as a staff, that we all had in what we do.
We had had some success for a number of years here. I think I've learned and our staff has learned a great perspective about a long-term approach to your program.
You look at any successful programs, they've had great runs, and then what is -- what defines a bad run.
I was reading there the New York Post yesterday and there was an article about St. John's and what a great year they had and how they've been restored to prominence. I just happened to read that the record was 21-11. And it was the same as ours. In Philly 21-11 and Villanova is a horrible season. But that's okay. I'm just learning. We're all learning about. We're all learning that that's part of what you have to deal with.
And that's what I'm most proud about this team. There's a lot of things on the court, defense, rebounding, shot selection, I'm not happy about in the past. But I'm really proud of how these guys have handled expectations, how they've handled this run here, and I think they've put us -- because they've handled it so well, they put us into a position to really enjoy this tournament and really be confident going into it.
Q. Jay, I'm guessing as a basketball lifer, as a coach, that you're very conversant with the history of the tournament and how teams like George Mason have written their names into the book. Do you think your players are as conscious of how dangerous a team George Mason is and what their history is, or do you think it's just another opponent to them?
COACH WRIGHT: I think usually players' memories go back about three or four years. I think that's about the extent of what they know about teams and the tournament.
I asked them a question today that they didn't know. I can't think of it. It shocked everybody. Oh. I asked them today in a meeting this morning if they knew what WFAN was in New York. None of them knew, not even the New York guys. So what the kids think of is unique.
But I think our guys played these guys last year and what they know about these guys is a respect. We were down 13 in that game. They know that. And they remember that. And we hit a pretty lucky shot to take a lead and at the end we had an unbelievable defensive position.
So their respect is simple. This team last year kicked us pretty good. We were lucky to win, and I think that's what their perspective is.
Q. Jay, I take it you don't feel 21-11 is a horrible season. Do you feel you've greatly underachieved this season? And because of that, how do you view the guys on this team?
COACH WRIGHT: I think you and I have talked about this. We never put a goal on where we want to be at the end of the season in terms of Final Fours, Big East championships. We always look at a season as a journey and we want to be the best team -- I'm saying this to you for the 80th time, but we want to be the best we can at the end of the year given the circumstances, injuries, tough breaks, tough calls. That's what a season is, is how you endure that. So going into the season if you would have asked me if we would have been better than 21-11, I would have said yes, I would have thought we would have been.
Having gone through what we have, the best I can do is evaluate how our guys have handled it. I think basketball-wise we could have done some better things. We could have been a better defensive team. I think we could have executed better offensively. But given everything we've been through, our schedule in the Big East, everything, I am extremely proud of these three seniors. The fact that everybody has stuck together and we're in an NCAA Tournament right now and they're fired up about playing and our team is confident in what we do, that's what I'm excited about them. And that's going to be their legacy in my mind.
Q. Jay, earlier you used your staff a couple times in a row, and there's a page in your media guide, as you know, of your staff, except they're somewhere else. So as a coach, how does that work? Do you guys have a meeting to decide how you're going to approach these guys psychologically, and how has it worked for you over the term of these three seniors in terms of how you've coached this team? Has it altered at all? If not, how does it work?
COACH WRIGHT: We definitely -- it's very important that we all have the same mindset within the program. So we meet as a staff and I talk to the staff about what we want to -- what's the psyche of the team, because they have really good relationships with the guys. We even talk with the captains with the staff about what's the psyche of the team.
And then we go into a team meeting and we all come to a consensus of where are we. We constantly evaluate perspective, where are we, what's the reality. After the South Florida game, here's the reality. We had a 16-point lead. We blew a 16-point lead. We didn't have Mouph. We did everything right down the stretch. We missed a couple of free throws but then we made a bad play. That's the reality. Where do we go from here? And then we address. We always talk about attitude, what's our attitude going forward. And that's constant after every game. It was after we got chosen for the NCAA Tournament. The same thing: Where are we?
The season's over. We got a 9 seed. You know, we talked about it a few years ago, we were the last team in, which if we would have been this year we couldn't have argued. But we went to a Sweet 16 that year. So this is where we are. What's our attitude going forward. Everybody is healthy, we're having good practices, we're fired up, let's go. New season.
Q. Are you more or less hands-on, the staff over the years?
COACH WRIGHT: That's a good question. It changes each year based on the experience of the staff. Couple of years ago we had a lot of first-year guys. Pat Chambers got a job and Brett Gunning got a job, Eddie Pinckney got a job. This staff now, we've got a good core right now. They've got a good feel.
So a little bit less hands-on than maybe last year. But I'm usually very hands-on.
Q. Is there some level of achievement in terms of Eights, 16s and maybe even Final Fours, multiple Final Fours, that the Big East needs to justify the 11?
COACH WRIGHT: I love that topic. I don't think how many Final Fours you get to how many final Eights determine how strong the conference is.
I think it's very easy to evaluate. 11 teams throughout the course of the regular season were worthy of being the top 68 teams. I think that's clear.
How the teams perform will, in the end, show if the league was top heavy or not. Did you have dominant teams? And I think that's what's great about the tournament. I think it really does show that. I don't think how you perform in the tournament warrants discussion of whether you were worthy or not.
I think it's really clear. I think the NCAA does a great job. They're very transparent. They show you what the criteria is. And I think this year, more than any, I think they did a great -- with 68 teams, this is my personal opinion, it's a perfect number this year. I think it was pretty clear -- I thought it was very clear.
In '09, if you remember Connecticut, Villanova went to the Final Four. I think West Virginia, Louisville and Pitt were in the final Eights that year. I think that showed you had really dominant teams. We played Pitt to get in. Pitt was just as good as us.
We had dominant teams. And I think it will show.
Q. Corey Fisher was talking about a tougher time being the Final Four year when you lost six or seven in a row, he couldn't remember what it was. Have you seen them use that experience as they've gone through? And how has in particular Corey maybe learned from it and matured from it and used it this time?
COACH WRIGHT: The Final Four team lost five in a row when they were juniors, and that's what Corey was referring to. And Corey was a freshman that year. It was in the middle of the season. It was a little bit more disastrous than this year's, believe it or not, because it was the beginning of the year and it looked like we were never going to come out of that.
And so I know Corey, the two Coreys and Antonio, have referred to that a lot with this team. And I think that's given them confidence that, hey, we've done this before and we've come out of this before. And it's definitely given them confidence.
One of the things I want to say about Corey Fisher, I think if Corey Fisher was at Villanova at the same time that Mike Nardi was at Villanova with Randy Foye or after Randy Foye and there wasn't that line of Foye, Nardi, Lowery and Reynolds, he's kind of at the end where everybody expects him to be better than all of them. I think he's as good as any of them, but he's at the end of the line and everybody expects him to be John Wall. And I'm just incredibly impressed at how he's handled all this. There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was I thought pretty tough on a college kid.
But he's handled it great. And that's part of being a Villanova guard. It was a well-written article. I don't have any problem with it. But it was tough on a college kid. He's handled it great. And I'm just amazed at how he has handled the expectations, the pressure, some disappointment and injury, and I'm really proud of him for that.
Do I think he could have had a better senior year numbers-wise, yes, but he's still our leading scorer, leading assist guy. Great leader for our team, and he's battled through tendonitis. And I'm just proud as hell of him. As I said, it's part of his legacy here at Villanova is that he's really grown up as a man with a lot of pressure on him.
Q. When Fish was up here earlier, he said in the aftermath of losing to South Florida that they knew there was something else after that, whether it was here, and he also mentioned the other three-letter tournament. Did you ever bring it up to them, hey, this is a possibility, or did you ignore it, just bring it to the forefront? How did you address it?
COREY FISHER: We never talk about the NCAA Tournament during the season ever. And I don't follow it. We have good people around us, Mike Sheridan, and our people, Bob. I know in the end they're going to tell me where we are, so I don't even follow it. So we never talked about it.
After we lost, we had a meeting the next day. And I said to them, Guys, whether we're in the NIT, NCAA, it's out of our hands right now. So what we can do is rest up, get healthy and get better in this next week, wherever we're playing and be excited about playing.
After the meeting the assistant said to me, Coach, these guys know they're not in the NIT, so don't talk to them about it. I said, How do they know? Because I don't follow it. They read this stuff, they watch, everybody's saying we're not close. I don't do it. So they're so much more informed. They're watching ESPN every day. They're on websites.
So they know, as I said, the NCAA is transparent. They know what the criteria is. Those guys follow it. They knew. So they never really did worry about it at all. I worried about it for a day after USF, and then when I started looking at the criteria, and we started analyzing it, we said, We're going to be all right. Our resumé is good enough.