John Beilein was joined on the podium by Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews after a Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M.
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah, really proud of our teams, because I think we beat a really good team. I think you could see that the other day when they played so well, and beating both Providence and beating North Carolina. They have a lot of weapons on the team, and we had to play really good defense.
In the first half, really did a good job of contesting their shots, and then we shot the ball really well, obviously, in that first half. 14 assists and one turnover in the first half. Just really proud of the way we played to win over a — Billy Kennedy, I just really like him, and I think that team is really good.
Flipped a little bit, probably what happened the other day with North Carolina. We were very good, and they just had a bad day.
Q. Did you think that you guys could go off the way that you did from the three-point line? And did you see something in their defense that kind of led you to believe that that could happen?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: Yeah, we knew that we could pick and choose our spots on offense, and we didn’t shoot too well in Wichita, but we knew that we were confident coming into the game that we could hit get our shots off. We just picked and chose our shots, and we took them.
Q. You guys find your way to the rim a lot, especially Muhammad, Charles and Zavier. Was that intentional, was that something you saw on film that you thought you could exploit or simply what the defense gave you in the moment?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: Yeah, we knew they were a shot-blocking team, but we didn’t want to be intimidated by their size or anything like that. So we weren’t able to get to the basket, we just had to land on two, finish strong or fake and get them up in the air.
Q. Moe, I just talked to some folks in Germany, and they stayed up in the middle of the night and went to the bars, and some people compared it to the NBA Finals in 2011. Are you aware of what’s going on in Germany, and are you excited about that?
MORITZ WAGNER: Yeah, a little bit. My mom told me today that they were having a little party at home, that there’s a bar, apparently in my city and my area, that’s watching the game. A lot of people text me that I haven’t heard from in years. So it’s a really cool thing, and I’m very proud of that, for sure.
Q. When you play like that, who can beat you?
MORITZ WAGNER: I think we’re a very confident team, and I think that’s all that matters. We’ve been playing within ourselves all year and not looking at the opponent too much. Looking at the game plan, trying to execute that, and I think we’ve been believing all year we can beat anyone if we play our best basketball. So, Yep.
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: Yeah, like Moe said, we’re a confident team. We just go out there and play every game like it’s our last, no matter the opponent. We’re just a confident team and we believe in each other.
Q. Moe, you were engaging the fans a couple times there, especially in the first half. How much does this feel like a home game for you, and how much did it just kind of build momentum as things kept going their way and the crowd kept getting louder?
MORITZ WAGNER: Yeah, it’s incredible. This brand, Michigan, is traveling so well. Everywhere we go we have a huge fan base, and it feels like a home game, New York, Wichita, and now Los Angeles. It’s a pretty special thing that I wasn’t aware of. It’s something really cool, something really special.
Q. You guys came out and played with such confidence and such focus, was that confident increased maybe by the fact when you were in Wichita you didn’t play your best, but you still beat two very good teams, or is that just how you approach every game?
CHARLES MATTHEWS: I feel like that’s how we approach every game. With this group of guys, we instill confidence in one another. I can miss five straight shots, and Moe will come in my ear: The next one’s going in. And we do the same for each other.
So when you have a support system like that, you keep shooting, keep playing, and that builds your confidence up every game.
Q. I believe this is four second weekends that you guys have made in six years, two straight Big Ten tournament titles. Without giving away too many secrets, what is it about you, your staff, that allows you guys to prepare your team so well for these single-elimination tournaments, because you guys play phenomenal in them?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, we’ve got really good players, and they have grown over the years and over the year, and they allow themselves to be coached a great deal. But this is — you could be out of tournaments very quickly in one day. The Houston game, I’d be home right now. So you’ve got to get breaks at this time, but even in the Big Ten tournament, we beat Iowa, right, in overtime.
Just if you look at the story of teams, they just get hot, and I look at every year differently, but I wouldn’t put too much into — we’ve got some special ingredient here. You look at some of those teams we went to this level with, the team last year was special. Even went through a plane crash and did everything. The team before that had five NBA first rounders on it. So we have pretty good players.
Q. March Madness, well known for the buzzer beaters and the fantastic, frantic finishes. This late in the tournament to have kind of an easy, blowout win, what’s it like for your team?
JOHN BEILEIN: It never feels easy to the coaches (laughing). Texas A&M was the one that came back on Northern Iowa, was it not? That was like a 10-point game with one minute to go, and they came back and tied it. Am I correct there? You guys should know that, right? It’s probably haunting Northern Iowa forever.
And the 20-point lead, I kept looking, are we winning every four minutes, we weren’t, but we weren’t losing them either. So you can just have games where everything’s just happening your way. You just try to get through the game, and that’s survive. You look at that lead, and it could go south. We just did just enough to win.
But I’d prefer more games like that. I don’t think we’ll see any more, but I’d prefer it.
Q. Last weekend were two of your weaker offensive games of the season. Tonight was one of your best. What did you work on this week, and what was the difference between tonight and last weekend?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah, that was a big question. I think that, first of all, let’s credit Montana and Houston. They really played us very well. But this is — everybody wants reasons why Muhammad-Ali had the same shots he had last week, they didn’t go in. It just happens. There’s not some secret formula.
I did think that we were a little tired there because we had tried to practice enough with the long break. We had tried to practice enough to stay in shape, but maybe we didn’t do enough or we did too little.
But those two teams are really good. They’re elite defensive teams. When we had open shots, we didn’t make it. And I had the same question before, Muhammad-Ali went 11 for 16 at Madison Square Garden, and then went 1 for 11 the next few days. Now, he’s the same guy and the same guy that was open today. It just happens. They’re kids. But thank you.
Q. You guys had 62% shooting with 21 assists. Could you just talk about your unselfish play?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, it’s something that we recruit a culture that we’re united, and we really work at that. We really value the assist as much as the shot. We talk as much about that. The other thing about to get assists, the pass has to be on time and on target. If you saw us early in the year, guys were catching the ball here and here, it’s a thing they just have to work on to make sure that these guys can catch the ball and be ready to shoot it.
So we’ve always had unselfish teams. We’ve always had — I think right now you look at our assist-turnover ratio, it might be 2 to 1 as a team. So we’ve had pretty good teams that take care of the ball, but also value making the extra pass.
Q. You guys, at least before tonight, have been getting a lot of credit for your defense, and justifiably so. Usually it starts with Zavier Simpson. I thought tonight especially Duncan Robinson played really good defense. Did he not get enough credit for that, and how important is his defense to the team?
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is the way he’s guarded the ball screen. We haven’t switched as much with him. We have really put him basically guarding a lot of pretty big four men, and he had to guard one today.
But what we found is this skinny little kid that came from a Division III school has been really good in playing a physical defense in the post. He’s finally gotten to the point where he’s one step ahead of the offense. When he got to this level, some of those times you just wanted to step behind, and that was challenging. But I also think that if he’s not shooting the ball well or he has issues on offense, it would carry over to his defense.
He is so into Michigan winning. That’s all he cares about. Here’s a kid that — you know, a lot of kids can’t even get to an NCAA Tournament. The kid went to the championship game at Williams, right, and now he’s been to the Sweet Sixteen and an Elite Eight. In his four years, he’s had a pretty good four years of college basketball.
Q. How do you practice or coach the team in practice for the next game when they’re having a great shooting percentage right now? They make a lot of decisions that I’m pretty sure were errors and in a tight game could have cost you points.
JOHN BEILEIN: I’m trying to understand the question. How do we coach them tomorrow?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, we only had seven turnovers. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes.
Q. Yeah, I understand. But the fact is that sometimes they rush shots.
JOHN BEILEIN: Yeah.
Q. They took shots —
JOHN BEILEIN: You know what we’ll — that’s a good question. You know what we’ll do tomorrow? We’ll watch 30 minutes of video. We’ll show some highlights, but we’ll show some things that we have to do better in order to win a game. And defensively as well.
So tomorrow, whoever we’re playing, in the morning will be 30 minutes of Michigan and 30 minutes of whoever we’re playing. Then we’ll walk through it tomorrow.
We’ll tell people. Like I thought Muhammad-Ali, we beat the press, and he threw up an 11-foot runner. But the guys got so much into it. They start playing for the crowd a little bit.
Let me talk about that for a minute. This felt like Madison Square Garden to us. We have such a great presence in California at the University of Michigan, and it really felt like that today. I want to say thank you to so many people that were a part of this thing today. It really felt like just like we were on the East Coast, and we’re from the State of Michigan. So that tells you about our great university.
Q. Following up on that a little bit. You talk about never relaxing as a coach. But when you have a guy that comes in the game with two points on the season, makes a three-pointer to end the game, how much fun is that, and what does that feel like for you?
JOHN BEILEIN: You know what I love best? Because I didn’t watch him, and he put his fingers up like that and everything, and I watched our bench, and that shows you, when you have a non-scholarship player that the team likes that much, Austin Davis as well had the dunk, it was going — really did a good play. But C.J. gives us fits in practice. He can really shoot it. But here’s a kid who started out as a manager. We didn’t have room on the roster. He was a manager. And when we had — by the way, he’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Close to a perfect score, I think, on the SAT. He ended up just — he goes into the game, and he just gives us buckets in practice too. Those are great moments. Those are the ones I may remember more than others.