When Baylor coach Scott Drew looks at the Iowa team that the Bears will face in the NIT championship game on Thursday, he sees an impressive group that is playing very well on the defensive end. Today, Drew met with the media to talk about the matchup with Iowa, the play he has been getting from senior Pierre Jackson, and much more.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this NIT championship game conference call. We'll begin today by talking with Baylor head coach Scott Drew.
Coach Drew, start us off with an opening statement about last night's game and tomorrow's matchup against Iowa.
COACH DREW: I know our team is really excited and really honored to be playing in such a prestigious championship. This time of year there's only two teams that go home happy, that's the NCAA champ and the NIT champ. We're hoping we can be one of those two happy teams.
THE MODERATOR: At this time if we could open it up for questions.
Q. Scott, your regular season ended with some disappointment. Could you talk about the team, how the team has changed during the course of the NIT?
COACH DREW: Talking with the coaches that were here at the banquet the other day, it was amazing with a team like each of us had, our bubble had burst, the freedom that maybe our guys just not feeling all that pressure, it seemed like each of our teams have played a lot better.
I think when you feel pressure, you feel the tightness of the moment, a lot of time your shot is what's affected. Making free throws, making jumpers makes us a lot better team. I think each one of our teams have all played better. We're down to two now.
I think if you look at our assist‑to‑turnover ratio, it's been very good since we've been in the NIT tournament. Our shot selection has been good. We've made shots.
This year with our close games, I think we were 2‑8 or something with games decided by 5 or less. The common denominator we came up with when we shot over 70% from the free‑throw line, we won, and when we shot in the 50s and 60s, we lost. A lot of times it can be that simple.
You look at Iowa, who we play tomorrow, they lost a ton of close games against caliber teams like Indiana by 4 points, Michigan by 3 points, Wisconsin in double overtime by 4 points. A lot of times the little things like free throws decide those games during the regular season which show you which tournament you end up playing.
Q. Would you agree that Pierre and Devyn Marble were kind of the straws that stirred the drink for the respective teams?
COACH DREW: I have not seen enough of Iowa to know if Marble means as much as Pierre does for us. I know Pierre is the straw that stirs our drink. From the one game I've seen of Iowa so far, I would concur with you. After I watch four or five more games, I can maybe concur with you on that.
At the end of the season point guard play is so important, especially upperclassmen point guard. You have Pierre, A.J. that are seniors. They don't want any of the games to be their last game, have stepped up their play and been phenomenal.
Q. Scott, can you tell me a little bit about what you see from Iowa, what you feel like their strengths are.
COACH DREW: I know statistically defensively they'll be as good as anyone we played this year. We've played some great ones, Kansas comes to mind right away. But all season long they've held their opponents for the season under 30% from three, 38% from the field. I think they do a tremendous job in contesting shots, being very physical, making sure you don't get easy buckets.
On the offensive end they do a good job taking care of the ball, making sure they get shots without getting a lot of turnovers. Physically they do a good job on the boards with rebounding.
I think it's one of those games, from what I saw in one game I watched so far, I would expect it to be a very physical game. Probably come down to who takes care of the ball and doesn't get the other one easy ones in transition.
Q. Can you also talk about how Cory has been playing in this NIT.
COACH DREW: Cory has been outstanding, starting with the Kansas game. From there on out he's really been on a roll. Cory has had some great games during the season, but his consistency level has gone to another point in the NIT.
I think as a coaching staff we just try to get him the ball more and more because he's been so efficient. He doesn't take bad shots. When he gets the ball, if he's not in a good position, he's going to move it, not force things.
But he's been outstanding, as good as any player in the post‑season in the NIT.
Q. Scott, would it mean something for your program to be able to go out and win this thing? No other Big 12 team's alive either in the men's or women's basketball tournament right now. What would that mean to be able to finish this off and bring home the title to Waco?
COACH DREW: I think first and foremost, we haven't won a NIT championship or NCAA championship at Baylor, so that would be outstanding. In the Big 12 we haven't won an NIT championship. We'd love to do that.
I think there's only two teams that can win the championship and be happy, with the NCAA as far as all summer long, the carryover, just talking about our team about not many people have an opportunity to be in a championship game.
We did that in '09, had a great run. We got to watch Penn State celebrate afterwards. I know we've been focused. We've been making sure that everything we've done is to try to bring home a championship.
I think it would give us great momentum for our program and also a great way to represent our conference and Baylor University.
Q. Scott, points off turnovers, 27‑2 Iowa had. You talked a little bit about how your assist‑to‑turnover ratio has been. How key will that be to keep the ball and keep them from getting transition points like that?
COACH DREW: You hit the nail on the head. That's why early on I said that, because Iowa is so good in the halfcourt defensively.
I think with us, you're not going to win games in the NIT or NCAA if you're not taking care of the ball. Against Providence we had five turnovers. Last night seven turnovers. First and foremost we need to take care of it because good teams are going to punish you on the other end by getting easy buckets.
We need to continue doing what we've done, which is being very fundamentally sound with the basketball. Then hopefully we can get in transition as well because their halfcourt defense is tough.
Q. Scott, how much carryover can there be from an experience like this moving forward to next season?
COACH DREW: Well, the last time we went to the NIT championship, the next year we went to the Elite 8. I don't know if we can guarantee that kind of carryover every year, but that was pretty good.
I think playing in post‑season, especially for your younger kids, gives them the confidence and allows them to continue to improve and grow as a player and prepares them for the next time they're in post‑season.
I know with our underclassmen, in the NIT, going to the two Elite 8s, that really paid dividends. They were able to perform at a higher level. They expected more out of themselves because that experience they garnered from making it all the way to the championship game in the NIT.
Q. Scott, Pierre seems to have followed what he's done basically all season, maybe taking it up watching the last five or six minutes of last night. He's a senior. How has this been as far as a punctuation over the course of his career?
COACH DREW: I think Pierre came in from Southern Idaho winning a national championship, being the national junior college player of the year. Making it last year to the Elite 8, the bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, he's always performed at his highest level.
We needed him to play like he's done to get us to where we are now. I mean, if you look at the Providence game, for example, 13 assists, zero turnovers. You look at Arizona State, 26 points, 16 assists, breaking the NIT, which has been around since 1938. When you're talking about the best point guards in the country, his name has to be in that mix. We are biased, wouldn't trade him for anybody. He's really played at a high level.
I think if we can win this championship, I mean, how many kids go win an NIT championship? So that would be a great way for him to go out.
Q. Obviously you were very disappointed by how that game at Kansas State ended. You had the opportunity to pick things back up. Talk about the resiliency this team has shown after the way the regular season finished up.
COACH DREW: Well, I think you look at it, first four out, last four in for a couple weeks there. You lose the Kansas State game, you lose the Oklahoma State game at the buzzer. The Big 12 tournament was a heartbreaker, to come back like we did in the second half, give yourself a chance to tie the game and go to overtime, then lose at the end.
So this team, to regroup, refocus for the NIT, hats go off to the NCAA committee because they really do a great job in making this a first‑class event, something that the players will remember the rest of their lives.
I know our old team that made it to the championship game, the memories of their careers all start with the NIT championship just because they really do a great job.
I know when the brackets came out, we saw all the great teams in the NIT, it was easy to refocus our guys' attention. But at the end of the day, coaches are only a voice. The peer pressure for 18‑ to 22‑year‑olds is far greater. The leaders, upperclassmen in the locker room, are the ones that really got everybody going, fired up, excited, wanted to make sure that they didn't go out not giving their all and putting themselves in position to make it to New York and possibly win a championship. The upperclassmen really, really did a great job.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let Coach Drew go. Thank you very much and good luck tomorrow night.
COACH DREW: Thank you, guys.