Media Day At Birmingham | March 15

Q. Coach, one win away from 20 wins once again five, six, seven years in a row. Talk about this team and the uniqueness of this group of guys.

COACH McCAFFERY: I think, Bob, coming into the season, we thought we could be a good team. But, you know, we lost a lot from last year, he was the 4th pick. You lose a guy that scored 2,000 points. We lost quite a bit. And other people had to step up in different roles, and they did that. And Filip Rebraca I think took his game to a whole new level which was critical to our success. One of the main reasons why we are here. I thought Connor McCaffery had a spectacular season across the board, as a leader filling the stat line. You know, our point guard position was handled primarily by Jordan Bohannon for a long time. Somebody else had to step up. Kind of did it, obviously, with Ahron Ulis. A little bit of point guard by committee there: We played Tony there, we played Connor there, we played Dasonte Bowen there. Kris Murray had to take that next step, which he did. You know, his entire life he’s been playing with his brother, and now, you know, more of his show and he put up incredible numbers, really consistent. All those guys were. You know, we got a spectacular season, which I think we thought we would after we moved Tony Perkins into the starting line-up last year. Last part of the season you figured he would come in and have the year he did. That was critical. I thought the guys were locked in from day one. You know, we start practice in June now, as you know. And I thought really came together. Our experienced guys and our younger guys. Great attitude in the locker room. And it’s a fun team to coach.

Q. Fran, how big was it to get Patrick going I think over the last couple games, had 23 against Nebraska. Kind of looked like his legs were under him. I know you said he was practicing well.

COACH McCAFFERY: He was. He had been practicing well. I don’t think like you said when he first came back that he did have his legs underneath him. He wasn’t the same. But he was still fairly productive due to his skill set and his experience. But he’s really stepped up in the last couple weeks and played very well. He’s a veteran guy, a guy who has been a starter, capable of being a starter, double-figure scorer. I think his defense and rebounding have really improved. And it gives you another weapon offensively along the Payton Sandfort on the perimeter. Those two guys coming off the bench. Payton, of course, Sixth Man of the Year. Also took a step — when we were talking about the team in reference to Bobby’s question, he was spectacular all season as well.

Q. Coach, could you talk a little bit more about the senior leadership that you’ve gotten from Filip and Connor, especially as the season has been up and down from a wins/losses perspective. How they have kept it steady?

COACH McCAFFERY: I think it’s absolutely critical that those guys led the way they did. Because you’re right, in our league being as balanced as it is, it can feel really good one day and not so good the next day. It’s hard to win on the road in any league, but in our league it’s really difficult. And the ability to stay the course and to remain professional and business-like in your approach every night in this league is not going to happen unless you have that kind of leadership. Especially with your young guys, when you need them to contribute the way that they have, it’s the communication, not only on the court as it’s happening in realtime, but in the locker room, after a tough loss, on the bus, on the plane. Having those kind of conversations from someone other than the coaching staff is what develops confidence. And that’s the only way a young guy is going to produce at this level. So, you know, coaching is important but leadership from your seniors from Connor and Filip, there’s just no substitute for that.

Q. Coach, let’s talk about the matchup. Auburn, Bruce Pearl spent time at Iowa. Elaborate a little bit on that relationship and what the type of style of the game we’re going to see tomorrow.

COACH McCAFFERY: I got to know Bruce when he was at Iowa and I was at Notre Dame. Got to know Coach Davis well, Gary Close, Rich Walker, that staff. I have been friends with Bruce ever since. Done a spectacular job everywhere he’s been. They run really good stuff. You know, I think they execute well at the half-court level, they can play fast, they can grind it at halfcourt if they want to. But I think ultimately they defend, they are going to put pressure on the ball, they are going to challenge you on your actions. And then also fight you on the glass. A lot of times when you get to this point in the season, everything that happens — a lot of times it comes down to rebounding the ball, and they are really good at it. So that’ll be a challenge for us.

Q. I know Bruce Pearl’s team are very heavy on ball pressure and physicality, is there any team that you guys have played this year that resembles the style of defense that they like to play?

COACH McCAFFERY: You know, I think they are different than teams in our league but there are components that are similar. Rutgers is one that comes to mind, half-court defense. Northwestern, half-court defense. And then you have teams like Maryland that are really quick and athletic like them. Indiana, same thing. So we’ve seen a lot of what we’ll see in different ways from different teams in our league.

Q. Talk about playing in Auburn. Hour away from campus or hour and a half.

COACH McCAFFERY: Yeah. I don’t think anybody is going to think much about that. Obviously, from a fan’s perspective, fans want your team closer. So for them, I’m sure they are excited about I. But as far as how we look at this game and how we prepare will be the same. We see a lot of hostile environments in our league.

Q. Connor, now that you’ve gotten the chance to dissect Auburn’s team, what stands out about their defense? They are one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

CONNOR McCAFFERY: Yeah. Their pressure. They really fly at shooters, so we definitely need to adjust throughout the game. But they really get up in your space, they are athletic, they are fast. Obviously, we have all seen that. Just going to need to be a disciplined game, try to not let them speed us up.

Q. We’ve heard a few times that the team wants to take sort of a business-like approach for preparing for this game but also you guys as seniors, you two in particular, this is sort of a big deal. How do you balance that emotion with the attempt to, you know, to prepare at a normal way?

FILIP REBRACA: I mean, it’s definitely difficult. It’s emotional. Speaking for myself, it could be one of my last games as a Hawkeye. And one of the last games in my college career. I’m out here enjoying my time, and I got to still stay focused, because if we win I feel like we can make a run. So just executing the game plan and having a business-like approach, like you said is key.

CONNOR McCAFFERY: For me as well, this is — last year I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back or not. Using my COVID year. It all hit me at once after last year because I didn’t really think about that kind of stuff. So it ended up not being great for me. This year I try to deal with it better, kind of look big picture throughout the entire season and handle it early on, and as we wind down — we only have a couple games, I think six possible games left to go. So my career obviously coming to an end and just kind of deal with that as it goes.

Q. Obviously, Kris, top NBA prospect, how are you balancing that and making sure you prepare for NCAA Tournament with your teammates?

KRIS MURRAY: Yeah. I think it’s something that I have to look at after the season. So right now I’m focusing on my team, just trying to do whatever we can to win these few games. Throughout the season, obviously that could be in the future, but honestly I take it game by game, enjoy this time with my teammate. Got a couple guys, it will be the last time around. Enjoy it with them and enjoy it with the whole team.

Q. Filip, I mean, Auburn is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country, especially down low. Is there a defense you have played against this season that reminds you of it, and how do you prepare to go up against it?

FILIP REBRACA: I’m not sure. I feel like there’s in the Big 10 we have teams that are good shot blockers. Rutgers, Omoruyi is a good shot blocker. Trayce, too. So we have great players too that are elite shot blockers. You have to take time and be patient. But I don’t think this is anything that will — I mean it’s not like we haven’t seen it before, but we respect that they are elite at it so we have to understand when you drive in there what’s going to happen.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports