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Clemson Basketball

Brownell: 'Don't just be happy to be here, We're good enough to go to the Final Four'

March 28, 2024
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Clemson head coach Brad Brownell led his 2018 team to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Sweet Sixteen but fell 76-80 to No. 1 seed Kansas in Omaha, NE. This time the Tigers are in Los Angeles, CA scheduled to face No. 2 seed Arizona (27-8, 15-5) on Thursday at the Crypto.com Arena. 

No. 6 seed Clemson (23-11, 11-9) finished fifth in the ACC after an up-and-down conference slate, losing 6 of the first 10 before rallying to win seven of the final 10 regular season games. 

New Mexico and Baylor were both held under their scoring averages of just over 80 points in rounds one and two of the NCAA Tournament by Brownell's defensive schemes but Arizona is even more dangerous with a 87.6 ppg average. 

The Wildcats are led in scoring by UNC transfer guard Caleb Love (18.1 ppg) and center Oumar Ballo paces them in rebounding (10 rpg). Those two players must be contained and the Cat's three-point shooting (37 percent) and rebounding (42.5) limited for Clemson to advance to its second-ever Elite Eight.

Brownell spoke to the media on Wednesday before Thursday's 7:09 p.m. ET tipoff on CBS. 

On having the support from the players and administration and how much it means to him:

"It always means a lot when your players have your back. It's just special, right? I have tremendous relationships with my guys, and certainly, PJ is somebody I've been. I started recruiting him when he was probably 15, or 16 years old. So we've been together forever. Competed against Joe. I think it speaks to Joe's Clemson experience and how much he's really enjoyed being a part of our program.

"In terms of administrative support, I've been lucky. I've had great support for 14 years. I think we've had a consistent program. We'd like to have made the NCAA Tournament a couple more times. Last year was excruciatingly painful as we were one of the last teams left out. [It] happened to us in 2019 as well."

"So we're moving the needle. We're continuing to try to push it forward. But I've been very fortunate in my 14 years at Clemson that I've had Graham Neff, who is my third athletic director. We have a great relationship and have had for a long time. He was the number two man for a long time under Dan Radakovich, and he was my sports supervisor, so we've been close. I'm extremely grateful for that and having had the opportunity as long as I have to be able to coach at a place I really enjoy."

On his message to players who have not experienced a Sweet 16 (Girard and Syracuse lost 46-62 to Houston in the 2021 Sweet Sixteen):

"Yeah, don't just be happy to be here. We talked -- at one point during the season, I think it was in January when we were struggling. I had a really hard meeting with our players. I told them we were teetering a little bit. We had an unbelievable November and December. We were, I don't know if it's just so excited to play, and we played a really hard schedule, and we won a bunch of games. We had, like, no adversity, and we were 10-1 and playing great. Then came back from Christmas and got smacked in the mouth by some teams in our league. And had a hard time stringing some games together. We lost a bunch of close games, one-point games.

"At one point I told our team, I think we were 4-6 in the ACC, and I said, guys, we need to understand something. I think some of you guys think we're the 10-1 team. Right now we're the 4-6 team. If we go 4-6 again, we won't be playing in the NCAA Tournament. I said, that would be a shame because of what you did the first two months of the year, but also because I think we're good enough to go to the Final Four."

On what Syracuse transfer Joe Girard has meant to the program:

"He's meant a lot. We knew we had a good team coming back -- Chase, Ian, PJ especially. We had three really good players. We lost Hunter Tyson, who's playing for the Denver Nuggets, and Brevin Galloway, two starters. We wanted a wing with size, so we went out and got Jack Clark, somebody who could defend and rebound. Then we wanted some scoring because Hunter was a first-team all-league, scoring-type guy.

"What I'm really proud of is I think the guys within our program brought the transfers in with open arms. And I think that's maybe a bigger deal than people realize. It's great to want to bring in a bunch of transfers, but the guys in your program have got to be up for that too or you're going to have bad chemistry issues. We haven't had that. PJ and Chase, I think, recruited Joe about as hard as we could to get him here partly because we knew what kind of player he was and that he was going to be a good fit."

On facing Arizona's frontcourt trio of Oumar Ballo (7'0, 260), Motiejus Krivas (7'2 260), and Keshad Johnson (6'7, 225):

"They're tremendous. They've got a lot of really good players. Certainly what you're impressed with is they have balance. They play with pace. They certainly have an inside presence. They go right to Ballo on the high-low right away on almost every single possession.

"Johnson is super athletic, competitive, tough, beat you off the bounce, can make a 3. Can guard 5 men. He does everything, switches on the guards.

"They just, as you would expect the team who's had as much success as they have, top 10 team throughout the year, they've got a lot of really good players. They've got experience both on the perimeter and in the post."

 
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