INDIANAPOLIS — USC’s Isaiah White and coach Andy Enfield spoke at a press conference following their 82-68 win over Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
They recapped the game and USC advancing to the Elite Eight on Tuesday.
Below is a full transcript of what White and Enfield said on Sunday.
COACH ENFIELD: It was a great win for us. Oregon’s just an outstanding team. They were playing so well. I think they won 11 out of 12. We thought they were a top-ten team in the country. So, congratulations first to Coach Altman and their players. They had a terrific season.
It was a little unfortunate that we had to play a Pac-12 opponent. But the nice thing we’re both here in the Sweet 16, and I thought our team played exceptionally well tonight against a very good basketball team.
Q. Seemed like a very subdued celebration from the team for winning in the Sweet 16. What does that say just about the focus these guys are playing with and how they’re not, you know, getting too ahead of themselves?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, it’s a big moment in USC basketball. It’s our second Elite Eight in the last 60 years — 2001 and obviously now. So it’s a huge win for our players, our program.
But at the same time our players, they are very mature. They do celebrate and they have fun. But we have another game to play on Tuesday. And we’ll go give it our best shot.
Q. I know you built this team kind of with defense in mind, but does it feel like over these last three games, it seems like even everything else is coming together around that defense?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, we’re top five in the nation in defense. But we’re also top 15 in the nation in offense. So if you look at our metrics, we are a good offensive basketball team. Obviously when we make 3s, or even better. We’ve been shooting the ball well in this tournament, which is great to see.
So, yeah, we’re defense first. Our players understand that. That’s how we’ve been able to have 25 wins this year. It’s defense first. And offense, we have to move the ball and make open shots.
Q. Why did you choose to play a zone, and were you surprised at how effective it was in the first half?
COACH ENFIELD: We started out the game man-to-man. They have five forwards and guards. They went small ball to start the game. They were making some 3s. We have trouble — we have two bigs in the game with Chevez, Isaiah and Evan at all the times.
It’s hard to guard those guys all over the perimeter. We didn’t want to start switching their ball screens. Amauri, he could pick-and-pop. He got off to a good start. So the zone at least kept Evan in the middle of the lane and our guards and 4s to get after their shooters.
Q. Looking ahead to Tuesday, obviously Gonzaga, top team in the country. That said, I think we’ve seen your team gaining confidence, kind of going throughout — as you progress in this tournament. How much confidence do you feel like your team will be having going in to that game Tuesday that you guys can knock Gonzaga?
COACH ENFIELD: Gonzaga is an exceptional team. And both teams are playing well. So I guess we’ll see on Tuesday.
Q. You mentioned the historical significance. How much did you talk about that with your team this week? And even though you still have more to go here, can you put in perspective what impact you think this is already going to have on the program moving forward?
COACH ENFIELD: We haven’t even thought about that. But I did make a statement that it’s the second Elite in the last 60 years for USC basketball. It’s a huge win for our program. And I think, as we built this thing, Jason Hart, associate head coach, and Chris Capko and Kurtis Schultz, they’ve been with me all eight years. And the other staff members, Coach Mobley — we have a terrific assistant coaching staff that have tried to build teams year after year and develop players. I’m so proud of our coaches.
I’m only as good, as the head coach, as my staff, and of course our players. When we only had three returning players this year, we had a lot of work to do. So this team is built with transfers, graduate transfers, freshmen and some returnees and they meshed together. My assistant coaches deserve a ton of credit for this.
Q. What did Tahj Eaddy’s shot to end that 11-0 run mean to you guys?
COACH ENFIELD: Evan missed the front end of one-on-one. I think we missed another easy shot, so that was a big 3 for him. I think we were down, I believe the lead was down to nine, he brought it back to 12. Then we got one more stop, that kind of sealed the game. It was a big shot for him.
Q. They got off to a good start early on. How did you guys flip the game on them?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, Oregon I thought was playing like a top-10 team in the country. They got off to a good start because they’re a really good basketball team. They’re exceptional offensively. They spread the floor. They have five forwards and guards that can all shoot the 3. They can all drive and kick out. So they made some shots early.
And then we had to switch the zone. I don’t think we could guard this team man-to-man when they go five guards unless they put their big in and their big centers only play limited minutes. When they’re small I don’t think we could guard them man-to-man and win the game. That’s why we went to the zone.
Q. I was just going to ask, what about this game and the way you navigated it indicated that you would need to switch from zone to man-to-man? What went into that thought process?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, I kind of just touched on that. When they had small ball in there, meaning they had all those guys, five guys who could shoot the 3 and spread the floor out, they were playing a five-out offense, and we have two bigs in ours. So the last thing we want to do is have Evan and Isaiah Mobley and Chevez chasing the guards, start switching everything on the perimeter and bring the bigs away from the basket.
So the zone kept Evan in the middle. When Chevez came in, it kept Chevez or Isaiah in the middle. And then we rotated accordingly depending how we played the zone. We switched it up how we played the wings and also rotations in the zone. I thought our guys did a great job.
Q. You touched on the confidence level the team’s playing with right now. And outside of that maybe five-minute stretch in the second half. How much better can this team play?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, we’re 25-7. So I guess we have been pretty consistent all season. We are playing very well right now. We’re making shots and playing exceptional defense. We just held three very good teams to pretty low numbers from the field. I’m sure — I don’t have a stat sheet in front of me, but the last two games, Drake and Kansas shot 23 from the field. And tonight they probably shot a little more because they got so many offensive rebounds late.
But we played three really good offensive basketball teams. And so defensively we’re playing at a very high level. And offensively, as I said, we’re top 15 in the nation in offense as well. And I think our offense, since we shared the ball and we’re making some open shots, it’s opening up the floor up for everybody.
Q. When you go back over the season, the evolution of the zone, not just tonight, but as you started putting it in during practice and during the first part of the season, how encouraged were you about whether it was going to be this type of weapon? And when did it really turn the corner for you?
COACH ENFIELD: That’s a good question, because we did put the zone in in training camp. We probably played over 90 percent man throughout the season, if you look at our numbers. The last three games we had to go to the zone.
We played three very similar teams — Drake, Kansas and Oregon. We played three similar teams, meaning they had four guards or forwards at least, sometimes five in the game, where they tried to dribble-drive us. They shoot a lot of 3s. So we went to zone in this tournament out of necessity because we’re big.
I don’t like going small too often because I think our defense is much better when we stay big. And that’s proven out throughout the season. But our man-to-man defense has been terrific most of the year. But I think we’ve gone to the zone out of necessity here. We played 90 percent man the entire season. Now we’re playing more zone here in the NCAA Tournament because of the matchups we have and how we have to guard these shooters.
Q. You mentioned just how this team was put together during the offseason with the transfers and freshmen and just kind of almost starting from scratch. What has it been like for you as a coach to watch this team grow together and now really peaking at the exact right time?
COACH ENFIELD: Really proud of our players. To have such an unusual team, meaning we only had three returnees and to have everybody — we didn’t meet these guys until school started in August, late August, if you remember. We had COVID restrictions. We couldn’t even bring them on campus and could not work them out.
So to have guys believe in our program says a lot from the players before us because we were an established program. They believed they could come and help us this year with the opportunity of only three returnees. So everybody we recruited, we could say you’ll probably get some playing time because we don’t have anybody else on our team.
So they took a chance to come here and unfortunately we were not able to meet with their parents, their families and them. We didn’t meet our players until late August. We recruited them. We had a telephone and via Zoom. Once training camp started we had to figure out the strengths and weaknesses because we didn’t know we had never coached these guys before.
We switched a lot of things defensively and offensively to use our strengths because we had a brand new team. And our players bought in, they bought in defensively first. They’re very mature. They’re a lot of fun to be around. And it doesn’t happen too often, but it’s hard to think of a day that we didn’t enjoy walking into the gym and practicing and getting after it this year, because our players bring energy. They compete. We have very hard practices.
But they’re also so much fun to be around. So I can’t say enough about this team how they’ve come together, the leadership they’ve shown and how hard they work. And I think you’re seeing that in the tournament here. They’re playing really well together and they cheer for each other and they play well on both ends of the court.
Q. Can you share some perspective on kind of the moment Isaiah White came on your radar when you were looking at transfer targets and the potential you saw in him at that time?
COACH ENFIELD: He went to Damien High School which was in California. In fact we have another player we signed, Malik Thomas, coming in from Damien. It’s a powerhouse. Isaiah had an unusual road. He went to junior college and went to Utah Valley. He got married. Just had his first baby. So he’s a father. And what a wonderful young family they have. And so proud of him to come here to graduate school and have a young family.
And I know his wife and his baby, they mean so much to him. So I think to see that — so when he came on the radar, as I said, we had three returning players in April. We said, wow, we don’t even have enough to put five on the court. So we had to get after it in the transfer market, at least evaluate. And what we noticed is we knew he was from California. He was a really good person. We did a lot of research on him, talked to about 10 or 15 people. And they all just raved about him as a quality individual. And he’s exceeded all our expectations. He’s just the energy guy and what a nice young man. I think you just talked to him here before me and I’m just — we’re all just so proud of him.
Q. Talking about Isaiah, he’s been an energy guy for you all season but what changes when he scores like he did tonight?
COACH ENFIELD: I got a stat sheet. He was 8-for-10 from the field, 4-of-5 from 3 and had 22 points. Against Kansas he was great as well. When he scores we’re a whole different team. When we can make 3s — we made 11 against Kansas, made 10 tonight — when we can shoot the ball at this level we’re tough to beat. I think some of our losses this year we’ve been very inconsistent from the perimeter. And we’re shooting the ball well as a team right now. So he’s a big part of that.
Q. You talked about having to use the zone out of necessity. How have you seen that improve over these three games?
COACH ENFIELD: Well, we’re getting better at it. We haven’t used it a lot lately. And we do practice it. But we didn’t practice zone for well over a month, until probably right before the tournament. We knew Drake or Wichita State, we’d probably have to play a little zone. We didn’t expect to play that much. But we got better and better here this week because we played it so much in these three games. And, as I said, we played about 90 percent man throughout the entire season.
I do want to mention one thing here. Evan Mobley was our fourth-leading scorer tonight, but he had six assists. And against Kansas he was our fifth-leading scorer and he had five assists. So that just goes to show you how unselfish Evan Mobley is and what a great player he is. He takes what the defense gives. He has confidence in his teammates, and that goes throughout the whole team.
He leads us with that. When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and willing passer you can win a lot of games like that.
Q. As well as you guys are playing right now, how confident are you that you guys cannot only play with Gonzaga but beat Gonzaga in the next round?
ISAIAH WHITE: I don’t know about what everyone else is saying. All I know is that this team is special. And we believe we can beat anybody. So we’re going to play our game. We’re going to listen to what the game plan is and we’re going to execute.
Q. When did you know that you were really in a zone tonight and the ball was going to go in?
ISAIAH WHITE: Probably after the and-one, after the and-one, I get to screaming and feeling myself then I knew it was going to be a good game.
Q. When this team came together so quickly during the offseason, what is it about this team that it was able to really come together despite all the different new parts and reach the Elite Eight?
ISAIAH WHITE: I’m not sure. Probably just how everyone doubted us. Once we found out that we were ranked or they had us at, like, sixth in the Pac-12, I think we came together just to prove everyone wrong. I think when everyone doubted us, I think we really latched on to each other and grinded it.
Q. Through this tournament, against Drake and Kansas, you held them to 29 percent from the field. Oregon was only a little bit better at 34 percent. What has it been about your guys’ length and defensive effort that’s really turned up over these last few games?
ISAIAH WHITE: The energy of March Madness, the crowd. We know what’s at stake. It’s do or die. So everyone is just going out there laying it all out on the floor.
Q. When you made a decision to transfer to USC, what did you realistic think the season would become for you and the team?
ISAIAH WHITE: I wasn’t sure. I just knew that we had talent coming in, we had Evan Mobley and a couple of grad transfers. I knew we had winners on the squad from last year. I knew Coach Andy and the coaching staff were a good coaching staff. I was just excited and I was ready to learn.
Q. Seemed like the other guys were anxious early in the game. Did you feel like you needed to take it upon yourself early when you got a couple of those baskets to go?
ISAIAH WHITE: Of course, when we start off the game I feel like the team feeds off my energy. So I make sure out the gate I come with that energy and come with that heart. And hopefully it makes everyone else comfortable. Then we just get to playing our game.
Q. What does it mean for this program to be able to get to this stage?
ISAIAH WHITE: It means a lot. We were overlooked a lot. I know it’s been a minute since the USC program has gotten to the Elite Eight. So we’re making history. And it just means a lot to this program. And as a team we’re just super excited and we worked for this. So I’m glad that it’s paying off.
Q. After you hit the go-ahead 3 in the first half, looked like you turned and looked at the Oregon bench. What kind of message were you trying to send with your first-half play?
ISAIAH WHITE: That we just weren’t backing down. We came out kind of flat. And they were kind of leaving us open or leaving certain people open. And we just weren’t — I just wanted to let them know that we weren’t letting down. We were going to come at whoever and we were going to keep battling. That’s what we did.
Q. I know it just happened and you’re in the moment, do you have any immediate perspective on just what this means to you personally in the big picture. This is the moment you’re always going to have the rest of your life.
ISAIAH WHITE: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m just living in the moment. I’m not sure. I can’t even — I don’t know. I’m just having fun and enjoying right now. I’m not even thinking about that right now.
Q. What has this NCAA Tournament brought out in everyone as a whole? Seems like everyone is playing with a ton of confidence and shooting the ball well. What is it about this setting and this environment that’s made you guys really lock in the way you have?
ISAIAH WHITE: I think the energy. I think the energy from the crowd. All year we didn’t have a crowd. So we had to make our own energy and that’s kind of tough, especially for players like me who thrive off of energy. So I think the crowd and just being in March Madness and knowing that this could be our last game, I think everyone is just buying in and doing what it takes as a team to move forward.
Q. Is this the best game of your career?
ISAIAH WHITE: I would say so. I would say so.