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Postgame press conference notes from the Wildcats’ blowout win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff

A common theme: relief to be back on the court.

Following the Wildcats’ season-opening thrashing of the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, head coach Chris Collins and players Miller Kopp and Chase Audige spoke to the media.

Chris Collins

Opening statement: “Really proud of the guys tonight. This was a long time coming, months in the making. The preseason was crazy with everything going on with the virus and all the sacrifices our players have made to practice. Tonight was the first time we’ve seen another team since we played Minnesota in March. We haven't been able to scrimmage, we haven’t been able to bring in other practice players because of the protocols so our guys have literally been playing against each other since June so they were really excited to see someone else. I thought our guys were a little bit anxious early, but that’s to be expected in the first game. I thought we took some quick shots and then we settled down. I think we were 2-for-9 from three and then we made 12 of our last 20. One of the things you guys are seeing is the improved shooting this year, it’s something I’ve talked about but I feel like we have a lot more weapons offensively. I think we can space the floor better. Except for Ryan Young, I think everyone hit at least one 3 in the game and we are a collection of our parts. I think the new guys did a great job. Chase had not played a game since he played William and Mary, sat out a whole year, so he was chomping at the bit. Ty Berry, his first college game, 15 points. The return of Anthony Gaines, I thought all the returners did a really good job, especially Robbie Beran’s defense on their best player, he was averaging 19 per game and he shot 3-or-16. We were really pleased, we’ve been following this team, they played Marquette, they played Wisconsin, they played Iowa State, and we were the only team to hold them under 50. That was something we wanted to try to do defensively, to really lock in. We guarded the ball pretty well, we helped each other, rebounded, and it was a good first step.”

On message to team after early turnovers: “We were just a little bit too rushed. One of he things we’ve really worked on and one of the things you guys have watched is trying to play with more pace this year. You saw us really trying to advance the ball, pass the ball ahead, but I felt we were a little rushed early. We had a couple uncharacteristic turnovers, took a couple quick bad shots. I’m going to give guys a lot of freedom, I’m going to let them shoot when they’re open because they can make it, but we took some bad ones. Then we settled down and we got a group in there that gave us a good five or seven minute burst that I think pushed the lead to 15. We didn’t finish the half that well, they cut it to 10, and then the second half, I thought we played really well, everybody kind of settled down, they got their legs. It’s really hard for our guys, obviously I played a long time ago, but even being a coach, when you play on opening night, there’s an amazing amount of nerves involved, everyone - coaches, players, especially this year. With everything these guys have done, no scrimmages, anything, so I knew they would be nervous, and I thought Miller really got us going. He made a couple shots there, let the air out of the balloon a little bit, and from there I thought we played much better offensively.”

On halftime adjustments: “We settled into the zone, the more we saw it, and then they got out of it, they ended up playing man the whole second half. We were able to do some things in man, I thought our guys adjusted. They were almost daring us to shoot a lot of threes. They were going under a lot of screens, so we talked about setting our screens a little bit lower so we could shoot at the line, not shoot so deep, and then I thought the guys shared the ball. Our point guards had 15 assists and one turnover, which is outstanding.Boo was a little bit under the weather, it wasn’t Covid-related, but he wasn’t able to be at our shoot around today, wasn’t feeling well, didn't know if he was even going to be able to play, so I was really pleased that he was able to gut it out, give us some good minutes, and I thought he and Greer did a really good job running our team tonight.”

On Chase Audige: “You can see Chase, he’s an aggressive hungry player. It gives us another guy. He can get his own shot, he can get out in transition and get the basket, he shoots threes, he gets fouled. When you play in the Big Ten against really good defenses, you need guys that can create when things break down. It gives us another guy with Boo. With Miller, we know what he can do as a shooter. You saw Ty Berry, he’s another weapon out there on the floor. I didn’t even know he had 15 points, that’s how quickly he put up points in the second half. I think we have more firepower with Chase. We were excited about him, we wanted to have him last year. We saw it in practice - he was always the best player on the other team when we played preparing for Big Ten games. We could see the talent was there. He can score, he can defend, he’s an athlete. I’m really glad to have him, I think he’s going to be a great player for us, not a good one. I think he’s going to have a great career here.”

On Audige’s path to Northwestern: “He was a little bit of an under-the-radar recruit. We had heard about him in high school. We had placed a couple calls but it didn’t get much further than that. He’s a New York City kid, played at an academic prep school up in Pennsylvania. I thought he was under the radar. They did a great job in their evaluation, and that year we were looking to add a transfer, and looking for someone in his mold. We wanted an athletic wing that could score the ball. We watched a lot of tape, we looked at the guys and they ended up making a coaching change at William and Mary. He loved it there, he didn’t want to leave but they let go of his coach. They had a kid, Justin Pierce, that ended up transferring to North Carolina. Four of the five starters transferred when the coach was let go. So Chase was looking for a new start. We reached out to him, I flew down to see him in Williamsburg, spent some time with him. I really liked what he was about, I really liked what I saw on film. We got him on a visit and I think he saw how much we believed in him. He’s a kid that values academics as well, so he was able to come to the Big Ten and not sacrifice anything athletically. I think he saw an opportunity to have an impact for us.”

On young backcourt’s confidence: “It’s huge. No matter what, all those guys were nervous and I was nervous. First game, I always get nervous. I used to get nervous when I coached a team that had five lottery picks out there when I coached the first game. You just know that guys are going to be a little bit more gunned up for the first game, and a lot of times it manifests itself in poor offense. You get going too fast, you take rushed shots, you put too much pressure on yourself. That’s why I thought Miller’s shooting early opened the door for him. He made a few threes and I thought that let the air out of the balloon. To have Ty Berry, Chase Audige, even Anthony Gaines, just to get some playing time, to be back out there playing and running up and down. Not only for those guys but for Robbie and Pete. We’re using Pete a little bit differently this year. We’re trying to be a little more creative with him to take advantage of his skillset as a big that can play out on the floor. It spreads the floor as well - he can bring it up in transition, he’s a good passer, he can make threes, so we’re trying to utilize that when him and Robbie are playing together on the front line.”

On freshmen getting playing time: “It’s huge. We know what we’re up against in the Big Ten. That’s what was frustrating about not playing our first few games. We wanted as many opportunities for these guys to get out there and play. We’ll have these five opportunities to get out there before conference play kicks in. All these games matter for all these kids, even returners. We’re playing a little differently this year, playing a little bit faster, doing different things offensively, doing different things defensively. We didn’t break out the things we are doing differently defensively to mix it up a little bit. It’s a different system, and kind of a fresh start for a lot of these guys. They’ve done a great job in the preseason and it was great to get out there, to see some other faces, and play against some other players.”

On heavy three-point volume: “We have more shooters if you look at our roster. That’s not knocking what we had last year, but Pat Spencer was more of a driver and an attacker. AJ Turner was more of a driver and a midrange guy. Other than Miller, we didn’t have a consistent three point shooter last year. Pete and Robbie were real streaky as freshmen and sophomores. Those guys have improved as shooters, as our bigs. Other than Ryan Young and Matt Nicholson, I feel like all other eight guys can really shoot the ball well. Even Ryan Greer is a much-improved three point shooter and that’s not something he did much of in the past. We are going to shoot a lot of threes, we’re going to open the floor. We’re going to utilize what our strengths are, and I think our strength is shooting. That is something you will see more of this year.”

On adding more shooters: “I had a lot of time in the spring and summer to watch a lot of film, to do a lot of soul searching about what kind of system we want to play, what kind of player we want to build around. My personality has always been one as a shooter. We want these guys to think freely, we want to open the floor a little bit and play with more pace. But we hold them accountable to play tough defense, and that’s something that won’t change. But I want to give these guys offensively more freedom to shoot the ball because I think they deserve it. I think it’s spread around. Everybody hit a three except for Ryan Young and Nicholson. It shows we have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball and night to night, it will be nice to have a more than one or two options to be able to score.”

On the extra of eligibility for players: “It’s exciting for me. We only have 10 scholarship guys this year and that’s by design. We wanted next year to add three outstanding players, which we did, which gets us to 13, and we expect to have everyone back. Over these past couple years, it’s been about rebuilding our talent base, about getting guys in here that will really believe in what we’re doing, and get back to where we believe we should be, which is in postseason consideration. Obviously the conference is going to be very tough this year, but it's exciting to know that out of everyone that played tonight, we didn’t have one senior on the floor. And theoretically Boo Buie is still a freshman, Ryan Young is still a freshman, Robbie a freshman, Pete a sophomore, Miller a sophomore. That’s what that extra eligibility does, it gives us a chance to really build this group up together. That was part of why we played them all last year, but done by design. We knew we were going to have our struggles, but we’re committed with this group and growing with them. I think those experiences they got last year are going to help them be more equipped to play this year and into the future for us.”

On starting lineup: “I think we have a number of guys we can start. Boo didn’t start tonight, he would have started but he wasn’t feeling well the last couple of days, so that was kind of a last-minute switch. What I’ve tried to tell the team is don’t worry about who’s starting, worry about being a finisher in a close game. I think that could change, it could stay the same, but I view Chase as a starter and there’s no question about that whether he starts or comes off the bench. You can see what he brings to the team and we’re excited to have him.”

Miller Kopp

On no fans and bringing energy: “It’s something we focused on, and something we harped on: bringing our own energy. We had a great bench the whole game, which is something I really loved. The refs had to give the bench multiple warnings to sit down and I loved that. A big thing for us is focusing on bringing our own energy.”

On new tempo: “It’s great not just for me but for everybody else. We have such great shooters on the team and a lot more versatility 1-5. We have a lot more guys who can dribble, pass and shoot, so with playing with more pace and speed, we get more possessions and put more pressure on the defense. We got a bunch of open looks and guys knocked them down. It was something we’ve been practicing all preseason and it’s good to finally put it into action.”

On playing with new guys: “It was great. I don’t even know how many months we spent playing against each other and it’s tough because Chase [Audige] is such a good defender, Ty [Berry] is so hard to guard. It was great to make it official that we’re playing together and to know I have their back and they have mine.”

On confidence in calling for ball: “I think [the opportunity to shoot] is there for everybody. If anybody calls for the ball, especially with a guy like Boo [Buie], who puts a lot of pressure on the defense and will find an open guy, he would have kicked them. It’s something I’ve worked on last year and even without fans, there is no excuse not to call for the ball if you’re open.”

On Chase Audige: “He puts so much pressure on the defense, he can do so many different things we didn’t have last year. He’s a really good iso player and a really good defender. He can guard the best player and then get a bucket, so he’s a guy the defense has to worry about. It was great playing with him and our chemistry is really only building.”

On playing first game in months: “It was awesome. It was kind of a relief off my shoulders and the team’s shoulders, having the opportunity to play somebody else. This is the game we love and we’ve all worked so hard to have this opportunity. I’m really grateful for it and my teammates and the coaches are too. It’s what we love to do. It was really awesome to see the hard work and all the people behind the scenes to make this game happen so we can throw the ball in the air.”

Chase Audige

On getting back onto the court: “It felt great. There were definitely long days because of Covid, and I came to Northwestern with an injury so rehabbing that. That year was long and I was just hoping I’d be able to play again. I was praying everyday to have this opportunity to play so I am grateful.”

On nerves: “As a team we were prepared for this game and prepared to play for so long. Personally I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited to get back on the court and play with my teammates. I think we did a great and job and we have a long way to go but it was good.”

On goals: “Just win. I came here to impact winning. Obviously Northwestern is an underdog program and I’ve been an underdog my whole life so I’ve taken on that mantra and want to impact winning as much as I can.”

On the start over returning players: “Coach says every practice we have ten starters. We saw from Ty Berry and other guys coming off the bench that it doesn’t matter and we have players that impact winning. Coach gave me the opportunity to start and if I came off the bench he knows I still would have gave it my all. I don’t feel that there was any problem.”

On role on team: “When coach Collins recruited me he told me to be myself and this is the first time I feel like I can be myself. I feel that my role is to do whatever is needed whether it’s rebound, defend, score or pass; to be that swiss army knife and do whatever the team needs of me.”

On transitioning to NU: “I think I had a rough start, but my teammates brought me through it and were talking to me constantly. Even though I didn’t play last year I was in every practice, I was in every meeting, every tough loss and every good win. We were all together so that camaraderie and knowing my teammates are with my and my coach is believing in me I feel made my transition to playing as easy as possible.”