Jon Teitel: You became the first player to make the conference All-Tournament team for four consecutive seasons, and you have been conference tournament MVP in each of the last two conference tournaments. How are you able to play your best when it matters the most?
Matt Howard: It's just preparing to play that way. It's not a case of just getting up for the most important games. If you don't play well and consistently throughout the year by doing your job, then you're not going to be able to turn it on when it matters most. It's about being consistent. But your effort is probably recognized more in the games toward the end of the season.
JT: You hit your head on the floor in last year's semifinal win over Michigan State, and you missed the Wright State game last month after suffering a mild concussion. How close did you come to missing the title game against Duke, and are you worried that all of your head injuries might be starting to add up?
MH: That's one of the least of my worries at this point. Obviously it was a worry for our athletic training staff when they sat me out for the Wright State game, but I'm not really worried about that going forward. We have a great medical staff, and I have confidence in their care.
JT: You scored 11 points in 19 minutes in last year's two-point loss in the title game. Did you think Gordon Hayward's shot at the buzzer was going in, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterward?
MH: I had a pretty decent view of it and at first didn't really think it was going to have a chance. But then you turn around and it was right on target, and maybe that made (the loss) more heartbreaking. There was a great feeling of disappointment in the locker room after the game, in some degree because we were so close, but also because it was our last game together. At the same time, we were proud of the way we competed and put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win. You couldn't ask for our guys to play any harder, and it would have been more disappointing if you didn't play well and end up losing by more.
JT: Last month you were named Division I Academic All-American of the Year. What importance do you place on academics, and how do you balance it with athletics?
MH: Academics are really important. It's like the NCAA statement about our athletes going pro and most are in something other than sports. At some point, everyone needs something that they can fall back on and academics give you that chance to succeed outside of athletics. I want to be my best in everything, not just sports, so it's important that do my job in the classroom.
JT: After a three-game losing streak heading into February, your team has won 9 straight: do you feel like your team is playing its best basketball of the season right now? [note: asked before start of the tournament]
MH: I would say the best of the season but we know that we can still play better. There's always some things that come up and when you watch game tape, you always see things that you can be better at. But as a team, and especially on the defensive end, we're playing as well as we have all year.