No. 8/7 #AztecMBB-UNLV Postgame Quotes

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COACH FISHER: We came here to win three games. We came here to compete like crazy. We've done that for two. We got one to go.

What has driven us all season is come out and guard you hard, not make it easy for you to get good, clean looks. We did that again today.

I thought our big guys, Josh and Skylar, in particular, did a good job of keeping the ball out of the post. They really hurt us last game here throwing the ball inside, and we made a concerted effort to guard the perimeter a little harder, make it difficult, and not just concede and play behind them. I thought we did a good job of that.

Our thought was make 'em take hard twos, make 'em take hard twos, make 'em take hard twos, one shot at a time. We were pretty good following the game plan.

The two guys who are up here now were our offensive thrust. X has delivered for us every game. I said this before, when he was on such a high when how he was playing, if there was a better guard in America, I would like to see him. I would stand by that statement.

He wins. He finds ways to win. He makes plays at both ends of the floor.

For Dwayne, and I haven't said this enough, to not play a second against Arizona, and it was not because he was hurt. I didn't play him. He never changed his demeanor, never changed his work habits, never changed for his team his attitude. Now he's rewarding us and making me look like, Why didn't you play him sooner.

He had some huge plays for us tonight at both ends of the floor. He allows his athleticism to show and he makes timely shots for us.

So it was a really good win for us against a good, athletic team that we've had a difficult time with for years.

To beat them twice in their building, we're proud of that fact.

Q. Dwayne, how hard was it to stay patient last season and even early in season as obviously you were working hard in practice but the playing time wasn't coming?
DWAYNE POLEE: You know, just staying with it, just knowing that my time is going to come, just keep working on my game every day and not letting that really get me, getting me down.

I just kept working on my game, kept working in the offense, working with the coaches. Now I've become a pretty big contributor on this team.

Q. Dwayne, can you talk about your mentality coming into this game like this one where you saw maybe the offense struggling a little bit.
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, as the sixth man, that's what I like to do, is be the sparkplug for our team. Whether it's offensively or defensively, I like to come in and bring a lot of energy.

Q. Xavier, it was 33 31, you went on that 12 0 run. Could you sense the Rebels falling apart at that point, getting frustrated?
Xavier Thames: A little bit. But they're a great team. We knew they were going to fight hard and come back. We just wanted to get on a run. We talked bit at halftime. I think that's what we did.

Q. Dwayne, he talked about you not playing in the game against Arizona. What were you thinking coming out of that game?
DWAYNE POLEE: To me that was just I need to work on my game harder. I can't look at things in a negative mindset, because that will drop my demeanor and that won't help the team. Try to do anything to help the team.

Working on my game after that Arizona game really helped the season.

Q. Xavier, for a team that's already in the tournament regardless of this particular tournament, how much do you and your teammates want to win this tournament?
Xavier Thames: Really bad. You know, like coach said, we want to come in here and win three games. We got the first two. We just got to come out, no matter who we play, come out and play hard, try and get a win.

Q. If you play New Mexico again, they probably had the best of you for many of those minutes. Do you relish the challenge of facing that team again?
Xavier Thames: We can't really get into that, no matter who we play. If we play New Mexico, it's going to be another hard fought game. They're a great team, have a great coaching staff. No matter who we play, it's going to be a hard fought game. If we play New Mexico, it's going be too fun, a fun environment.

Q. Xavier, can you talk about the development of Dwayne and the confidence you've seen in him.
Xavier Thames: Well, Dwayne has been in the gym since summertime. He stayed down in San Diego, went to summer school, was working on his game. Like coach said, he never got down. He's a team guy first. That's what I love about him.

DP spent the summertime working on his game. I knew sooner or later he was going to get another chance. He's been doing good so far.

Q. You outrebounded UNLV. Not an easy thing to do at all. Talk about the play of your bigs, of Shepard?
COACH FISHER: We put five bullet points on the board, keys to success. Rebounding was one of them. We're a good rebounding team. Our goal every game is to rebound half of our misses. We pursue the ball pretty effectively.

They had 18 offensive rebounds against us at our place. They're good, long, athletic, pursue the ball.

Sometimes when you don't stay in front of a man, they drove, they help, throw it up, now the dam is broke. We did a better job keeping people in front of us, keeping the ball out of the post. A couple times it looked like they might get it, either Matt Shrigley would come over the top to get one or one of the guards would.

It was a community effort. That was a big point of emphasis. Got to rebound the ball against a team that rebounds the ball the way they do.

Q. Xavier has had big assist nights the last two nights. You have run a lot of ball screens. At this point in the season, do you want the ball in his hands?
COACH FISHER: At the end of a shot clock, I think everybody that cheered for San Diego wants him to have the ball, read the defense, make a play, come off a screen, twist it, make a play off of it. You can't do that for 40 minutes and 70 possessions.

I thought, and it was probably coach driven, that we got a little bit too conservative about five or six minutes to go with a 15 point lead, whatever it was, and maybe said all we want to do is move the ball from side to side, then let him do something off a ball screen with 10 seconds to go.

I didn't like the feel as it kind of wound down. But they cut into the lead. We made a couple very timely baskets to allow that distance to remain fairly comfortable, not real comfortable, but fairly comfortable.

Q. You sat Winston for five minutes early in the game after the turnovers. Only starter that didn't go back out. Talk about his game tonight. Struggled at times.
COACH FISHER: You know, I think if you look at the whole of what Winston did, he came out, he was in a stretch where he was our second big and guarding in the post. He did the exact same thing that we asked Josh and Skylar to do. He stuck an arm in, he fronted, he did not let the ball go inside. He rebounded the ball defensively.

I think we started the game when Winston missed a layup that looked like was going to get the first basket of the game. Whether or not that affected him, I don't know. He had a couple turnovers.

I never would take a guy out for making a mistake. We have substitutions. We want to get a lot of people minutes because we think we have depth.

If you look at the minutes, he played 22 minutes. We had two guys over 30. I think you do what you feel like you have to do at the moment. Then when you get a flow going, and we had a real rhythm going, I really wanted to take Xavier out, but Dutch said, Let's ride the guys we have right now while we have a rhythm and a flow going.

You do what you think is the right thing to do. Sometimes it is. But nobody comes out not knowing they're going to go back in. When Winston came out, he knew he was going to go back in.

Q. Was that flow why he wasn't in in the end of the game?
COACH FISHER: He was in at the end, wasn't he? You know, you have people that are out there in a bit of a rhythm. Matt makes a three, so you got a guy that can make a three when the shot clock goes down. Polee was playing well. You want X in there. So that's three perimeter guys that were functioning pretty effectively for us.

So that's what we did. We've had that happen before in various games, where a guy, whether it be Winston or JJ or Skylar, not X, but the rest of them, would sit, and not worry about it, not fret about it.

Q. He's so incredibly talented. I wonder at this time of the year how much you need Winston to have big games, kind of be on?
COACH FISHER: Well, we can't win as much as we want to win without Winston playing well for us. He knows that. I know that. We need him functioning. We need him playing.

Winston is so much improved from a year ago, so much improved from the start of the year, being able to move on and move into the next segment, next play. And we want to win a lot more games before we finish. For that to happen, we need Winston to play at peak efficiency. I would agree with that.

Q. You mentioned that Dwayne didn't play in the Arizona game. Even the Kansas game, I think he only had six minutes. Can you describe how he earned your trust as the season went along, what you saw in him that made you confident playing him in Mountain West play.
COACH FISHER: Backtrack a little bit. I think those that know the history, Dwayne Polee's dad was a whirl beater when he played. His dad is now coaching at the University of San Francisco. I think the dad and his mother are a big part of the reason why Dwayne maintained an equilibrium where he was able to deal with it. It's hard.

His dad never called me and said, What's going on? Why isn't he playing more? Nor did his mom. I'm sure they talked together to say, What's going on?

But I know for a fact that they were with Dwayne, Stay with it, stay with it. They may have said, Pretty soon he may wake up and realize how good you are.

But if you were in our locker room after games, when he had limited minutes, you would love his demeanor. We've talked about it. I've used him as an example for everybody. Dwayne is the consummate teammate. That's allowed him to flourish when he got the time.

He had some games where we started giving him segments, he played well, then you get more segments. He went from eighth man, the ninth guy coming in, he kind of gradually went up the pecking order. Now he's our sixth starter really. He's our sixth starter. We count on him energizing our team when he comes in. He likes doing that.

COACH RICE: First of all, just congratulations to San Diego State. That's an extremely experienced and very tough basketball team. Thought we did a good job, very good job, defensively with our first shot field goal percentage defense. Just had a hard time keeping it off the defensive boards.

I thought the difference in the game really was second chance points and then the fact that we had a few key turnovers. But I was proud of the fact we kept battling, working the entire game. We didn't give up. We got down, hung in there, and got ourselves within striking distance.

But again credit to San Diego State. I thought these two guys played extremely hard.

Q. Talk about the challenge of getting into a flow offensively against this team.
DEVILLE SMITH: Well, they did a good job defending well. But I just feel like our team, we should have reacted even better to their defending.

I got to give credit to them also, how they did well, what they did.

Q. Roscoe, were they defending you a little differently in the low post than they had been previously?
ROSCOE SMITH: Once again, first of all, give credit to San Diego State. They definitely showed like, you know, different faces for me and Khem by playing Winston Shepard. He was their second big.

You know, it wasn't they played it differently. With our shots we normally make just wasn't dropping at one point in time. It was just, you know, a tough one.

Q. What happened from your vantage point? It was 33 31, then they went on the 12 0 run. Do you feel you panicked a little bit offensively?
ROSCOE SMITH: No, I don't feel like we panicked. I think we was in a nice rhythm, you know. Once against, you know, shots we normally make just didn't drop down.

You know, just some schemes on defense that we made a small error on, the kind that just cost us. But, you know, give all credit to San Diego State.

Q. Roscoe, we were talking about what Birch means to this team. Came out and didn't score in the second half, but the effort was always there. What do you think you guys got from him, clearly less than 100%?
ROSCOE SMITH: Khem, you know, even though he was hurt, he definitely gave 110%. He battled. He gave 110% of effort. We couldn't ask any more of him, you know. Well, we can, but he did as much as he can for us, you know.

We definitely just tried to follow his lead, with his effortness [sic], continued to battle on the boards, continued to play good defense on their guards.

Q. Roscoe, you obviously had a lot higher expectations. What do you take away from the season at this point and do you think all the guys want to play in some post season tournament?
ROSCOE SMITH: Mentally 100%. We was definitely focused on this tournament. Any post season questions, you know, coach will answer that. But, you know, the season, yeah, we had a lot of expectations. We got a lot of talent. We still feel like we one of the best teams talent wise in this conference, you know.

There were just, you know, some things. Yeah, a couple losses that we wished we would have had back. But, you know, it happens. It's part of basketball. We'll continue to grow and continue to mature as a group.

Q. Roscoe, what are you going to think about or when are you going to think about thinking about coming back next season? When are you going to make that decision?
ROSCOE SMITH: We have a team meeting tomorrow. Once again, it will be up to coach. I'm 100% just trying to get better, just being with my brothers as a team. I never even thought about that mentally.

Q. What do you take away from this season with obviously a disappointing ending?
DEVILLE SMITH: It's just a learning experience. That's all I took from it, learning. The mistakes we made this year, try not to make the same mistakes next year.

Q. While your guards seemed to struggle, was there any thought of putting Kendall Smith in?
COACH RICE: Sure, there's always a thought of guys who are on the bench. Certainly have confidence in Kendall and his future with our program. It was just a coach's decision not to play him today.

I think he's got a very, very bright future in our program.

Q. He talked about when you had offensive rebounds down there. It did seem like watching, he was going to make your guards beat them. Did you get the feeling you weren't going to get the post touches maybe you had wanted going in?
COACH RICE: They are extremely tough. That's a credit to the job Coach Fisher has done. The experience of that group. I think Josh Davis has been the difference maker. Xavier Thames is the MVP of our conference. Davis has brought a fifth year toughness to their group that is very important to what they do.

They're physical. I again thought that the difference in the game was just the momentum swing when we get a defensive miss and then they get an offensive rebound. We got to go guard for another 20 or 25 seconds.

Q. In that realm, even though they get 13 offensive rebounds, they keep 20 more balls alive.
COACH RICE: Absolutely. I can't think of a team across the country that's better on the offensive boards. We scheme to try to keep from giving up an offensive rebound on free throws. We even block out on free throws different against San Diego State than we do against other teams just because of how lethal they are on the offensive boards. I think I counted six or seven guys that got an offensive rebound.

You look at the score, we lose by eight, second chance points we lose by seven. That doesn't tell the entire story. Just how tough they are on the offensive boards. They're a fantastic offensive rebounding team.

Q. Can you talk about the post season and living to play another day.
COACH RICE: We got a group that loves to play. Our whole focus was on playing in the Mountain West Conference tournament. Our whole focus was taking it one game at a time, Wyoming yesterday and San Diego State today. We were hopeful we would win today and have a chance to play tomorrow.

I'll sit down with our athletic director, Tina Kunzer Murphy, and talk about those things, if there is an option to play in the post season. Then we'll have a team meeting and see where we are.

We got a group that loves to play. I was proud of the fact that we had a hard fought win yesterday. Certainly was disappointed for our group with the outcome today.

Got a lot of guys coming back. Something we haven't even started to think about yet because our whole focus was on trying to win this tournament.

Q. Bryce only played 17 minutes. Is there a specific reason he wasn't in?
COACH RICE: Just a coach's decision. I felt like Kevin Olekaibe and Jelan Kendrick gave us good minutes today. I thought they did a good job breaking the press. That was, again, just a coach's decision.

Q. When you look at the three games against them and then other teams you might have lost to, knowing who is coming back, would you agree when you see a game like this maybe an upgrade you need is to make it a lead guard position that can dictate you through positions like this?
COACH RICE: I think there's two ways you address issues on roster. I'm proud of the progress our guys made. I think you do it through recruiting. You also do it through developing players you have on your roster. I think that a lot of our guys have a great deal of motivation. We may not be done playing yet this season. There may be a post season opportunity for us. We'll see how that shakes out.

I think a lot of our guys will have great motivation through the spring, fall and summer to come back and be better next year.

I'll take a look at all those things, where our needs may be, where we need to get better. A big part of that is developing some of the young guys we have in our program right now because they showed flashes of being very, very good this year.

Q. If the post season does happen, Khem Birch, is a couple days going to be enough for that hip?
COACH RICE: 22 rebounds against Reno, then eight or nine rebounds, then 15 rebounds. He's become an absolute warrior. He's playing at a very high level.

When you lose a game like this, you feel bad for your players because they played their hearts out. They put a lot of time and effort in certainly.

But he heals quickly. He plays hard. Again, if, in fact, that's what ends up happening, we got a group that we can motivate to get up and get ready to play.

The one thing about us, I think it's a credit, you never want to lose games. During our time here, we've never lost more than two games in a row.

The point of that is you never want to lose any games. But we've always bounced back. We've had situations this year. You've watched us a number of times where we've had poor performances and we've always bounced back. I think that shows our resiliency.

Even today, as much as we got down, we didn't quit. We continued to play. I think we got it down to five. We were looking for a miss from Polee, the sixth man of the year. He's so mentally tough. We got a miss off the Shrigley free throw. We needed a miss off one more free throw. Polee made all the free throws down the stretch. That's mental toughness. My hat is off to Polee for making all the free throws down the stretch.

Q. I think you might have looked at Polee when he was transferring. He had six points the first game, 16 in the second, 18 today. Did you see this over the course of the season?
COACH RICE: When he left St. John's, that's why we tried so hard to recruit him. I thought his athleticism and his background, the fact that his dad was a terrific player, he comes from a basketball family, I just thought that he had a huge future in basketball.

I just believe that's what championship teams do, is that guys develop. You have guys like Thames who become great players. You add pieces to the puzzle in the case of Josh Davis. You have guys that come in off the bench.

It's a huge deal and a credit to guys like Polee who was a starter at St. John's, potential Big East all conference player. He comes and is willing to become a guy who comes off the bench. That's certainly what championship teams are all about. It's a credit to a guy like Polee to I assume check his ego at the door and probably today, other than Thames, be the best player on the floor.

Q. Do you feel it's important with the possibility of a post season tournament to get the extra time in the gym and the extra games or do you see a scenario where UNLV would reject an invitation to a post season tournament?
COACH RICE: You know, we haven't even had that discussion. I think you know me well enough to know that the competitor that I am, I want to always keep playing. I don't know what options are going to be there for us. Again, our whole focus was on winning this tournament.

But whether we're playing post season or whether we are just getting individual workouts, weight lifting, all the things we need to make us a better team next year, we're going to be in the gym right away. We're going to figure out the guys, and it's not a threat, it's not a leading statement, we're just going to figure out the guys who truly want to be here and give us the best opportunity and chance to win moving forward.

So I think guys who want to be in the gym, guys who want to be better, is what this whole thing is all about.

Q. There's speculation about Khem Birch might not be able to play. He looked better today physically than he did last night. Did you anticipate he'd be able to play as well as he did tonight?
COACH RICE: As he limped out of the locker room yesterday afternoon after we beat Wyoming, and he walked down the hall, I wasn't sure he was going to be able to play. I went and checked rooms last night. We stay in a hotel in the conference tournament. I want to give the guys an experience like we're on the road. He said he was feeling better. He got treatment. He was going to get more treatment today.

It was a pretty amazing thing that he was able to play at the level he played at today.

Q. No secret that this conference could use some success in the NCAA tournament. Obviously both San Diego State and New Mexico will be representing the league there. Do you see those teams at strong enough to be able to make a deep run in March?
COACH RICE: I do. I do. I think the way both these teams are made. The thing that gives both these teams, other than they have talent, that's always the most important part, two things. With New Mexico they have two guys they can throw the ball to in the block. Then they have great experience. Bairstow is a senior. Alex Kirk is a fourth year junior, Kendall Williams is a fourth year senior.

Then San Diego State is as experienced as any team in our league. They returned most of their starters from last year's team. Then two fifth year seniors, in terms of Thames has grown in that program.

No doubt both those teams are very capable of making runs in the NCAA tournament.

Anything can happen when you get in survive and advance mode. I think these are two teams that are going to represent our conference very well. Don't count out Boise State. Boise State is a team that has NCAA experience from last year, as well. They still have an opportunity, as well.

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