No. 8/7 #AztecMBB-New Mexico Postgame Quotes
March 15, 2014
LAS VEGAS -
COACH FISHER: This was a tremendously hard fought game between two very good basketball teams. We're disappointed that we didn't get the opportunity to cut the nets down. But we're proud of what we've done and how we've done it.
We competed from wire to wire, and we just didn't quite have enough to finish. But if we continue to play that way, we'll have a chance to be playing after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That's our goal now.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. The past couple games you have had double digit assists. Tonight only five. What was going on out there with the assists?
Xavier Thames: Well, we just didn't knock down shots. They did a good job on defense, as well.
We're all right. We'll come back next week, watch film, do different things like that. We just didn't knock down shots tonight.
Q. There were a lot of fouls called on both teams tonight. Do you think that changed the nature of the game?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, we can't really worry too much about the calls. We just go out there and try and play hard and play every possession like it's our last.
We can't say that the officiating played a big part because there were other parts of the game that we could have done well. We can't just blame it all on the refs.
Q. Winston, in the end when you were shaking hands, looks like you and Kirk had a big embrace. What did you talk about?
Winston Shepard: Nothing much. Some people back in Houston where I'm from, that's all.
Q. When the inbound pass was stolen, did you feel the momentum was going on your side because you had an 8 0 run going? How did you feel at that point?
Winston Shepard: We felt good. We got the lead back. Our press was doing a good job on 'em. So of course we felt good.
Q. You came here to win and you didn't, yet you know what's ahead of you. Could you talk about what's ahead.
DWAYNE POLEE: We know what we have to do to get better. Like coach put it to us, we got a two game tournament every week. We can't let this linger. It hurts. We all came here to cut down nets. But we ain't going to let this linger. We have a big chapter to move forward in our book next week and that's what we're all looking forward to.
Q. (No microphone.) DWAYNE POLEE: I just seen the lane open up. I took what the defense gave me.
Q. In that you did come here knowing there wasn't really much to be gained or lost, why was this tournament, winning another trophy, so important?
Winston Shepard: There was plenty to gain. Any tournament or any game, we want to win. We don't take losing lightly. But we just going to get better from it.
Q. Dwayne, on that last possession that New Mexico had, you were in your 1 3 1, they were running out of options, Williams took the deep three, what did you see on that?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, I felt like he was kind of deep. I wasn't really expecting him to shoot it. I was expecting the ball screen.
But he's a great player and he hit a great shot. There wasn't nothing I could do.
Q. New Mexico brought a lot of fans here. Did you feel like it felt like a road game tonight?
Xavier Thames: No. We had fans, as well. A lot came out, other Aztecs came out that supported us. So no, not really.
Q. X, on your fourth foul, what happened on that?
Xavier Thames: I tried to close out on Neal. I just closed out too hard and got called with a foul. That was my fault on that part.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Fisher.
Q. Like they said, not a ton to gain. What do you think this tournament as a whole does to your chances for your placing in the post season tournament?
COACH FISHER: I have no idea where we'll be seeded. I know we have a really good basketball team, as does New Mexico. And I think the tournament committee is a look at who you played, who you've beaten.
New Mexico, in my opinion, is not a top 20 team, they're a top 10 team, top 15 team. They're good. They're really good.
My hope is that both of us can get into this next tournament and win and prove that we have teams in the Mountain West Conference that can compete not only within a league, can compete nationally with anybody.
They can play with anybody, and so can we. So let's hope that we do that next week.
We wanted to win three games. We didn't. We came up a little short. We went right to the wire with an effort that makes a coach and a parent proud.
Q. The last sequence with the 1 3 1, it seemed like it was a great coaching move, caught them off guard. The shot clock was running down, the guy makes a deep three.
COACH FISHER: I have seen Williams make deep threes against a lot of people. Two years ago as a sophomore, he lit us up in our building with long shot after long shot after long shot. He's a very good player. He's got a lot of moxy. I saw him air ball a free throw last night, and then want the ball to get fouled at the end so he could make two free throws to win the game.
It was a long, hard shot. He's made long, hard shots before. I was hoping that one would not go in. He took a long, hard shot at our place when they were two behind that fortunately for us did not go in, but this one did.
Q. About the officiating. You shot two free throws in the first half, I think you shot 20 in the second half. The disparity is interesting. Do you think the officiating played any part in the pacing of the game or how you played it?
COACH FISHER: We had three guys who were veteran officials who have made deep runs themselves in the NCAA tournament.
Did I complain about some calls? Yes. Did Coach Neal? Yes. None of the three were attempting to make calls to favor one team over the other. I thought there were some calls that weren't good. I'm sure Neal thought the same thing.
If you get caught up in yapping at the officials, whether you're a player or coach, you're not going to be focused on the job. I complained some, I did. But I complained in a timely fashion where I could still get my point across and keep my wits about me.
Those are three really good officials.
Q. Have you ever been in a game or coached a game where there were almost 20 fouls called by the halfway point?
COACH FISHER: I'm sure I have. I've been doing it a long time. I'm sure when I was a JV coach back in 1968, we had a lot of those. We have progressed.
Officiating is a hard job. Coaching's a hard job. But if you harp on, That's the reason why negative things happen, then you're missing the boat, missing the point.
I'm not doing it. Our kids aren't doing it.
Yeah, I wish they would have made a couple calls. I wish Polee would have gone to the line at the end when he went in. I wish they hadn't called an and one when Bairstow went in, but they did.
Usually they're right way more often than they're wrong.
Q. Talk a little bit about the first five minutes of the second half. Seemed like you really pressed them hard, forced them into turnovers.
COACH FISHER: When we went into the locker room, they were on a bit of a run to end the half, 7 2, whatever it was. They're sitting there motionless. I have my little spiel. I said, When I come back, I want some energy in this locker room, we're going to win the game.
We brought energy to the floor to start the second half. We hit them first. We seized that moment and got ourselves right back in the game and had them on their heels.
They're a good team. They righted the ship, had a good game, and we had a good game like we had.
It was a good effort by both teams. I wish the game would have been two minutes longer and maybe somehow we would have found a way.
Q. I imagine your message to them afterwards is similar to what it is for us here, came here to win, have a lot to accomplish, is that correct?
COACH FISHER: Pretty much I would say, yes. I told them I was proud of how we competed from wire to wire. We made mistakes that hurt us, but it was not for lack of effort. And when you control what you can control effort and attitude which we did pretty effectively, you got a chance. That's how we've won 29 games.
We fought. You know, you look up, we're six or seven behind, all of a sudden we're one ahead when Polee gets the and one with a minute 21 to go. Now we need to make one more stop, but we couldn't do it. Again, credit to them.
But I ended it by saying the great thing is we got a lot to look forward to, and it starts when we find out who and where, then we'll be determined to not have this feeling in the next two games that we play.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FISHER: I would hope that we would be a top four seed. I would hope that that would happen. I can't tell you. I got no magic wand in terms of who's going to put us where.
But I think our whole season, body of work, we've done a pretty good job of going out and competing and winning, winning in different environments, against different leagues, on the road, neutral sites, high altitude. When you have to win to have a chance to win the league, we won 29 games.
We had a really, really, really good season. I know a lot of others will state cases, but I'm hopeful that we will fall somewhere in that top four seed.
Q. These two teams not just this week were on a collision course from the beginning of Mountain West play. Is this fun for you when it's two teams like this? Is this the rivalry in this league now?
COACH FISHER: It's fun when you win. It ain't no fun when you don't win. Ask Noodles how he felt after the game at our place a week ago. That's not fun.
You're proud of your team, what you've done, and how you've done it. You rally the troops.
I think both of us know we've got two really good programs, not teams. Underline 'programs'. They're used to winning and expect to win.
I think sometimes, you know, the spirit in both teams can overflow a little bit and you think there's nastiness between the two teams. I think there's mutual respect. For 40 minutes you don't like one another.
But to a man in our locker room, we are hopeful that a week from Sunday both of us will still be playing. And I can say that, and you can say, That's easy to say. I do. I hope we can.
We got some great teams that we love to compete against in our league. The ones that are at the top are the ones you want to beat the most. Ourselves and New Mexico, Vegas, we've been the teams that have been migrating to the top, so we want to beat 'em, we want to win.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by New Mexico. Coach, we'll start by asking you to make a couple comments about tonight's game.
COACH NEAL: I have a lot of thoughts about today's game, but I'll keep it brief.
Just really, really proud of these three guys and my whole team. Really a resilient bunch. It's funny, when Kendall shot the last shot, it's similar to the shot he took to win it at San Diego State. For some reason I thought it was going to go in, and it did.
I got terrific kids, a terrific team that's believed in me, taking over a team that won back to back regular season and tournament championships. This is our third one. It's very special to me.
I told them at the start of the year they'll always be my favorite team because they're my first team. I got a lot of respect for these kids. They bust their butt every day. They represent our program with class.
My hat is off to San Diego State. They did a heck of a job winning the regular season. I got great respect for Coach Fisher and their team. They got a terrific team.
We've had some great battles over the years. Nothing but respect for them. But just really proud of my guys right now. Try and enjoy it and then get ready for next week.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. Kendall, air ball free throw last night, you keep taking those big shots. Is there ever any thought in your mind maybe to pass when you air ball a three earlier?
KENDALL WILLIAMS: I pass a lot. Sometimes you got to take those big time shots.
COACH NEAL: There's not any thoughts to ever pass up a shot (smiling).
KENDALL WILLIAMS: If you ask these two guys to the left and right of me, I probably don't pass enough.
To answer the free throw question, that was a bad one. You don't like air balling free throws. Then the three, you air ball threes all the time. I knew I was going to have to hit at least one more, if not two, throughout the game to help stretch the floor.
But on a serious note, just staying confident, I realized that the team has the utmost confidence in me. My coach has a lot of confidence in me to take those shots. I missed in San Diego. Everyone said if I had a chance again to shoot it, shoot it. I did. It went in. That's the end of that.
Q. How sweet is this win, first the three peat, then the way the regular season ended with San Diego State?
ALEX KIRK: I mean, the best two teams were playing tonight definitely in the conference. Just to be able to go up against a pretty good team, very athletic, very tough team, just to go up against them and have a chance to beat them with these guys at my side, it was amazing.
I hope San Diego State has a bunch of success going forward.
KENDALL WILLIAMS: It's tough to put in words, like you said, just how it finished, the rivalry we've established throughout our careers. We split the regular season. We won two in a row. Just a lot of emotions going on right now.
Like AK said, we wish them a lot of success in the tournament. We're going to really enjoy this today and wake up tomorrow and get ready for what we've deemed unfinished business. And we're very serious about the NCAA tournament and very excited about it.
CAMERON BAIRSTOW: I think it's hard to beat any great team three times. That's what they are, a great team. We know we let one slip in San Diego. At the same time we understood that we did have them right where we wanted them. We just had to show up with that same mindset that we would beat them. Fortunately we were able to close it out at the end.
Q. Is this becoming the premiere rivalry of the conference?
CAMERON BAIRSTOW: It has been ever since I've been here. I think if you look to the last maybe four or five, both regular season and conference, but basically regular season since I've been here at least, either New Mexico or San Diego State has had a share at least in the conference or if not won it outright. I think it's definitely been a battle between us the last couple years.
Unfortunately we couldn't get it in the regular season, they got it, but we managed to win it in the post season.
Q. Cam, a year ago you make all tournament. You didn't know what that meant is the story. From a year ago at this point to now, you're now a second team All American on some people's list. You still have some basketball to play.
CAMERON BAIRSTOW: It's been really good. Started in the summer. Won a silver medal then. That was a great experience. Then carried it over. I think we've had a pretty successful season so far. I think that's it.
I mean, being all tournament team last year did give me some confidence coming back into it. Being able to share it with these guys the last year here, to finish it like that is awesome. At the same time we understand we've got more basketball to play, so we're looking forward to it.
Q. We asked you the question about not getting regular season Player of the Year. You handled it well then. Now that this tournament is over, how much was in your mind about trying to prove a point and winning tournament MVP?
CAMERON BAIRSTOW: I said it earlier. I mean, each of my years here, the award has gone to the best player on the best team. In the regular season San Diego State was the best team. I think in this tournament, we were the best team. It could have gone to a number of players, the guys sitting next to me.
It wasn't about proving a point. You just got to understand it's all about team success. That's what it is. All the accolades that come off that are a bonus. At the end of the day it's all based on team success.
Q. Kendall, they come out in the second half and they amp it up on that press. Getting ugly for a little bit, like a week ago. What did you see coming out of half?
KENDALL WILLIAMS: They added an extra guy up on the halfcourt timeline. They just congested the 10 second area a little more. It spread the game up a lot. They're just a bunch of athletes over there, a bunch of athletes that kind of think the same and play the same.
They came out. I think the timing of it was more fortunate for us this time. Last game they timed it just right and we didn't have an answer for it. This time they punched us in the mouth to start, and we were able to respond throughout the half. That was the big difference.
Q. Alex, there was a lot of support for Coach Neal. He got the job and led you back to the tournament championship. What does it mean for you to be led by him?
ALEX KIRK: I mean, I think it's really special that we had the opportunity to do this. I mean, you don't honestly know what would have happened without him, if he had gone off to UCLA with coach.
It's really special to have him. We were kind of able to keep as much of a family as we could here. I mean, I think it just made the three peat that much more special.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Neal.
Q. First five minutes of the second half, there were some struggles with your guys to break the press. What did you see they were doing differently?
COACH NEAL: Well, I don't think they were doing anything differently. I think we just made bad plays. That happens.
I knew we would come out of it. I knew our guys were able to handle it. We started making better plays. The kids stayed with what we were trying to do.
It's just one of those things. I mean, they took the lead and our guys stayed true to the course and we were able to win the game.
You're going to have some mistakes when you play a team like that. I think that's why VCU is so hard to play against, Georgetown of old is hard to play against. They're on you for 40 minutes. They'll play a lot of pressure on you for 40 minutes.
You can't make compounded mistakes. We started that first five minutes with two in a row, three in a row. We got a timeout, calmed them down, figured out what we were doing. Said, Hey, stay true to the course, what we worked on, everything is going to be fine.
I got to give those guys credit. They believed in us. We were prepared. I thought we handled it pretty well. I don't know exactly how many turnovers we had because I don't have a stat sheet, but I guess we had 15. We try to keep it to 12, but that's part of it.
Those kids, they got the heart of a champion. Those guys have won a lot of championships for our program over the last four years. You couldn't ask for better kids, kids that represent what you're all about, the university and the state of New Mexico.
Q. How are you and Steve going to celebrate tonight?
COACH NEAL: It's kind of funny because about three minutes after it happened, it's funny that two southern Indiana kids are cutting down nets in Vegas, one from the PAC 12, one from the Mountain West. Very blessed to be a dear friend of his and best friend of his for a long time. Spent six great years together at New Mexico building what we have. I'm very fortunate that he went on to take another job and I was fortunate to get this job.
We can talk all we want about what's done and what we've done, but this is my team now, it's my program now. I'm excited to go forward with it. I'm happy for him. Couldn't happen to a better guy, better coach. Happy for his family that they won the PAC 12. I'm sure he's saying the same thing about me. So exciting time.
Q. Coach Fisher talked about the rivalry with you guys. I asked the players about that. What are your thoughts about that?
COACH NEAL: Well, I just think that both are striving for excellence. Both are trying to win regular season championships. Both are trying to make national publicity, national cred for your program. Coach Fisher has done a great job. He's done a great job, he's a heck of a competitor.
When you have two teams that want the same thing, you're going to have some high competitive battles. I got nothing but respect for those guys. We recruit against them. We recruit against everybody in the conference.
Just seems those games have been amped up over the last few years because they're good and we're good and that happens. But I just wish them the best. I respect him. I respect those guys. I recruited a couple of them. Hopefully they'll do really well in the tournament and I hope we do really well for the conference because that's what it's all about.
We're in this together. They represent the conference and we represent the conference. They got us last week. We were fortunate to get them this week. That's about how I feel about it.
Q. What do you think winning this tournament does in the eyes of the Selection Committee?
COACH NEAL: Well, I hope it helps us. We went in on a high last year where we were seeded really high. I think there's some things we can do a little bit different to get them ready this year that we've learned from last year. I'm sure we'll do that.
But, you know, hopefully you beat the eighth ranked team in the country and you were 20. There's a lot of teams that lost from 12 to 20 before us. It's all about seeding, all about the draw. Hopefully it will help us.
One thing I can say is I got a pretty good basketball team. I got a team that's going to fight and real excited for the opportunity.
Q. I know Cam said best player, best team. How relieved or vindicated in any way do you feel when he does what he did this week? You thought he deserved the MVP a week ago.
COACH NEAL: I say that because he's my guy. It's always been that way, that the top player from the top team wins it. I was trying to sway that maybe he could win it without being the top team.
Xavier had a great year. They were projected to be fourth in the conference. Coach Fisher did a great job. They played well the whole year, very consistent. It just was hard because we played them three times within three weeks. That's a tough deal for anybody.
But Bairstow is the real deal. I told a lot of people that. I talked to a lot of people the last few months. I think he's going to be an All American selection. I think our last one was Danny. And he deserves it. I think Kendall deserves as much recognition as he should get because he's been overshadowed by Cam's year.
Like I said, we got a great vibe with our team. I think Kendall said that. They're there for one another. They enjoy playing together. Hopefully we'll continue to play a few more games.
Q. You called timeout with 43 seconds left. They switched their defense to the 1 3 1. Did you expect that?
COACH NEAL: Well, I thought after all the heat I took and all the criticism in my timeouts last week, I better be prepared this time.
I was guessing, and I guessed right that they were going to go 1 3 1. Luck of the draw, I guess.
Q. Steve sat in that chair the same time last year with the net around his neck. Are you not a fan of that look?
COACH NEAL: I'm Craig.
Q. Don't like the way it looks?
COACH NEAL: I don't have the net around my neck.
Q. You did expect the 1 3 1. What was the play supposed to be?
NEAL: Kendall to shoot a 25 foot fall away and go in (smiling).
We worked on a couple things, to be frank, we were trying to get a lot for DD. If you go back and watch the tape, they pressed us up quick and Hugh had to go up the other side, push it up the sideline. We got it back to Kendall. By the time Kendall got the penetration, he really didn't like it. If you watch it on tape, DD is open for the lob. We worked on it, but we were able to dribble it out, Kendall hit his shot.
Got to give the guys credit. They were in tune what to do against it. We played several times against it with Air Force, UAB early in the year. We were pretty shocked to see it at San Diego State. We just didn't handle it very well.
I was glad the guys played well and handled it better. They handled it better.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH NEAL: Thank you. Appreciate it.