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#AztecMBB Press Conference Quotes


Jan. 10, 2014

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SAN DIEGO -

Head coach Steve Fisher

On what is so difficult about playing at Air Force:
"They are a hard team to play against, and they're a harder team to play against in a short-preparation week. We went through a period where we were almost like traveling partners with them, where we had a week to prepare (against them), and when we did that we were better served. We played well against them. I can't remember how many times we've gone there in 15 years and not been successful, but I do know last year Xavier Thames did not play, and the year before, Jamaal Franklin did not play. So I think if you take critical pieces out of your lineup, that affects you a little bit also. But you have to play smart, you have to play hard, you can't allow them to dictate the pace of the game for 40 minutes, and it's never easy when you travel on the road. You couple that with their ability to make shots. And when they make shots, and get you chasing and their post players are shooting threes, you're in for a long night. We have to do a good job of defending everything, but you can't defend everything. So you say, `What are the most important things to take away?' And you adjust as the game goes on. But we've lost because (Air Force) played a little bit better than us in both of those games. We had chances in both of them."

On if there will be extra motivation to go there and win:
"The guys that were here remember last year. (Thames) and some others remember the year before. It puts the red alert up to forget about where teams were predicted to finish. Look at the fact (Air Force) beat Utah State (at home) and then went on the road and won at UNLV. So this is a team capable of beating anyone they play, and they're more capable when they have you coming into their building. So I would think we're a little more attentive (this time). We showed (our players) a lot of film of them against us in the last year or two, and I think it's helpful for us."

On if he thought this would be a transition year before the season began:
"If we were talking in August I would say, `You said the same thing when D.J. (Gay) left, and we won 26 games (the next season) and tied for the conference championship. So our expectations now are it doesn't matter who goes away, we should have enough bodies who can play where we can compete, and that's what we've been able to do."

On if he's surprised by the success they've had so far this season:
"If the NCAA made coaches predict their record, I probably would not have had us with just one loss (at this point) realistically looking at who we've played. But I think we've earned that. I know we've gotten a little lucky, and we have just one loss against the No. 1 team in the country (Arizona). So the trick is to stay there and be as excited to go to Colorado Springs as we were to go to Lawrence, Kansas. It's easy to say, but it takes maturity, veterans and brain power to do it, and that's what we're expecting them to do. The coaches will be ready to go every bit as much as when we were against Kansas. Our players I believe will be the same."

On what's been the key to their success this season:
"Probably a little bit of everything. Our players would say it's because our defense is so much better. And in some measure it is. I would say this: We are more consistent with our defense (this season). I watched tape on all three of our games against Boise State last year, and there were stretches where we were every bit as good as you see when we're at our best. But we had stretches where we weren't very good at all. Our highs and lows defensively are not nearly as extreme this year, and I think that's a huge piece to what we're doing. And guys have gotten better. Winston Shepard has gotten better. We now come to expect what we've seen from him the last six or seven games rather than hope that he would do something. (Xavier Thames) is playing at an elite level. Skylar (Spencer) is significantly better than he was a year ago. Now you throw Josh (Davis) into the mix and JJ (O'Brien) is pretty good too. You put that lineup out there and you say, `That is a good team.' I think probably to the casual fans, we're better than they thought we might be, but they didn't really know the makeup of our team and (Davis) was a bit of a wildcard that adds a really nice element."

On why they struggled during the last five or six minutes against Boise State:
"(Boise State) outscored us 21-8 down the stretch, and I know we missed a couple one-and-one's. We were 4-for-8 down the stretch from the free-throw line. (Boise State) made some shots. They attacked the rim. The closer the game got to the finish line, the more aggressive they became attacking off the dribble, and they're good at it. It wasn't just (Derrick) Marks. (Mikey) Thompson was really good at it too. And I thought we had the misfortune on a couple of calls, the 50-50 calls. There were several things. We turned the ball over twice. Everything they did went right, and we had enough miscues to allow it to happen."

On the difference in Josh Davis recently:
"Josh, for a fifth-year senior, sometimes doubts himself instead of saying to himself, `I'm the biggest, baddest, best player on the court,' and trying to play that way. I think he's starting to get more comfortable. He has become much more assertive with is offensive flow in the last few games, and we have to have that from him. And his rebounding has improved also. He's been more aggressive. But I think a lot of that is confidence."

On if Aqeel Quinn is figuring out his role on the team:
"He would say, `I got a chance to play.' He had done a lot of what you see (in recent games) now in practice, but I know only five can play (at a time). He didn't get into the Arizona game and couple others. I watched him practice, we talked and said, `We've got to get him in there.' When he got in, he played well, so now he's moved up the food chain of when he'll come in. I think opportunity started it, but also the attitude he had where he was still as good as anybody we had in the locker room after the games when he didn't play. And I think that wins for you. It really has helped him stay ready when his opportunity came so he could perform. (Quinn) is a confident young guy. Obviously making shots and playing well in games helps you grow that confidence, which he's now done also."

On if this year's team is more focused than last year's team:
"That's an exaggeration of what I've witnessed in practice. A year ago, we had a young Winston Shepard who often when you talked to him, it was hard for him to accept what you were talking about. He's much better that way now in accepting what needs to be done. But I would say the effort and intensity was there last year. I think our smarts with the guys coming back is helpful, and with the two freshmen who are now sophomores in (Spencer) and (Shepard) in particular. So I don't think you need to look for reasons. I would say, `When they've had to make a play, they've made it.' When we needed one to bounce out like at USD, it has, and that's helpful also. But I believe we're more consistent at both ends of the floor in terms of staying with it and not trying to do things too fast."

Senior guard Xavier Thames

On if he heard before the season that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year:
"Yes, people talk about it, but I try not to get into it. I knew we would have a great team, everybody worked hard all summer."

On what went wrong late in the second half against Boise State:
"Just at the defensive end, we didn't get the stops we needed during the last five minutes or so. That's also a credit to Boise State. They're a great team and they came out strong during the last five minutes (of the game). I just think we have to buckle down on defense and everything will take care of itself. "

On what is so tough about playing at Air Force:
"I don't think people really give credit to Air Force. They're a great team and a tough team to prepare for. They have a different type of offense that teams really don't see often. So that's a credit to them and their coaching staff. They're a very good team and I'm sure it's going to be a tough game when we go up there this Sunday."

On if there's anything from past experiences playing at Air Force that can help them on Sunday:
"I just know two years ago it was a good game. Last year was a good game as well. (Air Force) got us both times, so we just have to come out and play hard. We know it's going to be a tough game."

On what's different about Air Force this season:
"Player-wise, we haven't watched film yet. It's still the same offense that can drive and draw fouls. We did a pretty good job of preparing for that today, so we've got to come back tomorrow and work at it."

On what specific things are different with the team this season:
"Practice is much different than last year. We get after each other every single day in practice, I think that's one of the main things. Also our defense has picked up tremendously from last year, so I think those are the two main things. And this is a different group of guys. We weren't slacking last year, but sometimes last year we weren't focused. Guys were joking around."

Sophomore forward Winston Shepard

On if he heard before the season that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year:
"I kind of took it as a little disrespect. For somebody to say, `You guys don't have anything this year,' or `You guys are a year away,' it's kind of disrespectful. But at the same time, it's fuel for my fire and fuel for everybody else's fire."

On what makes assistant coach Justin Hutson so special:
"He's very similar to my high school coach. That's all we practiced at Findlay Prep, was defense. I think last year, I missed that a little bit. Now that coach Hutson is here, it's great for us, and I think it's the number one reason why we're as good as we are."

On why it's so hard to prepare for Air Force:
"They're unique. They play a different style of offense than most everybody else in the conference with back-cutting and dribble-drives. A lot of people don't give them the credit they deserve. They're really are a good team. They're well-coached and their offense is hard to guard."

On if there's a different vibe around the team this season:
"Everything is different from last year at this point. I think everything has been different from the start of the season, not necessarily in a good or bad way, but in a different way. Guys are more focused and I think a lot of credit has to go to coach (Hutson) on that. We're a group of focused guys, and we're just trying to be as good as we can be. Last year we had a lot of expectations in the preseason. Everybody was talking about us and we were ranked in the preseason. This year, guys had to come in with a chip on their shoulder. Everybody said this was a transition or rebuilding year and we weren't supposed to be that good, so a lot of guys took that to heart."

On if coach Fisher being considered for Coach of the Year motivates the team:
"It's an honor and us as players take a lot of pride in that because coach Fisher is a great coach and he gives us a lot of freedom, but he says with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. So I definitely hope he wins it. I think he's well-deserving, and he's done a great job this year."

Junior guard Aqeel Quinn

On what's been the team's key to success this season:
"I think it's been the defense. (Assistant coach Justin Hutson) really brings the defensive mindset to everybody. Everybody is focused in practice especially, so when it comes to the game, it's easy. When everybody is focused on defense, it lets everyone's offense come easier too."

On what went wrong late in the second half against Boise State:
"I think during the last five minutes, guys need to increase their intensity. That's what we need to focus on."

On if the team will lose the chip on its shoulder as they continue to climb in the rankings:
"Not at all. I think the depth of this team is one of a kind, and it makes the starting five have to amp it up in practice even more every day. I don't think we've let up on them, ever."

On what it has been like for him playing meaningful minutes in the past few games:
"It's been kind of a fast transition really, going from not playing at the beginning of the year. I talked to (Thames and Shepard) and they told me I just have to stick it out. When my opportunity came I was ready. I try not to ever look back, take my time with everything and cherish every opportunity. Last year I was sitting out and waiting for my time. When this year came, I was just happy and excited. I was ready."

On if earning his scholarship motivated him:
"Yes definitely. A lot of credit goes to coach Fisher. He told me last year going into the summer there would be an opportunity for me if I worked hard. He stayed true to his word, so I respect him and I love him for that dearly."