Feb. 10, 2014
SAN DIEGO -
Head coach Steve Fisher
"We are preparing for another extremely difficult road trip, and the Wyoming road trip presents a whole series of unique issues when you travel there. It's a hard place to get to, there's altitude, the arena, the crowd, but more importantly, the opponent. They're good and they're playing very good basketball. The play everybody close. They play a style where it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to have a hard time scoring in the mid-60s and you might have a hard time scoring in the mid-50s. A year ago there, we had nine points at halftime, and I don't think I have to say anything more about the difficulties they present to you when you play them. That's the challenge for us on Tuesday. We have a group that has been prepared for each game in a manner that gives ourselves a chance to be successful. And that's what we're doing as we get ready to head up to Laramie, Wyoming to play the Cowboys. So I'm anxious to see how we'll perform. It's a different team with a different set of challenges, but the challenge has always been there to play well and find a way to win. We've been able to do that, and it's our goal head up there for the next game."
On if being held to only nine points in the first half at Wyoming last year is motivation:
"I don't know if it will be motivation, but it's a reminder that if you don't come prepared and play well, crazy things happen. We played (Wyoming) here after we played them there, and we had 35 points at halftime, and we struggled to have that with five minutes to go in the game at their place. So I don't think it will be something we'll show over and over again. The ones who were there know. Xavier Thames did not play in that game, his back wouldn't allow him to. He was invaluable to our team."
On if there's a significant change in how his players play in high altitude:
"A very successful coach once said high altitude shouldn't be an issue because you play indoors, and I think his players responded accordingly. Our players know that altitude is an issue, but you play and find a way to work through it. One thing we've been able to do this year when we get tired is go to the bench quickly. It's an advantage for a team that has quality depth, which we do have. So we might sub a little earlier or more frequently during the game. But I do not anticipate we won't play hard because of the altitude. That's a stretch for us to say that."
On if they're thinking about getting the school-record 21st-straight win:
"Well, we'd like to, yes. But more importantly, we'd like to stay undefeated in Mountain West play. If we win, it will be our 21st-consecutive win, which would be an amazing accomplishment for anyone. Not many teams in America, including us, have won 21 in a row. Yet there are a couple (teams) this year that have won more than that. That's what we hope to do, but we're more intent on winning the game than getting a wins streak. But it's neat that we are 21-1. It's a pretty amazing accomplishment and we're proud of that fact."
On how he keeps his players playing at a high level:
"You sometimes can put yourself in a position where you play not to lose rather than play to win, and you can't have that. You can't be a scoreboard-watcher every two minutes to see what the score is and how much time there is left. Sometimes if you're not careful that can happen, but we have to focus on playing as hard as we can, and if we play as hard as we can, we'll have a chance. I anticipate every game we play coming down to the last four or five minutes with either team having a chance to win, regardless of the record of either team home or away. So you can't get shocked and say, `We're only two points ahead?' And we've talked about that. I've also said that pressure is good if it's channeled the right way. I think if you put pressure on yourself to perform and play well, that's good. But it can't be fear that gives you pressure."
On if their offense has found a groove in recent games:
"Our offense is significantly better now than it was a month ago, from the standpoint of spacing the floor, knowing what to do when the ball's on one side, knowing the value of movement, knowing that you have to have the ability to throw it inside and out, knowing that your screens need to be set at an angle to be effective. We're a lot better with our concepts, and what had been missed shots are now made shots, which gives us confidence. But I do think that our offense is significantly better than at the start of the season. And I'm hopeful that we'll shoot the ball the way that we have lately. We've added a few things to create more program movement, but there's freedom in that movement to break if off and make a play out of it. There are a lot of things that we're doing, and I would hope that we'll be able to continue to talk about the growth of our offense in terms of how well we're finishing and making plays. But we're better, there's no question. Our offensive is a big reason why we've won the last couple games the way we've won."
On if their defense this season is better than it's been in recent years:
"I'm not positive on how this team's defense is compared to others we've had. I would say that looking back, that this year's team compared to all of them, I believe we've been more consistently alert and playing hard for longer stretches. We don't have as many instances where one guy breaks down and all of a sudden it creates problems for the team. So I think we're better as a group. Part of that comes from in years past, and maybe it was me, I played guys for too many minutes straight. Last year we had two guys in the top four or five in minutes played in the league. This year, we have nobody in the top 12, and that's good. I think that has helped us defensively. We've got the ability to play different ways. We've got athletes where we can switch stuff if we want to. We've got length to where if we double in the post, we make it hard for people. We've got Skylar Spencer, who has turned into a really good guy inside. He's turned some easy baskets into blocks or tough shots."
On how he's taught players how to be great defenders:
"We practice what we preach. Everybody talks about defense and rebounding wins. It you watch our practices, we have breakdown drills for defense, where it's teaching. We've had technique days, and we'll build tempo into that technique. So we work at it. (Assistant coach) Justin Hutson has done a great job being on point because that's his baby. Justin is in charge of the defense. So as we prepare for a game, I'll say, `This is what I see that could create problems. How are we going to guard them?' And I give (Hutson) wiggle room to say, `This is how I want to start.' So I think that helps, that there's ownership. But it's the (players). They've worked hard. There may be a bit of fear factor where if you don't play hard, we're going to put somebody in for you. Maybe we've done it quicker this year to make it a point of emphasis. I'm not sure. We're a good defensive team, but we can't slip. The goal is not to slip."
On Dwayne Polee II's defense:
"Dwayne Polee senior did that years ago. He was a phenom. And our Dwayne Polee is instinctive in terms of how he plays. He made a couple steals in the Nevada game that nobody else could have made because of his length, his anticipation and ability to take that first quick step. He really is good at that. He's a very strong asset to our defense. In the full-court, he gets his hands on a lot of balls. So we've got to make sure we continue to utilize all the assets we've got and all the abilities that each of the guys have."
Junior forward JJ O'Brien
On growing up and being convinced that defense is fun:
"My mom was big on me about defense. It's just something that's been in me and it translated. I guess, in mine and Xavier (Thames') case, it worked out for us. We've enjoyed playing defense."
On maintaining control of the game when shots aren't falling:
"I think that's also what keeps us so intense on defense. It can keep us in a game even when our offense isn't going well. You can't control whether the ball goes in. Sometimes it's just not the night. You can control your defense, so even when our offense is struggling, our defense will keep us in games. I think that's how we've won a few of our games this year."
On if coaches are more upset about lack of defense than lack of offensive execution:
"Definitely. It gets intense on defense. It just stems from that theory that you can't control if the ball goes in but you can control your effort on defense. If you're effort isn't there, they definitely let you know."
On why the team has more focus this year:
"I think it has a little bit to do with our mentality but we also have the right group of guys as far as athletes. We're all long about 6-foot-7, with the exception of a couple guys. We're all tall, long and athletic. That's to our benefit, but our mindset is a little different this year as far as focusing on the game plan and being on the right spots on defense."
On what he remembers from last year's game at Wyoming when the team had nine points at halftime:
"I don't really remember specifics but I remember that our effort wasn't really there. We weren't that great on defense and we really could not put the ball in the hole at all. Shots weren't falling in. It was mainly just our effort. Our effort wasn't really there that game."
On the environment at Wyoming:
"I think it'll be a good one for our game. It's tough to play there. The altitude really gets to you. I think it's the highest altitude in our conference so it really gets to you. Last year when we went there, they had a pretty good crowd. I think this year when we go out there it'll be another good crowd. We're expecting a good game."
On how the team stays focused on the games:
"At the end of the day it's just basketball and we're competitors. What we look forward to is just playing. All that stuff is extra stuff compared to going out there and playing. What we get excited for is playing the games and that's what allows us to just take it one game at a time. Our focus for that game is our love for the game and our love to compete."
On the team's offensive improvements:
"We've been working on a lot of spot-shooting in practice so maybe that helps, too. I just think it's our time now. We've been making shots lately. It's just how it works. Sometimes it doesn't go in and sometimes it does. Right now it is."
On the excitement of knowing the team has to compete at its highest level:
"I think it's a lot of fun. We're competitors. We don't want anybody to just come in and lie down and not play as hard as they can. We'd like to beat everybody at their best. That says a lot about us and it says a lot about the other team if they come out and compete. We want to have fun and compete to the top level. We're excited for that."
Senior guard Xavier Thames
On growing up and being convinced that defense is fun:
"I pride myself playing defense. My favorite player growing up was Gary Payton. My mom always got on me about playing defense. The offense will come. You work on your game each and every day with defense. I take pride in that."
On the repercussions of not playing defense:
"You'll get taken out of the game and it's not going to look nice on film either. Those are two things that they'll get on us about."
On why this team's defense is better than previous years:
"Our focus is much better than last year. We just want to keep winning and getting stops. We want to have the best defense in the country. That's one of our goals."
On why the effort is different this year from last year:
"I just think we have a different group of players. It's a whole different team than last year. We're just focused and we want to go out and win each and every game."
On what it was like to watch the team struggle in the game last year:
"It was difficult. They've been talking about it. We talked about it yesterday how our effort wasn't good up there last year. We just have to come out and give a good effort and stay focused."
On the possibility of achieving a 21-win streak record:
"We're not thinking about that. It's just another game. We're trying to go out there and get a win. It would be nice to get 21-straight wins, a school record, but we just have to focus and try to get this win."
On the team's offensive improvements:
"I just think shots have fallen. We weren't making shots but mostly our shots were good shots. We were getting to the basket and I was missing some easy shots. I think we're just making our shots right now. We're executing pretty good. We're getting out in transition. I think those are the main things."