March 17, 2014
SAN DIEGO -
An interview with:
COACH Steve Fisher
COACH FISHER: We are like every Coach in America who is playing, up to our ears in tape on our first opponent and starting to get tape on a potential second opponent. We're very, very excited to be in the field, to be playing. I said this yesterday to our team, that if you don't get goose bumps when you go out and see or hear the song leading into the start of the Selection Sunday, then something's wrong, something's wrong with you. We all do. I do.
It's a privilege to be a part of this spectacular event, and we are, and we have been for five straight years. I think at times if you're not careful you begin to think it's a divine right that you're in it, when those of us that have gone stretches where we haven't been in it know that you work to get there. You earn your way in, but you should be so excited when you're there, and we are. Our goal is to go in and play like that shows with our energy and effort, and we've done that most of the season which is why we're 29 4.
So we are final touches as we get ready to head up to Spokane tomorrow and get ready for our first round game with New Mexico State and the common thread you all know is Marvin Menzies is coaching there. He was on our original staff at San Diego State. Aerick Sanders who was in my first recruiting class in the year 2000. We helped Aerick get a job, his first job, and then Marvin just hired him last summer at New Mexico State. So there is a strong Aztec connection there.
We'll be bitter enemies for 40 minutes. Then we'll be great friends like we are right now when that game is over.
Q. Can you address the size of their big guy? I saw some video of him last night, and that's about as big a guy as you can put on the floor it seems like.
COACH FISHER: He is that. I think they said he's the biggest player in college basketball. I think he's a legit 7'4" or whatever they say, 350 pounds. He's so vastly improved from a year ago. He's a force. He's a hard guy to maneuver around and they throw it to him early and often in that low post. They are like us. They have made more free throws than their opponents have shot, and I can see why after watching tape on him.
They throw it him and they have another 6'9", 250 pounder who looks small by comparison. He will present a challenge for us, no question.
Q. What are your thoughts on New Mexico State and their team?
COACH FISHER: If you're in the field, you're good. If you're in the field, you're good enough to win. I remember watching Marvin's team play a couple of years ago. They were playing Michigan State who may have been a 2 or a 3 seed in the first round. He did everything but win the game. Lost right at the end. So the more tape I've watched, the more impressed I've been with their team.
They're well coached. They know what they want to do. They make it hard for you to drive in when they've got a 7'5" guy inside, and they are efficient with their offense. So this is a good team we're playing. This is a team that now I believe they've gone three straight years, and four out of five or four out of six, something like that. So they're used to being there also.
Q. They score over 77 points a game. They shoot over 49%. They're one of the most efficient teams offensively. So do you have to avoid getting into a track meet with them and try to slow it down? What is your initial impression after looking at some tape?
COACH FISHER: We can't let them do this. Reach up and go on your tip toes and lay it in, which they get a lot of. So it's easier said than done. They do a nice job of passing the ball out of the post. They do a nice job of passing the ball very quickly from side to side. If you take away one post, they quickly swing it and throw it inside to the other post.
I don't think any of us are going to change drastically who we are. So we're a pretty good defensive team. We'll hopefully be able to guard them with some efficiency and not let their bigs get to the sweet spot all the time, because it will be hard to move them once they get there. And be able to challenge their shots and limit them to one shot at the basket too, that's important.
Q. Have you ever faced a guy this big? I mean, not just in height but in girth?
COACH FISHER: No, I don't think anybody in America has. No, he's a big, big man. Everything about him is so much better than it was a year ago when I believe he's only a sophomore, if I'm not mistaken. So he's a guy that I know Marvin is happy to have, and he's got a little brother sitting out. So he will be someone that will make it difficult on us like he has on everybody he's played this year.
Q. Coach, a day removed from the big selection yesterday. What has been the point you've tried to make to the team today moving towards the game?
COACH FISHER: We haven't talked to the team yet today. We practice after the press conference. But what we'll do is have a 20 minute film session beforehand to get them familiar with personnel, and then we'll go out.
Today is going to be a form and technique day. Tomorrow will be a tempo day where we'll go hard tomorrow. Today we're going to go out, and this is what we want to do. This is how we want to do it, and kind of go half speed through form and technique stuff. We have our own routine. We do some things every day, which we'll do, but then when we get in preparation. Today will be a learning day. Tomorrow will be a competition day.
Q. The last three years in a row you guys have been bounced from a team that's actually seeded below you. Is there a message you want to give these guys that it doesn't matter if this is our second highest seed in school history? How do you as a coach really pound into them that right now the numbers don't matter?
COACH FISHER: We don't even talk about numbers. You've reminded me, and I didn't realize that was the case, but I'm sure you have your figures correct. Anybody can beat anybody. Eventually a No. 1 will get beat by a No. 16.
A year ago I know Florida Gulf Coast not only beat us, but they beat Georgetown who was a No. 2 seed in the first round. So this is what everybody loves to see.
Now, there is not a dramatic difference between San Diego State and New Mexico State when you talk about the ones and the 16s, that's where everybody that's not a fan for that team pulls for the underdog. And that happened last year when we played when we played the second game, we're watching and it was like a home game for Florida Gulf Coast against Georgetown, and then it was the same way the next day. All the neutrals cheer for the underdog, and that's natural. That's what gets people watching, and that's what gets people invited to the ESPYs when you beat somebody like that.
But we're not worried about that. Our kids are smart enough to know that you have to be ready to play, and we have been. There's not a whole lot of difference between who we are and who they are.
Q. What are your expectations for how far your team can go?
COACH FISHER: Well, I'm hoping we're playing for three weeks. I'm hoping we're doing something that you want to talk about next week and then the week after.
We're going up to Spokane to win two games. We're going up to Spokane to say we have things to do. We want to be playing a week from now, but we want to take care of business in Game 1 and then in Game 2. So we're no different than most of the teams. We're not just happy to be here. We want to make some noise and win some games. How much, how many? We'll find out.
We're mart enough to know you have to be good, you have to play well and probably get a little bit lucky along the way. All you have to do is go back and look at the North Carolina State 30 for 30 that they've got out and see how you have to have good fortune. You can go every year and you can see teams that advance and they do it sometimes when the crazy things happen. So we're hoping we're part of the madness a week from now that we're talking again.
Q. This is a team that's been there before. Four of the players were all there last year. Do you approach it differently with a group of guys that have been there before?
COACH FISHER: I don't think you approach it differently, but it's a comfortable feeling for me to know that we do have guys that played in the tournament last year. A couple that maybe played in it the year before that know the drill. When you get there, it's like the NCAA is the all mighty ruler. If they tell you to go stand in the corner for 30 minutes, then you have to do that until they call you to the press conference. If they say you have to sit in the locker room for 45 minutes whether no one comes in or not. So you don't get antsy and say why are we having to do this? You know the drill.
But the nice thing about our team this year, they have been so good in so many different circumstances. When we've traveled and had weather delays, when we got stuck some place, you never hear them complaining. So I think that's what's allowed us to be good too. Rather than finding things to complain about, they've enjoyed one another's company, put a smile on their face and said I'm so happy I'm here and not some place else.
Q. Everyone talks about (New Mexico State's) bigs. Is this strictly a big man team or do they have other pieces that teams need to be worried about?
COACH FISHER: No, they're a team. You start with their bigs, but No. 23, (Daniel) Mullings, MVP of the league, he's good. He's really good. He can beat you in a lot of ways. (Kevin Aronis), who now that one player got suspended, has been the beneficiary of more playing time. He's as good a three point shooter as there is in the country, and they find those guys. (Ian Baker), the freshman guard from, I think, Washington D.C., has also benefited by more playing time. I'm impressed with how they move the ball, how they know how, when, and why to attack you off the dribble or to set up that next pass to get a wide open jumpshot.
I told Marvin when I watched tape. I talked to Marvin today, last night, and I talked to him the other day. I said, Marvin, I didn't know you learned so much when we were here together, your team is too good. He laughed, so we could say that to one another and know that we're complimenting one another sincerely. They're a good team. He's done a marvelous job there.
Q. What else did you guys talk about? Point spreads, anything like that?
COACH FISHER: We talked about how we're so happy for each other and our families that we're in the tournament. But we just desperately wished we hadn't been paired up against one another. That's whatthe thrust of it was. When I saw our name with them, I said, `Boy, I'm happy we're going to Spokane. I'm happy we'e a 4 seed, but I wish it was someone other than Marvin Menzies and New Mexico State we were playing.'
He text me before I called him with that exact same message, so that's two friends talking to one another.
Q. I'm guessing you're not surprised that Marvin has players from all over the world?
COACH FISHER: Nothing Marvin does surprises me. You meet him and you're instantly a friend. You meet him and you think you've known him forever. I'm not surprised that he's done what he's done. He's got a great ability to sincerely communicate with people, and it comes off in a way that no one else could bring it across. He's a terrific person, and he's an exceptionally good coach. So I'm happy for him. I'm happy for what he's done.
Obviously, he's had various stops from San Diego State. He went to USC from us, UNLV with Lon Kruger, then Louisville with Rick Pitino, and now at New Mexico State. So he's had the experience to be with different styles, different philosophies, and glean from everybody and fit into Marvin Menzies' basketball, which is good. And he can recruit, he does. He has them from all over the world.
I think we should put a cap on how many people from outside the continental United States you could have, and he wouldn't have a team if you did that.
Q. You talk about everybody rooting for the underdog. What's your gut telling you as far as SDSU fans showing up to Spokane?
COACH FISHER: Well, I'd love to say we're going to have half the building. We'll have our die hards. That's an expensive ticket at the last minute to get anywhere in today's world. I do know that those who are not there, who I saw yesterday, who I've seen at every single home game, who I've seen in the mall, who I've seen in town who are so excited to be Aztecs, I know they'll be there. They'll be there with Ted Leitner on the radio. They'll be there with True TV as the game unfolds.
We're hoping we reward ourselves and our fans to be playing in Anaheim. I promise you if we're in Anaheim, we'll have half the building.
Q. Coach, do you think having lost that game on Saturday, how much does that help your team going forward? Does it give you a little bit of extra edge considering it was against New Mexico and you have the conference title? Are the guys ready to move on and take on the NCAA Tournament?
COACH FISHER: I don't think that's going to have any impact at all on what happens in the NCAA Tournament. Whether we had one we did lose -- I don't think it has any significance on it. Our players, our guys are excited. They're going to be ready to play. New Mexico will not be on anyone's minds when we approach practice today, tomorrow, Wednesday, and prepare for that game on Thursday. We want to win. We want to win.
An interview with:
Dwayne Polee II
Q. How do you defend a guy who is 7'5", 355 pounds?
Josh Davis: I think it's going to be more quickness. That was a tough match up, similar to New Mexico, but I think quickness will be the key.
Q. How do you feel heading into Thursday's game?
Dwayne Polee II: We're feeling really confident. Even though we had a tough loss, we're feeling confident about our games. That loss is in the past now, so we're just moving on. We're excited and ready for the match up.
Q. Josh, have you never defended anyone that big before or what is the biggest? Did you ever defend Shaq?
Josh Davis: I never defended Shaq, but (New Mexico's) Alex Kirk is pretty big, so I guess I'm used to it coming off that game.
Q. How do you begin to defend for someone that big? What is the secret?
Josh Davis: A lot of quickness, trying to front them and just keep the ball out of the post for the main part.
Q. Is it a big advantage having played against Kirk and Bairstow a couple times?
Josh Davis: Oh, yeah, that definitely helps a lot. Just being able to have the opportunity to get used to a match up like that.
Q. They make a lot of shots. They're a good shooting team. You guys are known for your tenacious D. They always say in football that defense wins championships. What about basketball?
Xavier Thames: I think it's the same. You saw Louisville last year, they won a National Championship because they played great defense. They had (Gorgui) Dieng back there blocking shots. So it's going to be a good match up for us, and we're just going to go out there and have fun and compete.
Q. What does it mean to you guys to be playing in the West region?
Dwayne Polee II: It means a lot because you're fans have done a great job of following us and traveling to wherever we are. So I feel like we'll have a great deal of support.
Q. Who is the biggest guy for all three of you that you've played against before? The tallest, heaviest guy you've played?
Xavier Thames: It had to be Kirk for me.
Josh Davis: Yeah, Kirk.
Xavier Thames: Kirk, (Cameron) Bairstow, those are your two dominant big men. Those are the two guys that I can remember that were so big like that.
Q. Josh, have you played against anybody bigger?
Josh Davis: I would say Kirk and Bairstow are the two most dominant as well.
Q. He's a hundred pounds heavier. How do you hold him off the block?
Josh Davis: It's going to take a team effort. Everybody just being in held position.
Q. You're all going to push him?
Josh Davis: The main thing is to just try to keep (the ball) out of the post.
Q. Does he throw elbows like Bairstow does? Do you have to watch out for that?
Josh Davis: I'm going to try my hardest to move away from him. I'm going to be quick as I can.
Q. Xavier, with your experience in the tournament, how do you try to as a leader tell the rest of the team and set the tone as to what to expect and kind of be the even keeled guy going up, going down? Just kind of setting the tone?
Xavier Thames: I think everybody on the team besides Josh, (Aqeel Quinn) and the two freshmen have been in the NCAA Tournament, so we've got a lot of experience. Just tell the guys this is a fun experience. Just enjoy every moment and go out there and play hard, which I know the guys will do that haven't been in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. How much do you enjoy the tournament and everything that comes with the NCAA Tournament?
Xavier Thames: It was fun. It's March Madness, a lot of people are watching, so it's a great time. Just want to go out there and have fun like I said and just enjoy the moment.
Q. Because you guys were in it last year. You win your first game, and then you go up against a team with a much lower seed and they knocked you guys out. Have you learned that when we get to March it doesn't matter if you're a 4, a 12, a 16? There's only one team that's going to walk away with a win at the end of the year?
Dwayne Polee II: This time of the year, everybody's bringing their `A' game and packing their best punch. So it's on us to make sure we're on our P's and Q's, and make sure we bring our A game as well.
Q. Do you feel pressure, Xavier, as the general out there to make sure everybody stays focused?
Xavier Thames: I don't think it's pressure. Everybody's focused right now. We just need to take it one game at a time. Like coach (Fisher) said, it's a two game tournament, so we've just got to do that and be prepared. But everybody's focused and we've just got to get out there and play.
Q. It seems like everybody in the world knows their coach, Marvin Menzies when he was here. D.P., I'm sure your dad probably played with him?
Dwayne Polee II: I'm sure my dad probably does know him. I don't know too much about him. I know (assistant coach) Aerick Sanders, he used to be very close to the program a couple years ago. So we're just going to go out, have a good tournament and have fun.
Q. Josh, did New Mexico State call you? Were they one of the schools that called you?
Josh Davis: That was one of the schools that didn't call me.
Q. What do you guys think that people who don't know too much about San Diego State are going to be surprised to see when you guys take the court?
Xavier Thames: If they haven't seen us, they're going to see our defense and the way we press. We're kind of similar to Florida. People on the east coast have seen Florida and things like that, that's kind of how we play. So I think our defense will surprise some people how we get out in transition and run our offense. Throwing lobs to D.P., and Josh, and those guys like that. That's two of the things that people can expect if they haven't seen us before.
An Interview With:
Q. Winston, the day after the selection, any new thoughts about New Mexico State and you guys being in the tournament?
Winston Shepard: Not really, just ready to go play, and play against a good New Mexico State team.
Q. A lot of talk about the other guys that were just in here if you didn't hear, but the big guy, you've seen his size and dimensions now. Have you ever seen anybody like that on the floor against you?
Winston Shepard: Well, I had an opportunity to play against him in high school at Findlay Prep, and all I can say is that he's big, but I think with our style of play, it should be tough for him to play.
Q. What happened in that game?
Winston Shepard: We won.
Q. What did he do in that game?
Winston Shepard: All I can really remember is that we had a triple team on him and he still dunked it.
Q. Did you get dunked on?
Winston Shepard: No, not me.
Q. I wanted to make sure I got that cleared up.
Winston Shepard: Not me. I don't get dunked on.
Q. What are you going to do Thursday to stop it?
Winston Shepard: This will be our first day of practice and preparation, so I'm sure our coaches will have a great game plan lined up for us, and I'm pretty sure we'll be ready.
Q. Do you feel extra pressure because that is the guy everybody is talking about?
Winston Shepard: Me personally, no, I don't feel any extra pressure. Maybe (Skylar Spencer), that will be his match up, but like I said, this is a team game. We don't let guys just play one on one. I'm sure we'll have a great game plan to stop him, but I don't think he's the best player on the team.
Q. What do you think about the overall team?
Winston Shepard: I don't really know much about them besides the fight that they had on ESPN. I know one of the players off their team is from Texas, but that's all I really know about them.
Q. A.Q, who's the biggest player you've ever played against?
Aqeel Quinn: Like size tall wise? He's about to be the biggest.
Q. How do you feel heading into the tournament?
Aqeel Quinn: Myself personally? I'm excited. This is my first time around, so I'm looking forward to it. This is what you dream about as a kid, and it's finally here.
Q. Your calling card as a team is your defense. You hold most of your opponents to season lows seems like week in and week out. In a tournament like this do you feel like that's an advantage that a team that can shut down other teams can make a big run?
Aqeel Quinn: Yeah, I believe so. We always think if our offense is not going, then our defense is our calling card. If we lock somebody down, then we can get rolling on offense at any time.
Q. Winston, you played last year. What do you take away from what happened last year, and how much does the last loss last year still sting with you guys?
Winston Shepard: Well, this is our first chance to redeem ourselves for the NCAA Tournament last year. Me personally, I'm definitely looking forward to going back to it. I'm not as excited as I was last year, I'm just more taking it as I'm just ready to handle business. Of course I'm happy to be back in the tournament, but I'm just ready to go there and play and get the show on the road.
Q. Winston, is your confidence a lot higher this year with this team than last year?
Winston Shepard: Well, of course. I think I have a bigger role on this team this year than last year. Last year I was kind of just feeling my way through, but I definitely would say I'm one of the key parts of the team this year, so I definitely have a lot of confidence going in.
Q. When you said you were more excited last year than this year, wouldn't you feel more excited this year possibly?
Winston Shepard: No, last year I was a freshman. You're kind of just wide eyed and just going through it, just like `Wow.' But this year I know, like I said, I'm a key part of the team, so I know I have to be on my game and ready to play as opposed to last year where I might not have got in or I might just have been watching. I was just a little more excited just to be there last year.
Q. Aqeel, you just heard what he said about being a newbie. What do you make of that?
Aqeel Quinn: I'm not really wide eyed or nothing, but I am excited. It's my first time, first time here with these guys, too, so I'm looking forward to it. That's all I can say.
Q. When you said it's a chance to redeem yourself, how much of it was just losing the tournament, how much of it was losing to a 15 seed that everyone obviously anyone can beat anyone, but that everyone expected you guys to beat?
Winston Shepard: Well, before the game last year, when I saw it was Florida Gulf Coast, I just couldn't see how we wouldn't go to the Sweet 16, but all that changed. Florida Gulf Coast was a great team. You know, getting back to the tournament now this year, we have a great chance to go deeper, I think, and we just want to go out and play. I just hope we can go out there and play hard and play our best basketball. I think our team is peaking right now, so we're all excited and ready to play.
Q. So that kind of sobered the team? It kind of changed the team's attitude towards the tournament do you think?
Winston Shepard: Absolutely. A loss hurts no matter who it is, but definitely I thought that we should have beat Florida Gulf Coast, no disrespect to them. But we had a great team last year, and I definitely thought when we got to play them instead of Georgetown, I thought we would win. But they were a great squad.