#AztecMBB-North Dakota State NCAA Quotes
March 21, 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. -
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. JJ, talk about Xavier's growth this year that you've seen just into this leader, and how this team sort of has taken on to some extent his personality, maybe.
JJ O'Brien: Just from the beginning of the year to now, he's grown in his leadership abilities, not just making the big plays, but instructing us and leading us on what to do, being a leader off the floor as well. So, he's grown in a lot of ways just from the beginning of the year to now.
Q. Have you ever seen him get mad? Or show any real emotion at all?
JJ O'Brien: Yeah, definitely so. I got mad back at him one time because he got too mad at me. So, I had to press him back. But, no, it's all in good spirits, he wants to win, (He) definitely gets mad, he definitely shows emotion, but he's a leader, that's what he's supposed to do.
Q. Winston, on the same topic, you guys have been defined as a team, or I mean the true definition of it, but if you could talk about Xavier's role and how it really is, you guys go as he goes to some extent in a lot of games.
Winston Shepard: Well, he's the leading scorer and he makes big shots, and he's clutch. So, that's all I pretty much have to say about it. I think he leads by example and he's a great guy.
Q. A lot of people back at San Diego are talking about North Dakota State kind of like they were talking about Florida Gulf Coast and everybody is saying oh, San Diego State's going to walk into the Sweet 16. Do you take a little bit of that from the Florida Gulf Coast game and in the back of your mind saying, hey, who knows what could happen?
Xavier Thames: Most definitely. We can't take anybody lightly, North Dakota State is a great team. We watched mostly the whole second half of their game against a good Oklahoma team in the Big 12. So, it's going to be a great game and it's going to be fun.
Winston Shepard: In my eyes it's like last year all over again. We beat a good team in the first round, had a tough game, and we are playing a team that not a lot of people have heard of, but if you look at the stats, they're a great team. I think that they lead the country in field goal percentage and one of the most efficient offenses around. So, nobody in our locker room is taking them lightly and we definitely learned a lesson from last year.
JJ O'Brien: I think that's been the theme of the tournament this year, is not to take people lightly, because there's been so many upsets already. So, we aren't taking them lightly at all. We have known that they were a good team and we're going to prepare for them like they're the best team we have ever played.
Q. For all of you, coach made national headlines last night when he kind of talked about the way the NCAA flying you guys out right after the tournament. What do you remember from that trip last year flying 12 hours to get back to San Diego?
Xavier Thames: I just remember it was a long, long flight. Especially after losing in a tough game like that. It was a long flight. But, we just have to take it and take the flight how it is.
Winston Shepard: It's a free flight, so I mean, you know.
Take it how you can get it.
JJ O'Brien: I don't have nothing to say to that.
Q. Xavier, from your perspective, why has your head coach been so successful over the years?
Xavier Thames: I think that he let's his players play their game. He just let's us play. He's a Hall of Fame coach and he knows what he's doing, but for the most part I think he let's everybody play their game. He's not going to yell at you if you make a mistake, he's going to let you play your game.
Q. You were talking about field goal percentage. Everybody knows San Diego State this year for defense. Do you keep the same defense that you guys have been running? Do you kind of gear it toward stopping what they do best?
Winston Shepard: Well, that's every game. You have to tailor make your defense for what the other team does best. But our identity is defense and we're going to come out and play hard as we can and look to stop them. But, they have some things that they run and we'll definitely make minor adjustments to stop those things.
Q. I was going to ask about last night and overcoming some of the obstacles late in the game. What did you take from those obstacles that you had to overcome and maybe apply them to another team that will be trying to upset you guys.
JJ O'Brien: I think the main thing is not having slipups in the end. We were up eight with a minute and 30 to go, and we gave up three offensive rebounds, we had turnovers, we had mental slipups in the game. I think one of the main things you have to take from that is to be mentally focused in the end, not have those slipups so that you don't let up and have an upset happen.
Q. How much did you guys know about North Dakota State before this tournament?
Xavier Thames: I knew a little bit about them. Especially Braun. I've seen him a few times. I know he's a good all around player. He leads them in scoring, assists and I think rebounds as well, so I knew about him. And they have a great big man, I think he leads the country in field goal percentage. So we knew a little bit about them, but we didn't have a chance to watch them on TV like we see Duke and Kansas and those guys like that. But we knew about them.
Q. For Winston, having watched some tape on North Dakota State do they remind you, their style of play, of anyone you've faced this year?
Winston Shepard: Not off the top of my head. Like I said, we have seen the stats and they're the No. 1 offense efficiency, No. 1 in field goal percentage, so I don't think we played a team was ranked that high in offense, but we'll be prepared and ready for them.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We'll dismiss the student athletes and take questions for coach.
Q. Talk about last night and your thoughts last night. Did you realize when you said it, that it would become such a big deal nationally, regarding the student athletes and the flights after the game?
COACH Steve Fisher: I'm here today to talk about our team and North Dakota State and that game. I thought you were going to talk about the white water rafting.
I'm here to talk about our game. I'm not here to talk about anything other than the things that might surround a great matchup between North Dakota State and San Diego State.
Q. Speaking to that, a lot of people are comparing it to even your guys were talking about, they have kind of Florida Gulf Coast in the back of their minds, knowing it's kind of the same kind of deal, the lower seed against you guys.
COACH Steve Fisher: All you have to do is look around the tournament every year and how about this year, with quote "low seeds" springing upsets. I don't think that the person that coaches or plays on a team that's seeded lower views it as an upset. We think we're good when you're the lower seed and you play that way.
So, our players are aware of what we're doing and the level we're doing it at, and the importance of finding a way to win a game. We did that and they did that. They did some of the same things that New Mexico State did to us. But, then they won the game.
So, you have to get a little bit lucky. We probably did in some areas, to come back after we had a lead, eight points ahead with 1:35 to go with the ball, I will take that most of the time. And we went into overtime.
But, I was proud of the way we competed in overtime, got the first basket, which was important, and played tough enough and smart enough to win that game. And that's what you have to do in this type of situation.
Q. Talk about your impressions of North Dakota State and what you think about them, having had an opportunity to watch some tape on them.
COACH Steve Fisher: Very, very, very impressed. They are driven by veterans, three seniors and a junior, all having scored over a 1,000 points. They play exceptionally well together. They're expertly coached. They know what they want to do, how they want to do it, and do it. They make it hard for you to score easy baskets and they find ways to limit you to one shot when you go down.
So, this is not a team doing it with smoke and mirrors, they're talented. They're good. They can score in the post, they can score when you come to double them, they can make open shots, they can attack you off the bounce when you run at them. They haven't had as much national TV exposure as a lot of teams, but you watch them one time and you say, they can play. Play shirts and skins and they could be on any team in the country.
Q. You've talked so much about Xavier Thames. Struggling to find a question that you haven't answered or gushed about him, but how important is his demeanor, the way that he handles himself, the way that he leads, how important is that on his list of attributes?
COACH Steve Fisher: Xavier has allowed our team to be pretty much like this (Indicating) in terms of how we react to things. We don't get too overly excited, nor do we get too despondent. We have some peaks and valleys, but he has a way of levelling them off and not allowing them to be major extremes.
So, he's so important to everything that happens. Not only from what everybody sees on the game day, but his demeanor in the locker room, before the game, halftime, on the bus, after a game, preparing for a game. He makes coaches' jobs a lot easier with the way he goes about his work. He's been a joy to have in the program and he's set an example of how to do things the right way.
And the nice thing about X, he would say, I learned it at the footsteps of D.J. Gay. When D.J. was leading the team in 2010 and 2011, and when he left, people said, well what are we going to do now for point guard that we don't have D.J.? And I smiled inwardly knowing that we had a guy waiting in the wings to deliver and he has delivered and then some for us.
Q. Because this year is so similar to last year with the Florida Gulf Coast, what do you tell your players to keep that from getting into their heads or do you tell them anything?
COACH Steve Fisher: I don't think that will get into our heads at all. We'll have North Dakota State getting into our heads. That's who we'll be thinking about. I'm sure you brought it up to some of the players or others have, the same kinds of questions, so you think of it momentarily and then you go on.
But it's a fact. We got beat by Florida Gulf Coast last year. They were the better team. They played better than we did. And if we lose tomorrow, it won't be because the ghost of Florida Gulf Coast was in our heads, it will be North Dakota State beat us. Hopefully that won't happen from our perspective. Hopefully, we'll play better than they do.
Q. You're known for your defense and obviously, you talked about their field goal percentage. With this quick turn around, do you tailor your defense around what they do or do you just kind of let your defense go and play?
COACH Steve Fisher: We're probably like they are. We had two coaches that were working on North Dakota State, two coaches working on Oklahoma. We came back, gave the kids some food, put them to bed and then we took film and all of us started on North Dakota State. And started this morning with our players to show some film. And you can't overload them on a short turn around, but you have to develop a game strategy for the opponent that fits what you do, really. We're not going to change dramatically anything that we do. But, we'll tweak it defensively and we'll try to find a way to get some baskets against their defense that's hard to score on.
Q. Is there any team that you've played this season that North Dakota State reminds you of?
COACH Steve Fisher: That's a good question and I don't know that I can answer that. They're a team that, I don't know that I would say plays like anybody that we played, maybe someone else would say they're like so and so, but I know one thing, they play like a team that has won championships, that expects to win. The thing that has impressed me the most about them is how well they play together and play off of one another. And that's a byproduct of veterans. They're not laden with first year players. These are guys that now they know what the teammates going to do before the teammate knows what he's going to do. And you can see that in how they play.
Q. You expect it to be a physical game and if so, why?
COACH Steve Fisher: Well, they play they're aggressive, and so are we. We've got three refs out there that will do their job to keep the game in somewhat of a flow. You have to be smart aggressive with how you play. We're not going to let them go where they want to go if we can help it and they will do the same to us. So, you can't be going out pushing and shoving and have two people with three fouls, but you can't just step back and let a guy cut in front of you and get where he wants to go. You've got to guard them and play hard, they're used to that, we're used to that, so I don't know that it will be any different than most games we have had.
Q. You were just talking about North Dakota State's kind of veteran lineup and they know how to play off each other. Is that why we see more lower seeds having success in the tournament now, because their rosters are usually made up of players who have been together for a number of years?
COACH Steve Fisher: I think that's immensely helpful, don't you? You get guys that have grown up together, they have been through a lot of the things that you have to go through to make it to the tournament, and they have been through it together.
I think there's that bond that you form when you're with someone for three years, four years that's pretty strong, if you've got a good program and a good team, and they do. And so do we.
So, yeah, I think that's been a factor that these teams now are senior driven and even highly touted freshmen still have things that are new to them and sometimes you react in a way that is atypical the first time it happens.
Q. How much did you know about Saul Phillips before this weekend, and you got a chance to probably watch him a little bit last night, I guess just kind of talk about his coaching style and what he brings to the table.
COACH Steve Fisher: I don't know Saul that well. I know him, I know him to say hi on the recruiting trail. I know that he and Bo Ryan were together for a long time. That was after I left the Midwest. So, we talked a little bit on Wednesday when we were all together and we reminisced about one of his coaching colleagues and a real good friend, and a friend of mine, Tim Miles, who proceeded him and laughed at some Tim Miles stories.
But, it didn't take me long and I'll be honest with you, I have not watched a lot of tape on North Dakota State because we haven't played them. It didn't take me long to say, this coach can coach. He's good.
And I watched him when the game was going on. We were in the locker room and we had it on the TV, and I watched the way he handled himself with a smile on his face and enjoying the moment and the one time they called the coaches together. And I couldn't tell whether he got the call or Lon got the call the way he reacted. He slapped Lon on the back and they gave the ball to Oklahoma. But they did give him time to go back and have a timeout in the huddle. So, he handled himself in a way that the kids catch on to, so if he's dealing with all the adversity, then your players are going to be able to do it.
And after the game, I was happy for him as he ran over and I don't know what this is (Indicating) but he ran over to the crowd and gave them, gave them a sign when he ran over there. And that's the way you should feel when you win a game. Any game. At any seed in the tournament. You should have that type of enthusiasm about you when you win. Because it's special to get a win in the tournament. And one of us is going to have two wins, at least.
Q. What is it about this year's tournament? You got the two 12s and then Mercer today, where beating these Top 20 teams where kind of everybody just seems like they have evened out when you played the 40 minutes.
COACH Steve Fisher: I think it's just March Madness at its best. NCAA basketball, expect the unexpected and everyone whose not a fan of that top seed is praying that it will be a close game and that that low seed will hit a basket at the buzzer to win the game. I've been on both sides. And it's fun when you have all the neutrals cheering for you. And that happens.
It's no fun if you're that 1 or 2 seed and you've got your group and nobody else pulling for you in the building.
Q. You made reference to the Midwest, I think a lot of people in our neck of the woods remember the Michigan days pretty well. Have you changed your style since then? Do you coach the same way?
COACH Steve Fisher: I really haven't changed much. So, no, I would say no.
I think sometimes when you're at places you're expected to win and you win because you're at that place. That's how some people view it. And sometimes when you're at a school that has not had a great history of success and you win, people start to say, well, it has to be the coaching, and it's the same coach at the same school. Pressures and expectations are different in a lot of places.
I made this comment in 2010, before the season started. San Diego State got ranked for the first time in the history of San Diego State. Preseason we were ranked 25th in the AP poll. And we made such a big deal out of that, Jim O'Connell called and we talked about it, and I said that's phenomenal for San Diego State. If Coach K were rated 25th, they would want to fire him.
And that sometimes is the difference. The pressures of expectations of everybody.
Now we raised the bar with expectations. And I think that in a good way and I like that, so, but my style is really no different. You get good players, you give them freedom to play, and you give them framework and you allow them to play and you help them build and breed confidence in one another, you tag along and do what you can to help them be successful. And that's what we have always done.
Q. You talked about the neutral fans rooting for the underdog and last night when the Aztecs would miss a free throw, all the neutrals in the arena cheered. And it seems the Bison obviously will be the underdog tomorrow. Do you expect most of the crowd to be rooting for North Dakota State or will it be pretty evenly split?
COACH Steve Fisher: Well, I would have to hope that all my Michigan State fans would be pulling for San Diego State. My wife and her brother are both Michigan State grads and Izzo and I are good buddies, so I would hope that the green and white would be pulling, the green and white of Michigan State would be pulling for us, so I want you to look around and see if they are.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
COACH Steve Fisher: Thanks.
Matt Shrigley (Freshman, Forward)
On reviewing a physical and competitive game against New Mexico State..
On the quick turnover from the New Mexico State game and their preparations thus far...
On North Dakota State...
On the fact that North Dakota State is seen as an underdog...
Josh Davis (Senior, Forward)
On quick turnaround from SDSU's overtime game...
On preparing for North Dakota State...
On the key to winning Saturday...
Dwayne Polee II (Junior, Forward)
On preparing for North Dakota State...
On the challenges for Saturday's game...
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. You guys looked a little bit beat up. How are you feeling today?
TAYLOR BRAUN: We're fine. We're a tough group. We have been through worse. So, it's not going to be an issue.
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: No, I agree. It's just a few scratches, I guess. Nothing too serious that will keep us out of the game. So, we're feeling good.
THE MODERATOR: Kory and Lawrence, are you feeling good?
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: I'm fine.
KORY BROWN: I'm fine. I think the team is doing good.
Q. For any of you, wanted to get your thoughts on what you know about San Diego State and what you feel is the biggest challenge in order to beat them.
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: From watching them yesterday they're very big at all the spots, very athletic. I know we're going to have our work cut out for us on the rebounding. That will be one of the toughest things for us is boxing out.
KORY BROWN: I would agree with him. Boxing out would be one of our biggest things. We got to really crash hard on the boards.
TAYLOR BRAUN: Yeah, like they say. They pressure a lot, so we'll need to do a better job than we did yesterday with handling pressure. Then they really crash the offensive glass. So, rebounding and limiting our turnovers I think will be the two big factors for us.
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: They're just a very athletic front court, very good guard, so a little bit different than yesterday. They were a little undersized, I guess. So, we'll just have to try to maneuver our way around their big guys and box out and play hard.
Q. Taylor, any migraines still? Can you clear that situation up? Is that still hanging with you?
TAYLOR BRAUN: No, I'm fine.
Q. For any of the guys, the last 24 hours you guys have become kind of the Cinderella team in the tournament. Everyone on the Internet is talking about you and this team. What's that feel like?
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: It feels good to get some attention that we felt like we deserved for most of the season. So for a Mid Major team to get some attention, you need to win some big games. So, once you do that, you get people's attention, it's kind of nice. But, then again, that only talks you so far. We have our work cut out for tomorrow.
TAYLOR BRAUN: It is nice to see us on Sportscenter and people talking about us and all that, but that just like I said with Oklahoma with a bunch of people picking us to win that game, it's just going to make San Diego State that much more focused and prepared.
So like Marshall said, we'll have our work cut out for us, but it will be a fun game and we have a Sweet 16 berth on the line, so both teams are going to be fighting and it should be a very good, fun atmosphere.
Q. L.A., is there a point in time where you had to put last night's victory aside and start thinking of San Diego State and how long did that take?
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: Well, waking up this morning we put it in the past. We know we got a big game coming up Saturday.
Q. Same question for Taylor. You've had experience with this, with some big wins over the years, how long does it take to forget about that and look ahead?
TAYLOR BRAUN: Honestly, after the game, we were all extremely excited and just enjoying the moment. Then you get to do the whole press conference thing for an hour, hour and a half. Cameras in your face forever. You find yourself repeating yourself to people. So it kind of takes the excitement out of it. So I mean by the time I got back to the hotel, I was trying to find stuff out about San Diego State.
Q. Taylor and Lawrence, are you guys familiar or did you watch the Florida Gulf Coast phenomenon from last year? I think it's fair to say at least from a San Diego perspective, that I have, that many people are seeing you in the same light as that 15th seed when they took down San Diego State. What do you remember from that time if you guys saw it and can you see yourselves in a role like that?
TAYLOR BRAUN: I actually watched them beat Georgetown. That was just a you're happy to see stuff like that for the small schools. I think their school's got to be quite a bit smaller than ours, even. So it's exciting to see that. I didn't watch them play San Diego State. But just the 15 2 up set, that speaks for itself. So that was pretty incredible.
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: Basically going off what he said, 15 2 upset is pretty incredible, but the most thing I remember about that game was a lot of dunks. That's one thing I do remember. But just having the opportunity is great.
Q. For any of you guys, do you find yourself becoming fans of schools like Mercer or Harvard at this point in the season, where you would have never cheered for them before, but because they're in a similar situation as you, you want to see them do well?
KORY BROWN: Fans of them? We see them, they're out there, we all know that. They were the underdogs just like we are. So, we're like there's a chance for all underdogs out there to always win or something like that. But, it's not like we're out there cheering for them like, yeah, we want you to win, we kind of focused on ourselves and getting this win on Saturday.
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: Yeah, deep down inside everyone likes to see the underdog win, so we're not necessarily cheering for them, but if we would keep winning it would be a Mid Major team that we would play against, but, yeah, we don't necessarily cheer for the underdog game every game.
Q. For those of us who don't really know you that well as players, could each of you talk about why you chose North Dakota State and where you would have gone if you didn't go to North Dakota State, what was sort of your next choice?
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: Coming out of prep school I had a couple offers, but probably the reason that I chose North Dakota State is probably because of the coaches. Coaches and players. Saul's the same guy that I met since on my first visit. I mean he's goofy, crazy at times, but a great coach to play for.
Being around the coaches just got me a great feeling being at home and then once I met the players, I was like, wow, I really like this place. And next thing you know, I was calling Saul on the phone and telling him I wanted to commit. If I didn't choose North Dakota State, I really don't know where I would be at right now, to be honest.
KORY BROWN: Kind of have the same story as him. Coming out of high school I took a visit down there, I didn't really know what Fargo was, in my eyes it was something totally different. A lot of space. Coming from the Chicago area, there's a lot more people around and, but, when I got out there, it was a great community. There's a lot more around than what people think. And seeing guys like this there I connected with them really well and the coaches. I would say probably Lawrence was one of the main guys to get me here. I talked to him when I was out there and it was really nice. I connected with him really well and I saw an opportunity and that some other coaches didn't give me.
So that's why that's how I made it to North Dakota State. If I wasn't here, other school I would probably be at was Western Illinois. But that's where I would be at. I'm glad I'm here though.
TAYLOR BRAUN: For me, like it's kind of been publicized already, I was going to sign with a Division II school and then right before I did that I got an opportunity or I got a phone call from Coach Kemp and pretty much just said they had a scholarship opening because another player signed somewhere else. So he knew it was late but if I wanted to come take a visit, I could. I did that and then the last time I visited they offered me a scholarship and I just accepted it right there. So, yeah, if I didn't go to North Dakota State I would be at Western Oregon. I would be graduated by now, so.
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: I think you can count the number of offers we four have on our two hands really. I don't think we had very many options to play Division I basketball. So, I know myself, I only had two offers and so it was a pretty simple decision for myself. I wanted a good agriculture school which is kind of uncommon, but just the community, the coaching staff and it was a pretty simple decision for me.
Q. Marshall, you wanted to go to Minnesota growing up in that area. I'm wondering if you could talk about what about basketball makes this type of thing able to happen? Because when it does happen, you're defined by the school you go to and the jersey you wear. All you guys think you can play. You're positive of it. What about basketball allows these upsets to happen?
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: It's hard to answer. Obviously, growing up living in close to them I wanted to go there. But, I think it's just a determination of kids like us that they didn't give much of a chance anywhere else, so they play I think we all played with a little chip on our shoulder our entire career. Coming to a stage like this, that kind of thing really shows and just the effort that they put forth, they're trying to prove something every time they set foot on the court.
Q. Taylor, talk about that a little bit more. Do you guys all feel and play with a chip on your shoulder because you obviously can play very well, but were overlooked by some other schools.
TAYLOR BRAUN: I think that the big thing about basketball, a lot different than other sports, is it's something that you can improve a lot just on your own by yourself in the gym.
Getting shots up, working on your ball handling and stuff like that. With a lot of other sports you can't really, you can't throw the football to yourself or stuff like that. So, I think that allows these upsets during the tournament, just because with basketball it's as much work you put in is what you're going to get out of it.
Q. Your Coach mentioned it yesterday about how on the three that Lawrence hit to send it into overtime, you knew he was going to be there and be an option for you. Is there an inherent advantage that you guys have, having played together for a long time and being a Junior/Senior laden team versus maybe another team that relies mostly on youth but might be considered talent wise, better?
TAYLOR BRAUN: Definitely. We have a very good feel of what everybody on our team is comfortable with and we do a good job of knowing where they're going to be and putting them in positions where they're going to be successful. And that just, that comes just with time and effort and repetition.
I spent three years now with Lawrence, four or five years with other guys on the team, and that time really helps us come together as a group and it definitely showed last night with the performance and how everything played out.
Q. Lawrence or Kory, what have you seen, very limited on No. 2, they're point guard Xavier Thames. How important he is to them, how he takes care of the ball, that sort of thing.
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: Watching him last night, he's a really good player. I believe he led them in scoring. I know we're going to have our work cut out for us. I know he's a very good player, he takes care of the ball for them, it's going to be a good game Saturday.
KORY BROWN: He takes care of the ball really well, he's really smart with his shot selection, and the passes that he makes. He gets in the paint very well too. So we got to just keep him from getting inside the paint and making two footed plays and get him to make some mistakes and we'll be all right.
Q. Marshall, the inclination for the selection committee and the odds makers is to kind of favor these teams from these major conferences that maybe play tougher competition throughout the season, but do you think there's something to be said for the fact that you guys are just used to winning?
MARSHALL BJORKLUND: I guess. I don't know how much of an advantage those other teams have, but every team in this tournament is good. So, to say that every team's going to have an advantage, I guess, Mercer beat Duke today and I don't think anyone saw that coming. So, I don't think there's any advantage. All 68 teams that made this tournament are going to be good basketball teams.
Q. Question for Lawrence and one for Kory. Lawrence, you said that your coach is kind of goofy and crazy at times. Give us an example of what you mean by that. And Kory, when you got to Fargo, talk about your first experience and impressions and why do you like it? What is it about it that you like?
LAWRENCE ALEXANDER: Saul, how can I put this? Well, when I first got to North Dakota State, I got the car and the first thing he said to me was, Hi, I'm Saul Phillips, I'm going to offer you a full scholarship. There, it's on the table. It's yours if you want it. And then just the relationship me and him built. And just like he got comfortable around me and now he just says whatever he wants to me and it could be funny or whatever, but he just is a really goofy guy. Sometimes, when I need a good laugh he makes a joke and I feel better about myself.
KORY BROWN: Getting to Fargo, let's see, it's definitely a change, thinking in my mind not being around too many people, but I guess being around these guys has just made it happen for me. Saul Phillips, he reminds me, the coaching staff itself reminds me a lot of my coaching staff. They're always goofy, they always have something smart to say, even if you say it back to them they can turn it into a joke, but when it gets down to it we know exactly when to get serious. But most of the time the joking continues, so it's all right.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We'll take questions for coach.
Q. Leading up to the tournament, you had talked about how much this tournament has meant to you, and in your life, and now you're smack dab in the middle of it and kind of America's Cinderella team. How does that feel?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: It feels unbelievable. There's no way around it. Getting a lot of calls and texts from people that I haven't heard from in a while. And a lot of area codes, I don't know. Does anybody have like a guide for area codes? I had no idea where some of these places are. But, everybody's happy and with our group, we're just happy we get to play another day. That's all there is to it.
Q. The players talked about how cool it is to see themselves on ESPN and stuff like that, do you get that same feeling as a coach?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: Yeah, I would be watching this anyway and all of a sudden your face is up there, I mean what the heck?
Yeah, I think that all of us like that attention. We kind of relish it. I don't think I don't know if that's right, wrong or indifferent, but it is definitely different than we're used to. Not saying the Fargo media is doing a poor job, I just, it's different seeing it on ESPN and a lot of the shows that I watch frequently anyway.
Q. I've often lamented the fact that it seems like coaches are never having any fun and you seem to be the opposite of that. Tell me why that seems to be a core part of what you do.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: You know, one of my mentors, Tim Miles, we were going through the transition, and he was obviously outgoing. As you saw today, today he was outgoing out of the arena apparently. He wanted to get to the river walk earlier.
We were going through a transition in Division I, there's no post season, there's no and our guys were a little bit loose with the ball and they were running up and down the court one game. And I said we got to slow them down and he goes, no we don't. We're not going to we're not very good right now, but we're not going to be bad and boring. Let's have some fun. That's the kind of mindset that he came from.
You got to coach to your personality and I'm a happy guy. I am. I've been happy since birth. I just came out with a smile on my face.
I can't change that. I could try to be ornery and negative and that would be fake. I can't do that.
In the very corporate, cold world of college basketball, that's just not my personality. I get the fact there's a business attached to it, but I don't deal with that. They have athletic directors that deal with the money side of it. I deal with a bunch of kids running around in shorts. And that's a pretty good place for me to be.
Q. I don't know how many times you watched, or how many games you've seen, of San Diego State and how much you were able to watch last night, but Xavier Thames, their point guard, speak to his talent and then also his importance to their success.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: I'm hoping there's an elevator malfunction and he gets caught in the elevator. That's what I'm hoping. He's really, really really good. Everything they do, I believe, starts going through him. Now, they got a lot of guys around him, but we defend some of their actions against other teams during the course of the year. We defended them pretty well, we didn't have to defend them with him making the moves. So you know what? We're in the third round of the tournament, it's supposed to be a tough opponent, it is. They have got our attention, I can promise you this, North Dakota State is not overlooking San Diego State.
Q. Does a physical game favor one team or the other?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: They're pretty physical too. Last night the locker room looked like Chuck Wepner after a fight, there were cuts and how about this, do you know what our trainer used to close the cuts? Super glue. Apparently this is medically good. I don't know this, I hope I didn't get her in trouble. Obviously, she did a great job with it.
It's going to be physical. It is. There's no way around it. Both teams have guys that don't mind that at all. What you got to do is make sure you don't get carried away with it and you don't commit silly fouls. But rebounding can be a physical activity. I don't care about rule changes, it's physical in basketball.
Q. Can you describe the physical nature of your team? Your guys don't look pretty right now, with all your cuts, bruises, broken noses?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: That's why I'm here. I'm the beauty of this.
(Laughter.) No, Marshall's got a nose he can smell around corners, man, I mean he looks
(Laughter.) We, there's nothing about us pretty. Come on. Let's be honest. We're the great unwashed. Here we are. That's why it's fun.
Q. Can you explain, you've been known for defense, but this year offense, can you explain why you're so efficient offensively?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: Really good players for one. And that sounds simplistic to say, but we're not trying to confuse you out there. I could take most of you put you in our offense and you would at least know what you were doing. The spacing is really good in our offense and that allows players like Marshall to have room to operate. Players like Taylor to have room to operate.
As much as I would like to make it sound more complicated, so I could sell more DVD's this summer when I make an instructional DVD. What we're doing is not rocket science, it isn't. It's, you get good players, you put them in a system, you allow them to play out of that system, make reads, I think it's a fun way to play. When I played I played for a guy that didn't make us go from point A to point B to point C. You could color outside the lines a little bit and it was okay. I was always a color outside the lines guy when I was a kid and I guess it's kind of carried over to what we do now.
Q. You faced Lon Kruger, who you said is arguably a Hall of Fame coach now, for your reward, you get Steve Fisher?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: Yeah.
Q. What's it like trying to match wits with guys like that?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: Okay, so you're going against a guy that's won a National Championship. He recruited the Fab Five, now that's an iconic moment in college basketball history. And now he gets to recruit to San Diego. Okay. Beaches, weather, it's just not fair. I mean they should spot us 10 points. We're in Fargo. We have got beaches, but the lake's frozen over the whole time so it doesn't make any difference.
No, for me, you know me, I'm a huge fan of basketball. Lon Kruger, Steve Fisher, are two guys that I look at in the profession as guys that do it the right way, guys that are genuine, guys that get it. And more importantly, for basketball purposes, they're both wildly successful. Look at what Coach Fisher did with that San Diego State program. How many people knew San Diego State had a basketball program before he went down there? I mean, nationally. Not trying to take shots at anybody that came before him, but obviously, he's taken the thing to a very high level. If I stopped and actually think about some of the guys I've coached against I would probably get sick to my stomach. I don't know how this all worked out, but it's awfully fun.
Q. Just take me through that last minute of yesterday's last night's game before going into over time. How you managed those final moments of the game.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: I'm excited. Excuse me. The last two minutes, really it kind of starts out with Taylor's turnover and that starts to dig us a little bit of a hole on a skip pass. The shot clock was at 11 and I told myself it gets to 10, we're going 0 to call timeout and run an out of bounds play we have been working on. Literally, it was at 11, he it through across court pass and didn't see a guy. Got blocked out by another body and it happens. It's a bad time for it to happen, but it happens.
We go length of the court, Taylor has a layup that is down, I don't know how that stayed out. And then plays started happening. Then, all of a sudden things start going right. We got a bump foul, get to the free throw line, get to set up our press, they miss a free throw, but it really all came down to we run an iso for I finally called a timeout on time that last possession. We ran the same play that we were going to run, had he not turned it over, it was a dribble iso for Taylor. And Taylor couldn't turn the corner, but L.A. had said to him, if you can't turn the corner, I'll be spotted up at three. And much like what makes Taylor unique, is that a lot of guys in his position, if you get a play drawn up for him there he's going to make something happen, good, bad or indifferent.
Taylor simply said, well this is taken away, he pivoted, he found Lawrence and I went out and kissed that spot on the floor today, by the way. Two big lip marks rights on there.
Q. I talked to Gene about this, you didn't have the most extensive experience when you were hired, give me your pitch when you were trying to get the job.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: I had pictures of him.
Q. They were flattering?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: They were. I can rip them up now, I'm safe. No, when Gene hired me, we had a really good group of players in place. And they were in my corner. I always just wanted to be a head coach and I would have never gotten that chance if it wasn't for Gene. And he knows how I feel about him. He's as good I'll never, I could work for a lot of athletic directors, a lot of places, I'll never work for a better one than Gene Taylor. Can I have a raise now?
Q. With all the media attention and exposure that you're getting right now, how does that help you recruit athletes to North Dakota State that might not exactly have a different idea of what Fargo is than what it really is?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: That's a great question. I would like to point out we have two scholarships available I'm looking for a 6 7 lanky no. Can I advertise for recruits?
It will help. It will help. We had to smash some perceptions about Fargo. We do. A lot of people in this room haven't been there. Moments like last night help. Fargo's actually a really cool place of the it's got a ton of youth with the colleges in town, ton of energy, great employment, just a nice place. It is. Now it's cold. Bring a jacket. You can take it off when you get inside.
Q. Your guys were up here and they were talking about how they probably count on two hands the number of offers that they got total. What satisfaction does it give you to bring those guys to this point, them to bring you here, however you look at it.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: They brought me here. I didn't have any timeouts left for a whole bunch I was a spectator like everybody else for awhile there last night.
It's why you do what you do. I want guys to reach their potential. That's what I want. That's what I'm interested in doing. And it's what makes my job fun, challenging at times maddening. You can tell that by the hairline. It's absolutely why I do what I do is to see young men get better, progress, work every day, and you just hope at the end that you have a payoff that you have something that they can tangibly look at and say, yeah, that was us, we did that.
I think they have got a lot of memories now and why stop now, right? You can always add another page to the scrap book.
Q. You talked a little bit about Thames already, but what do you guys see matchup wise going with their front court and how athletic and long that front court for San Diego State is?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: I see challenges. You got to use shot fakes, you got to be very patient. They can just beat you up. We got our work cut out for us. Again, if you go by numbers, we weren't supposed to win last night either. I'm still searching for some answers and I'll have to do that when I get back to the hotel. We'll start finalizing our game plan and present it to our guys tonight. We have got the seeds of it set. But if you come up with something good, let me know, because there's always no, we are here. That's all I know. We got a chance to play. There isn't going to be this has to happen this has to happen this has to happen, a lot of things have to happen and sometimes a lot of things do happen.
Q. You have one of those irresistible force, immovable object situations with your offense and their defense. The first part is, how do you square that up and the second part is, after you square that up, where do you draw the line between changing what you do to take care of them versus doing what you always do to insure victory?
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: That's a great question and I think that our climate's mirror our strength and weaknesses. Cold and warm and offense and defense.
At this point we're way pass over haul time. We can't just the engine has been running pretty good, but you can tweak it and get in there and okay, this is what, we run a very basic continuity set and then we play out of that. And there are certain thinks that might work against this group that didn't work last night. I don't want to get into too much detail about what that is right now, for obvious reasons, but you're tweaking at this point, you're not overhauling, you don't have time. You don't certainly don't have, you don't have the ability to take your guys and just grind them up today. That isn't going to happen. We need to rest.
So we'll do what we do, but we'll try to tweak it to make it work with this game.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, Coach Phillips.
COACH SAUL PHILLIPS: Thank you.
Jordan Aaberg (Senior, Forward)
On the goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament and moving past the first win...
On turning the page from last night's game and preparing for San Diego State...
On the challenges of facing a different team...
Chris Kading (Sophomore, Forward)
On the feeling of the past 12 hours...
On when he realized they won an NCAA Tournament game...
On his favorite part of the postgame attention...
On the matchup with San Diego State...
On how they can limit their turnovers on Saturday...