March 26, 2014
ANAHEIM, Calif. -
SDSU Press Conference Quotes | SDSU Locker Room Quotes | Arizona Press Conference Quotes
San Diego State Press Conference Quotes
THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement, please?
COACH FISHER: As every team still playing, we're very excited to be one of the final 16 and anxious to come out and play really good basketball. We have a comfort level in this building. We played here in the championship of the Wooden Legacy Classic. The people that ran the event, the Big West administrative staff and the people that ran this building were phenomenal with us as they continue to be now as we're here for the NCAA tournament.
We were here in 2011 playing in the Sweet Sixteen, so we've been in this building before. We like the feel of it, and our goal is to come in and play not only Thursday, but play Saturday. We're excited about the challenge. We know we're playing a really good team, but we feel we're a really good team.
Q. Steve, could you tell us a little bit about the arc for Dwayne Polee since he arrived with you, the things that you felt that he needed to work on and improve and how he has done with addressing those things?
COACH FISHER: Dwayne Polee comes from one of the premier high school programs in the nation, Westchester High School. He committed to St. John's before we had a real, real chance at recruiting him. When he chose to leave after his freshman year, we were his school of choice, and in no small part, because we had Tony Bland on our staff who was also from Westchester.
When he became eligible, he had a lot of press clippings and accolades that followed him. He was a preseason newcomer of the year, and most people said, what happened? We started this year, and he didn't play against Arizona when we played them the first time. Coach's decision underlined. Not injured.
But Dwayne, and I've said this before, Dwayne is where he is now because of Dwayne's attitude from the neck up. And his dad and mom had a lot to do with that. He never, ever did anything other than cheer for his teammates, and smile when he was in the locker room, the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when you're that ballyhooed. He was sensational. Then when he started to get significant minutes, he played well, and obviously he's been crucial to the recent success of this team. He's been terrific. He's probably our best athlete, so some would say why didn't you play him sooner? And maybe it was as much opportunity as anything else. Sustained opportunity, which he now has and he's taken full advantage of it better than anyone.
But I think his success has been hugely related to Dwayne Polee being Dwayne Polee, just a nice person who never, ever says, well, I'm not getting a fair shake and on and on and on. But he's good.
Q. How important is it to have a veteran point guard at this time of year?
COACH FISHER: It's extremely important to have a good one, and we have a good one. Xavier Thames is a fifth-year senior. He knows what it's like to sit and wait. He knows what it's like not to play as much as he wanted before he transferred. He worked harder than anybody I've ever had between year one, sitting out that year. Then he had injuries his sophomore and junior year that he didn't want to talk about, but they impacted him. He's been relatively injury free this year, and he's been sensational. He's had stretches where he's been as good as anybody in America. He's been on one of those little runs right now offensively, and we're hopeful that he can continue that. But he's a great decision maker, too. When he wasn't shooting well, he went like 180 minutes without a turnover, and he has a ball a lot. He's our best on ball defender. He's our smartest player, so it's helpful to have really good ones, and Xavier Thames is one of the better ones in the country.
Q. How or why have you become such a haven for transfers?
COACH FISHER: I think in today's world in college basketball, on the men's side at least, there are too many transfers and it's well documented. I think 40% of those that sign to a school are gone by the end of their sophomore year, so there are a lot of them that leave. We had/have a program where transfers are on our radar. Twenty years ago, 10 years ago, they were not on the blue bloods radar. They are now. Take a look at some of the premier programs in America and look at the guys they've taken as transfers. So if you are selective, it will work. Even though we've taken quite a few, we've been selective as to who we've taken.
We've taken them, and the first few we took were successful. That lends itself to others saying boy, do you see what Lorrenzo Wade did when he went there, and Tony Bland when he went there, and it helps us get in the doors of others. Some of those kids are JJ O'Brien. I was heart broken when he didn't come to San Diego State out of high school. He went to Utah and after one year, there is a coaching change and he transferred, and we were right at the top of his list for those that he wanted to look at. So I think a lot of reasons. A lot of reasons why we've gotten as many good ones as we have.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about your road to success at San Diego State, building from the ground up as compared to obviously what you went through at Michigan?
COACH FISHER: When we came, (Brian) Dutcher and I, in March of '99, and I don't mean it to be disparaging, but it was apathy at best what we had. Nobody came. Nobody cared. So we looked at what we had to sell and offer. We sold a lot of things. We sold from the pulpit from where we came from. Lot of people wanted to hear about where we came from.
But we said if we're not talking about San Diego State, we're talking about where we were before three years from now we're not doing enough work here, and you were.
Early on our future was in somebody else's gym, and we talked about it. I loved the kids we had. We just weren't good enough. We weren't talented enough, and it took us we didn't win one league game the first year. We went 0 14. We didn't win a road game for almost two years. But I think we did it in a fashion where we didn't feel like, well, let's take 1,000 transfers and hope one or two of them can play and not worry about what the others might bring with them. I thought we did a good job recruiting. We sold a vision, and said hang the first banner, and we've gone from there.
We worked. I spoke at 75, 78 different events my first year to sell San Diego State. I had tickets in every pocket, well documented. Passed them out, begged people to come. Now we're as tough a ticket as there is in the country. We've sold-out the building out the last few years. It's as energetic it's as good a college atmosphere as there is in the country. We're playing a team in Arizona that's got a great atmosphere in their building. None as better as what we have in Viejas Arena in our building. So now we're selling a Final Four banner, and we're closer to reality to that than some people might think.
Q. Coach, what stood out about Arizona and the loss to them in November?
COACH FISHER: They were good, real, real good. We pride ourselves in saying we're a good rebounding team. They beat us up on the boards. They are tremendously athletic. They're obviously very well coached. We played from behind the whole game. It was in our building. We're down 14 in the first half, and our crowd kept us going. We closed the four points with like two minutes to go. We never led. That was because of them. So they're very athletic. They know what they want to do. There is no agenda in how they play. They guard, guard, guard, and they share the ball. That is a winning formula, and they've got it.
Q. Coach, the one word that Sean Miller used when he was describing your team on Sunday night knowing that he was going to play you was fearless. He said those guys aren't going to be afraid to play us. Where does that come from? I know a lot of players say I think we can win. But I get the feeling that your players really think that they can win. Is that from you? Is that from something else? Is that something you pride yourself on?
COACH FISHER: I think every coach in America prides themselves on the fact that you get good players that feel they can play with anybody. Part of it comes from winning. When you win, you back up talk with reality. And we've won. We've won at various places against big name teams, home, away, neutral sites. That adds to your belief in who you are. We've done that recently. We've done that this year, obviously. We've beaten some really good teams in some tough environments. I think our league is such that where if you go on the road to these places, like New Mexico and Las Vegas and Wyoming and others, these are hard places to play. We've told our kids, if you can win here, you can win anywhere. So I think obviously winning helps. But our kids believe.
Good players, you've got to walk that fine line between confidence and conceit, but you've got to be confident in who you are, and we sell how good we are. I tell them they're good.
Q. Coach, you were sitting in that exact seat three years ago. Is there a different feeling this time around? Different team, obviously different players, but from yours and the coach's perspective this visit to Anaheim?
COACH FISHER: I don't think so. Everybody aspires to make the tournament first and then win in the tournament. We've made it now five straight years. This is only our second appearance ever in the Sweet Sixteen. When we got here the last time, I think a lot of people in San Diego expected us to have a really good team. We were rated for the first time in the history of the school, pre season, 25th in the AP poll. This year we were on no one's radar to start the season. We got no votes. We weren't rated. We got no votes, period. We were picked fourth in our league, but we were closer to second than we were fourth, to be honest with you. We thought we could be good.
But in San Diego, people were saying, well, this could be a bridge year. This could be a year where boy, look at the class we've got coming in, and Angelo Chol from Arizona is going to be with us next year. We felt like we'd be good. I don't think many people maybe if we had to say how many games will you win, 31 wins is a lot, a lot of wins. So there was less stress on us this year because of the pre season expectations. So we slid under the radar, and I think that helped us early on.
Then we just said, hey, we're good. We want to let the whole world know that we're good. The more you win, the more that gets out there. So last time we came here though we were playing a really good team, we were the higher seed. We played Connecticut. They won the National Championship. I still haven't watched the tape, and I still think we were better than Connecticut when they won the National Championship. So here it's a little different. We're playing the No. 1 seed, and maybe the No. 1 seed in the country or close to it. Not many people right now probably other than ourselves think we'll win. So it's a little different. But there is pressure when you come to this level and when you make the tournament if you're who you are. You feel pressure, but it's the right kind of pressure I think that we have.
Q. Coach, what has the process been like for Aqeel Quinn transitioning from a lower profile program to now contributing for you guys?
COACH FISHER: Aqeel Quinn transfers from Northridge, was playing for Northridge on full scholarship. I didn't know Aqeel Quinn when he transferred. Somebody knew somebody who knew Tony Bland and he transferred in. No scholarship, no promises. Sat out last year. No scholarship. We put him on scholarship this year, and he's been sensational. He's everything you want your players to be. No ego, no agenda, but when he plays, he plays to win, and he knows how to play. He's been great for us. He's been absolutely terrific, and I'm very happy for AQ.
Q. A quick follow to my earlier question. What in the college landscape do you think has changed in the last 20 years to create this level of transfers, of kids not finishing where they started?
COACH FISHER: I think there's always been transfers. Obviously, there are more now. It's the way of the world. We all want instant gratification. Especially the kids who are recruited to Division I basketball, they're all hyped to be better than they are. Sometimes they're not willing to roll up their sleeves. When the pothole is there, fight through the pothole, the bump in the road. They cut and run too quickly. I think that's part of it. Part of it is expectations of families. They're the same way at times. It can be hard.
But sometimes recruiting today used to be 20 years ago the kids really got to know the coaches. The coaches really got to know the kids. Then they started limiting access. You can't call them until then. You can only see them this many times. In the old days when I worked for Bill Frieder, they had two months you couldn't do anything. Other than that, nothing was barred from you. You could call eighth graders. You could call freshmen. Nobody likes that.
But I think sometimes kids commit, they commit to the hot name or biggest name. They don't know what they're doing. They don't know what they're getting into, and they do it too quickly. For a lot of reasons they say, why did I do that, and they leave.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by student athletes Josh Davis, Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. We're going to open it up to questions from the floor.
Q. Xavier, you guys haven't been underdogs too often this season. Is that something you think about as a motivating factor for this game?
Xavier Thames: No, not really. We just go out there and play the game and have fun and compete. We can't worry about being the underdog in different things like that. We've just got to go out there and compete.
Q. Xavier, why was it so important to you coming out of high school to play in what was then the Pac 10? Why did you overlook this school and others for that?
Xavier Thames: Well, during that time the Pac 12 was or still is the best conference in the America. So I just wanted to compete at the highest level, and that is one of the reasons I chose there. Plus Tony Bennett was coaching there before he had left, and he recruited me. He's a great coach, and you see what he's doing at Virginia. So those are two of the main reasons I committed to Washington State.
Q. Dwayne, talk about how excited you are that you're getting an opportunity this time around? It's the second time for the team as a whole, but getting this opportunity to play Arizona?
DWAYNE POLEE: I'm very excited. It's not even about just playing Arizona. But I'm excited to be in the Sweet Sixteen itself no matter who we'll be playing. I didn't play in the first match up, but it's the second time around. I'm going to go out, bring a lot of energy to the game, try to pump my teammates up, try to pump the crowd up. I'm just excited this go around.
Q. Josh, when you decided to come to San Diego State last year, is this kind of what you dreamed of? Is this even better than what you dreamed of?
Josh Davis: It's even better. I wanted to make it to the tournament, be around a great group of guys and coaches. And everything has been working out so far.
Q. If all three of you could answer this since you're all transfers, but start with Dwayne. When you're in high school did you have this feeling there was only one right road to take, and has your experience here maybe opened your eyes that as long as you play well there are a lot of different ways to get to your goal?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, when you're in high school you want to play in the best of the best. You know, coming from a marquis school like Westchester, and you want to play top competition every night. But coming to San Diego State, it really did open my eyes, because even in the non conference we played a tough schedule. The conference is tough, and now we're in the tournament, Sweet Sixteen, where we're still playing a tough schedule. So it's not all about really going to the big school. It's about going to the right school.
Josh Davis: Kind of growing up I wanted to play in the ACC. Living in Raleigh, that's everybody's dream coming from my area. But coming to San Diego State opened my eyes. We still had a tough schedule, like (Polee) said. It's a great place to be, especially playing under Coach Fisher. Your dreams can come true from anywhere.
Xavier Thames: Similar to what they said. Growing up and as a kid you want to play in the Pac 10, you see the Arizonas, Washingtons and different teams like that. Me growing up on the west coast, I wanted to play in the Pac 10. But coming here to San Diego State has been fun. This is a big family here. I'm just glad I came here after leaving Washington State.
Q. Dwayne, Coach was talking about the first few weeks of the season, the Arizona game and how you handled that situation. How difficult was it for you to sit and watch, and what do you think was the real difference maker in terms of getting you on the floor?
DWAYNE POLEE: It was really difficult because I'm a competitor. So I love the game. And nobody takes sitting out of an important game easily. It was hard, but I just kept working on my game, kept working hard in practice, getting with the coaches and trying to do whatever I had to do to get on the court. I just wanted to bring energy whether it was on offense, defense or whatever I needed to do, rebound, guard the best player, make a three. Whatever I've got to do, I'm going to do it.
Q. I have a question I'd like all three of you to answer, but start with Dwayne. The National Labor Relations Board today ruled that Northwestern football players can create the nation's first college athletes union. I'm wondering what each of you might think about possibly having a union represent you?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, I mean, I'm not too familiar with it, but if it's going to benefit us in a positive way, then I'm all for it.
Josh Davis: I'm not familiar either, but I'm definitely open to that option. So we can look more into it.
Xavier Thames: Yeah, same thing they said. I'm not really familiar with it, but just like what they said. We're just focused on Arizona right now.
Q. Dwayne, can you bring us back a little bit to the decision to leave St. John's, and what it was about San Diego State, and how you feel it's all worked out for you?
DWAYNE POLEE: My mom had gotten kind of sick and had to have surgery, so I just came back for her benefit so she'll be able to still come down the freeway and watch my games. That was one of the main reasons I left St. John's. Coming to San Diego State, Coach Fisher is a legend in college basketball. He knows how to deal with the big players and egos and just bringing a good group of guys in and make them play as one. So that was my main reason I came to San Diego State was because of Coach Fisher.
Q. Xavier and Josh, can you guys talk about your first match up and the defensive intensity Arizona brought at you in San Diego? Secondly, you have a lot of similarities when it comes to defense and how you rank nationally as well and how that helps you, in a sense, deal with such a tough defense in Arizona.
Josh Davis: They're very long, very athletic. Similar to us. Oh, they really rebound the ball very well, so that's one of the things we do. They're very good in transition.
Xavier Thames: Yeah, kind of what Josh said, but the first game they got a lot of offensive rebounds on us. We didn't box out really well, but we learned from that. Also when we penetrate, they get their hands and steal a lot of basketballs, so we've just got to be aware of that, take care of the ball and rebound and get back in transition.
Q. Josh, since you mentioned Coach Fisher, what is the quality that he brings to coaching that you most respect or have come to appreciate?
Josh Davis: He instills belief in all of his players. We can go out there and play as hard as we can for him, for the team. I mean, there is just something about him that we can just work as hard as we can and know that he's always trying to help us and believes in us.
DWAYNE POLEE: Oh, I mean, like Josh said, he just puts the most confidence and belief in you. You can go out and miss your first five shots; but you know, Coach Fisher's going to be right there saying you've got this next one. You're going to make the next one.
Even when times are hard, for example, in the New Mexico game when we played them at San Diego, even though we were down by 16, Coach Fisher just had that belief in us that we could come back and we could do it, and we did just that.
Q. Xavier, obviously everyone in high school wants to score. When you get into college and particularly with this team, how difficult is it to transition to a mindset that we're not going to outscore people? We're just going to hold them defensively and make it difficult for them?
Xavier Thames: Well, for me it wasn't too difficult. For me growing up my favorite player was Gary Payton, and my mom and dad made me play defense if I wanted to play basketball. So I think that's the way it is for everybody here on our team. We love playing defense. We know offense is going to come but if we want to win and win big, we have to play defense.
Q. Dwayne, what was it like during Aqeel's transition? How much did you talk to him when he decided to transfer to San Diego State? He said he stayed at your house for a little bit too. What was that like?
DWAYNE POLEE: Aqeel was in a difficult situation because his school was going on post season probation. So I just kind of reached out to him. I brought him out to San Diego. He came and played in the open gym with the team. He loved it. We accepted him with open arms. He just got real close with us; and he said, man, I'm trying to transfer. Whatever I've got to do. I'll walk on, pay for school. His whole first year he was here he worked his tail off.
So that is a testament to him. He paid for school, and eventually Coach Fisher blessed him with a scholarship, and now he's in the position he's in.
Q. The National Labor, the whole thing about that is making a differentiation between whether you're student athletes or employees of a university. So do you guys consider yourselves student athletes or employees? Starting with Dwayne?
DWAYNE POLEE: Student athletes because at the end of the day I know my goal is to get a degree. I'm pretty sure Josh wants to get a degree. I know X wants to get a degree. We need something to fall back on, because we can't play basketball until we're 50 or 60 years old. I think we're still student athletes because at the end of the day we want that degree to fall back on.
Josh Davis: We all want to play pro basketball, but at the same time, like he said, we always need something to fall back on. Schools provide a great education, so I would say student athlete.
Xavier Thames: Yeah, me too as well, student athlete. Especially with my mom being a teacher. We've all got to go to class and do things like that. And I for sure want to graduate and everybody else does on our team as well. So student athlete.
San Diego State Locker Room Quotes
Senior Forward JJ O'Brien
(Arizona rematch) "The last game comes into play in terms of tape and seeing what they did. Revenge game? I wouldn't really call it that. It's about us trying to get to the Elite Eight. We're trying to advance. Arizona is a great team and they beat us last time."
(Polee not playing in first Arizona game) "Polee has been huge for us lately and that's a huge difference, that's another matchup that they have to deal with."
(Rebounding) "The big thing that happened in our game the last time that we played, they beat us on the rebounds. Since that game we've focused a lot on that during that during the season and we're going to focus on that in this game too."
"They've got a lot of rebounders so when the shot goes up you've got to find your man rather than going to the rim and trying to get the ball."
Junior Forward Dwayne Polee II
(Playing on a national stage) "Staying humble. That's out main thing, not getting too hyped up. Trying to keep ourselves calm."
(On Xavier Thames) "He's a great friend and a great basketball player so he already has our respect. So, when he says something the whole team listens. He's a great player and leads by example."
Sophomore Forward Winston Shepard
(On teams mentality coming into Sweet 16) "We're just ready to play, come out and perform and try to redeem ourselves. It's not many times you get a rematch against a great team like Arizona and we now we have that opportunity."
(On if the redemption is fueling the team) "Absolutely and not to mention it's the Sweet 16 with the chance to the Elite 8 so I mean the motivation and the story lines are there. We'll be ready to play."
(On the challenges of playing Arizona and the keys to the game) "They're playing a little different from earlier in the season, obviously they don't have Brandon Ashley one of their better players but they're still a great team. Our coaches have given us a great game plan for them, we'll be ready. We just can't turn the ball over. We watched some of the Gonzaga clips and they're a great team but they turned the ball over too much."
Junior Guard Aqeel Quinn
(On the fact that he and Dwayne Pollee II didn't play in the first game) "Me or Dwayne didn't play in the first game but we both kind of have an integral role on the team now. I think it's going to help us as far as brining a lot of energy on the defensive end as well as picking up the intensity. It's going to be a fun game, I can't wait."
(On how he worked his way into the rotation) "You've got to just grind, just get in the gym and stay confident in yourself. Talk to your family, they'll keep your spirits up and plus the coaches don't ever let you get down. Coach Fisher always says when opportunity comes you've got to be ready. When the opportunity came, we took full advantage of it."
Arizona Press Conference Quotes
THE MODERATOR: We are joined in the interview room by Arizona student athletes, Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Q. Nick, take me back to November and the game against San Diego State. How did you guys manage to contain Xavier?
NICK JOHNSON: I think we did a great job on him in the first half. I think in the second half he started getting a little more easy buckets, broke away. I think really if you look at the whole game we had probably a 10, 15 point lead and he started getting going at the end and that's where they made their comeback. He's had a great season. He was obviously the Player of the Year in his conference.
So I mean, we just have to, myself, T.J., Gabe, Jordin, and even the bigs, he likes to use ball screens. We have to make his job hard. Not give him any easy looks and just hope to contain him.
Q. Can you talk about your first match up against San Diego State and more than anything else, San Diego State's defensive intensity that they brought, you went out to a double digit lead. They dropped it to four points in the final couple of minutes. Can you talk about what you recall from them defensively? Obviously they're much like you guys as well when it comes to being a defense for a squad.
AARON GORDON: Yeah, they're very athletic, they're long and they're quick. So it's going to be a high level basketball game on the defensive side and the offensive side. Like us, they hold their opponent to about 50, 60 points, so it was something that we stress on offense to be more disciplined and really run our stuff. If you're asking are we going to change anything to exploit their defense? No, we're going to play Arizona basketball and continue to do what we do.
NICK JOHNSON: I mean, I would just say last time we played them it was a really good game. It was our first road game of the year, so we tried to come out with a lot of intensity. I mean, they're long, athletic just like us, so they like to press a little bit, create turnovers. I think that's going to be the key to the game as far as us just doing what we do, be a defensive team like we have been all year. Take care of the ball when they try to pressure us and stuff like that and take good shots on offense. The way we've been playing on offense the last few weeks, I think that we can continue that. I think we can win the game.
KALEB TARCZEWSKI: I think these two guys kind of summed it up. There's not really too much I can say other than that.
Q. You talk a little bit about what you each get most out of Coach Miller, and if you're aware, obviously, of his brother also coaching in the Sweet Sixteen, and as a basketball fan, how cool that is?
KALEB TARCZEWSKI: I think the most important thing about Coach Miller is his relationship with all the guys off the court. We all have a tremendous trust in him. You know, not only as our coach but as a mentor, someone that can teach us things not only on the basketball court but also in real life. I think that's why we have such a close team this year is a lot because of that connection.
Obviously, he's a great coach. He's all about the process and doing what we do. I think that's really why we're so locked in and prepared for every game.
NICK JOHNSON: I think for me, Coach is just relaxing because he's done all the things that we want to do. He's been in this position and been on a top team playing point guard. So I mean, really when he says stuff, it sinks in because you know that he's been in that situation before. As far as Arch, he was basically my main recruiter when I was deciding to come here, so I had talked to him a lot. Super happy for what he's doing over at Dayton. I was kind of mad when he left, but I mean, he did it for himself. It obviously has worked out. So I mean, I'm looking forward to watching their game and hoping we can meet up maybe.
AARON GORDON: Yeah, it's a lot like what Nick said. I have a lot of confidence being out there on the court just knowing that he's a really high level coach, Coach Miller. He's a great basketball mind. He's been there before, and he knows what to do in that situation. He has a lot of trust in his guys, and it goes both ways. So it's really easy to play for him.
Q. How much effort have you put into putting focusing on Dwayne Polee? The first time he played in San Diego, obviously he's been hot, and how much emphasis have you been looking into game film and such on him?
NICK JOHNSON: Yeah, just knowing where he is when he comes in the game. He's kind of like a sixth starter for them. Just knowing where he is. If we're hedging on ball screens on him and stuff like that, not leaving him open in the corner. Not getting his feet set for that three. I mean, he's a great athlete. Not letting him get steals and get out in transition and getting those easy buckets to get him going. Really, our scouting report is pretty thorough through one through ten. I mean, we pretty much know what everybody does good and bad. So I mean, just trying to study those throughout our few practices throughout this week, and we'll be ready for the game.
Q. This is for all three players, but I'd like to start with Aaron. Today the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players can create the nation's first college athletes union. I'm wondering if you're familiar with their battle to try to accomplish this, and what you guys think about the possibility as an amateur athlete in college having a union represent your interests?
AARON GORDON: Well, I really haven't heard about that. That's the first time I've heard about that. But having somebody or a group of people speaking out for an entire group of people like the NCAA athletes, it really helps. It gets a good perspective from how student athletes think and where they're coming from. I don't know what that entails as of right now, but in the future I guess it would be another way to get our voice out and let other people hear us.
NICK JOHNSON: That's their quarterback, right, from Northwestern?
NICK JOHNSON: I think that's great. Obviously, right now we're pretty focused on what we're doing. We have a game tomorrow. I think maybe probably for all of us we can look back or look at it in a few weeks down the road and probably look at it a little bit and say if we want to jump on board or stuff like that. But I mean, right now I think we're pretty much focused on what we have ahead of us.
KALEB TARCZEWSKI: Like Nick said, we're all focused on the game for tomorrow. It's obviously nice for the possibility to have an organization looking out for the individual rights of all athletes and kind of get our voices and opinions heard. But like Nick said, we're not focusing on that right now. It's something we can look at in the off season. Now the most important thing is the game tomorrow and really being prepared for that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start off with a statement from Coach Miller and then we'll open it up to questions.
COACH MILLER: We're very excited to be here. Ironically we were here last time in the Sweet Sixteen. I believe it was held here at the Honda Center. Played a very memorable game against Duke and lost a heartbreaker to UCONN in the Elite Eight. San Diego State was also here. That first night when we played Duke, they played UCONN. It's kind of ironic now we find ourselves back, both of us. I think it says a lot about both of our programs. We have great respect for San Diego State, and look forward to playing them tomorrow.
Q. Coach, you did a lot of things to them in that game in November that they haven't had other people do to them, and they really didn't do the things that they do well since then. I was wondering the difference you see in those four months?
COACH MILLER: Well, we played so long ago, it was early November, very seldom is a game that pivotal between two teams played that early in the season. When I watch that game I see almost our team at a completely different place. We no longer have Brandon Ashley. Brandon was a starter in that game, and a lot of our other players have developed since then. I believe the same thing with their team. They were playing more players at that point.
Dwayne Polee has really emerged for them. We know that. But they've gotten better as the year has gone on, like all teams do that are here in the Sweet Sixteen. But I think when you play them, it starts with being able to handle them rebounding. They're an outstanding offensive rebounding team. They take a lot of pride in doing that at both ends. Their team has talent in that area, a lot of long, athletic players, a physical team, a great toughness about them. They're an elite defensive team, but one of the statistics defensively that's different between the two teams, us and them, is they steal the ball. They turn you over. They get big turnovers with the way they play defense, which gives them additional offense.
So if you can ever keep them off the glass and take care of the basketball, I think that is a starting point in being able to have an opportunity to win. Then Xavier Thames, I'm here in the west. I don't know if the rest of the nation realizes what a terrific guard he is. What he's done for their team from the month of November all the way to March, just watching him the last two games.
That's one thing that hasn't changed. He's been dynamic, makes big shots, is really good on that middle ball screen, and I think every coach and team who plays them wants to do that part of the equation well, but it's not easy to keep him under control. But he's also a very key element to their team.
Q. Sean, the original question was what words would you use to describe Xavier Thames. That said, back in November, what did Arizona do right in containing him?
COACH MILLER: Well, he ended up having a good game. One that is typical for him. I think he had 19 points, I believe. I think he had more maybe in the second half than he did in the first. But I think what you want to do is make the game hard. He's an outstanding shooter. He really uses ball screens to free himself up, for threes to free himself up, for jump shots. He can make his teammates better, but he really uses that to score for himself. With that, it's not just a player who is guarding him, it's the player guarding the screen. It's a team. It's really a team dynamic that you need in place to do a good job against him.
By the way, he's not alone. They have a lot of other really good players. You look at JJ O'Brien, and he's a very difficult match up. Winston Shepard is 6'8", and many times plays the guard position. I know Dwayne just from watching him in high school and watching him develop. He's as athletic and long as you really can get. Josh Davis is also a very good player, great experience.
So Xavier Thames isn't alone out there. That's why they've won the games that's they've won. So it's certainly a team versus team game tomorrow.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about how special this period is for your family, for your dad and Archie? This unique moment that you have. What are the biggest traits that you've taken from your dad, and then I have a follow up after that.
COACH MILLER: Well, there's been some wonderful stories written. Rick Reilly who is here wrote a great story about that. You know, it's really a tribute to a family, to a mom and a dad. My mom doesn't get a lot of credit because she wasn't a coach, but she's been there every step of the way. My dad gets a lot of credit, deservedly so because of the time he spent with us. But he's just one of those throwback coaches that knew the game, loved the game, was good at teaching and coaching, but gave that passion to his kids. Everywhere he went, we went. I think the day back then favored communication maybe more than today. There was no cell phone. You're in a car with very few radio channels, so you talked a lot more. We certainly spent a lot of time together, especially in the summer, because he was a school teacher. So it's that time, and I think his talent as a coach that he gave to us.
Q. As a follow up, would you compare and contrast yourself and Archie as coaches? Obviously, he was with you for two years. People would assume that he's probably a lot like you, but are there a lot of differences as well?
COACH MILLER: Well, he's at a different kind of scope where his career is, year three at Dayton. Not that I've been doing it for a long time, but this is year ten for me now. So he probably reacts to things maybe a little bit in a different way. I think we both coach with a similar style. I might be a little quieter in my approach than him at this point. But he gets to year ten, he'll probably be a lot like me. I think there are a lot of similarities.
Q. Sean, in this day and age of egos and big numbers and everybody wants numbers, how have you been able to heard these cats so to speak to play well and play together?
COACH MILLER: Well, we're very fortunate, and that's why we're here today because we have a lot of great chemistry on our team. Many times you point to the oldest players. Jordin Mayes, if you think about him, he's played for us for four years as an off the bench player.
But nonetheless, he played here in the game against UCONN in the Elite Eight as a freshman. He played in the game last year against Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen, and he's back. Nick Johnson. The older players are about winning, and they've certainly set the tone for the younger guys.
But with our team, I give the younger players just as much credit, because Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis Jefferson, Pitts, those guys are as easy to deal with as incoming freshmen as I've ever dealt with. Not only are they really good players, but all of them came here knowing how to win. They listen. They're good teammates. I think it's that combination of the older and the younger who both have the same mindset. We've had very few issues off the court, almost none. As the coach, you coach. As the players, you play. We've been able to improve and stick with it because of that.
Q. Secondly, how long do you think it's taken for the smaller lineup to take hold after the absence of Brandon?
COACH MILLER: I think after the Arizona State game, the double overtime loss, sometimes you have to play a couple games to really get a true feel for what works and what doesn't. We didn't play our bench enough. We didn't recognize the importance of spacing and having another shooter on the court, how that can make the other four guys better offensively. I think it was a lesson that we didn't have to sacrifice much defensively. If you look at our defense, it's about the same now as it's been in late November, early December. So I credit those guys, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts, Jordin Mayes, they're the guards that play more now. Rondae plays more, and they've done an exceptional job.
Q. Sean, growing up with Archie, what was it like your relationship with him back then as kids and who was beating who up?
COACH MILLER: Well, our relationship isn't typical because there is a ten year difference. So when I left to go to college, I imagine he was a third grader or fourth grader. While I'm in college as a student athlete he would come to the game as an elementary student or middle school. When I went into coaching and my time ended as a student athlete, that's when you would go watch him play high school. I then was his college coach for a couple years when I was an assistant at N.C. State.
So the relationship was never like a sibling rivalry. It would be more me looking out for him, and I think him kind of watching how I did things. But I'm very proud of what he's done. I'm also really happy for Dayton. When you hire a coach who has not been a head coach before, especially in a program like they have, not that you're taking a leap of faith, but you're believing in something that you haven't seen. Watching him deliver and just watching where that program is going, I'm happy for everyone involved there.
Q. Gabe York said that he would get embarrassed not being able to guard Nick in practice and getting exposed defensively in practice. Were you confident that he would be able to pull himself out of that funk and develop a defensive game? How far have you seen him come?
COACH MILLER: Well, if I judge Gabe York from where he would have been early in his freshman year defensively to where he is now, it's like a young kid becoming an adult. He's someone we trust a great deal. Not only does he do a really good job for us offensively, but he's also learned to become a better defender. He's in the right place. A lot of teams try to attack him because T.J. and Nick are so good on the ball. As they've done that, and Gonzaga would be an example, he's answered the bell.
But Gabe, again, is a very unselfish player. A lot of kids in today's world, when they don't play a lot as a college freshman, they leave, point fingers, and they start over. When they start over, they have success at the next place. Well, many times they would have had success at our place, except they never gave it a chance. Gabe and his family and his support system, they stayed with it. Just watching where he came from and how important he is this year, and I really believe where he can be a year from now as a player, it's gratifying. It's what it should be like. I think in many ways he's following the path of someone like Nick Johnson or Solomon Hill who each year seems to get better in our program.
Q. Coach, the other night, Sunday night after you beat Gonzaga and you were talking about San Diego State, you used the word "fearless" to describe them. I wonder what you meant by that?
COACH MILLER: I think they're a confident program, not a team, but a confident program. I've been in their shoes as the head coach at Xavier. You have a lot of guys on your team that have been overlooked, or they're in their next stop having transferred. A lot of times they have a healthy chip on their shoulder. I mean that in a positive way. They're out to prove that they're better than the outside world has given them credit. I think just their program in general, I think they have a chip on their shoulder that when you play them, it is a very competitive, hard fought game. They're a great defensive team. They're a great rebounding team. They're organized on offense. But they have a number of players that have a toughness about them.
To beat them, you have to have that on your end. That is a real credit to Coach Fisher. I know I mentioned this a couple days ago what he and his staff have done here over the last decade, you really have to do a double take when you think about the success that they've had. We respect them a great deal. We know that tomorrow's game, for us, will be as hard fought of a game as we've played. I also know this and our team knows this, for us to advance we're going to have to play really well.
Q. Coach, you just kind of touched on it a little bit the job that Coach Fisher has done at San Diego State. Before he got there, they had 13 losing seasons out of 14 years, and now they're regularly winning 20 plus games and going to the tournament. What do you think about how he's been able to turn this program from nothing into something?
COACH MILLER: Well, Steve Fisher, if you just follow his career, it's not for me to voice. I'm not the expert on it. But I do think that a lot of college coaches believe this about him. He didn't get nearly enough credit for the unbelievable job that he did in Michigan. If you just think about what he did there as the head coach, it's amazing. Then for him to come out here to the west and just kind of watch him build his program. The other thing that you really respect about San Diego State, and we have it in common in our program, is their crowd, their following. When we played them in November, that was as good of a college basketball crowd as we've played in front of all year. We've played in some great arenas.
So not only do they have a great product on the court, but you can tell their program has just a rabid, passionate following, and that is the other thing about tomorrow night. It's going to be a great atmosphere. We were both here together a few years ago, but we didn't play each other.
But I remember thinking if we did what it would be like, and here we are three years later. I think it's going to be a lot of red. Obviously there are going to be a lot of people in the building that care a lot about their programs.