“I want to start off by congratulating football on an incredibly great season and wish them nothing but the best against Cincinnati in the bowl game. We’re all excited for Coach Rocky Long, the team and the job they did.
“We’re also excited to play again. It seems like we had a thousand games in a short period. Now, we’ve actually had eight days between games. We gave them (the team) a couple days off to rest their legs. We’ve gotten back to the practice floor, which we needed more than games at the time, to try and fine tune some things we’re doing on offense while continuing to build upon a great defense we’re playing again this season, which has become typical of Aztec basketball.”
On the importance of the eight-day break between games:
“I think the eight-day break was good for us. Obviously, offensively more than anything. We tried to shorten our playbook and become better at the things we’re doing. That’s everything. First of it, it’s taking care of the ball. We turned the ball over way too much, so we’ve really emphasized taking care of the ball. We’ve tried to set better screens, things that teams all over the country are working and focusing on. Those are the things we’re trying to get better at so we become a better offensive team, efficiency-wise.
On the process of trying to figure out who they think they are versus who they really are as a team:
“The beauty of basketball is that there are so many different ways to play it. Obviously, we play opponents that want to play with us, those who go up and down the floor. We’ve also played opponents that tried to shorten the game and run all 30 seconds of the shot clock and shoot the last five seconds. Those are the teams we’ve struggled with - the ones that run the shot clock and then make a three late in the shot clock. It shortens the possessions of the game. Especially with a shorter game, if you turn it over – they’re magnified. We’re better off right now with teams that want to play with us. At the same time, we are learning our lessons with teams that want to shorten the game and making sure we don’t get anxious because the game is shorter and thus, try and score quicker, shoot the ball too quick, or take the first shot that’s available. Sometimes, it’s realizing you may have to play at that pace. We have two freshman in the lineup. Obviously, there is a lot of teaching that is always going on. It’s not three fifth-year seniors in the starting lineup. It is two freshmen and a junior with Dakarai Allen starting the eighth game of his career. We’ve got guys who are learning their lessons and our veterans who are trying to help as best they can in whatever role they fill, whether that means Angelo (Chol) starting and Skylar (Spencer) and Winston (Shepard) off the bench. They’ve been valuable in these eight days helping the young guys understand how to play basketball better.”
On welcoming Grand Canyon, the type of team that likes to score:
“The more possessions there are, sometimes your mistakes aren’t as magnified. If you play up to 75-80 possessions, you turn it over 12-14 times and it’s not quite as magnified as you turning it over 12-14 times in a 60-possession game. I think right now we’re better suited to play teams that want to play, instead of shortening the game. With that being said, we’re going to be good at both, but the other has taken longer. Grand Canyon is averaging 80 points a game. They’re aggressive offensively and play man-to-man as far as I’ve seen so we’re not going to see zone. It’s going to be a game where both teams will be excited to play.”
On Grand Canyon redshirt freshman guard Dominic Magee:
“When I watched the tape on their game against Omaha (his first game), I said they’ve added a freshman transfer who just became eligible and he took 22 shots in his first game as a freshman? This guy thinks he’s pretty good and they do too if they’re letting him shoot 22 times. He’s also taken about 11 free-throws a game. He shot 10 free-throws in their last game. He’s played two games and is very aggressive off the dribble. The thing we’re going to have to adjust to is when he shoots the ball. He hasn’t shot the three very well yet but he doesn’t look like he’s afraid to take it. He’s an aggressive, attacking guard and if he’s making the three, he’ll be very hard to guard.”
On the fans expecting men’s basketball to be a winning program:
“We’ve set high expectations for the program. We’re a program now. We’re not a one-hit wonder. The fans have expectations. The players have expectations. The coaches have expectations. When you stumble, it’s not acceptable to anybody, least of all, the players and the coaches. We understand the fans want us to win every game. We’re planning on winning every game. Every season has a different path. When you think back to our first NCAA tournament, we had to win the conference tournament with Randy Holcomb, Al Faux and Tony Bland. We had to win three to go to the tournament and that team probably played its best basketball down the stretch. There are peaks and valleys to every season. This team has not hit stride yet. That is why this practice time has been invaluable. We needed to play less games and have more practice. Hopefully what we’ve done in practice will now translate to game. (We) will slowly build upon the success we experienced against Nicholls, where we were shooting the ball better and running a little bit more patterned offense. (We hope to) build upon that heading into our last two non-conference games before the conference season.”
On if the eight days were enough for a notable transformation:
“You have to get better or worse every day. Obviously, we’re nowhere near where we want to be at. Like I said, our main concern is turnovers. We’ve turned the ball over close to 21 percent of our possessions, so one out of every five possessions. Obviously, you can’t be very efficient. If we can take just two turnovers off a game, then we’ll be a lot better offensively. Our main thing is taking care of the ball better. If you turn the ball over, it’s hard to win. That’s a real concern of ours and what we’ve tried to emphasize. We’re not trying to get them to play afraid, but saying this might have been a better decision for you to make at this time. The last thing we want is an unaggressive team that’s afraid to make a mistake. But at the same time, we want them to value the basketball.”