Last year when we played UTEP there were 10000 people at the game and they were a strong, physical basketball team that really we ran them and we were fast with them, but they just dominated us because they were so much more physically better and bigger. It's amazing to me that in a year, we're the big, physical basketball team with depth and athleticism and a team that can really score. The only piece we've yet to figure out is how to get the 10,000 people in our arena like they had in their arena because it was a tough, tough place to play down there with that many people sitting on top of you. I'm proud of this team because they bounced back really well coming out of the Idaho game. There's some things we challenged them to clean up and I'm really proud and happy for Derrien, because he's another piece to the puzzle that joined the party in this game. There's a couple more guys sitting over there that when they get on their games, this team has a chance to be really good offensively. They're just really gifted that way when they share the ball and really take good shots.
Was it your intent to go at Conor Clifford on offense to start the second half?
We had a decisive height advantage so we went right at him because he's the biggest guy on the floor and we didn't feel like they could guard him inside. We felt like they double-teamed him, we had enough shooters on the floor to make up for that as well too. So the game neeed to be established in the paint and we certainly did a good job of that with him inside and Val was in there, Josh, I thought all of our bigs played well.
Does Derrien King's length allow you to play more zone?
We're going to play more zone. There's a few more things, wrinkles in our defense that we haven't done, that we're working on as we head towards Hawaii, as we head towards conference play and everything. And what Derrien does, his length allows you to match up better with that big three man that's throughout this conference and really throughout the country. Everyone seems to have that guy over there. Definitely I thought he could've made a big difference at Idaho game with that kind of length out at the perimeter. And even in the Gonzaga game, he probably could've made a difference with that kind of length. I;m just happy that he's been cleared health wise. He's had a lot of injuries, he's kind of behind everyone else because he's had so many injuries, bur he's starting to play better now. I just think with his length and his skill set, his ability to pass, dribble, see plays and make plays, it just makes us a different team now, a different team again.
How did Derrien King get on his game?
Well the biggest thing with him is he's just been banged up. He came in with a major ankle injury and he was out of basketball for like three months so it took him awhile. He came in really, really thin. W ehad to put 20 pounds on him and then he got hurt again in practice, so he's just gotten to where he's been able to fight through and start to play and get some time in practice. And I think the more he plays, the better he's going to get.
How important was it to get Conor Clifford going/
It's real important. He's one of the biggest players in the conference. With him and Val, it gives us a one-two punch and Junior that I don't know if a lot of teams have that kind of size and skills et in there. So I'm happy for Conor because again, he's a player that came in late, 30 pounds overweight. He's lost 33 pounds now since he's been here and he's starting to find his game. And that's a real, real good thing for us to have that low post presence down there.
Is Derrien King a streaky shooter?
He could be streaky, but we looked at his game in junior college. What he was, he was an automatic jumpshooter from the baseline. He played really well. He could really handle the ball. He played point guard as well as playing the small forward as well as playing the off guard. So that's the versatility that fits our style of play. And he's got the length to defend and maybe not have a physical matchup with somebody, but his length can certainly bother a shooter out there on the perimeter. So he just gives us a chance to be bigger. When you look at that back line, I saw Val in the middle, Josh on one side, Derrien on the other side, that's some length back there. Then we have Que up front with Charles. That's more length and athleticism and I thought it was very difficult for them to penetrate that and score against that.
To what do you attribute the good defense today?
I think the biggest thing is having Val back there and Josh. With Val changing our team defensively, I think everyone is more aware of blocking shots and doing things because we help on that back line so much. So we're one of the best defensive teams in the country when it comes to blocking shots and that's a luxury to have. But you've still got to be able to adjust to games during the course of the game with officials. You've got to adjust. If they're calling it tighter, you've got to back off. IF they're letting you play, you've got to play.
Was the amount of fouls today some adjusting to the new rules for players and officials?
Coaches as well as players will adjust to all the new rules. The key thing is just having the consistency of the calls, night in, night out, game in, game out. Because again, I've got to back and look at tape and say, 'Why in this game were there 47 fouls compared to the other five games?' And really dissect what we did wrong. If there's something we did as well, too, so that we can clean it up.
Important to win heading into finals?
Oh yeah. … This game was about playing well so we could go into finals feeling good with where we're at and giving them a couple days off. The whole focus now is academics and the last final is Texas State on Friday. So you really use the week academically — you use this game to feel good about the week. Hopefully we can come out of the week feeling good about our performance in the classroom and there's that last final sitting there friday before we take a week off, get organized and get on a plane to go to Hawaii where that competition steps up. I've always kind of put game around finals week for that reason so you can play, feel good, do a good job academically, come out of it, play again, feel good, then go into whatever tournament or go into conference play. So we're right on track to where we need to be with that.
Would you like Josh Hawkinson to shoot more 3-pointers when he is open?
I leave that up to him because everybody on the team has the green light to shoot the ball. They just need to understand rhythm and they need to understand uncontested shots and they need to understand just the timing of a good shot, bad shot. So I just leave it up to Josh. If he wants to pull it, he can pull it. IF he wants to pass it, put it down, that's totally his call.