Quotes From Head Basketball Coach Stew Morrill
Jan. 2, 2001
The following are quotes from Utah State head basketball coach Stew Morrill at his weekly press conference prior to the Aggies opening Big West Conference play at Cal Poly and at Idaho.
How do you feel about being the only team in the league that gets to go to Cal Poly and Idaho in the same weekend? "Nine teams screws everything up I guess in terms of rotations. Idaho plays tonight (BYU) and then they don't play again tell our game. We are going to get two fresh teams, but that is life, you have to go play. One thing we always talk about is not letting somebody play harder than us. That is something that will definitely come up in both games, but probably more so in Moscow where we are going to be a little weary."
This team kind of grasps the road challenge don't they? "They're kids, they don't get as tired was we do. They're excited about league starting. We had a really good workout yesterday. I have had some early morning New Year's day workouts over the year's that haven't been real good. We talked about the pre-season basically being over, although we still have one game sandwiched in there, and now here is conference. I have always broken it done into three parts of your season: pre-season, conference season, and post season. Post season includes the conference tournament. I had them all take their right hand and pat themselves on the back for going 10-2 and feel good about it, but know that we can get better and know that pre-league is all about getting ready for conference, this is when they really count. They seemed to be really excited about conference starting and that was encouraging yesterday. The whole deal on the road has always been if you can get a split that's not to bad, and that' always been the deal. Unfortunately, we maybe changed that in some people's minds last year when we won all eight road games. I have said several times, this year with the league being improved, I really do think 13-3, 12-4 will win the league. But you never know what is going to happen and who might do better than that. You just got to go play the first one and see what happens and go from there. If you loss the first one a split is pretty good, but if you win the first one you get greedy."
Do you feel like the pre season did a good job of preparing you for the conference season? "I think so. There is always things that you would have liked to have had different if you would have know the team you had a couple of year's ago when you scheduled. I think there was a wide variety of games. There were some big games, always, with the in-state games. We went to a tournament that was a high-quality tournament. There were a lot of different situations. I don't know if you ever feel as a coach like your as good as you need to be going into league and there are areas I am real concerned about. But we are getting a little more consistent in some areas. Our turnovers have went down, our defense is improving, although it's not where it needs to be, but it is improving. The thing I keep telling the players, I really believe we can get a lot better. We're not near as consistent as we need to be in a lot of areas of the game. The Air Force game the other night showed that. We are up 20-some and we pittle around and all of a sudden its a ballgame. That shows that your not as consistent or you don't quite have the killer instinct you need to have. You look at us statistically and there are some awfully solid things from the pre-season. I mean we're shooting 50 percent, we're shooting 40 from three, we're holding opponents to 39 percent, we're out rebounding opponents by six, all of those are good things."
Is there one thing that concerns you more than anything else about something that your team isn't doing? "Not one particular thing, just consistency in all areas of the game. We will have large stretches were we don't guard well enough or we don't take care of the ball as well as we should. You know each game presents different problems. Last year we go to Cal Poly and we turn it over 20 and we still win because they weren't as good as they are this year. If we got to Cal Poly this year and turn it over 20, I think we got problems. There is less margin for error as the league has gotten better. You can't do some of those things like that, for example, and still expect to win. I told them (the players) yesterday that last year statistically we were right at the top defensively. I mean in points allowed and field-goal percentage "D". We are third or fourth in those areas now, so we have some strides to make defensively."
How do you guard against relaxing when you get a big lead, kind of like the Air Force game? "It's human nature. We had some of that last year too and it has been a little bit of a characteristic of our team. I guess as long as you still hang on and win you should feel okay about it, I never do. I don't think that should happen and at some point it will cost you. That's what you keep preaching, that if we keep relaxing when we get ahead, at some point you are going to blow one. We really haven't statistically defended for a full game yet either. We have had great halves of defense were we've held opponents to 26 percent or whatever and then they come back and shot 50 the second half or vice versa in halves. "
Does Cal Poly play different this year than they have in the past couple of years? "They don't seem to be selling out with their press quite as much. I think they throw they're press out there and if you handle it as badly as we did last year, or if they watch the game tape from last year which I am sure they will, they've got to say, 'Hey we have got to try and press them, they didn't handle it well last year.' But as a general rule I think they're pressing less and taking less chances. When we played them two years ago and they pressed every possession from start to finish and we win by 40 here in the Spectrum, I thought the pressing was hurting them. As often with a pressing team, its better for them at home. But I think that is what he is talking about, they are pulling in their horns a little bit and playing a little bit more conservative, they're not whole-selling shots, they're not whole-selling defensively and I do see that. They're still averaging 84 points a game and leading the league, and they still shot it pretty quick, but I think they've just tried to play a little more conservative. They are shooting a higher percentage from three."
What about Jamall Scott who is maybe the best freshman in the league and Chris Bjorklund? "He's good. He's a challenge defensively. He's a strong kid, good shooter, can take you off the dribble. Bjorklund last year goes 4-for-20, that's not going to happen again. You can't count on that good of a player going 4-for-20, that was just kind of a bizarre bad night for him and I would like to think that we had a little bit to do with that, but he's not going to go 4-for-20 again. So that's when you have to get some other things sured up like taking care of the ball versus the press. They just send four guys to the boards hard. Now if you get the boards you can hurt them sometimes on the break, but it has paid off for them getting a lot of offensive boards. Two things we are working hard on is press-breaker and rebounding the ball this week."
"Last year you had a lot of close games in conference. It seems like this road trip is important to set a precedent to get off to a fast start and if you loss one or even both it really changes things doesn't it? "It does. I'm sure people around the league are hoping that happens. Anytime you have someone that is picked to win the league you like to see them stumble a little bit. It's an important trip, but every game in league just becomes so important. We come home for Long Beach and Pacific, well that's a pretty important home stand next week. Every game just takes on a new magnitude. Our kids are much better players when they have fun and go play hard, and they know there is some responsibility in terms of game prep. But we really try and avoid getting them uptight, we do everything we can to avoid that."
Does it make this game any different that Cal Poly has lost its last two games? "There isn't a team in our league that's going to go to the ACC and not struggle, that's to be expected. When you do well in pre-league you do what I did and say, 'Hey, good job, pat yourself on the back, pre-league is over and let's get on to league and talk about that.' When you don't do quite as well, although they did better than they did last year, so they got to look at it, okay we did better than last year, let's feel pretty good about it. The last couple games, those are done now, league's here, so everybody kind of recharges that way for league and I think that is the approach you take. League is like a whole new deal. Everybody has kind of looked at us and said we have got to be geared up for this one, these guys are pretty good, and they get excited. So that is what we are going to see every night out. They will be excited and ready to play. I don't think they will have lost confidence or don't think they can't win over those losses."
Idaho is almost a whole new team from what we saw last year aren't they?
"Yeah, Idaho has got a whole new crew. They have had a hard time on the road and they have been pretty tough at home. They have had a tough time on the road and their record reflects that, and a lot of new people reflects that. But at home, boy they play hard. I am impressed how hard they play and they have some kids that can really shot it. That will be tough, it's always tough. Those domes are a different deal."