USU head coach Stew Morrill and the Aggies' starting five addressed the media Wednesday prior to Thursday's second-round NCAA Tournament game vs. Kansas State
March 16, 2011
Photo Gallery From NCAA Tournament Press Conference and Practice
TUCSON, Ariz. -
NCAA MEN'S 2ND & 3RD ROUNDS: TUCSON
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. This is for Pooh, Tyler, and Tai. You guys have been in the starting line-up for all three NCAA tournament appearances. And the question is: Do you guys, you know, this is your last chance, do you guys feel any pressure to get it done tomorrow night?
Pooh Williams: Me personally, I feel no pressure at all. You know, we just got to go out there and take care of business.
I mean, we understand what the situation is, win or go home. You know, and I'm pretty sure nobody on this team wants to go home yet. You know, we want to keep this thing going for as long as we can. You know, it's been a fun year and none of us is ready to be done yet.
Tyler Newbold: I'm excited. You know, obviously this is our last chance. We haven't won in the tournament yet, but we're excited to be here again. Not many teams get to come as much as we've came the last few years and we're excited to play and see if we can get the job done this time.
Tai Wesley: I think there is always going to be a little pressure with playing on a big stage like this. But more than anything, you know, we're going to go have fun. We're the 12th seed. So the pressure should be on them.
Q. A couple months ago you talked about a lesson you learned from being in Houston was never to take your foot off the gas. Could you kind of expand on that, tell me what that meant.
Brockeith Pane: I guess I say when I was much younger then, we'd go and practice some days and not focused really on practice. Don't have my mindset to go in here and practice for two-and-a-half hours. But now since being around veteran players and veteran leaders every day, you have to bring it. And coach too. He demands greatness every day. So I just do my best and try to do each and every practice.
Like I say, I'm just happy to be here. Never been to the NCAA before. I'm just cherished and blessed to be here. And the six seniors we have and just ready to show the world what we can do.
Q. Tai, you guys have been the NCAA tournaments something like nine times in 14 years. You've been there three times. Do you feel like you guys need to keep reintroducing yourselves even though you've been to the tournament a lot, people still don't know a lot about you?
Tai Wesley: Absolutely. People don't know much about Utah State. You know, that's okay. We're -- we know who we are. We know what we do. We know what we've done. And we're here to win.
Q. Nate, you played last year in this experience, what did you learn from that? Then, Tyler, what have you learned in two NCAA's and what's different about them?
Nate Bendall: Um, you know, I think any post-season experience is going to teach you a lot about yourself and how you face up against national competition. Especially last year with us facing Texas A & M, another great Big 12 team. We -- I think we took away from that a long lesson. I mean, it's been in the back of my mind all season long. But, I mean, most importantly is they're maybe a step up physically in quickness and athletically and so we've got to be able to beat them by doing the things that we do best. Any team, but especially a team that's more athletic, more quick, and maybe a little more physical.
So we kind of took that with us into the post-season last year at the end of the season. Then in the pre-season this year, playing teams, and I've always had it in the back of my mind.
Tyler Newbold: Your question is what I've learned?
Q. Yeah. About the experience?
Tyler Newbold: I think I've learned that in order to play well here you just got to approach it just like you do every other time you play basketball.
Obviously there's different things that go into the tournament, and a lot of more media and things like that. But you got to focus in, understand what we're trying to do, not let anything else distract you or get you out of your zone, I guess you could say. But approach it the same way you do every day when you go to work and when you go to play. And that will give you the best chance to do what we've been doing. And that's winning games.
Q. My question is for Brockeith. You have been talking all year about playing for the seniors. What does it mean to you to try to bring an NCAA tournament win for them in the last year?
Brockeith Pane: It means a lot to me. I've been with these guys since I got here. One of the things they say going into the summer was we're trying to make some noise. So I just took that with me every day I went to the weight room, every day we went to practice, every time we went to the track. And I just tried to give them my all from day one. Even on the floor for a loose ball, I said whatever, going to get a rebound or shooting a free throw in the clutch, I'm just down for these guys. And whatever they're doing, like I said, I just want give them my all because it's the last go around.
Q. Pooh, what makes them so tough to go against defensively?
Pooh Williams: You know, they got a really good point guard in Jacob Pullen who has been playing really well. And I believe his last 5 or 6 games he's been averaging about 24, 25 points a game. And, you know, he's a big problem. And, you know, they got some big guys down low in Curtis Kelly, who is pretty good down there. They're just athletic. You know, so we just got to play sound basketball and be patient.
Brockeith Pane: The thing is too they really hit the glass. The scout team done a pretty good job. They're top five in the country in offensive rebound. They go to the glass every time, same three or four to the glass every time. Scout team gave us a real nice job with that today. Like I said, you can't scout that, that is something you have to see for yourself and we'll go out there and do a good job at it.
Q. Brockeith, how do you handle a team that wants to pressure you out of your stuff? What have you learned this year? I mean, Kansas State, that is their big thing is their pressure defense. How are you going to be able to do that offensively, still run your stuff and make plays?
Brockeith Pane: We just got to get in the operation area, me, myself and whoever doesn't have the ball, we got to v-cut and get open, release some of the pressure. It's going to be a battle for 40 minutes. Like those guys play up the line very good. Like I said, we just got to just get to our spots and just be ready to get up there for the ball.
Q. Now that it's been a few days since the selection, how do you kind of regard your seed? I mean, have the hard feelings kind of gone away, how do you look at it now?
Pooh Williams: I believe we just using it as motivation. You know, we went 30-3 this year. You know, and we got a 12 seed. You know, but, I mean, the committee did what they believe was right. You know, you can't be mad about it. There's a lot of teams that didn't even get in that are pretty good teams.
So, I mean, we're excited to be here. We're happy we're in. Now it's time to take care of business.
Q. Tai, you are probably one of the most visibly upset guys on Sunday. Have you been able to block that off and move on? (Laughter.)
Tai Wesley: Yeah. Um, you know, like Pooh said, we're here. We're in the NCAA tournament. We have a great opportunity before us to make some national noise and get us some attention. And even prove some guys wrong.
So, you know, why not take advantage of this opportunity that we've been given, and go prove them wrong. And go show the nation what Utah State basketball's all about.
Q. Do you guys believe in a division between mid-majors and majors? Or is it all the same stuff to you guys?
Tyler Newbold: I mean, I think there's, you know, a little bit of a difference between maybe the athletes, between major and mid-major. But I don't know -- you know, you could say look at us. If we were put into the Big 12 this year, how would we have done, you know. And I feel like -- I don't think we would have went 15-1. But I feel like we could have held our own and win a lot of games.
But, you know, that's a tough question. A lot of people have differing opinions about it. And, you know, I know there's a lot of good mid-major teams that want to make noise in the tournament. And a lot of them have done it over the years. And so I think, you know, that -- there is a lot of parity. And, you know, it's a question that we'll always talk about. So I don't know.
Tai Wesley: I agree completely with Tyler. I feel like there is a small difference, and it is pretty small. But, you know, I mean, what Tyler said was right. You know, we wouldn't have the year we had, but we would hold our own. You know, I just agree with Tyler, what he said.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, gentlemen, thanks a bunch. Good luck tomorrow.
We have Coach Morrill here for Utah State. Coach, if you can give us some opening remarks, then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH MORRILL: Well, we're excited to be back. Third straight year. And 8 out of 12 years is something I think our program can be proud of. Certainly, we'd like to have some success. It's been ten years since we've won a first-round game. Second round they're calling it now, I guess.
But our guys are excited to play. You know, they're very excited to play. I mean, we've got to make sure that we're focused on game plan and the things we need to do to have a chance to compete against a very athletic, physical Kansas State team.
Number one thing you look at is how well they rebound the basketball. How much they play pressure denial defense. How you are going to function against that. You know, obviously they've got long, athletic, strong guys. Big 12 type bodies and players. It presents lots of challenges, which is kind of what we've gotten year in and year out in the NCAA tournament in which you are always going to get a good team. We've just, with our seed, we've drawn a lot of BCS teams such as this. So that always presents a challenge.
Q. Coach, would you agree this does really boil down, I mean, last year when you played Texas A & M the guys talked about we didn't screen well enough. But their pressure defense and the denial, you got to be able to run your offense. Is that where it all boils down to?
COACH MORRILL: Offensively that's where it starts. I mean, you got to wait until you get into operational areas to start your offense. You got to have some counters to their pressure. You know, I think if you are able to get a back door here or there or able to get a drive to the basket and you stay aggressive. But certainly screening is a big part of it. You got to wait for screens. You got to set screens. You know, you can't -- otherwise you are just going to get denied every pass you try to make.
So, you know, then obviously, when the ball goes on the board, then the game really starts on both ends. Because, you know, we've got to be able to get some offensive rebounds, we've got to be able to -- everybody participate on the defensive glass. That is just a huge concern.
Defensively you guard a lot of what I call Creighton, it's a new offense, I guess, they implemented in December, somewhere in there. And it presents lots of good looks for them and lots of things you have to be able to contend with there.
So a lot of facets to the game.
Q. Coach, last year, you know, you said it took an adjustment period for you guys to adjust to Texas A & M's physicality. How important is it for you guys to come out ready for the increased physicality over the teams that you saw in the WAC conference?
COACH MORRILL: Well, you know, I think you know that it's going to be a step up in terms of size and strength. I mean, you know that.
One of the reasons why we wanted to play Georgetown was to get a look at what we might see again in the same season if we were fortunate enough to get back to the NCAA tournament.
You know, I look back at our last two NCAA tournament games, and some of you may remember Marquette, we had -- it took a little while to adjust. Then, you know, we made a heck of a game out of it. You look back and we'll always feel like you could have, should have won that one.
A & M, that was not the case. We were never in position to win. They kind of dominated us physically. So that is an important part of the game -- can we deal with their physicality and their athleticism.
Q. From what you've been able to see on film what has that change in their offense kind of done for them?
COACH MORRILL: You know, I didn't watch them before, so, you know, it's hard to compare, you know, how they were playing before. Because I've just concentrated on their recent games. You know, the thing about that Creighton offense is it's just continually putting pressure on your defense with all the back cutters and the pinch post, you know, ball screen situations. Then they have a lot of really good counters to the initial Creighton offense.
So what I would say is they did a really good job as a coaching staff to implement that in the middle of the season. I mean, that's not easy to do. And you know what, that's taking a big chance when you do that that it might not work. And it's worked for them.
You know, they've become, I think, more patient, more aware of the kind of shots they want each guy shooting. I just think they've done a real good job with it.
Q. I'm curious as to what you think now about the run you've had at Utah State and what you have accomplished over this period of time taking that program to this kind of success?
COACH MORRILL: Well, thanks, Wyatt. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a job that fits for me. You know, I was just talking to Bill Frieder and he was asking those kind of questions. And, you know, I've been there 13 years and there's been opportunities, but not that fit as well.
In this business, that being said, you better win to keep working. You know, Utah State had a proud tradition when they got there, and I think we've been able to extend that. And it's, you know, with really good kids, high character kids that have graduated. You know, I said with this senior group to me it's kind of what college basketball should be about. And I'm not trying to stroke myself. I'm trying to stroke them. It's guys winning championships, getting NCAA watches, getting championship rings and getting their degree. I take some satisfaction in that.
Q. A lot has been made about you guys being seeded 12 and people saying you should have been seeded higher. It's not fair for Utah State. Conversely though what nobody is talking about is now Kansas State is playing a team that is seated as a 12, but people are saying this should be an 8 or 9. You know, your thoughts on that for them, from their aspect.
COACH MORRILL: You know, I don't really worry about their aspect, I'm sorry. (Laughter. I mean, I got my hands full worrying about our aspect and trying to deal with them.
You know, I think it was a surprise and a little bit of a shock to some of our players. They felt like, you know, we were 15 RPI, we won our conference, we won 30 games. We won our conference tournament. It's like you can say whatever you want to work, you know, like okay, well, you didn't win enough top 50 or top 100 games. What about Colorado? They won a lot of top 50, top 100 games. So it's whatever the committee decides to make an important criteria in a certain year.
The thing I've told our players, we were going to get a good team. You know, we were going to be -- even if we were a 7 through 10 which is what we hoped for, we were going to get a very good team. That's what we have in Kansas State. A very good team to play. So, you know, that is when you get to the NCAA tournament, that's what you are looking at.
Q. Coach, is the best part of this team just the fact that you have a veteran senior group? Or is that oversimplifying it would you say?
COACH MORRILL: No, I think that's been the reason they've been able to do what they've done. You know, we had a very important piece to the puzzle come in in Brockeith Pane and you got six seniors telling him what's expected every day, how we do things. There was not a lot of margin for him to veer from what we wanted him to do. And he's the first one to say that. Those six seniors showed me what's up.
You know, we had some veteran guys along with those six seniors. There's nothing like experience. When you go to the practice floor every day and you've got guys that want to practice and want to do what you tell them, boy, does that make it nice as a coach.
During 25 years of being a head coach, people always laugh, they think I'm joking. I'm really not. I've had some teams I don't like. That I haven't liked. I mean, not very many. But, you know, I always kid that you put every team up on your wall, and there's not 25 of them on my wall. (Laughter.) There is about 20, 21. So I've been fortunate to have 20 or 21 teams that I liked. And this would be right at the top of the "like" list, that is for sure.
Q. Coach, if you guys are going to be successful tomorrow night, what is going to have to happen?
COACH MORRILL: Number one, can we get a rebound? And more than one hopefully. But can we get -- that part of the game is where it all starts. You do all your preparation and man and zone, but then when the ball goes on the glass, it's all out the window if you don't get a rebound. So that is to me the first thing.
Second thing, you know, can we play offense against that pressure? They're so pressure oriented. They do such a good job and they're so athletic with their pressure. How many times are we going to turn it over. How many times are they going to force us out of our offense? Handling the pressure is the second thing.
And the third thing that I talked a lot to our team about, you know, at the WAC tournament, was they've earned the right to have fun. We were in the semi-finals against San Jose State and we were tight. We did not want to lose to the eighth-place team that had just won two and they were on a little bit of a roll. We talked the next day about having fun playing basketball. You deserve the right to have fun.
This is their third straight NCAA tournament. They want more than any fan to win an NCAA tournament game in their career. But the best way they can do that is enjoy playing basketball. Throw caution to the wind and go play hard. So those are the things that I see.
Q. You talked about the rebounding. Is there anything you changed in your strategy to combat their rebounding advantage? You bring an extra guard up to the boards or anything like that?
COACH MORRILL: You know what we did with our scout squad is we told our scout squad that if they got an offensive rebound we'd buy them a milkshake. So every time the ball went on the board, and we don't have athletes on our scout squad like K-State has, but we just tried for several days to emphasize how hard they were going to go to the boards. Normally, you know, when you have three guys go to the offensive boards in preparation. We had five.
And, you know, we did everything we could. It's not like you can come up with some magical thing. You got to block out. You got to be physical. You got to get bodies on people.
They just do a great job coaching rebounding. And they have great rebounders. You know, it's kind of like coaching shooting. I was a lot better shooting coach when I had Jaycee Carroll, I know that. You are a lot better rebounding coach when you got some of the guys they've got. But they do a really good job coaching rebounding.
Q. Coach, do you ever feel like in spite of all the success that you've had getting to the tournament that you're reintroducing yourselves every year and you have to reeducate people about Utah State?
COACH MORRILL: You know, I don't worry about that too much, Brad. I mean, you know, Bill Frieder asked me if I felt like I don't get the recognition because a lot of people don't -- I don't care about that. I really don't. And I don't care about, you know, if people don't realize that we've been a few times.
I try to tell them, hey, it's 20 trips for Utah State, and it's eight trips in the last 12 years. But then it's quickly pointed out that we haven't won a game for awhile. That's, you know, pointed out quite quickly when I mention that.
So, you know, we've drawn some pretty good opponents. Who's who of college basketball, we've played in the NCAA tournament. All BCS schools. You know, you start with Arizona, the Washington, the UCLA, the Ohio States, now K-States, Marquettes, it goes on and on, who we've played. So they've given us some pretty good opponents in the NCAA tournament. It continues to be that way.
And, you know, that makes it tough, no question.
Q. You went back to Georgetown this year, which was a pretty tough game for you on the schedule compared to some of the other. Are you looking to doing more of that or do you want to do less or the same? How do you look at scheduling going forward?
COACH MORRILL: Scheduling? Wow, that never comes up at all, David. [Laughter.]
You know, if you really understand scheduling, those top 50 games that everybody wants you to play, you know, if you can win those games it's really a good thing. That really helps you. But if you only play those on the road, you know, we were -- we are a top 25 team this year. We are 17-0 at home. We were tough to beat at home, you know, because we had a good team.
If you are going to play top 50 teams only on their court, what do you think is going to happen most of the time? Most of the time, all right. Everybody doesn't want you to play those games, they want you to win those games. And I understand that. The problem is trying to get some of those schools to come play back at our place.
I don't know what we are, 190-something and 13 at home in my 13 years at Utah State. Some might say you haven't played good enough people. Well, with that record, it's hard to get those people to come to Logan and the logistics of getting to Logan and all that.
So we've had two large berths in the last few years. We've won eight times. Everybody has a right to criticize what we're doing, but it hasn't been too bad in terms of getting us to the NCAA tournament.
And I'm not trying to be stubborn or be a jerk, but I'm going continue to do what I think is best for our program. That game was a good game for us. We got to go to Washington, D.C. We got to play Georgetown. It was very positive.
You know, I was a guy that used to think bracket buster wasn't great for us. And you know what, bracket buster has been really good for us. It's helped us.
So you always keep an open mind as to what you will do scheduling-wise. Will I do that again? Sure. Will I do it five times and none of them will come to our place? No. That is stupid. (Laughter.) So that's flat stupid to do that. Some of you don't believe that, that's okay.
I don't know how to write for your paper either. (Laughter.)
THE MODERATOR: Okay, coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH MORRILL: Thanks.
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