Do you have any reaction to the news that you’ll be playing UAB instead of Kentucky?
Not really. Fans probably think Kansas caught a break. I don’t know. I’ve seen UAB play probably just a couple of halves this year. They’re unconventional in how they get after you. (UAB coach) Mike (Anderson) studied under Nolan (Richardson), and they get after you. He’s got a very athletic team. They create problems and I’m not sure (the Kentucky win) is such a huge upset based on what the so-called experts say. So that game itself will create just as many or more challenges as if we were playing Kentucky because we haven’t seen that style all year long. They’re on a roll right now.
J.R. Giddens scored some big points at the end of the first half and started the second half off with a three, but it was Mike Lee who got most of the playing time.
The thing about it is, (J.R.) tried to split a double-screen, which is a cardinal sin, and gave up a three. I jumped him pretty good, and the next thing you know, he goes out and buries about three in a row. We ran bad offense to start the second half and he comes away with five points. That’s a huge key: to be able to score when you don’t execute, and that was the case the first couple of possessions the second half.
It was nothing J.R. was doing. I just thought Mike was on a roll. I think Mike keyed our spurt, I thought his defense was great. And the other thing about Mike Lee, he’s been, knock on wood, as good a free throw shooter as we’ve had all year long.
Just how close did Jeff Graves come to losing his roster spot?
I don’t know that he came…it wasn’t an eyelash, but we certainly had some serious talks. Jeff’s done a great job. He’s handled the negativity like a man. Unfortunately, he put himself in the position to handle it, but I’m real impressed with Jeff.
I like him a lot. I think it’s been well-documented that I like him. He’s a fun guy. If I was a 20-year-old kid, he’d be a guy I want to hang out with. I would just take my own alarm clock if I was hanging out with him.
But he is a great kid. He’s certainly excited about how he’s playing now, and I’m very excited, also.
Considering how he was feeling yesterday, talk about Wayne Simien’s game.
Wayne’s tough. But like, if we had to play yesterday, he couldn’t have played, but I knew he’d give himself a pep talk and get himself right for the game. He played great. He missed his first four shots, if I’m not mistaken, but still he hung around and did a great ob at both ends. And he had five steals, and that’s a season high for him today.
And we did show balance. I think when you have to defend all five spots, you’re much harder to beat. We did exercise balance. We showed great patience when we needed to be patient, we were opportunistic when we ran. We did a lot of nice things.
How was it, having the opportunity to play in Kansas City and getting two big wins.
I would much rather play at home – although (Kemper) isn’t home, it’s pretty close – but sometimes playing at home, when you’re playing somebody who’s not supposed to beat you, there is a little more pressure. We experienced that earlier this year with Richmond. At the time, we didn’t know Richmond was definitely a tournament team. When you play at home sometimes, when you feel the fans hold their breath, that kind of stuff puts pressure on the guys.
But today we didn’t play like we were under any pressure at all. We played poised. Pacific played great the first 30 minutes, and it was a two point game, 53-51, late. That’s when our guys kicked it in. That’s a good sign of maturity there.
How good is this team right now?
I don’t know. I’ve said all along – people may disagree with me – there’s so much parity out there, the goal is to be in the game. And we’re certainly in the game. But there’s so much parity. Not a nickel’s worth of difference amongst the teams.
And just because you’re in the game doesn’t guarantee success, but when we play, we’re pretty good. I think that if you look at the times when we really performed well, our defense and rebounding’s been good. I fully believe that’s the key. If we take care of the basketball, we’ve got good enough offensive players – we’ve got two options that can get a shot and a third option in J.R. that can make an open one – that if we take care of the ball, defend and rebound, even if you don’t execute perfectly, you can certainly be in the game. And those are areas I think we’ve really improved a lot in lately.
Aaron Miles hasn’t scored much the last couple of games. Does that concern you at all?
No. There’s one stat for point guards and that’s wins and losses. He understands that better than anyone else. You look at his stats, and he had nine assists. He could have two, it wouldn’t make any difference if his team wins by 15.
He’s had a terrific year. Wayne and Keith get the press, but when you talk about most valuable guy, it’d be very difficult for us to play without him.
Was there a point when you thought your defense was wearing Pacific down?
I don’t know about “wear down,” but I think at about the 10-minute mark or eight-minute mark, it was a close game and we had a couple of deflections to key breaks. I think those were as important possessions as any in the entire game because it got the monkey off our back a little bit when they were coming back. Plus, we realized, “Hey, we can guard these guys.” I think we went through a stretch where we were just letting them go where they wanted to go and just hoping they missed. I think, defensively, we actually got them on their heels a little bit during that key stretch.
Talk a little but about the Big 12. It’s supposedly a down year but you’ve got three teams in the sweet sixteen and a 7-1 record in the tournament.
People that follow ball know that the league’s not down. I haven’t been in the league before, but I will say it’s not as top-heavy as what it was last year when you had three teams that were probably three of the best five teams in America, according to the seeds last year. So we don’t have that.
But Oklahoma State’s as good as anybody in America. And Texas, when they play, they can beat anybody. And when we play, we’re pretty good. And Texas Tech was just a couple of possessions from beating a #1-seed, so our league is good. Our league will always be good and the coaching’s so good in the league and there are so many athletes in our league.
I think sometimes our league gets overlooked because it doesn’t carry the same national media attention that the Big 10 or Big East or a lot of those carry. Even though the league gets a lot of exposure, there’s a lot of teams like Colorado that don’t get the exposure that they deserve, and maybe that’s a little bit of why they got left out (of the NCAA Tournament), but our league prepared us to play this time of year.
Is the team playing as much like you want them to play as they have all year?
Yes. We want to run, that’s obvious. We run, but we also play to our strengths better. The biggest thing is when your ball-movement is better, you get three-pointers. When you guard and rebound, you’ve got a chance to neutralize other people. You don’t have to be a great offensive team. Look back at the games we lost and haven’t played well. It comes from energy, and energy’s usually evident more at the defensive end of the floor.