Listen to Audio (6:15)
It was a game like I thought it would probably be, going down to the end. I didn't think it would have such wild swings in there. I thought we would probably stay close the whole way, but I try not to waste too much of my time thinking about those kinds of things, to be honest with you. Ware was a load for us in the first half. I thought we were a little better defensively in the second half. They didn't shoot it quite as well—at half I think they were 7-13. In the second half they were 0-8 because we got out a little bit better on the shooters. They also helped us by missing some. I'd be false if I didn't say something.
Reggie (Bullock) was huge. I was very discouraged by some of the things that were going on out there. Dexter (Strickland) was 1-4, Kendall (Marshall) was 1-6, P.J (Hairston) is 0-3, and thank goodness Reggie came in and decided he was going to make some shots for us from the perimeter. He's a youngster that's gone through a lot of tough times, but I was really pleased for him today and he has worked exceptionally hard to not be just a shooter but to be a good defender also.
Congratulations to (Tyler) Z(eller) getting into the 1,000-point club.
I think in the second half it was Reggie and Harrison (Barnes), Z, and John (Henson) making big shots for us, but the first half I was extremely disappointed to say the least.
But you've got to congratulate them. I mean, I knew they wouldn't go away even when we got [the lead] to 11. We made a couple of bone-head plays, they get it back to six, but I don't think it ever got under six down the stretch. That part was good.
We saw from them that they were good coming in. Like you said, they went to Pittsburgh, they gave Kansas fits. Could you talk about how good they are when you see them in person and how well they play. They move the ball together and play together.
You know, they set some screens, they used the screens, they get guys open, they have their big guy, T. J. Robinson, can go out on the court and drive it to the basket. Casper (Ware) is a really, really difficult guy to guard. Larry Anderson, that didn't play against us last year is really an effective player. They have a very good talent base and they play together very well. They use their size and length defensively to really bother you around the goal. They don't jump up and try to block 100 shots, but they really make it difficult for you around the goal so-- They are good offensively because they are unselfish, and they have a tremendous leader at the point guard, they are unselfish as a team, and they are good defensively because they use their athleticism and never give up on a play.
Reggie has had bigger nights scoring, but do you think this was his best game overall?
Probably so—it was needed a heck of a lot more than some of the other games that he's had, there's no question about that. I like his confidence. I didn't even want to take him out except that possession on the defensive end he just couldn't slide his feet. His gas tank was empty, and that's when they called the two-shot foul on us so that's when I took him out and gave him a breather and put him back in. Yeah, I think 6-10, that helps you most games when your shooter goes 6-10.
Listen to Audio (4:29)
What got into you tonight? Your confidence seemed to be soaring high.
You know, as a shooter—I was just talking to P. J. during halftime—we are going to miss some and we are going to make a lot so I just come out and keep shooting. I just kept my confidence in the second half. When my teammates found me I just knocked down big shots.
How is your confidence level compared to this time last year? It seems to be night-and-day.
It's a little more consistent this year, just working out with Jackie (Manuel), just getting a lot of shots up, just keeping my reps up, just being able to knock down shots.
How much did the knee (injury) weigh on your mind last season—how much of a mental effect was that to you?
It was a little mental last year. It just took away from my shot, but this year I don't think about my knee at all. My knee is back to 100 percent. I'm doing the right thing for my knee, stretching, just doing the right things for it, icing it, just building a lot of confidence in myself.
In the stretch lately, you have become more consistent in each game, it seems like, and you are doing more things well. Can you talk about that and what you are feeling every day as you sense that improvement?
My teammates just trust me. When they pass me the ball they expect me to shoot it and knock it down. I've been doing that lately, and they are starting to build their trust in me a lot more. I've been able to knock down shots.
Listen to Audio (4:09)
It seemed like you were looking for your shot early and you looked very comfortable.
It's funny because [Reggie and I] shot together at the beginning of the game, and I didn't miss today so it kind of (was) reflected in the game as well.
How much better has your offensive game become—how much more confidence do you think you have?
I think just practicing all summer and then hitting the shots in the game is something that builds more confidence than anything, and I think that's what I've been doing—hitting them in practice. I'm just building off of it and trying to become a complete player.
That run you had in the second half—is that about the best you have played this year?
I think it is the best we've had to play to beat a team like Long Beach State—hitting shots, playing defense, and that's what we did. Long Beach State is a really, really good team, and I would hate to see them down the road in March as well.
Do you think people realize that your offense is coming around like this? So many people have talked about defense and rebounding with you for so long.
I don't know if they realize it, but I'm just trying to go out there and play with the team. Hopefully, by me getting better offensively that helps the team and we can win more games.
Listen to Audio (3:47)
…just getting back to basics, you know—rebounding is either going to be our biggest downfall or our biggest advantage. We did a tremendous job rebounding the ball last year but we haven't carried it over to this year. It is a brand new year so I think if we get better offensively rebounding, as well as defensively, we can take away other teams' second-chance opportunities as well as maybe get a couple chip-ins and put-backs.
What was different for you in the second half? You had four assists in the first half, 12 in the second.
My teammates were making shots. I have to give them full credit for that. We also got out into the break and were able to get a lot more easy baskets. I can remember Z running the floor and getting a layup, Dexter getting out running the floor. Little things like that. Like I said, when you are getting stops on the defensive end, it is going to help your offensive game.
When you see 16 assists, what goes through your mind just to have a game like that? You've had a few of these games. What's that feeling like?
Well, I noticed I had two turnovers, and was kind of arguing—I don't remember my second turnover. But it's nice to be out there and be able to contribute to my team the best way I can. Like I said, in the first half we obviously didn't shoot the ball great but my teammates did a tremendous job of knocking down shots and finishing around the rim in the second half.
This is the time of year for giving—Christmas time—guess it is your specialty.
Well, I hope they don't expect anything that costs money, just be happy with me passing the ball to them.
Casper Ware had 16 early. What was the key to sticking with him and containing him after that?
Coach gives us three keys to every game, and one of the keys to the game was ‘contain Ware.' He's the motor that drives their team and early on he got loose. You have to give him credit for being a great player and being able to knock down shots and make things happen. At the same time, we have to do a better job defensively as a team of being aware of where he is, defending the ball screen better, as well as getting a hand up on his shots.