Notes and Coaches' quotes - 3/15

Both Lorenzo Romar of Washington and Stew Morrill of Utah State were playing it straight Wednesday afternoon as they went through their final press conferences and team workouts at Cox Arena in San Diego before their NCAA Men's basketball tournament first-round tilt. Who is the underdog in this 5-12 match-up, the Aggies or Huskies? It all depends on who you talk to.

Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar:
General Statement: We're excited to be here in beautiful San Diego as a participant in the NCAA Tournament. We're facing a very good team in Utah State, one of the most well-coached teams in America. We can't afford to make a lot of mistakes because Utah State doesn't. They're a very efficient team, they're the type of club that will not hand the game to you. we're going to have to take if from them."

On feeling like an underdog going into the tournament: "People would say that Utah State are the underdogs if you look at the seedings, but we are not looking at it that way. It seems like the closer we are to game time, everyone thinks we're the most likely fifth seed to be upset, so it's like we're the underdog, but we'll see as the game comes."

On the type of results the team has been having: "Our last game could be why people are doubting us. We were the heavy favorite against Oregon, especially since we had won eight-straight, some of them tough games on the road. But yet our last game we came up short, so maybe the feeling is that since we lost that game, we might be open to lose another one."

On the confidence in their game: "It's not so much a lack of confidence in our team, but what's fresh on everyone's mind is that we lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. Maybe they've forgotten about th eight previous wins in a row, but what people need to understand is that Utah State upset Ohio State and they took Kansas to the wire a few years ago. They haven't backed down from being the underdog and I think that reputation is still with them. So I think people look at what Utah State has done as opposed to what Washington has done."

On what they need to do to take the game from Utah State: "We have to take care of the basketball and take care of the fundamental things like boxing out and making the three-point shots. In each progression, it's going to be tough for us if we put them on the line, where they shoot an exceptional amount of free throws. We'd be putting ourselves at a disadvantage if we take bad shots, become impatient or lunging on defense and getting out of position. Those are all things, to us, that we attribute to not playing very good basketball and something they'd take advantage of."

On making adjustments after the Oregon loss: "If we had lost eight-straight and lost the eighth one by a lot, then we'd have to adjust some things. The fact is, we won eight prior to that and we beat Arizona on their floor. When you lose a game, it doesn't mean you have to go back to the drawing board, you just have to play the best basketball that you're capable of."

On the tempo of the game: "We try to atttack as hard as we can both defensively and offensively. we're not going to adjust how we play. In our league, we've played team who play more deliberate basketball, and Utah State is like that. They shorten the game and get out and run early if they can. We've been involved in these types of situations before, which doesn't guarantee a win, but we know we won't get caught off-guard."

On certain media member saying they will get upset: "What goes through my mind is, 'Ok, I can see that if I was at the babershop, I can see that happening and it doesn't have to be Washington, it could be a big-time program'. If you follow basketball, you could compare Utah State to the Gonzaga of old, where it's no longer an upset. I look at it as interesting."

On the state of the program after going to the tournament three-straight years: "The first time, those who followed us were really excited that we had made the tournament and that we had a great season. At this point, people expect us to advance far. We were in the Sweet 16 last year and I know people want to see us there again. some would say that the pressure is on, but I've said from Day One that you welcome expectations because it means you're headed in the right direction. In the past, there were no expectations."
Utah State Head Coach Stew Morrill:
On critcs saying Utah State might upset Washington and Washington calling themselves the underdogs: "What I find really ironic around those lines is we were one of the teams that everybody said didn't belong. The first day after Selection Sunday everybody was harping about us amongst others that really didn't belong. Then all of a sudden, we're the upset special. Now how does that work? If we don't belong, how can we then be picked to upset a five (seed)? That tells you how crazy it is. When you have so many people and their job is to talk, and talk about the tournament, then you get some contrary things like that. I don't think Washington looks at us and says they're the underdog. I think being our west, their coaching staff is aware that we've had a good program, that we used to play in the NCAA's and I think they're trying to express that to their players. I think you always worry if you're in the Pac-10 , if you're the University of Washington, if you're in the top-20, maybe you don't quite look at Utah State as strongly as you'd hope your players would. I'm sure they're concerned a little bit about that, and that's maybe why they're saying those things."

On the role of senior guard Chris Hulbert: "It depends on how he plays; he hasn't practiced for a week. He just barely got back to practice yesterday. We're going very short this time of year. Am I going to put him out there? Certainly. He deserves to be out there. He was a big part of our team, helped us win a lot of basketball games and happened to have twins last week. We're happy to have him back and in his situation, you put him out there and see how his timing is, you see how he plays and you go from there. That's what we'll do."

On Washington's style of play: "Their athletic ability enables them to try and enforce their style on an opponent. They can overplay everything and that's what they try to do on the defensive end. They try and pressure you up the court, they try to wear you down, they try to deny all lead-in passes, get turnovers, speed the game up, run the break, all those kinds of things. So it starts with trying to deal with that athletic ability. Not only on that end of the floor, but you go down on the other end of the floor and you try to guard those athlets and try to block them offand guard them off the dribble. That's that concerns you most. When you talk about our style of play, contrasting Washington's, I guess it does. We always get labeled as control and I find it a little bit amusing because we're always in the top three in our league in scoring. We run the break on missed shots and we try and be really aggressive. We hope to play smart tomorrow because of that athleticism I'm talking about."

On playing against Brandon Roy: "It is very difficult. You hope that your whole team helps defend Roy. He's the MVP of the Pac-10. He does it all. He can pass it, shoot it from three, post up, he's a great player. I think he's going to make a lot of money playing the game of basketball. When he has the ball, our whole team has to be aware of him. He's going to go around us sometimes. We have to possibly double him on occasion. When we're in our zone, we have to all help on him. It's not going to be one-on-one. If it is, we're in trouble and he'll probably get us in some one-on-one situations, but we've got to make sure our entire team helps defend him. Now the problem with that is, you go to help on him and they've got a lot of other good players. They've got a lot of guys that he can pass to and he's a very good passer. It's going to be a challenge, defending their whole team, not just Roy."

On the game plan for Washington: "What we can do is bring some things out that we haven't used for a while. Anybody that's scouted us knows that we run quite a bit of stuff. I don't think Washington will worry about trying to prepare all of our stuff. I think their philosophy will be about overplay and pressuring us out of whatever we run. I don't think it's a matter of them tring to figure out every offensive set that we run. They'll just try and take us out of those sets with their athletic ability."

On going off of last year's NCAA Tournament experience: "You hope last year's experience helps us do what we need to do. We've got four seniors and Jaycee Carroll, who's played a ton of basketball, and our new guys have started to come around a lot lately, so I hope our experience pays off. I don't know if you ever know that for sure, but you sure hope it pays off."

On senior forward Nate Harris: "Nate Harris has been a good basketball player every since he was little and throughout high school. He just continues to grow every year. There were a lot of people who thought when he went into the WAC, coming from the Big West, he wouldn't be very successful. He didn't let that bother him, he just went out and made first-team all-conference in a higher-level conference. He's got a great feel for the game, unbelievable hands, great temperment, doesn't get real rattled. I'd like to coach a few more like him."
Watching UW's Wednesday practice at Cox Arena: Assorted UW fans greeted the team, as the Illinois fans started to slowly mill out of Cox Arena. Romar caught a loose ball from the corner and buried a three. He took another one and threw a cross-court, no-look pass to Brandon Burmeister, who buried another trey. The frontcourt players worked on crisp, fast passing drills. Then went through drills where the frontcourt players would go through quick-shooting drills from all sorts of angles, trying to get to 40 made baskets as quickly as possible. Then the team came together and did little three-man weave drills, trying to get the ball down the floor as fast as they could. Then they worked on 2-1 fast break stuff, outlet passes - all very similar to what we saw in Boise last year. Finally there was a free-throw shooting contest between the purple and gold teams. first group to ten in a row, then switch ends. Each group won one contest. Then they huddled and then the dunks began. Justin Dentmon did a bounce off the floor and a sky to the rim. Then he did the same thing, but reverse. Bobby Jones did it too. Brockman did one, but between his legs first. Joel Smith did it lefty and then Harvey Perry did a nice curling high one-hander. Smith did a bounce-off the floor into a windmill. Artem's best dunk was a one-hand Jordan-esque sky from the free-throw line.

Watching USU's Wednesday practice at Cox Arena: David Pak's first jumper was an airball...Nate Harris is running like his feet aren't doing that well, very stilted, almost like his knees are suffering from some degree of tendonitis. They may have shot close to 50 percent during the season, but I'm not seeing it right now. They run similar drills to UW as far as shooting contests...the Aggies are doing theirs from the two elbows up at the top of the key. They also do the same free-throw shooting contest as Washington did, but with a twist; whenever a USU player misses, they run sideline to sideline. Right now their shooting from the stripe is better than it was from the field, a lot better. Harris has missed a couple of back-ends at the line, and just missed a front end. Watching them run some of their sets, looks like the Aggies rely on a lot of curls, screens and passes dumped down and around defenders trying to front the post. Jaycee Carroll can light it up from deep, he's the only three-point shooter that has impressed me so far for USU. He can really shoot. At the end of their session, they all got in a line and tried to make it from half-court. Pak made two in a row. Nick Hammer and Durrall Peterson each made one - pretty impressive. Pak is definitely the emotional leader of the Aggies.

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