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March 9, 2023

Kyle Smith

DJ Rodman

Justin Powell

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Washington State Cougars

Postgame Press Conference

Oregon - 75, Washington State - 70

THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from coach and then take questions.

KYLE SMITH: I thought that was a really good college basketball game this time of year. We obviously came out and really took it to us and got us down big, but proud of our guys for being so resilient. Lesson learned for us a little bit. Last year when were in this game, we didn't compete as hard. UCLA kind of wire-to-wire and pretty much we weren't as competitive. So proud of that.

We had opportunities late and then Oregon made some plays. Dante made a big shot block. They made some free throws. Barthelemy hit two humongous threes. Sometimes you got to hat tip that. But proud of the way our guys played and hopefully we're our season goes on.


Q. A little more specifically about Keeshawn. You said 17 points tonight off the bench and after you guys kind of neutralized Dante is when he seemed to come to life. Can you talk more specifically about what problems he caused for you guys.

KYLE SMITH: He's a shot maker. He's a guy that can create his own shot. I think we were up four, we're in man-to-man and he kind of -- I think it was on you, Justin. Justin had a good hand up there and he misses that, we'll get the rebound and we're up, up two possessions with the ball would have been big. But threes are big and he hits that, cuts it to one, and then we got a stop in the zone, went up three, I believe, and then he, we got a one stop. We stayed in zone another possession, and he came off the ball screen.

And those are tough shots. They're probably, he can make 'em, but even him probably 30 percent off the dribble threes are tough and he banged it and he's got some, like two games, last two games we played against him, we didn't play him the first time, he was really special in both games. So that's what this time of year it comes down to a little bit.

Q. Could you guys just talk through your resilience and what was kind of the message and coming back from that and not showing any quit after that moment?

JUSTIN POWELL: We just fought, especially our second group came in and battled well, especially Carlos. Props to him. He came in and lifted us off the bench a little bit.

But no, I started slow for sure. I took that on myself. But guys like Carlos kind of helped us get back into that and it went from 18 down to like five at one point. So credit to the bench. They helped us out right there.

Q. A lot of PT for Carlos tonight. Was that an on-the-fly decision or did you mix up the game plan and have him play more minutes off the bench tonight?

KYLE SMITH: No, it was on the fly and it's tough being on a team and he's got an incredible attitude, anyone that knows him. He'll walk to the scout team, he'll play scout team, he'll play start, in the groups, and I know what he's capable of and it's just hard to play a lot of guys, and he's like our ninth man.

He was the right decision today. He got in there, he's got good length, he can defend those guys, he's easy to play with, he's got good confidence, good moxie, and it's one of those things he went in there and the score went the right way and we stayed with him. Maybe we should have gone to him a little bit -- he had four fouls and could have used a little more Rosario, but really proud of him. Testament to these guys too, that they have stayed together.

Q. What really happened there with that 10-point run to end the first half and then it kind of ran into the second half? What really changed for you guys?

DJ RODMAN: Hitting shots. We finally hit shots that we should have hit earlier. Going down 18 is kind of hard to come back, but we did it. So I mean, making shots was the main thing.

Also defending as well, making them miss. You have to go on runs and play defense and obviously when you go on runs, you have to play defense and make 'em miss, and we did.

KYLE SMITH: I think Carlos was the one that kind of started that a little bit. It might have been 19 to 16 or whatever, but it just felt like that kind of got us going a little bit. We got some good looks early, and I know Andrej had like his first three or four threes were pretty good looks. You got to make 'em. They were getting layups. We made some, guys took it upon themselves to keep those guys in front in the second half and did a better job keeping them out of the paint and guarding 'em from the two.

Q. Dante was such an effective player there at the very beginning of the game. That first 10 minutes he's suddenly approaching double double territory right before halftime there, and then it seemed like you guys neutralized him. Can you talk about what specifically you guys changed up to try and at least stop the bleeding a little bit?

KYLE SMITH: No, you know what? I just think they came out with a lot of juice, a lot of momentum. Their game plan both sides of the ball, they were executing well. He's a load. He's just a good player. We got a little better in our help there and Mo did a good job keeping it out of the post. And there was a momentum shift and I think we just kept punching. I was proud of 'em. It would have been easy for them to go away and say, hey, we had a nice little tournament, but we didn't, and like I said, they made some plays late to get the win.

Q. What was Mo dealing with there and then also Justin what were you dealing with and how proud of them were you of the response in the second half?

KYLE SMITH: Mo's got a little, I don't know if it's his butt or lower back or muscle stuff going on there that he's been dealing with it. It doesn't make any excuses and it's like, you know, he's obviously playing in pain. And our trainer Learie, shout out to him, he's done a great job keeping him there and ready to go. And he won't, he's so mentally tough. I don't think people know about Mo. He really is a great teammate and he wants to be there for his team. He has zero ego as far as other than he wants to win. It's hard to take. I know I felt it a couple times at Washington I thought he was hurting a little bit and I had to actually say, I got to get him out of there. But he wants to play and it's hard as a coach when you got a competitor like that that wants to go. Especially in this day and age with so many guys that are in his position to have pro aspirations and wouldn't be one to lay it on the line. He's a stud. He lays it on the line.

Q. The community. That's my main question to both the student-athletes and you, Coach Smith. I see you at Pullman High School basketball team games. They're third in the state. I'm curious, you connect with the community on a different level and you can see that with the teammates and the camaraderie. So I'm curious what does the community mean to you and how has it affected you seeing them come out to Las Vegas?

KYLE SMITH: Pullman's a special place. You only know it if you live there a little bit. It's not on the way to anything. You either go there or you work there a little bit. It's a neat place. A college town. Raising our family there. We have three boys. They're 14, 12 and nine. And for them to have that kind of experience around college athletes and a college campus is pretty unique. It's a very humble community. I think they're very appreciative of our guys' efforts. I think at one point we were 10-15 and I'm getting breakfast and I had two people come and say, Oh, coach, you're doing such a great job. And I'm going, Well this is all right. So I don't know, their experience is a little different. They're student-athletes and I think college is fun. If they say anything other than that I'm going to -- but you know, college is fun. We always remind them, hey, this is as good as it gets, fellas, so don't blow this. But I'll let them speak on behalf of Pullman.

JUSTIN POWELL: I've only been there for this year. He's been there for a couple years. But in my short time I've been there the community always rallies around you. You go to Walmart and you go to different breakfast places all you hear is, Let's go Cougs. Even tonight you heard them kind of chanting and then you heard us kind of going at it too. So the community's always around us and it's a great community and if you go to Pullman obviously you embrace it and you love it.

DJ RODMAN: For me, I mean obviously I've been there for I've been here for four years.

KYLE SMITH: You want to stay another, so...

DJ RODMAN: Yeah, I've been here for four years. So, I mean, I mean Pullman has been home for me the last four years. When I made the, when I spoke up on Senior Night, after the game when I went up to dinner my family I got a big round of applause. So that just tells you what the town of Pullman holds. Especially only being like 2,000 people other than the college. I mean --

KYLE SMITH: 10. Solid 10. 10. There's 10. I consider myself one of them.

DJ RODMAN: All right. 10. Well, yeah, I mean, it's a small, it's a small town. So it's nice and, I mean, it's home for me and it's easy to make it home for you if you go there. So that's how the community is.

KYLE SMITH: I think it's great to have someone like DJ that's going to do a fifth year and -- like I saw, I looked in the crowd I saw Isaac Fontaine who is a proud Coug, all-time leading scorer. Saw him play in high school. It dates me a little bit, he was in a Jesuit high school. And it's like he's got -- there's so much, there's just a lot of pride. I haven't been around a lot of schools, a lot of places where we'll see Cougs on the road. Carlos Daniels living in Austin drives down to Houston to watch us play. They know what these guys are going through and they come from different spots and they just really know this place really does embrace them.

Q. Justin, I just wondering if you could speak on kind of what you were going through and what the conversation was like coming out in the second half and coming back on to the floor and helping provide a spark there.

JUSTIN POWELL: Yeah, I mean, I'm just going through some things muscle-wise and stuff like that. But everybody at this point in the year is hurting, banged up a little bit. So just no excuses really, just kind of got to play through it and hopefully that adrenaline is working for you a little bit in the beginning. But coming out in the second half we knew we cut the lead a little bit and we needed to keep going and pushing and we ended up doing that. But down the stretch just couldn't get it done. But I was proud of the way we fought.

Q. Maybe you guys aren't thinking of it right now, but I got to ask, for each of you, what do you think of your odds for the NIT getting selected next week and to play in that?

KYLE SMITH: Well I just got a text from John Andrzejek and my wife is also -- she's the Joe Lunardi of NIT. She assured me we're in. So we're just banking on her astute thing. But he said, John Templin has us as a likely. So, whatever, we're hopeful. We always had good success last year. We played an incredibly tough schedule non-conference and I would like to think that our NET would be in shape and our finishing fifth in a Power-5 league, fifth place team in a really good league, that I think our odds will be good. And we're going to prepare as if we are for sure and hopefully find out where we'll be playing on Sunday.

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