March 18, 2023
Albany, New York, USA
St. Mary's Gaels
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to MVP Arena here in Albany, New York, for our press conference. We start with student-athletes from Saint Mary's. To my far left is Logan Johnson and Alex Ducas. Welcome back, guys. We'll take questions at this time.
Q. For either guy, how much did you know about UConn before you came out to this tournament? Obviously being a West Coast team, you might not have seen them as much.
LOGAN JOHNSON: Yeah, we didn't see them much, being from the West Coast. We know they're a tough physical team. They shoot a lot of threes. They hit a lot of threes. They've got a low post presence that's pretty dominant.
Q. You did, I guess, face UConn a couple of times when you were in Cincinnati a long time ago, but I think it was Danny Hurley's first year when they weren't very good. Can you speak at all to what they were like when you played them way back when and kind of what he's built them into now?
LOGAN JOHNSON: When I was there, they played really fast. Tried to dominate the boards. Defensively, they were aggressive. He's done a great job with them and turned them into a real problem nowadays.
Like I said, they hit a lot of threes. They shoot a lot of threes. They're physical. They're in your face the whole game. Yeah, they're dominant in the post.
Q. You guys were able to kind of dominate inside in your first-round matchup and control the boards. UConn obviously has a lot of size, especially with Sanogo. Can you talk a little bit about what you guys kind of expect from that matchup, especially on the glass?
ALEX DUCAS: I back my big man Mitchell Saxen all the way. I know he's going to bring the effort every time. Obviously they have good two big men in their players, but I think we'll be fine.
We play hard. We play strong. We don't give up. We love to fight, and we play physical. So I think it's going to be an exciting matchup.
Q. What do you guys say to Aidan after the game he had yesterday? What makes you confident that he can turn it around in Game 2?
LOGAN JOHNSON: He's been our best scorer all year. Tell him to sweep that one under the rug. I'm sure he's hungry for it. He's ready for the opportunity. We tell him the same thing we tell him whether he has 20 points or 5 points. Just continue to put your foot on the gas and understand that he's doing something that most freshmen don't do.
So he'll be ready to play. We back him 110 percent. We're excited to see what he comes out and proves to the world tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, can you add some thoughts to that too? Thanks?
ALEX DUCAS: Yeah, pretty much touching on what Logan said. Whether he has a great game or a bad game, we always give him the same confidence. We know he's going through a bit of a tough time, but everyone in the locker room and everyone on the sports staff have given him confidence to forget about that one pretty quickly and get on to the next one tomorrow.
He's a kid with great confidence. I think he's going to be fine. He doesn't really talk about it much. He just keeps it moving, and that's what we like about him. I have no problem in him coming out tomorrow and shocking everyone.
Q. There's a lot made at this time of the year about conferences and mid-majors and small schools and big schools. Do you think Saint Mary's has sort of risen above being categorized as mid-major or what category Saint Mary's often gets put into?
LOGAN JOHNSON: It's interesting, we talk about it all the time. Whether you're mid-major, low major, it doesn't matter. You've got to lace up your sneakers the same way and hoop at the end of the day.
Since I've been here and Alex has been here and Kyle Bowen has been here, we felt like we wanted to put this Saint Mary's team to a different level, and we felt like we've done so.
Whether you're mid-major, it doesn't matter at the end of the day. We're here to hoop. We're here to prove the world otherwise. So, yeah, shock the world.
ALEX DUCAS: Logan mostly covered it. The mid-major talk and outside stuff is all outside talk to us. The ball is still the same no matter who you're playing and who it is. I feel like we're as good as anyone, and we're ready to show that.
Q. Along those lines, you have the preeminent transcended mid-major in your conference. I'm wondering how much, when you come to Saint Mary's, do you look at it and say, oh, yeah, we get to go against them. I want to prove myself against the best, and Gonzaga, that's one of the best. How much does Gonzaga sort of push Saint Mary's?
LOGAN JOHNSON: Yeah, they push us for sure, but we push them too. They tell us all the time that we're the toughest team they play. We get the respect from them, and we also give the respect to them because of what they've done in the past. But Coach Bennett has been just as successful.
ALEX DUCAS: I came to Saint Mary's to win, and I think we've proven that over my four years here, but obviously the COVID year. Yeah, we like to go against Gonzaga every time. They give us a good challenge and shows us where we are compared to them.
Likewise, they see us as a threat, and we put fear in their hearts. So I like to respect that, and they respect us.
Q. To that point, I mean, I know this is sort of fantastic, but do you ever wonder if Gonzaga didn't exist in your specific world, the attention that you guys might actually be able to enjoy and the appreciation perhaps that Coach Bennett might get if Mark Few wasn't constantly hovering above him?
ALEX DUCAS: I don't know if I'm speaking for Logan as well, but I kind of like working under the radar and working hard and being gritty and being tough and having a lot of people doubt us around the country. I know a lot of people picked VCU last night to beat us.
It kind of fits to our narrative of laying low, working hard in the shadows, and coming out and showing people who we are.
LOGAN JOHNSON: 100 percent what he said. Being underdogs and proving everybody else wrong, it's exciting. It's what you want. We talk about it all the time. All these people doubt us. We've got a bunch of doubters, and we love to prove people wrong.
Yeah, we like flying under the radar and working hard and getting it out of the mud.
Q. Logan, when you went into the VCU game, it was a contrast of styles. VCU wanted to go up tempo. You were less up tempo. How do you see this game coming up?
LOGAN JOHNSON: Kind of similar. Kind of similar. I know UConn likes to be in your face and aggressive. They kind of might throw some zones at you.
So just taking care of the ball and throwing the first punch, being physical back.
ALEX DUCAS: Yeah, Logan covered it. We're focused on us right now. Obviously we'll go back to the drawing board tonight and go a little bit more in depth. But they have to see us too. We're confident in our abilities, and we play strong and tough and physical just like they do.
At the end of the day, it's going to be a good battle.
Q. For either one of you guys, UConn having their fans so close, only a couple hours away, but Saint Mary's being on the other side of the country, talk about how important it is with the big group of fans you guys have, having them going right from tip and trying to get the UConn fans out of the game as much as you can.
ALEX DUCAS: Obviously you can't really stop that. They have a great fan base, and it's going to be loud in there. We're a very composed team, and we trust in the five guys on the court and the guys who are supporting us on the bench. We've just got to keep a tight-knit huddle and keep relaying the message to each other, that's okay. We're playing a road game. We're used to it. We're used to not having very many fans on the road.
So it's not new to us. We'll fight wherever it is.
LOGAN JOHNSON: Playing at BYU helps you out in these situations. Playing in front of 21,000 people that hate you. So we're not worried about it. It's a road game, and we're happy with our fan base that travels with us, and they're going to be loud in there. We're going to make sure UConn knows who we are for sure.
Q. We know about this East Coast bias thing, but the program is in tremendous shape and making such an impact. Talk about what Coach Bennett, the impact he's made on you, first Logan, on the court and off.
LOGAN JOHNSON: You trying to make me emotional?
LOGAN JOHNSON: Coach B, he brought me in after transferring from Cincinnati, and he's been a father figure to all of us on and off the court. We're always doing -- when I first got there, I was like, man, what is up with all these group activities that we're doing and all this stuff that we're doing, all this team building stuff?
He's a great dude. He takes care of each one of his players, and he makes sure that you understand that you're more than just a basketball player. He doesn't just treat you like, oh, you know, you're off the court and that's it, you know what I mean?
He actually cares about you. He cares about your family. He talks to my mom and my family and asks about my little brother every day. So that's important to me, and that makes me want to play harder for him on the basketball court, and it translates.
ALEX DUCAS: Yeah, Logan really addressed the family feel that Coach brings to our program. It's really important to me, obviously coming from Australia and not having family close by, so I'm just glad he took a chance on a kid from a small town in Australia who could come over and felt welcome as soon as I landed and kind of fit into his family.
I feel so comfortable around -- like Logan said, no matter you have zero points, 20 points, however you're playing, he treats you the same way. He expects the best from you every day and just wants you to get better, both on the court and in life.
So I think he's been a very important person in my life so far, and I can't thank him enough.
Q. Alex, I just wanted to ask you about the NIL stuff. I know foreign players can't do NIL deals. What are your thoughts on that, and are you able to do anything at home in Australia or when you're overseas NIL related or any of your teammates able to do that?
ALEX DUCAS: Obviously it's a little bit frustrating. I can't sit up here and lie and say I wouldn't like to be able to make a little money on the side representing myself. At this moment, I just support the guys that can. This guy next to me is killing it right now, and I'm just hoping the best for him.
Yeah, obviously it's a little bit frustrating, but I'm fine with it. At the end of the day, I'm here to play basketball and get an education and enjoy these moments with my friends and my brothers. So I'm fine with not.
Q. (No microphone).
ALEX DUCAS: I'm not too sure on the rules right now. I had a few meetings with people trying to discuss the steps moving forward, but right now I can't really do too much unless I'm back home in Australia. That's a pretty long flight and a hefty ticket. So right now, nothing at all.
Q. Logan, about what you're saying about Coach Bennett, when you were looking to transfer, Coach Bennett has some staying power, he's kind of sticking around Saint Mary's for quite some time, and that's not always the case with a lot of coaches. How much was that important to you to find someone who you thought was just going to be present for the time that you're going to be in school?
LOGAN JOHNSON: Yeah, for sure. He recruited me out of high school, and I knew how good of a coach he was. I knew the success he had. And I knew the family man he was.
Family is always first and foremost for me, and he's always been that. His coaching staff and everybody that's been on staff has always been that, family first, even before hoops. So it was definitely important for me in that process of picking where I would end up.
Q. Alex, you see here how March Madness grips the country, and amazingly those who know nothing about basketball do better in the pools than many us. What sporting event back in Australia would equate to this that grips your country?
ALEX DUCAS: I mean, there's not many in Australia that kind of, like you said, grip the country like this one does. It's an incredible event and an incredible tournament. Probably the AFL Grand Final for Australian rules football. That's about the closest thing.
We get 100,000 to 110,000 people to our Grand Final, which is like the Super Bowl. So that's the main thing I grew up waiting for all year and excited for and a lot of talk about it. But nothing quite in the tournament aspect that this has and the pull it has on people. I've enjoyed my two years in this thing, and it's been incredible to be a part of.
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Head Coach Randy Bennett. We'll take your questions.
Q. Coach, we're seeing post play at higher levels of basketball sort of become a little bit of a dinosaur, but it's certainly going to be emphasized in this game. As you're coaching post players, do you coach them differently now? Do you still think that post play is as important as it ever was?
RANDY BENNETT: I do. I think we see it in our league. You're not winning our league playing small. Gonzaga's going to play big. They always have. They have pros in there at their fours and fives. You can't play small ball and beat them, I don't think.
Anyhow, we do play with a big, and we play -- I think eventually when you get to the really good teams, they have bigs. UConn certainly does.
The one thing that's changed, I don't think in the post as far as scoring has changed so much, but I do think defensively, when you select, when you recruit a five man, you'd better think about whether he's going to be able to show in that on-ball and guard a guard in on-ball. Teams have gotten so good using on-balls. We're on the front end of that. That's kind of happening the last 15 years. Everybody's going to -- if they see a big five out there, they're going to put him in on-ball, and he has to know how to defend it, move his feet, make good decisions, emergency switch, switch whatever you're going to do, but that's where it's changed.
Those guys have to be athletic enough to defend, and I think that's why people have gone away from it a little bit is because offensively people have gotten so good with using on-balls to attack them.
Q. Randy, we saw the performance that Adama Sanogo put up yesterday. How much do you know about him, and what's gone into the preparation for him in the last 20 hours or so here?
RANDY BENNETT: I don't know that much about him. I saw him earlier this year, and I said that guy's really good when I saw him. I think I saw him playing Xavier.
But I haven't watched him much. In the last 20 hours, we watched some films trying to get a handle on them and him. Obviously they play through him a lot.
But they can hit you a lot of different ways. They use on-balls a lot and play off their guards a lot with him setting the screen, which is the problem because he gets rolling and you have to help, and now he's loose on the offensive boards and you got a real problem to deal with.
Yeah, that's about what I know on Sanogo so far.
Q. You mentioned the post play in your own league. Is facing Drew Timme three times a year, does that help you as far as Sanogo tomorrow, or is that a completely different animal?
RANDY BENNETT: Absolutely. It absolutely helps us. We know what one of those feels like. I think Timme is the best center in the country and has been for two or three years now. We get a good test every year when we play those guys, and we have played them three times the last two years.
Yeah, I think it helps -- we don't play against anybody that's tougher to deal with than Gonzaga offensively. They lead the country in points per possession every year and have for maybe eight years now. So it helps prepare us for the NCAA Tournament. You're going to see teams like that that have a Sanogo, that have other good bigs or are good offensively. So it helps being in a good league.
Q. You and Mark reached contentment in your profession, staying put a little bit. The longer you are at Saint Mary's, how much easier is it to just not think about and talk about the idea of leaving Saint Mary's?
RANDY BENNETT: That's a great question. Yeah, I think we're both -- I can only speak for myself -- really happy with the school we're at and don't mess with happy. Like our kids. Like our players. Like our administration. I like the school. I like what the school's about. It's a great school. And my kids have been raised there.
Having said that, with how things are going with realignment, you have to keep your eyes open because you could be -- I've seen A-10 is a one-bid league now, and they were three or four a few years ago. You got to pay attention, that's all I know.
Yeah, it's something -- you can't just bury your head in the sand. You have to pay attention to what's going on in your profession and how things are shaking and moving, and realignment is a big deal. So is NIL. So is this portal. A lot of things have changed recently. I think it's the hardest time it's ever been to be a Division I basketball coach.
So you just have to make a lot -- you have to make good decisions. I think that answers your question.
Q. I just wondered if you have any recollection of the last and only time you guys played UConn back in December of '06 and how that even came about. Just flying across the country to play that game. You may have played Saint Joe's afterwards. Any remembrance of playing in Hartford that night?
RANDY BENNETT: They had their big center, what's his name? Hasheem...
RANDY BENNETT: Thabeet. Yeah, I remember, and they popped us. Omar Samhan was our center. I definitely remember that.
How that came about, I think we were looking to get a guarantee game, so we traveled out there. I think we made two trips out there that year. I think we played Seton Hall, I want to say, as well.
So they were good. Coach Calhoun was there then. I remember we got beat. I remember they're good. I remember I made a decision I wasn't going back out there again.
Q. You guys only allow about 60 points a game. How important is your defense to your success, and what makes you such a good defensive team?
RANDY BENNETT: Great question. It's real important. I think, when you get down to this -- I was just watching San Diego State playing Furman. We played San Diego State. I know what they feel like. They're really good defensively. They're gritty. VCU last night, that's what they do. They get after you, and they're physical.
I think at this stage of the -- when you get to this point in the season and when you get in the NCAA Tournament, when you're trying to advance, you'd better be good defensively because other teams are going to be.
That's kind of our whole -- you know, that's why we work at it so hard. Why we're so good defensively, I think some of it's personnel. I think Logan Johnson is an exceptional defender, and I think Kyle Bowen is an exceptional defender. They kind of lead it. Alex Ducas has become a good defender.
But everybody has become -- they put the standard up there so high, the other guys have tried to keep up. So we've become a really good defensive team.
I think people sleep on us a little bit sometimes because we may not look as lengthy and quick as other teams, but those two guys I mentioned are pretty, pretty tough, and so the rest of our guys have followed suit.
Q. You mentioned the NIL stuff before. You have a lot of foreign, overseas players that can't get NIL benefits. Does that make it harder to recruit them at all? Do you think it's unfair they can't do NIL stuff? What are your thoughts on that?
RANDY BENNETT: It's still pretty fresh to me. I'm still trying to work my way through it, figure it out. First I was like, is this thing going to stick? Is it going to go away? It seems like it's sticking now. So we're just trying to -- we're still trying to figure it out.
Do I think it's -- yeah, I would think, if we're going to do it, why wouldn't international players be able to get it too? I understand there's visa requirements, things like that. I get it all. But, yeah, you would -- yeah, I think the way it's -- I have to be careful what I say here.
If you're going to do it, then let all the players participate in it. I think they kind of can. I don't know the rule for sure. You can maybe get it if you're out of this country and you go in another country, and all you have to do is leave the borders of the United States to get it. That's where it starts seeming silly to me. Like if we're going to do it, let's do it. Let's get it organized, put the rules on it, and I'm all for it.
Q. You mentioned quickly trying to familiarize yourself with Sanogo, and with Clingan coming off the bench, I'm just wondering what you think of their overall package at the center position and the challenges UConn presents on that front.
RANDY BENNETT: I don't want to say that's the only challenge. They have good players, good guards, and they're coming at you downhill and in transition. Those two guys are good, and that's a really good freshman backing him up.
Sanogo, you don't have to watch him too long to figure out he's a force. I think especially on the boards. He's big, he seals, he does a good job there. They do a good job getting the ball to him. They're playing off him a lot. So you have to have a game plan to deal with him.
And it's not just he runs down the block and posts up. They're going to roll him into the post -- like I said, he's going to get offensive rebounds. Some of that is because their on-balls. You have to show on the guard or emergency switch on the guard, and now you have a guard trying to block him off on the boards and that's not going to work.
So they are a big part of the deal. Like I said, not the only challenge. They have multiple ways to attack you. That's why they're good. But you're not going to get too far unless you can do something with those two.
Q. Randy, when this time of year comes around, people talk about majors and mid-majors and things like that, and you're in a mid-major conference where you have two really good schools. Is there a difference between majors and mid-majors, and does being in the same conference with Gonzaga push you more?
RANDY BENNETT: That's a question I answer all the time in recruiting. It's your program. Like you may be in a mid-major league, but it's your program. I think of the 68 teams that played in the tournament last year, I think like 38 of them or something played the year before.
If you're one of the top -- I'll give you Mountain West. It's not all the others, it's San Diego State. Are they a mid-major program? No, they're not a mid-major program. Their NIL is not mid-major. Their facility is not mid-major. Their personnel is not mid-major. And they go to the NCAA Tournament every year.
To me, you're not a mid-major if you're in a mid-major league. If you're a mid-major talent and mid-major resources, then you're going to be a mid-major program. But if you don't do that -- and I think BYU and Gonzaga and ourselves have been like that for a while now, where we put out good players and have tradition and have bought into, hey, you've got to -- whatever, you've got to charter planes, buy games, whatever you have to do, which is what high-major programs do, then that's what you are.
So that's what I think it is. There's teams in Power Fives that aren't good and don't go to the NCAA Tournament hardly ever. I wouldn't call them high majors.
Q. Since 2010, I think you guys have lost in the second round three times. What's kind of the key to getting over that hump beyond just the obvious? Like is there anything specific that you've learned from those experiences?
RANDY BENNETT: First of all, it's hard to advance. Once you get to this thing, I mean, there's no easy games. You are going to have to play well. I think the simple answer is you have to play well, and hopefully you're playing well going into it, and I think a lot of teams are, but when you line up with -- VCU's won nine games in a row, won their conference by three games, and has a tradition of going in the NCAA Tournament -- you'd better be able to play well.
So that's my whole focus with our guys. The better players and the more confidence you have gives you a better chance to advance.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you so much and good luck tomorrow.
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