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March 10, 2007
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Mountain West Conference champions UNLV head coach Lon Kruger and student-athletes and tournament MVP Kevin Kruger, Wink Adams and Michael Umeh.
Coach, if you want to begin with some general comments about the game.
COACH KRUGER: Outstanding game. Obviously I thought BYU opened it just as they've been playing all year: just with great energy and poise. I thought they were much more physical than we were in the first half, knocked us off our spots a bit, got where they wanted to.
I thought our guys really responded in the second half and made some adjustments. It went right back at them, which you have to do to have a chance against BYU.
I think they're an outstanding club. Good to see a lot of our guys step forward. So many guys making plays for each other down the stretch, especially in the second half. Happy with the fans. The fans have been great.
Obviously this is what memories are good -- memories from this will be good for a long time. Happy for a lot of folks today. Delighted with the outcome. Certainly want to congratulate BYU for their play, a great season. Hopefully we'll get BYU and Air Force, we'll all go a ways in the tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for any of the student-athletes.
Q. Michael, can you tell us what it means to you to come through so big in such a big game for a coach that stuck with you, showed confidence in you, despite early-season struggles for you?
MICHAEL UMEH: Definitely ups and downs through the year. But, you know, we definitely wanted to come out today, you know, prove that we're a good team. A lot of guys stepped up in different ways. I'm real proud of the guys.
Q. Mike, going through the injury, the hardships, then getting a chance down the stretch for a little vindication. Had to feel good for you, huh?
MICHAEL UMEH: Yeah, definitely feel good. My teammates are always pulling for me. These two guys, Wink and Kevin, they've been playing great all year. We stayed talking to each other. We stay pulling for each other. It was definitely a fun experience in there.
Q. Kevin, you struggled early on in the game. First shot you hit happened to be a four-point play. That seemed to relax you and your team. Kind of the changing point in the game. How big was hitting that shot for you?
KEVIN KRUGER: I think it just helped me relax a little bit. It felt good, kind of settled me down a little bit, put me back into kind of the mode I wanted to be in or expected to be in the whole game.
It just seemed like the game kind of slowed down after that point for me personally.
Q. Wink, last year you said you remembered watching UNLV play while you were a kid back in the early '90s. Can you talk about how fulfilling a feeling it is to be part of the team that has kind of resurrected UNLV back into a national story?
WINK ADAMS: All year we've been talking about setting the bar high, following our seniors. I think Kevin and Mike, all our seniors, did a great job this year, showing the things we need to do on and off the court.
We just happened to follow behind 'em. They leading the way right now. We just got to do what we got to do to back them up.
Q. How nice was it playing on your home court with all those fans behind you?
MICHAEL UMEH: It was definitely, you know, nice. Four years I played here; it's a great experience. The fans have been good all year. It's definitely good to go out on top like this.
Q. After the first 10 minutes you played about as bad you could play. What were you thinking at that point it was going to take to turn the game around?
KEVIN KRUGER: After the first 10 minutes they came out and threw a haymaker and it landed pretty much. We just had to settle down, be more physical.
We talked about the things we had to do to change the game in our favor. We responded well. Things kind of turned from there.
Q. Kevin, how big of an advantage do you think it is being able to play on your home court for the conference championship tournament?
KEVIN KRUGER: I think it's an advantage. But, I mean, you look at it, this is what conference tournaments, the way they're supposed to be. I mean, in other conferences, the regular-season champion hosts the tournament.
You know, this conference isn't like that. I mean, that was a pretty neutral feeling out there for a while. BYU brought a lot of people. Other schools did, too. Vegas is a place people want to be.
Q. Michael, you were the first one up the ladder, which seems to be appropriate. Spoon was here to see you today. Can you talk about when you made the decision that you wanted to stay, and then you go through the knees, and now being up on that ladder. Coming full circle for you?
MICHAEL UMEH: Definitely has been a long journey. Definitely like to thank Spoon for giving me the opportunity to come here. Glad he was in the stands today. Definitely been a road, and I'm glad to be able to finish like this.
I'm happy for my teammates. I'm happy for everybody who's a part of this. Really looking forward to keep on going.
Q. The two seniors, this being your final time on this court, walking off the court, talk about the emotion, what you felt being so far down in the first half, coming back and winning it like that.
KEVIN KRUGER: It felt great. It was an emotional rush, you know, to kind of come together the way we did and to win it. We could have easily folded and packed up and considered it a pretty good tournament, a pretty good season, regular season.
But, you know, we didn't. We came together and fought through some things, ended up with the victory.
Q. Kevin, the thigh bruise against Wyoming kind of set you back. You were out for five games. You're a very humble person. Third team Mountain West. Today holding up that MVP trophy was a sweet feeling?
KEVIN KRUGER: It was. But it's not possible. Today we came out, and Mike Umeh was the MVP of the most important game. I mean, the trophy really doesn't mean much, because if he didn't play the way he did, if Wink didn't hit the three to out up one and get us over the hump, if Joel doesn't block a shot, you can go down the line. There really isn't an MVP on this team.
Q. Kevin, one of the leaders on the team, but a leader out in the community in terms of drumming up support for this team this year. I'm wondering why you made a choice to be a leader of this team?
KEVIN KRUGER: Sports-wise, Vegas is a basketball town. You just have to convince the people what they're paying their money to go see is a good thing. To get behind and support is a fun thing to do. I mean, to go out there and see, I don't know, what was it, 13,000, 14,000 at a conference tournament championship game, the conference can't ask for anything better than that.
We as players, that was fun to play in. If we would have been on the road and played in that environment it would have been fun no matter what happened.
But, you know, we felt that the fans getting behind us and helping us out, I mean, it can't hurt anything. They did a great job. The fans are responsible for a number of victories just by showing up and being loud and getting on the other teams and whatnot.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thanks very much. We'll let you three go. Actually attendance was 16,204 which was a Mountain West Conference championship record.
Questions for coach.
Q. You've been around the game a long time. What does this game rank up there for you personally?
COACH KRUGER: Ranks very high. I think especially the way it came about. BYU dominated us early, again, knocked us around, did things they wanted to do.
Our guys had that look in their eye, yet they kind of regrouped, hung in there and finally got a little bit of activity going defensively, got some defensive boards, made some shots, then got on a really nice roll in the second half.
I thought that stretch of basketball when it was going -- we were up one, down one, back and forth for four or five possessions, was a pretty gritty effort by players on both team, guys making really good basketball plays.
Q. When you come into a program and you have a good player like that on the fence of whether he's going to stay or go because someone else recruited him, what did you say to him that you wanted him to stay? Knowing as he went through the injuries, coming out today, what do you think of his journey?
COACH KRUGER: Michael Umeh is just an outstanding person. It was very easy. Spoon, you know, talked about the players when we came in. He raved about Mike not only as a player but as a young man.
You've got to have people in the core of your program to get things turned, to get things going. Michael Umeh is as good as you can have in that regard.
I thought his play today resembled what it was two years ago. Last year he fought through those injuries. I thought today he had some pretty good bounce and confidence in that jumper. He was outstanding.
Q. You were down 11 at halftime. What did you say to your team or what adjustments did you make?
COACH KRUGER: Talked to the team about, you know, just playing each possession like it's the most important one of a ballgame. Every rebound, every defensive possession, every effort, to block out. Just all the little things.
It's not a matter of getting 11 points back in one or two possessions. You've got to grind away. Again, I thought our team grew a little bit in the area of being tough enough and a little bit more physical through screens. Again, that's because BYU forced that upon us. That was a good response.
Q. Even in the first half when things got tough, they went to Young and he came through. Most of the game he came through. Do you feel like you got a player that you could go to when things get tough, or do you need somebody like that?
COACH KRUGER: As you know, on the year we've had different guys at different times step up in big ways, hit big shots. Even today, as Kev mentioned, Wink makes a three, Michael makes several plays, Gaston goes to the line, Wendell some baseline jumpers. A lot of different guys I thought stepped up and made big shots at different times.
Young was terrific. He was outstanding. We had no answer for him. Even Joel a couple times thought he had him measured defensively and Young still got it around him and in. Real credit to Keena. He's had that type of year throughout.
Q. In here earlier Coach Rose addressed the 40 minutes of hell that your defense gives. In the first half they were pretty relaxed, able to touch pass, didn't have to dribble. What adjustments did you make to force them to put the basketball on the floor? That takes them out of their MO.
COACH KRUGER: Seems like on the year we've had stretches where teams are a little bit comfortable, we kind of get into a little bit of a rhythm, figure it out a little bit kind of on the fly. I thought just getting up into 'em.
Again, that's when we've been successful, when we get up into the ball, force 'em to try to do things other than what they're comfortable doing.
BYU is hard to do. Really good basketball team. BYU handled that pressure very well early. I thought they handled it pretty well throughout. It was just a case of, you know, some loose balls, some jumpers going down for us. I thought BYU played great.
Q. We know what you think of Kevin as a player. As your son, do you take any of this personal, like he's giving a gift to you of having this great season, helping you get your first tournament as UNLV head coach, drum up that support?
COACH KRUGER: Absolutely. Again, not only is Kevin doing that, but each of the seniors and the other players on the team I think have really been focused on, you know, playing as if they've got something to prove. Every day, making progress, focusing on the next game.
Again, I've said many times, this group has really maintained a perspective that's allowed them to make that progress consistently throughout the year and not get complacent or satisfied with just getting partway, but continuing to improve. We've gotten better in the last two or three weeks.
Again, that's coincided with being healthier, but we've definitely improved throughout the year.
Q. I saw a stat this week. I believe now you're the fifth coach in NCAA history to take four different teams to the NCAA tournament. Talk about how it feels for you personally coming all the way back from the time you went to the NBA, here to UNLV, building to this point?
COACH KRUGER: Feels great. I don't know that it feels good for me; it feels great the satisfaction that the fans are receiving, the players, the moments like this today. It's like opening packages. You much prefer watching others open their packages than opening your own.
That's what I get from this, seeing so many people enjoy it, so many people come together, feeling good about the direction we're headed. People in town. I mean, that's where the satisfaction is. For these guys to have memories that they'll cherish forever is what's special to me.
Again, there's no secret to it. Get good people, get good players. They buy into a common cause, enjoy getting better and doing it for each other.
Q. Most of the season the local media has been asking you about possibly making the NCAA tournament. Now that you're actually in the NCAA tournament, if you had an opportunity to address the selection committee, what would you say to them as far as seeding, where you think you should be playing?
COACH KRUGER: As you know, what I have to say is totally irrelevant (smiling).
I felt going into today, I talked to some people beforehand, I thought the winner of this would get and deserve a four, if not a three. Maybe BYU could have bumped it to a three. The loser, you know, four, five, six. I think that's the way it should be. All that means nothing. But I'm a fan, too. My opinion's not worth anything more than anyone else's.
I think Air Force, they've been there all year. They deserve to be in. I think the three teams can represent the league very well.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much, coach. Again, congratulations. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH KRUGER: Thank you.
End of FastScripts