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March 22, 2007
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
MODERATOR: Our next session is with the head coach of UNLV, Lon Kruger. And we're going to ask him to start with a statement on being in St. Louis and his opponent and then we'll go to questions. Coach.
COACH KRUGER: Thank you. We're just delighted to be here. St. Louis is a terrific town, and I grew up obviously in Kansas. Spent a lot of time coming to St. Louis and, of course, Illinois. Spent a lot of time here as well.
So it's a great town, great sports town and just delighted to be here, playing a very good team in Oregon.
Coach Kent has done a terrific job, a lot of good players. Starts with those guards, very quick off the dribble. They shoot it well. Everyone scores well. It's hard to cheat in any one area because they've got so many guys that can jump up and get 20.
So it's a very good team and our guys have a great deal of respect for what they've done on the season, and we look forward to the ball game tomorrow night.
Q. Considering the road that you've traveled and where you are in your life, what has been a part of the rebirth of this program and being able to share that with your son meant to you?
COACH KRUGER: It's been great sharing with Kevin. Obviously, the parents, you love the opportunity to spend time with your kids every day, especially if they're a senior in college. It's pretty rare to have that opportunity, when they get to that point.
So it's been a blessing and one we don't take for granted. It's been great to share that with Kevin and wife Barb and it's been outstanding.
I think, again, having five seniors, that's been the key to what's happened in Vegas. They've done a great job of setting the bar very high early. Their focus was great, very, very unselfish. They work extremely hard, absolutely don't care about individual stuff. They've really promoted team stuff.
And when you have five seniors in the college game today that oftentimes is a big bonus. These guys have done a good job with the leadership and again setting that bar very high.
Q. Not that you're a senior citizen or anything, but having been part of breathing life back into another college program that has to make you feel good about yourself, does it not?
COACH KRUGER: It feels good because you see so many people enjoying it. I think that's always the case. If you've got no one to share it with, then it wouldn't be all that exciting.
But we've got a lot of people that have been responsible for the program, administration has been great, both athletically and on campus. The people in Vegas have been outstanding. They're great basketball fans. They want very badly to have success. And they've packed the Thomas and Mack and we've had 16-, 17-, 18,000 people there and in conference games.
And to share that with them and to see so many people again enjoying it and it's always -- the greatest satisfaction is just seeing the expression on your players' faces of making progress and having that reinforced with winning games and then getting back to practice and continuing to get better.
And the fact that they'll enjoy this and these memories for a lifetime even though they don't understand that today is still -- is the best part of it.
Q. I was just curious, obviously you've got a long background here in the Midwest. We don't get a lot of exposure of the western teams until this time of year. Are there any sort of subtle differences between the basketball, maybe in the Big 12, Big 10 in this sort of area versus out in the west? Just as far as attitudes, style of play, the way it's received? Since you've got the unique position of experiencing both, could you share some of the differences if there are any?
COACH KRUGER: I don't know that there are any great differences. I think in every conference you've got the range of differences in terms of style of play. Not every one in every league is going to play the same style. I think in each league you'll have teams going to push it. Some will zone. Some will press. Some will man. So you've got the range of styles, I think, within each league. I think for the most part a Big 10 league gets labeled as the more physical grind-it-out type of league. And I think sometimes that happens over time, just because a few of the better teams in the league can kind of dictate, because you've got to prepare to play against the best all the time.
So typically your better teams in each league will affect the style more than a region of the country might affect the style.
Q. Could you talk about the toughness that Wendell brings to the program? And he seems like he's got this long list of injuries and just his ability to play through pain and just the dimension that he brings to your team?
COACH KRUGER: Wendell's done a terrific job for us. He's had several injuries on the year. We've had several injuries. And the guys -- Wendell more than anyone else has been -- variety of injuries and played through and competed like crazy and a couple of really big games last weekend in Chicago.
And he continues to line up. And, again, these seniors really focused on doing whatever to keep playing and to make progress. And Wendell's ability to fight through some injuries and still play I think sets a good tone for the other guys on the squad.
Q. Coach, could you just specifically on him talk about what he went through on the jaw injury and people talk about him being too strong for quick guys inside and then too quick for the strongest. Which part did he develop or what was his natural tendency that way?
COACH KRUGER: Wendell is more naturally a face-the-bucket-off-the-dribble type of guy. I think he's a guy like Hairston for Oregon. They're really big guards that are playing kind of power forward spots because we've got three smaller guys out there.
And he can be a matchup problem just like Hairston can because of his ability to go out in mid-range and shoot the dribble jumper and also take smaller guys to the block and rebound and score over.
So he's a matchup concern I think for a lot of teams. But if you look eye to eye with Hairston, a guy that does similar things and plays a similar style.
So the jaw, crack in his jaw and they had the rubber bands and he was able to take them off occasionally and eat. It wasn't quite as bad as maybe the wiring shut where he just couldn't eat for a period of 10 days. He was still able to eat but still uncomfortable to say the least. And played right through that to his credit.
Q. Didn't have protection or anything?
COACH KRUGER: No. Other than the rubber bands. They didn't do much.
Q. Do you guys feel overshadowed by the Pac-10, where you are and is it kind of some extra incentive to be playing a Pac-10 team in this round?
COACH KRUGER: Not really, because our schools played each other a lot. Air Force went to Stanford earlier in the year and Arizona beat us at Arizona and obviously Pac-10 is a terrific conference. They've got some outstanding teams. We don't think too much about the overshadowing part. We like our league very much. And we understand how tough it is to win in our league. Any time you go on the road, especially, it's very hard to win games. And I haven't thought too much about the overshadowing part.
We have a lot of respect for Pac-10 teams. Georgia Tech out of the ACC, terrific respect for them and how good their program is, and Wisconsin out of the Big 10. So tournament time is an opportunity to play other good teams from very good conferences. And I don't think guys need that motivation at this point.
Q. You mentioned the similarities between Wendell and Hairston. Seems like there's a lot of similarities between both of your rosters, and Oregon has dealt a lot with questions of their size. I'm wondering what's been the key for you guys in your success in overcoming kind of that lack of inside size?
COACH KRUGER: Very similar I think roster-wise when you look at the size. They kind of play four guards as well.
I think always when you go small, your concern is rebounding the ball and we've been a little inconsistent in that area. We've had some games where we've rebounded the ball well and effectively and other games where we got beat up pretty good on the boards.
But that's the major thing. We've been overmatched a few times just with power and size inside.
Q. Coach, we asked your son about a second ago some of his memories of St. Louis going to the Cardinals games when he used to coach up in Illinois and coming down for the Bragging Rights game. What are some of your memories of playing in St. Louis and what is it like for you to be back?
COACH KRUGER: Great to be back. St. Louis has always been a favorite city. The Bragging Rights game, the biggest memory there is unique in that rarely do you have on every bucket or every play half the stadium going crazy. It creates an interesting atmosphere and a very good one, because every time Missouri scores a bucket half the stadium is delighted and every time Illinois makes a bucket there's enthusiasm. It's not like a road team getting on a run and everything is quiet. Someone is always up and someone is always excited all the time. It's really a neat atmosphere.
Q. Having said that, how odd is it for the two West Coast -- you're both from the West Coast -- to be playing here in St. Louis? Would you like to see this thing end up more regionally based if that was even possible? I know the committee has a difficult job.
COACH KRUGER: I think everyone from a purist standpoint would prefer that. I think the committee probably feels like there was too many good teams east to do that. Four of the teams being from the west, when there's only 16 playing I think is good. But year to year it changes, I think, but everyone I think would like to see it more of a regionally devised quarter final, if you will, or semis.
But whether or not that can happen, way, way above me.
Q. Do you see the advantage on the seeding, speaking on the regional set, if you were instead of like a higher, a 1 or a 2 seed, 4 or 5, but you were closer to home, would there be an advantage to that or would it be more important do you think to have like that higher seed so you're playing a team that maybe just made it into the tournament?
COACH KRUGER: I think you'd prefer to play with your home-based crowd as much as possible. Obviously the seeds are important, too. But Kansas is in California and Florida is here and Ohio State is San Antonio. And I'm not sure the 1 seed -- if I'm a 1 seed I'd like to be closest to home.
And I think that's the intent as much as possible. And I don't see that as actually having happened this time around. But I'm sure the committee's got their reasons. And they do a great job in researching very thoroughly, more thoroughly than anyone else.
But I'm not sure that the 1's got locations close to home.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
The student athletes from UNLV are with us. We'll go right to questions.
Q. For Kevin, because of a one-time loophole obviously you have had the opportunity to share something special with your dad. Could you talk about what that has meant to you and what you think it is as being a part of rebirth of this program has meant to him?
KEVIN KRUGER: It's meant to me being close to him every day and close to my mother and when my sister comes to town I get to see her the whole time she's here. It's meant a lot to me to not only have that and have the family around to share the year that we've had with all three of them and a family from Kansas that comes into town, get to see all of them more.
And just being a part of this with all the guys and with him and something that we try to do from day one, which was kind of get UNLV back on the national map and get some national prominence and attention again is -- I think it's kind of been the same for everybody, really.
I think we've all put in the same thing from day one of this year. And the guys like Mike and those guys that have been here four years, it's everything we've worked for has been for them and for the coaching staff.
Q. Could you just talk about compare or contrast the two leagues as you've seen them? Have the other guys tried to get a personal scouting report on you on Oregon since maybe you know them having played a couple years against some of these guys?
KEVIN KRUGER: The two leagues are similar. There's a lot of -- the Pac-10 is, you know, one of the best leagues in the country and had an unbelievable year this year.
The Mountain West also is a very strong conference. I think it was very even from top to bottom. A team like Air Force went and lost at TCU the last week, was in last place. So I think that kind of speaks how the Mountain West was. And you know the guys are really -- we just listen to our coaches. We don't really kind of go around to each other. We might talk about a player or two that you know even Wendell played with a few guys in California.
So you know he can talk about a few guys. And I can talk about a few guys. But Oregon, you know, this year with some of their additions and a little bit of style change has led them to be a different team than from years past.
Q. Along those lines, could you talk about the similarities between these two lineups? You both pretty much play four guards and a forward. Is this a really good matchup for you guys, do you think?
WENDELL WHITE: Yes, this is a very good matchup. They play four guards just like us, have two quick guards and Brooks and Porter. You know, this is going to be a great game to watch.
KEVIN KRUGER: Just kind of piggyback what Wendell said. It should be, you know, a very entertaining game. I think we both play extremely similar styles. Actually just asked that in the locker room. It was hard to think of many differences in the two teams. And watching film, though, if they get a run-out they'll take it. If they need to slow it down and run a set they will. And that's very similar to kind of what we do. We kind of pick and choose when to run, but I think both teams use the athleticism to their advantage.
Q. Since you've played in the other league, where would you see you guys finishing?
KEVIN KRUGER: 18-0. I don't know. The Pac-10 had a great year. It was a very tough conference. You know, we played at Arizona early in the year. And unfortunately lost that game. But we feel we came on strong at the end so maybe if we played them again you never know. But it would be tough. Mountain West was a very competitive conference this year.
We fielded questions like that in the first two rounds as well. So you know hopefully we can come out and prove that UNLV kind of belongs back in the kind of in the discussions of the top teams in the country.
Q. Could you talk about what is your sense of what the team emergence has meant to your fans and to the community?
MICHAEL UMEH: It's definitely meant a lot. Just being in a program for four years, you hear a lot of talk from the fans about, you know, how they want the program to grow. From my visit on, it's been a thing we wanted to change since I got here.
Coach Kruger has done a great job this whole time, just establishing the identity where we want this program to be.
Q. Can you talk about last summer and the tryout for the national team how that helped you come back from the injury? I assume you played with Oguchi from Oregon and your thoughts on him?
MICHAEL UMEH: It was a fun experience. Oguchi went to my neighborhood he went to the high school I was zoned to. The Nigerian team experience, it was great. Sam Vincent, assistant with the Mavericks, he did a good job coaching us. Giving us a lot of things. Playing with a lot of guys like Ima Udoka from Portland. Just a fun experience.
I was hampering around with my knees and stuff like that. But it was a good experience.
Q. You folks were out there a little bit earlier shooting around. Wondered some of your thoughts on the venue, playing in a dome.
WINK ADAMS: Shooting in the dome, just great atmosphere. Playing in a football stadium is something -- we got to adjust our shot to the goals because back in Las Vegas right behind the back board we got some fans. But out here the fans they're 35 feet from the back board so there's a lot of space. You just gotta adjust your shot.
MICHAEL UMEH: Basically the same thing. Just kind of adjusting to the different atmosphere. But when you're shooting the ball you want to concentrate on the basket and the rim.
KEVIN KRUGER: It feels a little different, kind of feels like you're out there by yourself and you kind of hear people's voices. When it comes down to it, you have to focus on the rim and the hoop and stick to what you've been doing your whole life.
WENDELL WHITE: Kind of the same thing, but I don't feel like the basket is farther or anything. But it feels just like a basketball court. It's the same thing. The shot's just the same.
Q. The definitive definition of a power guard?
WENDELL WHITE: Basically me, I can just -- someone that doesn't match up well, matches up different from a power forward on opposing team. I'm saying much quicker than a power forward, someone who can screen and pop and do the things that I do for the team.
Q. Wink, how was the tailbone injury and do you think you'll be limited, you feel about 90%?
WINK ADAMS: Close to 90%. Today I was able to practice and run at full speed and get shots up defensive line, keep icing and heating pad, hopefully by tomorrow I'll be close to 100%.
Q. Can you guys talk about the tempo of this game and what you expect with this up-and-down kind of style?
WINK ADAMS: They're playing four guards, we're playing four guards, both teams like to play defensive and force turnovers and get the momentum on each side by getting the fast break points and contain those guards. They're quick. Big and quick. Everything we have to help each other play defense. It's the same thing they have to help each other play defense on us.
Wendell White, the four man, he puts it on the floor, goes just like the guards do. So it's going to be a pretty fast-paced game.
MICHAEL UMEH: We want to take our opportunity to run and I'm sure they want to do the same thing. Just pushing the tempo, probably should be a fast-paced game. A lot of quick guards in the game. So definitely want to pick and choose our spots and play defense the way we've been doing all year.
KEVIN KRUGER: I think that will be one of the keys to the game is whoever can kind of control the pace and the tempo is kind of going to have the game, their game in their hands and kind of control when to push when to hold back and things like this. We'll have to focus on our defensive pressure and do what we're doing all year.
WENDELL WHITE: Same thing, basically have to focus on rebounding as well. We have to go to the rebound, especially their two-man. Me and Gaston, we'll have to -- Joe, we'll have to box them out and Mike and Wink and Kevin are just going to have to contain those guards. They're very quick, Brooks and Porter and Taylor.
Q. Mike and Wink, can you talk about the matchup problems that Wendell can create with his speed at that position for some defenders?
WINK ADAMS: Wendell, just having him out there, we got a lot of plays that go to Wendell to get advantage. That's how we get one of his open shots. I mean as far as the whole season went, a lot of four-man. Trouble sticking with him because he's so fast. Mobile with the ball. So he's one of our most defensive weapons. We play every play through him. He's the X factor on our team.
MICHAEL UMEH: I just know he's a big time scoring option. A lot of times he's created a big time matchup problem for the other four man. Stretching a lot of games when we were struggling offensively, we kind of got the ball to him in a position where he could score and he always delivers. So that's just kind of the player he's been for us all year.
Q. Kevin, do you have any specific memories from the times when you faced Oregon close games, good battles, anything like that?
KEVIN KRUGER: I think all of our games against Oregon were pretty good games. But the memory that sticks out the most is probably the pit.
And being in that atmosphere. Everyone -- feels like everyone is on top of you and the cheerleaders are right there at the bottom of the court standing right there, standing next to you when you take the ball out of bounds. So I just remember that's probably the best college atmosphere I've ever played in.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
End of FastScripts