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March 20, 2008

Chris Gaynor

Taj McCullough

Randy Peele


THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you want to begin with some general thoughts on the game.
COACH PEELE: We first of all want to congratulate Washington State. I thought certainly in the first half we were -- really I thought we were in control of the game. The end of the first half it was 29-All. In terms of execution, you know, we did some things where, you know, we laid the ball in. I mean, they struggled guarding some of our actions. Some of those actions, we see that when we go outside the league.
The biggest thing in that first half was, you know, we got hurt some by guarding the dribble. We got beat on the dribble. But quite honestly, then when we got to the second half, to start the second half, either the first four shots that we got were threes. They were good looks. They just didn't -- they just quite honestly didn't go down for us.
We got frustrated. What happened is, you know, sometimes when you have teams, and we've got a lot of new guys, when you struggle to score, it shows up on your ability to defend. And it showed up for us tonight, especially in the second half.
But with that being said, you know, I just want to tell everybody here, and I told, you know, our seniors in the locker room, there's a lot of ways I can go. Quite honestly, the way that I'm gonna go is, is that I've got two seniors right here, Chris Gaynor and Taj McCullough. I've got Mike Jenkins in the locker room who is a senior. I've got Antwon Harris who is a senior, who has been with us for two years. And for Chris and Taj and Mike, we've won four Big South Conference regular-season championships and four Big South Conference tournament championships. We've made four straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
For that, you know, I thanked them in the locker room. I'm so proud of 'em. Didn't go out the way we wanted. But I think one of the things, one of my obligations is to take care of them. And I am very proud of them. I'm proud of what they've done at Winthrop University. It's been a pleasure to have coached them.
You know what, these young men right here to me embody what the NCAA student-athlete is all about.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach. Questions for the next few minutes for the student-athletes.

Q. Is Washington State different on the floor than they might have looked on film?
CHRIS GAYNOR: Well, for me on film, everybody looked huge. You know, I'm only 5'10" with heels on really (smiling). But when you get out there, I was really looking, you know, most of their guards eye level. I was able to get off some good looks because of that. On film, they look huge.
The pace of game, you know, is what I saw on film. I mean, other than their size, Weaver looked huge on film, and Cowgill, he looked shorter than what he was. I got next to him, he was a giant. So the size was the only thing different that I saw.
TAJ McCULLOUGH: Well, on film, they looked big. Actually, the biggest one was Baynes to me. He looked big on film. Actually playing against him, he was a lot bigger than I thought. He was a wide body down low trying to help out on Charles. Other than that, everybody was pretty much the size I expected them to be.

Q. What did Cowgill change defensively on you in the second half? You got some easy stuff in the first half. Second half, not so easy.
TAJ McCULLOUGH: He kind of backed off in the gaps more so the drive opportunity wasn't as easy as it was early on. I think we kind of got out of what we were doing in the first half, like spacing out and getting some back screens and ball screens to put him in situations that we did in the first half. We just got away from it in the second half.

Q. How frustrating was that second half? Nothing was going down.
CHRIS GAYNOR: It was very frustrating. I can't remember who I told this yesterday. But it felt like the Davidson game. You know, we played good defense, in my eyes, except for the second half, they hit everything they put up. We come down on our end, we get great looks. It's rimming in and out. That starts to wear on you. Throughout the half, when it got down close to it, we needed points. So I was just looking to shoot.

Q. One of the Washington State guys said they took it as a challenge to see where you were stuck on 29 and 34. Did you look at the scoreboard, too, and think how long it could go on?
TAJ McCULLOUGH: Yeah, I kind of glanced up there. I was like, Man, we're stuck on 29. I was like, we need to get something inside. Coach got us on that. We took a couple shots outside, got out of doing what we were doing in the first half, which was getting inside, getting some easy layups off our sets. The sides we were taking were good looks, but it was like there was a lid on the basket and they was bouncing out. We just stopped executing.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. We'll continue with questions for Coach Peele.

Q. You talked yesterday about Derrick Low, your concern about his ability as a shot-maker. In the first half today, you held him scoreless. Did you feel pretty good about that or did you have a feeling in the second half he might get on track like he did?
COACH PEELE: We told our team at halftime that Derrick Low scores two-thirds of his points in the second half. That's been his pattern. And so what we did was, I mean, really there wasn't an adjustment to be made because he hadn't scored.
The thing that he does is, from my standpoint, we try to guard him with a bigger guy. I think he's about 6'1". Personally I think the way to defend him is with size and length. One of the things he does really, really well, you really see it once you're on the floor, he has an ability to make you come out of your stance. When he does that, you're in trouble.
I told our guys the first half, you know, he'll have the ball in his hand, he'll raise up. When he raises up, if you raise up with him, you're going to get beat. But he's a very good player. I have great respect for him. In terms of the guys that concerned me the most, I mean, in terms of the ultimate compliment, the best defender in our league, in my opinion, is Mantoris Robinson. I put Mantoris Robinson on him. That tells you, he's got great pace with the ball. He cuts hard. I think he's an outstanding player.

Q. Did their putting Rochestie on Jenkins surprise you? Was that a matchup you weren't expecting?
COACH PEELE: No. You know, this game, I mean, you've seen us. You know, our MO is when Mike -- if Michael is not making shots, you know, our team has a tendency to struggle.
I felt like in the first half, you know, we played without him for 12 minutes, I thought we were in great shape. But the flipside of it is, is internally I think he was very frustrated. I think it showed. I think it just showed. He played the entire second half through frustration. I mean, the first play of the second half, we ran a set, and it was wide open. It was actually a set we stole from Washington State. Every time we ran it , was wide open. I even called it Cougar. I mean, how crazy is that?
But you know what? I feel bad for Mike, the way he went out tonight. It's just -- I really feel sad for him.

Q. Do you feel like the altitude affected your team at all? Did you prepare for it at all?
COACH PEELE: I mean, I don't know how you prepare for it. I mean, I made light of it and said, Don't worry about it, because we're going to play inside. It was a joke. I don't want you to think...
I mean, in the second half, quite honestly, we looked gassed. You know, there's a couple things that I would say to you. One, I mean, my staff and I worked very hard. I mean, we watched tape into the midnight hours last night, about 1 in the morning. Our bodies are on 3:00 eastern time. One of the things I said to my staff is, In order to beat Washington State, the one thing I'm going to tell you you have to do, is you have to shoot the ball well to beat 'em. And the reason is, for the media that are with Washington State, one of the things that I think is tremendous that they do is they have 331 turnovers in 32 games. They turn the ball over 10 times. They turn the ball over 10 times today. They just don't ever beat themselves. If you don't step up and really make shots from the perimeter, then I think you're going to have a hard time beating 'em.
You know, they had 29 baskets today on 20 assists, which is quite a number. I guess I'm rambling. In answer to your question, I haven't had enough experience playing in Colorado to answer it. I mean, maybe. Maybe. I just know that we didn't defend. You know, they shot 59% for the game. We're ranked 13th in the country in defensive field goal percentage.

Q. What would you think the odds would have been for somebody to shoot 59% on you?
COACH PEELE: Man, I don't know. You know, we worked on it very hard. They're very good offensively. One of the things that they do is, you know, they have their sets, but they cut so hard. One of the things that they do an unbelievable job of is, like when you play them, they're constantly setting staggered screens. If you think back to Low and Weaver wrapping those screens tight, the first play of the second half, we got beat on a tight curl to the basket. The speed that they cut off that screen, you know, if you're trailing it, you're going to give up a basket. But then at the same time they do some other actions that put you in recovery.
I thought they hurt us with that. They hurt us because we gave up dribble penetration. Baynes had 19 points in the first half. He had 10. He had eight on dunks or lay-ups because of dribble penetration. Cowgill hurt us in the second half because he set ball screens. I watched them before the game started. They're very well-coached. I knew what they were going to try to do. The one thing they do is they shoot the ball very well. For our team, I can't speak for other teams, but one of the hardest things in the world for a team to do on a consistent basis is when you're not making shots, to really defend. Tonight, we got real frustrated because we couldn't knock down open shots. Conversely, it hurt us on the defensive end. That's why. I mean, that's what happened. That's why it happened. The way you correct it is, is through maturity and guys growing up.

Q. You said last week that some people might ask whether or not this team underachieved or overachieved. Can you expand on that. I think you said you thought it overachieved.
COACH PEELE: You know, in my heart, I don't think there's any question that this team overachieved. The sad part about today is, what really hurts me is that you got four seniors, in terms of the way they're going out, I mean, it just breaks your heart. But, you know, we all learn lessons in life. One of the things that I try to do with them afterwards is, in terms of being grown men, is how we handle this.
But I will tell you that, you know, in answer to your question, I think we did -- I mean, this team's been hit. I feel like a boxer who's been in a heavyweight fight for 34 games. And for 34 games, we've stepped up and we've taken the best shot from our opponent for 34 straight games. And we've done it in a situation where we lost three seniors, two of which are NBA-caliber players. We had a young man that died. We had two kids that transferred. Then we had one young man on the first day of classes decided he didn't want to play any more.
And for this team to handle all that, to be the regular-season champion of the Big South Conference, to be the tournament champion of the Big South Conference, earn a fourth straight bid to the NCAA tournament, absolutely I'm proud of them. They got it done.
To me, you know, one of the things that I live by is, you know, in life, we know when we're issued a challenge, and you know whether or not you got it done or not. You know, today we didn't get it done. But in terms of if you look back on this season and what this team has done in terms of the championships that they won, I don't think there's any question that not only have they gotten it done, but they've gotten it done under the most adverse of conditions. Proud of 'em.
I mean, you know, I'll end with this. When you have four seniors and three of them have four NCAA tournament appearances, four regular-season titles, four tournament titles, I mean, that to me is - I don't want to use the word "great" out of context - but if they look back on their career, I don't see -- I mean, I think they have something that's really special in terms of being proud of.
And I told them today, as much as I hurt for them, that I'm just very proud and I'm honored to be able to coach 'em. I'm not going to lose sight of that.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks very.

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