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March 12, 2010

Steve Alford

Dairese Gary

A.J. Hardeman


San Diego State – 72
New Mexico - 69

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by New Mexico head Coach Alford and student-athletes. We'll start with an opening comment about the game from Coach Alford.
COACH ALFORD: I just thought it was a great basketball game. Unfortunately we came up a possession short. But as I told our guys, we haven't had this feeling in two months, 61, 62 days, so it's been a long time. We've been on a great run. These guys have been warriors through this whole run. They were warriors tonight. I thought both teams played extremely hard. They were able to make one or two more plays than what we were able to make.
We withstood a lot of runs and a lot of good play out of San Diego State. I thought they played really well and I thought our team played well. We just ran out of time at the end. But very, very pleased with the way this team has developed over the year. Even in a loss, very, very pleased with the way they worked tonight.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll open it up for questions for the student-athletes first.

Q. Dairese, can you take us through that last sequence there where you drove the length of the court.
DAIRESE GARY: I knew we only had like seven seconds, so it was get the ball and just go, weaving in and out. A.J. was supposed to set a screen for me. They got something near the ball, and the ball got loose. I don't know how much time it was, so I grabbed it and tried to put it in, and it didn't go in.

Q. Can you talk about Billy White's performance tonight.
DAIRESE GARY: He played like a man. That's the only thing you can say in the post. He made some great plays. He made some great shots. He played strong. I mean, he finished strong.
We did the best we could. We played good D. Some of the shots he hit, it was tough shots, like I said. We did what we had to do on him. He just had a great game tonight.

Q. I know it will be kind of tough to put this behind you, but you're going to be going to the NCAA tournament. You've been playing well for so long. Can you talk about how you feel heading into that fourth season, as you call it.
DAIRESE GARY: Nobody likes to lose. Even coaches are so competitive. They put it in us, we hate to lose. At the same time I've been saying all year we have goals. One of the goals was to win a conference championship, then go to the conference tournament and win. We let down on that one. But now our other goal was to get to the big dance. That's where we going. We got to get our minds back focused on the goals, focused on who we play on Selection Sunday and get back to work, try to take it on whoever we play.
A.J. HARDEMAN: I mean, like Dairese said, we a competitive team. So is San Diego State. Now our main focus is the next tournament that we have, to get better as time go on, so...

Q. A.J., how much did this game help you in your development playing against those big bodies?
A.J. HARDEMAN: I mean, San Diego State is a big team. Matched up with very well. We knew it was going to be a war on the backboards. We came out and played hard. We just competed well. That's how it went.

Q. Dairese, like coach said, you haven't lost in two months. How is it to remember how it is to lose? How does it feel? Is there anything you can take from that going into the NCAA tournament?
DAIRESE GARY: Uhm, like I said, nobody likes to lose. But, I mean, it's a tough feeling. Like coach always saying, we win the stretch, but we have some tough games. We had to learn from wins, but now we have to learn from a loss.
We sit down, the coaches will go break down film, whatever. This is just going to be a learning point for us. Look back on all the mistakes we made in this game. We know it's not a win, but you have to move on.
We have another tournament to go play. So you have to have a short-term memory, get this out your mind, move on to the next play, like coach always says.

Q. A.J., this was a game where you and Will played much more than you really have all year. Talk about that lineup and what you think it gives you guys.
A.J. HARDEMAN: I mean, that lineup with me and Will, we're real athletic, so we can both hit the boards a lot. It's hard for that lineup to be in because we the only two bigs we have. Most of the time they're in foul trouble, so...
THE MODERATOR: We'll dismiss the student-athletes at this time, open it up for questions for Coach Alford.

Q. Steve, just two teams doing everything they could to win a basketball game. You have won so many like that. Talk about the last few plays, what the difference was.
COACH ALFORD: I think we were 12-0 going into this game with games decided in six points and less. Now we're 12-1. We got off to an 11-0 deficit. There were a lot of teams that would have probably played that thing out. Our guys just battled and battled and battled. They make some threes. Leonard, I don't know if he made three threes in a game this year, shooting 20% or less. Coming into the game, he goes 3-4 against them. That's what good players do, they raise their level of play. He raised his level.
I thought Billy White raised his level. We had guys raise their level. I thought Will and A.J. were terrific. All our starters did a lot of good things. I thought it was a game where both teams really battled each other. We just came up a possession short, one play short. It hadn't happened maybe all year long.
But, you know, I can't say enough about this team. 29-4, conference champ. You know, if you're going to get beat, get beat playing a really good basketball team that plays well and you play well.

Q. Coach Fisher didn't want to make a case for his team to be in the NCAA tournament. I imagine you think there are certainly four deserving teams in this conference. Do you think they're in?
COACH ALFORD: We're 29-4. Our RPI going into this game was 6. We've won 10 road games. We won 15 in a row. We've been in the top 10 now for the better part of three weeks, the top 10 in the country. We've lost four games, two of them have been to San Diego State. So there's no doubt in my mind that they're one of the teams that should be in this tournament.
I said it back when we opened up the season 0-1. We were 14-1 going to San Diego State. I thought it was a tough turnaround playing Dayton Friday night, having to play again on Tuesday, start a new season. Our guys weren't able to celebrate being 14-1 much. With all that being said, we left San Diego that night. I told the staff that at least through 16 games we left there 14-2 through 16 games. That's the best team we've played.
I think BYU, we've beaten them twice, but I think they're really good. We split with UNLV. I think they're really good. San Diego State beat us two out of three. So we've played California, who I think is probably going to make the tournament, when they were ranked. Texas Tech when they were ranked. A Dayton team that I thought was really, really good. A Texas A&M team that now is a top-20 team. You put all those teams out there, I still think the three teams we've lost to in our league, two teams, UNLV, San Diego, are better than all those. So there's definitely four deserving teams.

Q. In the Pit they hit a flurry of threes to push it into overtime. Can you explain your decision to come out and zone?
COACH ALFORD: Well, we didn't come out in zone. We started the game in man-to-man. We didn't start in zone. We sprinkled some zone in. We've zoned them all year. It's one of those teams I think you do zone. They're extremely big. You get in foul trouble with Ro, I think they force you to zone. The guys wanted to man. So we probably manned more in this game than literally as coaches we anticipated manning. I thought we would zone a little bit more. But for whatever reason, San Diego State picks the Lobos to have really good three-point shooting nights.
Rem would know this before me, but this was one of the very few teams that shot 50% against our defense all year long. I don't know if we've had another team shoot 50% against us. So they made shots. When you get to post-season, when you get to March, you have to make shots.
Air Force made shots yesterday. I think that kept them in the game. San Diego State made shots. But I thought San Diego State played a really good basketball game. Shot 52% for the game. Make 10 threes out of 16 attempts, that's one of the highest percentages they've shot all year in a single game from the three-point line. We lose by one possession.
So it's a loss. We don't like it. But I thought our guys played really well and played hard.

Q. Darington got off to a slow start, at the same time seemed to stay within himself and keep up his confidence.
COACH ALFORD: He's a tremendous player. He just does what he's got to do. Seven assists tonight. Seven rebounds against the biggest team we've played all year. So he's just one of those guys. Even when he's not doing something, he's creating for others just by being on the floor. He makes everybody else around him better.
His maturity has been unbelievable. Where he's come in the last three months, just with his maturity as a basketball player, has been amazing. And we wouldn't be in the position we're in right now without Darington Hobson maturing and growing as a player and as a person over the last three months.

Q. Is that something you saw originally when you first started recruiting him?
COACH ALFORD: Well, I think in the recruiting process you see talent. The maturity level, those type of things, you got to get kids. J.R. Giddens was a little bit like that. When we arrived three years ago, that was a pretty immature kid. He grew up a lot in one year. Become an NBA first-round draft pick. Still in the league today. Darington will be there one day, too. He just keeps getting better and better.
He comes into this tournament with the conference player of the year on his neck. He didn't do anything to disappoint. He had a very good tournament.

Q. You didn't get to cut down the nets again here this weekend. Given the way that you played the last two nights, particularly tonight, how do you feel going into the NCAA tournament now?
COACH ALFORD: We feel really good. I don't know how you couldn't. We've won 15 of our last 16 games. We won 14 out of 15 in the non-league. We won 14 out of 16 in league play. Then we come to a neutral site and we go 1-1, get ousted by a team that I think is an NCAA tournament team that is very good. It's a hard matchup for us.
We've only got two guys, there's only one game that we've been able to play those two bigs together, and it's against San Diego State. You know, hopefully we'll get matched up in the NCAA tournament, we'll get a favorable matchup to where we're not playing against a huge team, because we're deficient there. We're very vulnerable there with the lack of size that we have on this year's team. We knew that going into the year. That's what's so amazing about this team. To play 33 games and win 29 with nobody over 6'8" is amazing. So this is a tough matchup for us. Yet we've had three really good games against them. We've come on the short end of two of them.

Q. I know taking a championship back to the Pit on Sunday would have really been special. You got to feel like that's not going to really affect the atmosphere much. What do you have to say to the fans about the event on Sunday?
COACH ALFORD: Well, our fans have been terrific. I think those that have been in this league for 11 years, I can't speak because I've only been in it for three, but I can't imagine a school, a program, an institution, that's brought more fans that weren't here in Vegas, outside of the Vegas fans, an opposing school that's brought more fans than what we did this year.
They've been amazing. There's about a thousand in the hotel tonight as we walked to the bus. They've just been an incredible group of fans that have supported us since we've been here. It's been awesome.
Sunday is a deal, we know we're in the tournament. We're one of the 64 best. We know we're in the tournament. So it's really a celebration of a great year. It's the most wins in Lobo basketball history, sitting at 29. We've got a very good team that's getting ready to start the NCAA play. We're going to get a very good seed, maybe the highest seed in league history. So there's a lot that's going to happen Sunday.
I don't even need to promote it. I know our fans are going to show up. They've been tremendous. But, yeah, we'd like to win every game. For the last two months, we've done that. But with that said, it's been a very special year. We're very excited about starting the NCAA tournament. That's really why we wanted to open up the Pit. Most people do it in the ballroom, a hotel ballroom somewhere, at a coach's house. We really wanted to share this with our fans because they have been so good throughout this season. As I've said, that year of construction, you've got a lot of excuses not to show up this year, and all we did was set attendance records for sell-outs.
We lost this game. But San Diego State beat us. We didn't lose it ourselves. This was a hard-fought, very aggressive, physical game. We turned the ball over six times. This team has been remarkable that way. We just ran into a very good team that happened to play very well and make a little bit more shots than we did.
It's really a celebration of our season. To find out who we're getting to play in the NCAA tournament, we're looking forward to that Sunday afternoon.

Q. Obviously winning 15 in a row, you would have preferred to have 16. Can you gain something from taking a loss like this before the NCAA tournament starts?
COACH ALFORD: I think we'll gain something out of it. But we're grounded. If we get beat 25 today and come out flat, it's a grounded issue. We came out, we want to trap the post. Maybe it was a coaches' mistake. We started the game by trapping the post because we didn't want to get our bigs in foul trouble. They swing the ball to Leonard, who is shooting 20 or maybe less than 20% from three, he makes back to back threes to open the game. If you tell me, Do you want Leonard to shoot two threes to open the game, I tell you yes. But they made them. So then you don't look very good.
I thought our guys played with tremendous energy, enthusiasm. So going into the NCAA tournament, I think it's more about we're a little banged up, so we got to get rest tomorrow and Sunday. We'll find out who we play Sunday and start practice on Monday. I think we'll be very excited. The one thing about this team over 33 games, they have always fought. I've had a lot of really good teams, special teams, special players. But as a complete season and a package, that guy had championship teams at Iowa that got beat at East Lansing 30, 40 points. We've been in every basketball game. We have been, with four minutes to go, right there in every single basketball game. There aren't a lot of teams in the country that can say that through 33 games.
I'm very appreciative of what these guys have done through the basketball season and hopefully we can have fun in the NCAA tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach.
COACH ALFORD: Thank you.

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