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March 15, 2013

Steve Alford

Alex Kirk

Tony Snell


New Mexico – 60
San Diego State – 50

THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by New Mexico.  Coach, some remarks on tonight's game.
COACH ALFORD:  Just extremely proud of our basketball team.  We knew this was going to be a hard‑fought game.  SanDiego State's a great basketball team.  It's extremely well‑coached with great players.  Kind of the rubber match game.  They got us at their place, we got them at our place.  We knew this was going to be a fight for 40 minutes.
I just thought our guys did a lot of good things, especially on the defensive end for 40 minutes.  Then we got on a roll there to start the second half, which we've been concentrating on.  We've been outstanding in the last five minutes.  But we haven't been good coming out of locker rooms.  We challenged our guys at halftimes.  That's the best we played coming out of half on that 14‑2 run.
Excited about our team and excited about defending our championship of a year ago.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll take questions from the student‑athletes.

Q.  Tony, that matchup with Jamaal Franklin, can you talk about how that went tonight.
TONY SNELL:  It was a tough matchup because he is definitely a great player.  I tried to use my length to try to stop him from shooting and driving.
I had my teammates right behind me to help me if he like drive past me.

Q.  Do you get up more when you play him because of the history?
TONY SNELL:  It's definitely tough.  It's never easy.  I just try to work better on my defense, try to use my length, like I said.  Just try my best.

Q.  I know you're not very demonstrative on the court.  He's very demonstrative.  Any talking going on when you're on the court?
TONY SNELL:  Not at all.  Well, sometimes, it depends on what happens (smiling).

Q.  There was one block of a dunk attempt by him.  You hit the deck hard.  What do you recall happening?
TONY SNELL:  I just tried to go for a block.  His hand accidentally hit me in my face, like in my eye.  He went to check up on me to see if I was fine.  It's good.

Q.  Alex, it seemed like you were really getting going inside.  What were they doing that was allowing you to get going so early?
ALEX KIRK:  We kind of talked about just kind of going at 'em.  I'm not going to say they're undersized, but they're definitely smaller than us in height and weight.  It was kind of an emphasis to go at them.  It opened up a lot of things.  Cam attacked right away, rebounded right away, we kind of got rolling the rest of the way.

Q.  Tony, that stretch there to start the second half, the three three‑pointers.  What was your mindset on those plays?
TONY SNELL:  I was trying to be aggressive.  I heard the crowd going, so that got me going.  Kind of backed off of me, so I tried to shoot the ball and stay aggressive.

Q.  Alex, what was different about that stretch?
ALEX KIRK:  We kind of picked up our intensity, just kept going at 'em.  We hit big stops.  We got defensive stops and we rebounded.

Q.  Alex, one of the big differences between now and early in the year is you and Cameron together.  Do you feel like you two now are such a force that wasn't there a couple months ago?
ALEX KIRK:  We're having a lot of fun.  We're having a lot of fun as a team together.  We're kind of coming together a little more.  We've been playing together for quite a while.  Last couple years even in practice and such.
Just being able to come together, we're understanding where each other is successful, passing it and such like that.
We're just going to keep working and keep getting better.

Q.  Can you talk about the possible matchup tomorrow night.
TONY SNELL:  They're both great teams.  We just will stick to the plan like we did before, read the scouting report, hope for the best.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll continue with questions for Coach Alford.

Q.  What did you think about tonight's matchup between Tony and Jamaal?
COACH ALFORD:  Obviously Jamaal is a great player.  I think he's 10‑41 in our three games now.  Tony Snell has had that assignment in all three games.
A big reason why we're 2‑1 this year against them is because of the job Tony Snell has done.  He's developed defensively.  I've been talking about that for three weeks.  Our team has gone to another level because of Tony's development defensively and his concentration defensively, trusting himself, trusting his teammates, using his length.  He's gotten stronger over the off‑season.  He's now starting to use that.
Kendall and Hugh have always been tough, tenacious defenders.  Our back court I think is hard to go against.  Then you got Cam.  He's got as good a feet as any big man I've been able to coach.  At 6'8", 240, he's hard to drive.  With the job he did on O'Brien.  O'Brien was averaging a double‑double on us, he gets 0‑0 tonight.  I thought that was huge.
Then you have got Alex, who just anchors our defense, first‑team all‑defensive team.  In my opinion, he's the best defender in the league.  He blocked four shots tonight and probably changed another 14.  He just does a lot of good things for us.
Defensively it's hard in my mind to find a lot of flaws in what these guys have done.  Two games in a row where teams have shot less than 32%.  Two games in a row that we played in an outstanding basketball league where we've not at least been tied or in the lead.  Both Wyoming and SanDiego State have never led us.  That's pretty phenomenal in 80 minutes of basketball in this league and you haven't been behind.  That's a great credit to what our guys have done defensively.

Q.  Steve said he thinks Tony, from his perspective, is starting to realize what he can do.
COACH ALFORD:  It's maturity.  He's in his junior year.  I think a big thing about college basketball is how guys develop.  We take a lot of pride in that.  Our staff works very hard, whether it's recruiting or once players get to us, that's important to us, because we got a lot of guys on our staff like myself that played the game, and we developed.
You come in as a freshman, you keep developing your game, whether it's ball handling, defense, your basketball IQ, your ability to get scouting reports, understanding nutrition, understanding the weight room.  You try to develop each and every year.
I think if you look at our guys, I think they're developing.  All five of those starters are back next year.  They've developed very quickly and they've done a lot of good things to date.
To be at 28 wins playing the schedule we've played, again, I can't tell you how proud I am of the basketball team.  I know how hard the schedule has been, how demanding these games have been, yet they keep performing at a high level.

Q.  In SanDiego it seemed like their play on the guards took UNM out of the offensive rhythm.  Tonight they were double‑teaming on the ball handler.  You were able to neutralize that.  Talk about the play of the guards on offense.
COACH ALFORD:  We made some adjustments.  When you get it handed to you, you look at that film as coaches and you learn from it.  They really stunted to the ball.  They really attacked when we came off screens and made a pass to the cutter.  They really jumped from the guy that was making the pass.
I think we've made some pretty good adjustments in the past two games.  In all three of those games, we've held them to 55, 60 and now tonight 50.  So you give yourself a chance even when your offense wasn't clicking.
I think our guys have realized that.  Even in a game where we don't shoot the ball well, we have a chance to win if we're the best defensive team.
This team has grown and matured at that end.  As I said early on, when we do shoot the ball well, I think we take our game to a whole 'nother level to start the second half.

Q.  All season long you've talked about the high ceiling that your team has.  In regard to Cam and Alex, they seem to be getting better.  How high is their ceiling?
COACH ALFORD:  I hope a lot.  One is a junior.  One is a sophomore.  We want them to continue to improve.  Kendall Williams, player of the year in this league.  My hope is he's going to be better next year.  We talked about Tony's development.  I think he's going to be better next year.
Hugh Greenwood, I don't know what his record is now, but you try to do some research on what his record is as our starting point guard, it's phenomenal.  It's the best start in this school's history.  We want him developing, just as we need our young bench.  Two seniors coming off our bench, three freshmen.  We have some freshmen redshirting, got a kid transferring that's sitting out.
All these young kids have got to continue to develop because we'll ask them to produce next year.
That development side of it is very big.  Our bigs are obviously much better now than what they were in November.  They were pretty good in November.

Q.  Can you compare this team to the No.3 seed team from 2010?
COACH ALFORD:  It's hard.  I don't like comparing really players and teams.  That was a special team.  It's the winningest team in the school's history.
That team was phenomenal.  Very talented.  That team was a four‑guard lineup because we had Darrington Hobson and Roman Martinez playing the 4 and 3 spots.  This team is more traditional, four guards, three bigs, we can play smash mouth, get out and run.  It's a little bit different makeup.
I thought we were very tired in that 30‑5 season.  I thought by the time we got to the NCAA, we were tired.  We started that season 0‑2 in the conference.  We ripped off our league record 14‑0 to win the conference.  Once we got to the NCAA tournament we were tired and fatigued.
We had a break, a one‑week break that came at a good time for this team.  We were able to go 4‑1 to finish the season.  Then we got a little bit of a break before this tournament.  We're playing very well here.
So we seem to be hitting our stride a little bit more maybe with this team than that other team.  I think when you win 14 in a row in this league, it wears on you.  That was a fight right to the finish.  We had to win the league championship at BYU, which is not an easy place to play, let alone win a championship.
I hope this team's a little bit more fresh going into the NCAA tournament.  We'll see.  We got a tough turnaround.  We have to play a 3:00 game against a very good team tomorrow.

Q.  Can you talk about what you did to limit turnovers?
COACH ALFORD:  I tell you what, this team has been amazing at timeouts or halftime, when you stress something to this team, emphasize it, they really respond, take to it heart.  Maybe it's somebody that's scoring.  Maybe we're not getting rebounds.  Or like tonight in the first half, I thought we turned the ball over with lazy passes.
I just revert back to what I put on the board at the beginning of the game, I put the word 'crisp'.  Make crisp passes.  This is not a team you can throw soft, lazy passes to.  They're too athletic.  They're going to get deflections.  Gets them going in transition.
Jamaal Franklin is so good in transition.  For the most part when we built our leads, we kept them out of transition.  That was a big key.
We settled down.  In the second half I thought we did a much better job of taking care of the ball.

Q.  The evolution of your team.  You won some gut‑check games, George Mason, Indiana.  How important was it to win those games early?
COACH ALFORD:  I think probably two months ago, a month and a half ago, whether it was locally or nationally, the rub was we don't have a big win margin, we're not blowing people out.  I was saying all along, the teams that we play, you're not going to blow out.  I don't care if you're playing them at the Pit, neutral floor, in their building, it's been a difficult schedule.
Our strength of schedule is going to be top five in the country.  Our RPI is going to be 2 or 1 going into the NCAAs.  That's phenomenal.
It's not about win margin, it's about winning.  These guys learned very early in the year, down 16 in the second half on our home opener to Davidson, they find a way to win.  They go to the Virgin Island tournament.  We're beat, absolutely beat against George Mason.  Find a way to win the last 10 seconds of that game.
They start believing in themselves.  We beat a nationally ranked team in UConn.  We left the Virgin Islands thinking wow, we could be pretty good.  That really helped the teaching end of it.
We were able to play a tough schedule in November, win games, come back in December, play a pretty much heavy‑loaded home schedule and get a lot of practices in and win.
We've had our share of tight games.  Our team knows how to win in late‑game situations.  We've had things like first halves where we can't make a free throw, then last five minutes we make all of 'em.
This team has been that way.  That believing in themselves has continued that momentum.  It's been outstanding.
Now by winning this game, we set ourselves up to try to win another championship.  We're, what, 33 games into this and we've yet to lose back to back games.
Again, I just couldn't be more proud of our student‑athletes.  They've had a phenomenal season.

Q.  Tonight is the third time you've been able to play SanDiego State.  The last two times you got the better of them with your big men.  What do you think their chances are for the NCAA tournament?

Q.  SanDiego State.
COACH ALFORD:  They're a great team.  The top four teams in this league are physical, they're athletic, all really good defensive teams, which I think you have to be to give yourself a chance to advance in the national tournament.
These are great neutral games for us.  I don't know if tomorrow is going to be neutral or not yet.  These are all great neutral games going into a neutral NCAA tournament.
Then I think Boise is deserving to make it as well.  This is a team that is very explosive offensively.  To finish fifth in the best league in the country, that carries a lot of weight.  So hopefully we get the five deserving teams in.
But in regard to SanDiego State, this is a seasoned team, a lot like our locker room, they've had a lot of winning so they understand winning.  You get them in a national tournament site, you're going to have to play awfully well to beat SanDiego State in the NCAA tournament.

Q.  Two teams with completely different styles are going to be playing.  Do you have the luxury of not having to have a preference?
COACH ALFORD:  Early in the season I would have said we would have done something different.  I'm not going to tell you the whole game plan.  We're going big tomorrow regardless of who our opponent is.  We're pretty committed to big big.  It's worked pretty well for us.
You're right, Colorado State is a big team because of Iverson in the middle, and what Hornung does in the 4 spot.
But UNLV is extremely athletic.  They've got a pretty good record in this building.  They play a little bit more up‑tempo maybe.  We've been able to play a lot.  That goes back to our schedule.  We've been able to play a lot of different styles this year and our guys have been able to handle each and every one of those styles.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

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