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NCAA MEN'S 2ND & 3RD ROUNDS: SPOKANE


March 21, 2014


Steve Fisher

J.J. O'Brien

Winston Shepard

Xavier Thames


SPOKANE, WASHINGTON

THE MODERATOR:テつ We'll take questions for the student‑athletes.

Q.テつ JJ, talk about Xavier's growth this year that you've seen just into this leader, and how this team sort of has taken on to some extent his personality, maybe.
JJ O'BRIEN:テつ Just from the beginning of the year to now, he's grown in his leadership abilities, not just making the big plays, but instructing us and leading us on what to do, being a leader off the floor as well.テつ So, he's grown in a lot of ways just from the beginning of the year to now.

Q.テつ Have you ever seen him get mad?テつ Or show any real emotion at all?
JJ O'BRIEN:テつ Yeah, definitely so.テつ I got mad back at him one time because he got too mad at me.テつ So, I had to press him back.テつ But, no, it's all in good spirits, he wants to win, definitely gets mad, he definitely shows emotion, but he's a leader, that's what he's supposed to do.

Q.テつ Winston, on the same topic, you guys have been defined as a team, or I mean the true definition of it, but if you could talk about Xavier's role and how it really is, you guys go as he goes to some extent in a lot of games.
WINSTON SHEPARD:テつ Well, he's the leading scorer and he makes big shots, and he's clutch.テつ So, that's all I pretty much have to say about it.テつ I think he leads by example and he's a great guy.

Q.テつ A lot of people back at San Diego are talking about North Dakota State kind of like they were talking about Florida Gulf Coast and everybody is saying oh, San Diego State's going to walk into the Sweet 16.テつ Do you take a little bit of that from the Florida Gulf Coast game and in the back of your mind saying, hey, who knows what could happen?
XAVIER THAMES:テつ Most definitely.テつ We can't take anybody lightly, North Dakota State is a great team.テつ We watched mostly the whole second half of their game against a good Oklahoma team in the Big‑12.テつ So, it's going to be a great game and it's going to be fun.
WINSTON SHEPARD:テつ In my eyes it's like last year all over again.テつ We beat a good team in the first round, had a tough game, and we are playing a team that not a lot of people have heard of, but if you look at the stats, they're a great team.テつ I think that they lead the country in field goal percentage and one of the most efficient offenses around.テつ So, nobody in our locker room is taking them lightly and we definitely learned a lesson from last year.
JJ O'BRIEN:テつ I think that's been the theme of the tournament this year, is not to take people lightly, because there's been so many upsets already.テつ So, we aren't taking them lightly at all.テつ We have known that they were a good team and we're going to prepare for them like they're the best team we have ever played.

Q.テつ For all of you, coach made national headlines last night when he kind of talked about the way the NCAA flying you guys out right after the tournament.テつ What do you remember from that trip last year flying 12 hours to get back to San Diego?
XAVIER THAMES:テつ I just remember it was a long, long flight.テつ Especially after losing in a tough game like that.テつ It was a long flight.テつ But, we just got to take it and take the flight how it is.
WINSTON SHEPARD:テつ It's a free flight, so I mean, you know.
(Laughter.)
Take it how you can get it.
(Laughter.)
JJ O'BRIEN:テつ I don't got nothing to say to that.
(Laughter.)

Q.テつ Xavier, from your perspective, why has your head coach been so successful over the years?
XAVIER THAMES:テつ I think that he let's his players play their game.テつ He just let's us play.テつ He's a Hall of Fame coach and he knows what he's doing, but for the most part I think he let's everybody play their game.テつ He's not going to yell at you if you make a mistake, he's going to let you play your game.

Q.テつ You were talking about field goal percentage.テつ Everybody knows San Diego State this year for defense.テつ Do you keep the same defense that you guys have been running?テつ Do you kind of gear it toward stopping what they do best?
WINSTON SHEPARD:テつ Well, that's every game.テつ You have to tailor make your defense for what the other team does best.テつ But our identity is defense and we're going to come out and play hard as we can and look to stop them.テつ But, they have some things that they run and we'll definitely make minor adjustments to stop those things.

Q.テつ I was going to ask about last night and overcoming some of the obstacles late in the game.テつ What did you take from those obstacles that you had to overcome and maybe apply them to another team that will be trying to upset you guys.
JJ O'BRIEN:テつ I think the main thing is not having slipups in the end.テつ We were up eight with a minute and 30 to go, and we gave up three offensive rebounds, we had turnovers, we had mental slipups in the game.テつ I think one of the main things you have to take from that is to be mentally focused in the end, not have those slipups so that you don't let up and have an upset happen.

Q.テつ How much did you guys know about North Dakota State before this tournament?
XAVIER THAMES:テつ I knew a little bit about them.テつ Especially Braun.テつ I seen him a few times.テつ I know he's a good all around player.テつ He leads them in scoring, assists and I think rebounds as well, so I knew about him.テつ And they have a great big man, I think he leads the country in field goal percentage.テつ So we knew a little bit about them, but we didn't have a chance to watch them on TV like we see Duke and Kansas and those guys like that.テつ But we knew about them.

Q.テつ For Winston, having watched some tape on North Dakota State do they remind you, their style of play, of anyone you've faced this year?
WINSTON SHEPARD:テつ Not off the top of my head.テつ Like I said, we have seen the stats and they're the No. 1 offense efficiency, No. 1 in field goal percentage, so I don't think we played a team was ranked that high in offense, but we'll be prepared and ready for them.
THE MODERATOR:テつ All right.テつ Thank you.テつ We'll dismiss the student‑athletes and take questions for coach.

Q.テつ Talk about last night and your thoughts last night.テつ Did you realize when you said it, that it would become such a big deal nationally, regarding the student‑athletes and the flights after the game?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I'm here today to talk about our team and North Dakota State and that game.テつ I thought you were going to talk about the white water rafting.
(Laughter.)
I'm here to talk about our game.テつ I'm not here to talk about anything other than the things that might surround a great matchup between North Dakota State and San Diego State.

Q.テつ Speaking to that, a lot of people are comparing it to even your guys were talking about, they have kind of Florida Gulf Coast in the back of their minds, knowing it's kind of the same kind of deal, the lower seed against you guys.
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ All you have to do is look around the tournament every year and how about this year, with quote low seeds springing upsets.テつ I don't think that the person that coaches or plays on a team that's seeded lower views it as an upset.テつ We think we're good when you're the lower seed and you play that way.
So, our players are aware of what we're doing and the level we're doing it at, and the importance of finding a way to win a game.テつ We did that and they did that.テつ They did some of the same things that New Mexico State did to us.テつ But, then they won the game.
So, you have to get a little bit lucky.テつ We probably did in some areas, to come back after we had a lead, eight points ahead with 1:35 to go with the ball, I will take that most of the time.テつ And we went into overtime.
But, I was proud of the way we competed in over time, got the first basket, which was important, and played tough enough and smart enough to win that game.テつ And that's what you have to do in this type of situation.

Q.テつ Talk about your impressions of North Dakota State and what you think about them, having had an opportunity to watch some tape on them.
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ Very, very, very impressed.テつ They are driven by veterans, three Seniors and a Junior, all having scored over a thousand points.テつ They play exceptionally well together.テつ They're expertly coached.テつ They know what they want to do, how they want to do it, and do it.テつ They make it hard for you to score easy baskets and they find ways to limit you to one shot when you go down.
So, this is not a team doing it with smoke and mirrors, they're talented.テつ They're good.テつ They can score in the post, they can score when you come to double them, they can make open shots, they can attack you off the bounce when you run at them.テつ They haven't had as much national TV exposure as a lot of teams, but you watch them one time and you say, they can play.テつ Play shirts and skins and they could be on any team in the country.

Q.テつ You've talked so much about Xavier Thames.テつ Struggling to find a question that you haven't answered or gushed about him, but how important is his demeanor, the way that he handles himself, the way that he leads, how important is that on his list of attributes?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ Xavier has allowed our team to be pretty much like this (Indicating) in terms of how we react to things.テつ We don't get too overly excited, nor do we get too despondent.テつ We have some peaks and valleys, but he has a way of levelling them off and not allowing them to be major extremes.
So, he's so important to everything that happens.テつ Not only from what everybody sees on the game day, but his demeanor in the locker room, before the game, halftime, on the bus, after a game, preparing for a game.テつ He makes coaches' jobs a lot easier with the way he goes about his work.テつ He's been a joy to have in the program and he's set an example of how to do things the right way.
And the nice thing about X, he would say, I learned it at the footsteps of D.J. Gay.テつ When D.J. was leading the team in 2010 and 2011, and when he left, people said, well what are we going to do now for point guard that we don't have D.J.?テつ And I smiled inwardly knowing that we had a guy waiting in the wings to deliver and he has delivered and then some for us.

Q.テつ Because this year is so similar to last year with the Florida Gulf Coast, what do you tell your players to keep that from getting into their heads or do you tell them anything?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I don't think that will get into our heads at all.テつ We'll have North Dakota State getting into our heads.テつ That's who we'll be thinking about.テつ I'm sure you brought it up to some of the players or others have, the same kinds of questions, so you think of it momentarily and then you go on.
But it's a fact.テつ We got beat by Florida Gulf Coast last year.テつ They were the better team.テつ They played better than we did.テつ And if we lose tomorrow, it won't be because we were the goes of Florida Gulf Coast was in our heads, it will be North Dakota State beat us.テつ Hopefully that won't happen from our perspective.テつ Hopefully, we'll play better than they do.

Q.テつ You're known for your defense and obviously, you talked about their field goal percentage.テつ With this quick turn around, do you tailor your defense around what they do or do you just kind of let your defense go and play?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ We're probably like they are.テつ We had two coaches that were working on North Dakota State, two coaches working on Oklahoma.テつ We came back, gave the kids some food, put them to bed and then we took film and all of us started on North Dakota State.テつ And started this morning with our players to show some film.テつ And you can't overload them on a short turn around, but you have to develop a game strategy for the opponent that fits what you do, really.テつ We're not going to change dramatically anything that we do.テつ But, we'll tweak it defensively and we'll try to find a way to get some baskets against their defense that's hard to score on.

Q.テつ Is there any team that you've played this season that North Dakota State reminds you of?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ That's a good question and I don't know that I can answer that.テつ They're a team that, I don't know that I would say plays like anybody that we played, maybe someone else would say they're like so and so, but I know one thing, they play like a team that has won championships, that expects to win.テつ The thing that has impressed me the most about them is how well they play together and playoff of one another.テつ And that's a byproduct of veterans.テつ They're not laden with first year players.テつ These are guys that now they know what the teammate's going to do before the teammate knows what he's going to do.テつ And you can see that in how they play.

Q.テつ You expect it to be a physical game and if so, why?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ Well, they play‑‑ they're aggressive, and so are we.テつ We got three refs out there that will do their job to keep the game in somewhat of a flow.テつ You have to be smart aggressive with how you play.テつ We're not going to let them go where they want to go if we can help it and they will do the same to us.テつ So, you can't be going out pushing and shoving and have two people with three fouls, but you can't just step back and let a guy cut in front of you and get where he wants to go.テつ You got to guard them and play hard, but I think that's ‑‑ they're used to that, we're used to that, so I don't know that it will be any different than most games we have had.

Q.テつ You were just talking about North Dakota State's kind of veteran lineup and they know how to play off each other.テつ Is that why we see more lower seeds having success in the tournament now, because their rosters are usually made up of players who have been together for a number of years?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I think that's immensely helpful, don't you?テつ You get guys that have grown up together, they have been through a lot of the things that you have to go through to make it to the tournament, and they have been through it together.
I think there's that bond that you form when you're with someone for three years, four years that's pretty strong, if you've got a good program and a good team, and they do.テつ And so do we.
So, yeah, I think that's been a factor that these teams now are Senior driven and even highly touted Freshmen still have things that are new to them and sometimes you react in a way that is atypical the first time it happens.

Q.テつ How much did you know about Saul Phillips before this weekend, and you got a chance to probably watch him a little bit last night, I guess just kind of talk about his coaching style and what he brings to the table.
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I don't know Saul that well.テつ I know him, I know him to say hi on the recruiting trail.テつ I know that he and Bo Ryan were together for a long time.テつ That was after I left the Midwest.テつ So, we talked a little bit on Wednesday when we were all together and we reminisced about one of his coaching colleagues and a real good friend, and a friend of mine, Tim Miles, who proceeded him and laughed at some Tim Miles stories.
But, it didn't take me long and I'll be honest with you, I have not watched a lot of tape on North Dakota State because we haven't played them.テつ It didn't take me long to say, this coach can coach.テつ He's good.
And I watched him when the game was going on.テつ We were in the locker room and we had it on on the TV, and I watched the way he handled himself with a smile on his face and enjoying the moment and the one time they called the coaches together.テつ And I couldn't tell whether he got the call or Lon got the call the way he reacted.テつ He slapped Lon on the back and they gave the ball to Oklahoma.テつ But they did give him time to go back and have a timeout in the huddle.テつ So, handled himself in a way that the kids catch on to, so if he's dealing with all the adversity, then your players are going to be able to do it.
And after the game, I was happy for him as he ran over and I don't know what this is (Indicating) but he ran over to the crowd and gave them, gave them a sign when he ran over there.テつ And that's the way you should feel when you win a game.テつ Any game. テつAt any seed in the tournament.テつ You should have that type of enthusiasm about you when you win.テつ Because it's special to get a win in the tournament.テつ And one of us is going to have two wins, at least.

Q.テつ What is it about this year's tournament?テつ You got the two 12s and then Mercer today, where beating these Top‑20 teams where kind of everybody just ‑‑ seems like they have evened out when you played the 40 minutes.
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I think it's just March Madness at its best.テつ NCAA basketball, expect the unexpected and everyone whose not a fan of that top seed is praying that it will be a close game and that that low seed will hit a basket at the buzzer to win the game.テつ I've been on both sides.テつ And it's fun when you have all the neutrals cheering for you.テつ And that happens.
It's no fun if you're that one or two seed and you've got your group and nobody else pulling for you in the building.

Q.テつ You made reference to the Midwest, I think a lot of people in our neck of the woods remember the Michigan days pretty well.テつ Have you changed your style since then?テつ Do you coach the same way?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ I really haven't changed much.テつ So, no, I would say no.
I think sometimes, sometimes when you're at places you're expected to win and you win because you're at that place.テつ That's how some people view it.テつ And sometimes when you're at a school that has not had a great history of success and you win, people start to say, well, it has to be the coaching, and it's the same coach at the same school.テつ Pressures and expectations are different in a lot of places.
I made this comment in 2010, before the season started.テつ San Diego State got ranked for the first time in the history of San Diego State.テつ Preseason we were ranked 25th in the AP poll.テつ And we made such a big deal out of that, Jim O'Connell called and we talked about it, and I said that's phenomenal for San Diego State.テつ If Coach K were rated 25th, they would want to fire him.
And that sometimes is the difference.テつ The pressures of expectations of everybody.
Now we raised the bar with expectations.テつ And I think that in a good way and I like that, so, but my style is really no different.テつ You get good players, you give them freedom to play, and you give them framework and you allow them to play and you help them build and breed confidence in one another, you tag along and do what you can to help them be successful.テつ And that's what we have always done.

Q.テつ You talked about the neutral fans rooting for the underdog and last night when the Aztecs would miss a free throw, all the neutrals in the arena cheered.テつ And it seems the Bison obviously will be the underdog tomorrow.テつ Do you expect most of the crowd to be rooting for North Dakota State or will it be pretty evenly split?
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ Well, I would have to hope that all my Michigan State fans would be pulling for San Diego State.テつ My wife and her brother are both Michigan State grads and Izzo and I are good buddies, so I would hope that the green and white would be pulling, the green and white of Michigan State would be pulling for us, so I want you to look around and see if they are.
(Laughter.)
THE MODERATOR:テつ All right.テつ Thank you, coach.
COACH STEVE FISHER:テつ Thanks.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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