March 20, 2009



Q.  Jeremy and Josh, you guys ran into these guys last year up in Alaska, how different or how similar do you see this team from a year ago, and talk a little bit about the personnel.
JEREMY PARGO:  Once again, they're great guards.  They can do a lot of things with variation of ball screens.  They shoot the ball really well and they have bigs that rebound the heck out of the ball and play physical and I'm pretty sure that's exactly what coach wants them to do.
JOSH HEYTVELT:  I wasn't in that game, I was out with an injury.  Like Jeremy said they're really physical on the boards and their guards did a good job of getting open shots on the screens and creating things for everybody else on the court.

 Q.  When you were coming in to Gonzaga and making your choices about a college, what distinguished Gonzaga from everybody else you were thinking about?  What do you think makes it different and special?
AUSTIN DAYE:  I had a wide variety of schools that I had a choice of going to, but I definitely made a good choice, I think, in the long run.  Definitely just by the coaching staff and the school.  The small classrooms.  I think that helped a lot.  And just my dad also helped me out with my decision, with my school of Gonzaga.  He always told me every school wants you, but who really needs you.  And I thought this was a school that needed my help and that's how I made my choice.
JEREMY PARGO:  My situation was a little different.  I'm a midwest kid and for these guys to come out to the midwest and pursue the way they did was unbelievable.  There were a lot of schools in the midwest that didn't want to touch me.  And they came from the west coast all the way to Chicago to recruit an inner city kid, that some people told me I had no chance of getting in.  And I felt I made a good decision and it's been working out ever since then.
JOSH HEYTVELT:  It just felt good for me.  I'm from that area.  And I came to camps in high school and it was just a good fit.  I got along with all the guys that used to play at Gonzaga.  I got along with the coaching staff and it's really helped me in the last few years to be here.

Q.  Jeremy, how do you feel like you match up with their guards and what are some things you guys are going to try to do to limit their guards?
JEREMY PARGO:  I feel we match up pretty well.  We're not going to step out there on the court and run from any challenges or anything like that.  But matching up with those guards and seeing those guards on film and watching some of the game yesterday they're really good.  They shoot the ball well and they're pretty crafty off the ball screens.  And they pretty much make right decisions every time off the ball screen or on the open floor.
We have to take away some of the easy looks and not let them do anything easy out there.  And not let them get comfortable, if you let a guy get comfortable that's really good, he can hurt you really bad.

Q.  Josh, Illinois much like you guys, had a bit of a size advantage last night.  It's not something they took advantage of.  How important is it that you guys really use to the fullest extent the size advantage you guys will have tomorrow night?
JOSH HEYTVELT:  You know, it's not only about the size.  We have to do like we did the second half last night and pressure on defense.  That's what created all the offense we had in the second half.  And we know that's something we have to come out and do tomorrow.  Even though they're a little bit smaller than we are tomorrow, their guys are physical inside and they rebound the ball really well, like a Tennessee.  And we have to match those guys's intensity on the boards and play harder on defense than they do.

Q.  Jeremy, after losing the first two rounds or first round the last couple of years, how did it feel last night to come out and get over that lump?
JEREMY PARGO:  It felt great.  Anytime you get a win it's always an atmosphere or a sense knowing you're going to have a chance to be successful.  Anytime you get a win in an NCAA tournament it's a big accomplishment.  The last few years we let the game get away from us, and last few years I've been the starting point guard.  And I take a lot of the blame for that.  This year we wanted to come out and focus on doing the thing that the coaches wanted us to do, taking away easy shots and creating shots for ourselves and play as a team.  That's one of the things we did throughout that entire second half and in stretches in the first half.

Q.  Austin, what are your memories of last year's game with Western Kentucky, what stuck out to you?
AUSTIN DAYE:  They set a lot of ball screens.  You have to be ready to show or help do what we're going to do.  And we have to take advantage of our transition game, especially on the open court.  Definitely try to get the ball inside to Josh, because he's been playing really well lately.  And definitely he's our size advantage, and all around match their intensity, because they're a really good team and they can knock down a lot of shots at will, so we definitely have to be ready for it on defense.

Q.  Jeremy, I wonder if you could talk about the dynamic that this game provides in that Western Kentucky is in the position Gonzaga was eight or nine years ago, where they're trying to reach back to back Sweet 16's, validate and raise the level of its program.  I know Coach Few has said you're not scrappy Gonzaga anymore, you guys are a national power.  The role reversal may be them getting over you guys to elevate their program like you guys were a decade ago?
JEREMY PARGO:  I don't think it's a role reversal.  Western Kentucky has been a team that's been good for a long time.  This isn't the first time I've heard about them.  This isn't the first time I've seen them.  They have a great group of guys that execute and do everything the right way on the court to get wins.  Last year you saw them go to Sweet 16 and have a chance to beat UCLA.  It was exciting to watch those guys last year, because I know Brazelton and Courtney Lee.  But they're just all around a good team.  And I don't look at them as a mid major or anything like that or chasing us or trying to do what we did or anything like that.  They're a great team and they take advantage of the opportunities that they have.

Q.  Coach, Coach McDonald has talked a lot about modeling his program after you guys program and wanting to be where you guys are.  How close do you feel like they're close to being a solid, every year program that has done some of the things you guys have done?
COACH FEW:   I think Jeremy summed it up best.  I think they've had a great run.  And I think again, trying to    ours is a unique situation and we found our niche and it's worked tremendously for us.  And I think they're out there in the midst of doing a great job of finding theirs.  They're a perennial NCAA tournament team.  They win their conference every year.  It seems like they always win 20 plus games year in and year out.
They were in the Sweet 16 last year.  So I think they've had a great run.  It seems like they've got the blueprint that works for them figured out.

Q.  What will you focus on in your pregame remarks for the team tomorrow?
COACH FEW:   Taking advantage of the opportunity.  It will be 32 of us left going into tomorrow and we've just got to make sure that you leave it all out there on the floor.  We can't let anything be left in the locker room or be left at home, whether it's our confidence, whether it's our effort, whether it's our energy, whether it's our concentration, any of that.  It's all got to shine fully tomorrow.

Q.  On further reflection, what triggered last night when you guys just literally    not literally, but exploded in the second half after kind of piddling around it seemed in the first half?
COACH FEW:   I don't see the piddling around part.  I see really, really tough games this time of year.  I mean look across the board today.  Pitt was in a barn burner with East Tennessee State.  Memphis yesterday.  And these are good teams.
I think probably the solution to all of this is for the committee not to assign public seeds, because I think it really tends to confuse the people out there in the masses.  I mean the coaches know that you're facing really, really good teams in this tournament.  So you know you're going to be in for a tough, tough either grinder of a game or a high possession game that's going back and forth.
And fortunately we were able to string some stops together, which we weren't able to do at any point in the first half or any point at the start of the second half.  And that was due because primarily Akron is a great or a really, really good basketball team that had been playing great these last couple of weeks.  And so I think that's probably happened in a lot of these first round games that you saw.
I thought we were very efficient on offense in the first half and just couldn't get any consistent stops.  And then were very efficient in offense in the second half and finally were able to string together some stops.

Q.  A lot of their guys have changed from a year ago.  They changed coaches.  Do you notice a great deal of difference when you watch them?
COACH FEW:   Yeah, I think it's totally, totally different.  You've changed coaching staffs.  Last year they pressed us in a variety of ways up in Alaska.  Brazelton had the ball in his hands a lot.  They ran everything pretty much around Courtney Lee, as well they should have.  And it's still Western Kentucky on their jerseys, but their personnel has changed and what they're doing offensively and defensively is different.
The main thing that's carried over is they've got a lot of kids who have experience playing in the Sweet 16 and have confidence winning games in the NCAA tournament, they know how to do it.

Q.  Coach, it seems like every time you're up there there's somebody that says, you know, Davidson or Akron or Western Kentucky wants to build their program to be like Gonzaga.  Do you start to roll your eyes, is it a compliment, is it pressure, are you tired of it?
COACH FEW:   A little of all of that, I would say.  Seems to be a tad bit redundant, it seems to be.  But at the end of the day it's flattering.  I think it's great, but I really think that, like I said, we have our own blueprint and our own niche that worked for us with a great Jesuit education and a great community that was just starving for a basketball program.  And a situation where myself and our staff have been there the entire time.
And my president's been the same.  My athletic director has been the same.  And in this part of the country.  So it's hard for me to comment on what somebody else has got somewhere else.  And like I said, I think Western Kentucky has done a great job of figuring their situation out.  And it seems to be working really, really well for them.  They made a great hire with Kenny.  I knew him.  I'm very, very close friends with Rick Barnes of Texas and I knew him when he worked at Texas.  And so that was a great hire by them.  And it's paid dividends, obviously.

Q.  Coach, that stretch in the second half where you guys went on the big run and it seemed like it was pretty complete for you guys.  How close was that to what you were trying to do in the entire game the way you played in that stretch?
COACH FEW:   We'd like to do that for 40 minutes every game, but I don't think that's realistic.  Not every shot is going to go in like that.  We made a lot of big shots and if we didn't make shots we got ourselves to the free throw line.  We wanted to do that.  We knew Akron fouled a lot.  They have all year and we thought if we could be strong with the ball and slow down and keep attacking them we'd eventually get rewarded for it.
Again, the difference was we were able to string together multiple stops, which we had not done prior to that and that got our transition game going, and we're way better when we can get stops and get out and run.  That's what these guys love to do.  That's when we're playing our best.
Ironically we came in, I think, with the second lowest field goal percentage in the country, defensive field goal percentage in the country, and it was a little out of whack at the halftime.  They had shot the ball really, really well.  On our offensive efficiency chart they were clicking along at 1.2.  We like teams at .90.  We had them down to 36 percent defensive field goal percentage, which is about where we've been all year.
So finally we got it to kind of average out.  So it was a great job with our guys, making adjustments after the second half.

Q.  Coach, what do you see your biggest challenge tomorrow in the match up with WKU?
COACH FEW:   Wow, I see a lot of challenges.  The first one being that they've been here and been successful in this game most recently, getting themselves to a Sweet 16.  The fact that    they're really clicking on offense, really clicking.  The guards are making great decisions and they're making shots and they're shooting the ball, relaxed and comfortable and confident.
And then their offensive rebounding prowess is impressive.  For them to do what they did to Illinois on the glass, and they have been doing that is something that will keep you up at night.  So I'd say those things right there are probably first and foremost in my mind.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports...



March 20, 2009

Ken McDonald
Orlando Mendez-Valdez
A.J. Slaughter


Q. Can you talk about what you learned from the run that Illinois had at the end of the second half yesterday, and trying to prevent something like that happening with Gonzaga, as far as letting them back in the game?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: We definitely have to take care of the ball down the stretch and not commit silly turnovers that will lead to easy baskets. That's one of the big things we learned going down the stretch. We have to take care of the ball and not let teams back in the game.

Q. When people refer to Western Kentucky as a mid-major, does that bother you or do you think it's accurate to say that you guys are a mid-major?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: It really doesn't bother us. We are a mid-major program, but at the same time we can compete with -- we feel that we can compete with any team in the country, so it really doesn't bother us what they label us as.
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: No, not really. I consider us a mid-major team. And just like he said, we just can compete with the big teams, big programs out there. So really there's no pressure on us, that's the best thing about it.

Q. Just from watching you play all year, you have had that big level of confidence and you have been comfortable. What's maybe the biggest thing that has helped you get that confidence and keep that all year, Orlando?
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: I think it's the chemistry we have as a team. We put the team first. And we really help each other score. I think that's the best thing about it, we don't have one selfish player on the team.
A.J. SLAUGHTER: Like he said, just the chemistry of our team. We help each other score, and on defense we have each other's back. Mostly just team chemistry. We really have a chip on our shoulder from the beginning of the season when people didn't think we were going to do much this year. We keep that in the back of our heads every time we go out and play.

Q. A.J., what do you remember from the Gonzaga game last year?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: It was really hard-fought game. If I can remember we was up, I think we had a 10-point lead with about ten minutes left and they came back and won the game.
Last year we had totally different team from this year, so we really can't look back on that and really take anything from it. So we're just going to have to come out and play with our hearts like we did the other night with Illinois.

Q. What's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: I think we have a more balance attack. The whole starting five was in double figures. That's really hard to scout, especially when you have one day to scout a team that has a balanced scoring attack like that. I really think that's the biggest factor from last year.
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: I'll agree. The chemistry. The way we just help each other score. And we don't have one or two guys that will just go out there and score consistently on a regular basis. There's no telling who will have a good game.

Q. A.J., when you guys were losing the lead last night, did that remind you at all of the Drake game?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: Yeah. It was in the back of my head, that, man, we can't let these guys get it back to one possession and hit a shot and beat us like we did with Drake last year. We rallied as a team, and let's go out and finish the game, guys, and we did it.

Q. You guys and Mac always talked about where you talk about going into the tournament how it was important for you guys that have been here before to help out the younger guys. You've played a game, been to the practices, how has that changed with you guys as far as leadership-wise and keeping the younger guys in toe?
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: It helps tremendously. The first few minutes out there, there was a couple of nervous, kind of shaking it off. Now getting us here in a little practice here in the gym and getting used to it and now we're going to be aware of what's going on, and how the environment is going to be. I think it helps out for underclassmen and they know what to expect.

Q. A.J., your sister lives here in Portland. How was that to play in front of her?
A.J. SLAUGHTER: It was great. It's always great to play in front of your family. She had a lot of her friends come to the game, also, and my mom was here. So it's always great to play in front of family?

Q. Who taught you that one handed runner, your sister or Tony? Tony says he did it.
A.J. SLAUGHTER: I'll give him credit on that one.

Q. Orlando, you always like to, before a game, decide what NBA player you're going to be like in that particular game and you always announce it to the team. Since you were here in Portland last night and the locker room, what player did you tell your teammates that you were going to shoot like last night?
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: Coach Mac told me to be myself. Go out and play my game and don't worry about anything.

Q. Why would you let him talk you out of that?
ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: He's always calling the shots.

Q. Coach, in the past the obvious question is you've often said you aspire to be a lot like a Gonzaga, a lot like a Memphis. What does it mean to you that you're being matched up against them in the second round?
COACH MCDONALD: I said that? We play a little basketball down at KU. We have a lot of pride. Obviously I think Gonzaga, with their recent success -- the last nine years I think they've been in the tournament, this might be ten, from what I know, and it's an incredible program. And I think we have that success and we want to continue to have the recent success that we're having right now.
I think it's great that the two basketball programs are playing right now, because a lot of fans do make that comparison. On the job interview we talk about the Zags a little bit and their consistency and what we need to do to stay there. They've done things at a high level for a good amount of time here. It's good to get to go against that kind of program.

Q. Were you aware of the fairly rich history at the school before you got there?

Q. No, Western Kentucky.
COACH MCDONALD: Yeah, I was an assistant at Western for five years, so I've lived it. I've recruited here. I pretty much grew up on the job recruiting at Western from '98 to '03. And under Dennis Felton. So I also, as assistant coach at Clemson, we came in to play at Western one time. And Rick Barnes at the time, because I was young and naive and didn't know a whole lot about college basketball, overall, grilled me about how I didn't know the tradition and the history that we were about to play in.
It was pretty amazing walking in the arena, and obviously seeing things likes when Ed Diddle retired being the winningest basketball coach of all time at the time. And their top 10 in all time wins, 21 seasons, 21 NCAA tournaments, I can go down the line with some of the impressive stats that we have and the history. It's pretty amazing to be part of.

Q. You said you talk about the Zags during your interview. What specifically did you talk about or see in that program that's helped them sustain their success, and what can you take away from them to help your program?
COACH MCDONALD: Well, I think to be consistent a lot of times it's important that there's not a lot of turnover. And I think they've done an incredible job -- I don't remember, once again, I think it was during my first coaching stint the Clemson, going up against the Zags in Alaska in a tournament and Monson was the coach at the time and I believe Coach Few was on staff. But over time they have kept that consistency with their staff. Their head coach and their assistant coaches.
So they've made the situation such a good program. They've grown the program. Facilities, salaries, and it's great that Coach Few likes to fish. That helps. He's a pond guy. So that's helped him stay there for an while. That kind of consistency and dedication by the administration at Gonzaga has obviously been important to sustain what they've done. And then you have a staff that's happy to be there. Look at what they've done and it's amazing. It is amazing. It just keeps going up for them. And obviously Coach Few can coach and can recruit.
So all those things go into what I think an ideal situation. But it started from the top with the administration, I believe.

Q. If you continue to have this consistent success, have you thought much about, as coaches always think about recruiting, do you change your philosophy about recruiting? If Western Kentucky keeps going to the Sweet 16, maybe you can grab some of those McDonald All-American players once in an while. Can you anticipate what it might be like where you can compete directly with some of the bigger schools, the BCS conference schools for players?
COACH MCDONALD: It's a good point. We always think in big terms. That's why when I took the job over, even though people labeled it as a down year, losing some guys to graduation and one to the NBA with Courtney Lee, we talked about nothing but winning our conference. We talked about nothing but about getting back to the NCAA tournament. And recruiting. We've gone after some excellent players. When you go to the tournament and you get -- today we're on USAToday, the cover, we're on the sports section, and those types of things obviously allow you to extend your arm and reach out nationally in recruiting, and it will affect this class as well as the next classes.
And you look at the Zags, they have a great region to recruit, but they're reaching out and getting recruits from out of state, obviously, also. And we'll do the same. We've signed three players, one from Florida, one from Dallas and one from Alabama from this class. We're very, very excited about each. That national exposure, you can't replace it. You cannot replace it. And as we continue to get here, and we will, we're going to keep reaching out.

Q. Yesterday you guys seemed like you had the support of the fans, like you kind of thought you would here. But tomorrow having maybe those Washington people stick around and maybe against Gonzaga, have you thought about handing out some red towels to the Washington crowd?
COACH MCDONALD: I'm going to extend it to those that those fans wanted to play us, and they were all Zag fans. They didn't think we could beat them. So you have to spin things as a coach, and I'm going to tell them that the Zag fans really wanted to play us and not Illinois. So we will pass out some towels. We're going to make some fans along the way.
I said that when we got the draw that a lot of fans wouldn't be able to make the trek out here, but there's no question with our style of play and our heart and I think you put a product on the court that people can appreciate you're going to have fans.
It's going to be a great atmosphere on Saturday. It will be like a road game. I think a lot of times this year we've played our best basketball with our backs against the wall. But you have to deal with it. It's going to be an exciting atmosphere, though.

Q. I think I read you made a recruiting trip to Serbia?

Q. What was that like, do you have any good stories, anecdotes about that?
COACH MCDONALD: Well, I think international recruiting is something that I've done over my career. I've had some success with players at every level, in the ACC and the SEC, in the Sun Belt at Texas, recruited a kid that's playing for them now from Turkey. So just like the game, just like the NBA game, it's really global. And you can get some talent from every part of the world.
So we continue -- we have three Serbians on our team. We have one sitting out, we have one injured and we have a point guard that's playing limited minutes that's just a freshman. A lot of potential. A lot of skill level in the European market in the players. They appreciate obviously an education coming in. We've gone that route and will continue to go that route, if we think we can get the best players for WKU possible. Some of the stories I can't really tell. I don't want to get in trouble (laughter.)
Q. Just match-up-wise, what kind of problems does Gonzaga present to you?
COACH MCDONALD: Let's put the pressure on Coach Few here. They have a pro at center. They've got a pro at the point guard. Matt Bouldin is extremely skilled. I think he really can make a difference in their team in every part of the game. I think he's an incredible passer, Playmaker. I think he's strong, decisions, all those things. And Micah Downs can shoot the ball. You look at Austin Daye, he's another guy that's labeled as a pro.
So they've got four pros in the starting lineup. There's a lot of fronts that we have to cover. They shoot the ball extremely well. They're long and athletic, so I would imagine they're going to try to go inside. And we have to keep Pargo out of the lane. As we start to break down what we have to do to win the basketball game, we have to break it down by position. And that's what we'll try to do.

Q. Just one more, how close do you think you are to being the kind of program where you could get an at-large berth to this tournament without relying on winning the conference tournament?
COACH MCDONALD: That's a good question. I thought this year going into the year that we would bump up the schedule and really try to play a tough schedule. We played on the road, we played at Houston. We played at Tulane. We played at Mississippi State. We basically played at Florida State. We played Louisville. We had a lot of games on the schedule that we were going to try to take a crack at good programs and came out with our share.
Our RPI came out at 42 the end of the season. Our strength of schedule was somewhere in the 60s. If we had went out and maybe beat Houston on the road, that maybe changes some things. If we grab one more of those games out of that mixture of teams I told you about I think we're right there in the conversation.
I was disappointed in the year we weren't in the conversation compared to some other teams that were, not from a -- I wasn't mad at the other programs, it's just with the same RPI and same strength of schedule you'd hope there were some talk about us being an at large. That's the hope. I don't want it to come down to a three day tournament every year. And I think we're going to build toward that.
I want to get to the point where we're really doing well in our conference, and we can schedule out of conference all the time, that national type of schedule like the Zags do, and knowing that you're going to be able to have an at-large bid.

Q. Is there a significant stylistic difference between what the program did before you got there, from a year ago when they played Gonzaga?
COACH MCDONALD: Style of play? You know, I wouldn't say a ton. A lot of the fundamentals, I think, are the same. They did press more. I think they felt like they had the depth to push tempo and press more. I didn't feel like I had that type of depth with this team. I didn't want to extend that much energy 94 feet from the hoop. I wanted more on the offensive end and half court defense.
I think we might get a little bit tired, because we play about seven guys or seven or eight guys. So I don't think a ton. I don't think a ton. I think we're probably a little bit more half court defensively oriented and we do a lot of random stuff. We try not to get in spots where we're calling a play all the time. We want to do stuff in transition. That was good for us yesterday against Illinois. Not a ton.

Q. Coach, for a mid-major team to be in the tournament in consecutive years is difficult, what about the consistency you have shown in terms of winning in the tournament, how do you anticipate that will affect your program?
COACH MCDONALD: Well, I think it's important to understand where you want to be down the road and with the success of our program we talk about that all the time. We talk about the fact that we've gone to so many NCAA tournaments. We talk about the fact that we've had so many All-Americans. That we've had so many conference championships. And I think just like the Zags going to nine straight tournaments, this is the beginning of the particular time that I'm part of.
You can't lose sight of with where you want to be and you want to keep building and building and building and understand that this is the important part right now. This is very important. I think that's why with the interview process with my athletic director and my president they were so excited about the possibility of keeping this thing rolling and not having the turnover, when there's a coaching change -- we've had a couple of coaching changes, they were all good coaches.
I'm putting myself in that mix, and not out of arrogance, but Darrin Horn and Dennis Felton did an excellent job. And that was the start of something. And I'm excited being a part of it. I know the expectations. I know what they are. I signed up for it and I want to take it to another level. That's the way we think and that's the way our staff -- our staff has done an incredible job, not only recruiting, but preparing this team to win as many games as we won, because, like I said before, we've never talked about anything but winning the conference and going to the NCAA tournament. And I think that mindset has rubbed off on the guys.

Q. What do you think of the term "mid-major?"
COACH MCDONALD: I almost -- I'm sorry, from The Columbian I almost told them to not use that when I'm here, the mid-major tournament. I guess you have to, because of the conference that you're affiliated with, but we're not a mid-major by any stretch of the imagination. You don't have 21 NCAA tournaments and get that label.
For some reason it's a negative term and I think of it as kind of a slap in the face. Once again, you use it as motivation. We're third in the country with conference championships behind, I think, Kentucky and Kansas. There's so many things about our program that we're very proud about. And that's not one of them.

Q. Talk about the incredible chemistry this team has shown this year and what a vital part it's played in your success to this point?
COACH MCDONALD: I think early in the year as we started to build our program and talk about our style of play and with the transition of the coaching staff I think it was real important to get to know the guys. Obviously get them to trust us was important. And as that has happened our staff has really gotten to know a team that just -- they love each other. And a lot of guys had to step up their play this year in order for us to be a good basketball team.
What I did not know, and you never know until you're around the guys, is just how much they enjoy being around each other, pull for each other, and that chemistry factor is huge. It's just huge. It's worked out. I've been on teams with good chemistry, bad chemistry, and one guy can affect that. Even we have guys that aren't playing, sometimes that's tough. Our guys that aren't playing, they're sitting there, they're ready and rooting for their teammates, and that says a lot about them. Our chemistry has been a big factor in our success.

End of FastScripts