March 20, 2009


COACH MCDONALD: Excited about the win. Hard fought game. I thought we really had a good aggression level at the beginning of the game. We lost a little bit, obviously, of the lead, made some bad decisions and Illinois did a good job pressuring us and doing some things to get back in the game. Late game situations obviously we'll be working on the next couple of days getting ready for the Zags.

Q. Sergio, talk about how tough it was going up against -- they have a pretty good, sizable front court, but how important was it for you guys to go in tough against them and hold your ground?

SERGIO KERUSCH: Before the game we talked about heart, basically, play your heart out, because it is win or go home in these type of situations. They caused match-up problems. They had a bigger lineup. Our guys, Pettigrew, Jeremy, they battled inside and they helped the guards get a lot of rebounds and helped us get the win.

Q. Orlando, when you guys were coming into this game did you think you were the 12 seed and they were the 5 seed or vice-versa, how did you sort of look at it?

ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: Pretty much, I thought they did a good job in the seeding. We got a good draw. There were no complaints. We wanted to come out here and play our basketball and let the game speak for itself.

Q. Could you guys talk about just the excitement level? The game ends and there's no jumping and cheering, things like that. You seemed pretty level headed.

SERGIO KERUSCH: I mean it was exciting. We were scared for a minute (laughter.) When you have the lead of about ten points and it disappears in two minutes you know you're going to get nervous. It was just an exciting nail-biter until the end. They had great players who made great plays. So many guys made turnovers. It was just a great game.

ORLANDO MENDEZ-VALDEZ: It was exciting. I didn't like how it turned out in the last two minutes, I felt like we lost our heads out there and composure. A lot of it had to do with upper class leadership, and that's me, and A.J., guys that have been here before. We should have huddled up a lot quicker and calmed down the underclass guys that haven't been here. And that's something we'll look for in the next game.

Q. Sergio, you had a couple of good dunks. How important was it for you guys to kind of -- you had some easier shots like that. How important it was to make the most of the opportunities when you got close to the basket like that?

SERGIO KERUSCH: Every shot is important. You have to make every single shot that you can. It was important that we hit the easy ones and got some open looks. Trade the good shot for the great shot, as Coach Mac always says. It was one of those games where we tried to trade the good shot for the great shots, and look for the open shots and get the easy buckets.

Q. Sergio, you said you were a little bit nervous. How did it feel in the final buzzer sounded and how good is it to move on?

SERGIO KERUSCH: It's great. I love it. I like going on. But I was nervous. The first couple of minutes I was nervous. Seeing leadership, Coach Mac said, calm down, Sergio, take your time. And we played as a team and moved the ball. It's great to move on. I was really nervous the last two minutes, though, I can tell you that much. It's a great feeling to move on and to advance to the second round of the NCAA.

COACH MCDONALD: It's limited to a 15 second answer.

SERGIO KERUSCH: I apologize, guys. COACH MCDONALD: He'll talk all day, now.

Q. Coach, were you nervous?

COACH MCDONALD: Very. Nervous isn't the word. Anxious. You want to finish the game out the right way. To be honest, I didn't think we'd lose the game. It got to three and I thought we'd step up and make free throws and do the things we needed to do. I thought it took too long for the guards to understand they had to win the basketball game by cutting hard, getting open, getting the ball and making good decisions. I think everybody was kind of looking at each other and worried about what was going on rather than the task at hand. We just had to get the ball in. Once we got the ball in we were fine.

Illinois did a very good job. They hustled. They played their hearts out, and you had seniors playing very, very hard, upper classmen playing very, very hard. They didn't want it to end. It was obviously neat to see that. We just need to finish a little better.

Q. Sergio, in terms of Gonzaga, what do you guys know about their legacy of success and do you think it is comparable of Western Kentucky's?

SERGIO KERUSCH: They're a great program, well-coached, good players. Pargo comes to mind when I think of them. They're just a good team. And I'm pretty sure it will be a tough battle and may the best team win.

Q. Coach, you talked about improving how you let the lead get away at the end. What were some things, besides getting the ball in that you thought were some of the biggest factors of them getting back in the game towards the end?

COACH MCDONALD: Well, we've got to screen better. I think their guards did a very good job running in the passing lanes. And like I said, that senior leadership, Meacham comes to mind. He was really cutting through and trying to get to the passing lane. They got physical at the end of the game and we have to understand if the refs are letting it go, it's going to be that type of game. We have to do what we can, and screening is very important and then we have to cut in those situations, because possession is the biggest part of that winning.

And then obviously you don't want to lose your heads. You want to make sure that you're running the right plays. You want to make sure your press offense is set. You still want to keep somewhat of an aggression level, you can't play timid and think you're going to use the whole clock every time. You have to stay aggressive. That's a fine line we have to get to.

But the biggest thing is confidence, not thinking that the whole world is crashing down when they're going on that run.

Q. Coach, it was striking how subdued or almost business-like the reaction was from your team after the game, and in the locker room where I just came from? Is that accurate and is it a product of last year?

COACH MCDONALD: I think they were tired. Too tired to jump around. It was a hard-fought game. They present a lot of problems with how much they move on the offensive end. And they make you work on the defensive end of the one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, which is saying a lot. They guard the three extremely well, and they play good percentage basketball. They're fundamental. They made us work hard.

We came into this tournament and we're just not happy to be here, we want to be dancing as long as we can. Our team believes in themselves. They just have that attitude about them. I was hoping that we weren't picked as much as we were picked to win the game because we do play our best basketball when people are doubting us. And hopefully it's that way versus the Zags.

Q. Prior to the final three minutes how complete a game do you think you'd played and how close to your ideal situation had you guys played?

COACH MCDONALD: I thought the post did an extremely good job with the game plan. That was the first thing. We wanted to screen in the open court. We wanted to loosen them up, because they're a good pressure basketball team. And the guards had to be aggressive early. We said they guard the three extremely well, we might not get a lot of three's early, so drive early, take your three's later in the possession. And it was -- there's two parts to that. So the post did their job, the guards were aggressive and we did a good job.

I think in the tournament you have to be able to throw a punch. You've got to be able to take a bunch. You've got to be able to throw another punch. You have to be the last one standing and be able to withstand runs. And that's what the tournament is all about. We came out and had a really good start. They went on a run. We went on a run. I think we sustained it the second half until about probably the six-minute mark, where things kind of caved in.

We probably got a little tired and I didn't do a great job with my time-outs. But that's the part we have to learn from in terms of moving on and wanting to advance again.

Q. You guys were able to knock down a lot of three's, but it seemed like you had good shot selection. Can you comment on that?

COACH MCDONALD: Illinois takes away the three. And I thought we had to get to the paint and make the extra pass. We still could have done a better job, actually, making some extra passes and not taking some tough shots. That got us in a little bit of predicament in the first half and in the second half. We could have really opened up the lead, I thought if we made a couple of extra passes. So I think when we did make extra passes we found open three's. But a big part of the game plan was we have to get into the paint because they're going to precious. We have to set good screens and then find your teammate that's open.

So, like I said, 35, 36 minutes I think we were doing that. And we shot 9 for 19 against a very good three point field goal percentage team. Who knows how it's going to be Saturday, but we have to be prepared to be just as aggressive.

Q. If you look at your programs history of Sun Belt titles, and Gonzaga with their history of WCC titles. How much have you compared them or techniques you might pick up with what they do?

COACH MCDONALD: Well, they're obviously on a -- they're an incredible program. And there's nothing you can take away from that. We play a little basketball down at WKU, too. I think it's two great basketball programs. I think the longevity of our program and the success is probably more. They've had a lot of recent success.

I remember on my interview we talked about the Zags a little bit. I think they've been to nine straight NCAA tournaments. They're going to be there. We're going to be right there. I think Saturday night is another step toward getting there. We're here. This is two years in a row. We want to continue to advance.

I know Coach Few and one of my first scouting assignments, I was an assistant at Clemson, and I had to scout the Zags when they had Santangelo, and was it Carvey or whatever his name was, but they were terrific. And I remember coming back from the scout telling Coach Barnes that we were going to get killed. He didn't know who the Zags were. He knew but he didn't know. They went on to beat us pretty good. I think they had about 13 three's at the half.

So that was with Monson and Few was an assistant at the time. So they've had great success. They've had the same staff there for a lot of that run, and that's a big part of it. So there's a lot of respect for the program. I believe Coach Few respects our program and once again we played Illinois tonight, good basketball program, great fans. I think we have another great opportunity on Saturday.

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