Northwestern-Minnesota Postgame Quotes
March 10, 2011
COACH SMITH: Well, it's just been a tough stretch here, and I thought today we were ready to play. I thought our kids played hard. We're just having a tough time scoring. That's been our problem most of the latter part of the season. And we just -- there was a stretch where we took the lead with about 13 minutes to go, and we just couldn't seem to -- a good team, veteran team like Northwestern made shots, and this is the result, a loss.
Q. Can you just talk about defensively just some of the struggles the team had? They tried a lot of different schemes and just some of the challenges there.
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Yeah, we tried a little bit of different things, but we weren't getting the stops. They scored in a variety of different ways, and Thompson definitely got his fair share of points there. I don't know, we've just got to get back to start working harder and hopefully have another couple games.
Q. Trevor, seemed like early they were hacking you. Were they getting in your head at all because you were attacking but just to not much avail?
TREVOR MBAKWE: No, they weren't getting in my head. That's just how it goes sometimes. Sometimes it gets called; sometimes it don't. I kept attacking the rim like I've been doing my whole career. I finally was able to get some calls in the second half, but I just had a tough stretch. Starting the game off, I thought I was being physical enough, but I guess I wasn't getting enough contact. Just got to play through it and just keep playing hard.
Q. Blake, can you talk about what Juice Thompson did and how good he was and it obviously affected the game?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Yeah, he did a little bit of everything. He hit some threes, got to the free throw line. He can give him that tonight. We definitely needed to stop him, and I think we did a good job on (John) Shurna. But yeah, when a player goes off like that, it's tough to get the win.
Q. What was the difference between this team and the last couple teams that were able to make these late runs down at the end of the season?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: I don't really know. I thought we had the confidence and thought we had a good game plan, we had a good week of practice, and I don't know, it's just been tough the last couple weeks definitely, the last month. Hopefully we have -- like I said, hopefully we can have some more games after this and show people that we're a better team than what we've been displaying.
Q. Could you sense -- Rodney had a tip dunk late in the game, and that may or may not have sparked you guys, but did you feel like there was a chance to maybe come back at that point?
TREVOR MBAKWE: Yeah, definitely. We knew that we had another run in us. That definitely started us off. And when we get Rodney playing with that type of energy, we kind of feed off of it. Northwestern did a great job keeping the momentum in their favor, and they just -- they ran the offense comfortably. We didn't put enough pressure on them and we weren't able to change the game after Rodney's dunk.
Q. Defensively was there some point after Al (Nolen) left that this team kind of changed its identity a little bit defensively?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: When you lose a player like Al, who's a good defensive stopper, I think just -- I don't think that's one of the main reasons, but maybe it could lead to that. But I think just we weren't concentrating enough. Everyone has got to realize they've got to stop their man, it's not just your man scoring, it's the whole team's.
Q. Last year's team came in and I think you were 6 of your last 14 games. Can you compare the confidence level of that year's team entering the tournament compared to this year's squad?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Even though we haven't been playing well and we've gone on losing streaks and stuff like that, we had confidence and we felt like we could win. Just they played a better game than we played today, hit some shots, hit some big shots, and went on a couple more runs than we did.
Q. Trevor, I know you guys might still have the NIT, but when you look ahead to next season, what do you think this team needs to do to retool physically, mentally to prevent this kind of thing from happening?
TREVOR MBAKWE: I think the NIT could definitely help us out. We finish strong and kind of carry it on to next season. We have a lot of work to do. It's going to be an important off season for a lot of us. We just have to work on our games a lot. We weren't able to make shots this year and that kind of hurt us down the stretch. We just all have to get in the gym and be better players, and we're going to be confident coming back next year. We have a lot of guys who play a lot of minutes, a lot of freshmen, so we're going to have the experience and we're going to need everyone just to step up their game and have a good season next year.
Q. Tubby, you've obviously always preached defense, and this team has had some struggles, especially during this losing skid. What have been some of the greatest challenges in terms of game planning defensively over the last month?
COACH SMITH: Well, we have a young, inexperienced backcourt. Let's face it, our guards are pretty -- we had a number of open shots today. Maverick (Ahanmisi), Austin (Hollins), you know, they're talented players, but it's a little bit -- they were not -- they were sort of recruited to be backups this year, freshmen, but we've had to throw them into the fire. And I think they've -- we've been in just about every game. We defended well. We just had those moments where we have breakdowns where veteran experienced teams will take advantage of a back door. It's not really happening to our freshmen, it's happening to our whole group where guys are not in the right spot.
Blake hit it there, team defense, and we just have some fundamental breakdowns that are really -- either it's fatigue or mental lapses or whatever that causes -- and then we can't score.
We finished first in the league in defensive field goal percentage, second in three point defense, first in rebounding. If you told me that at the beginning of the year, I would have said, boy, we're going to have a great season. But you've got to have leadership and you've got to have guards that can help you get in the offense or bring the ball back out when you have to, get it set up, and we just haven't had that.
Q. At the same time that you preached defense, last year's team had a really great time scoring in the first three games, I think averaged 70 plus points a game. Offensively there are a lot of areas where -- like your freshmen, for example, they have a longer way to go?
COACH SMITH: You mean as far as -- well, they've got to get stronger. They make shots and everything, but I think we might have two guys shoot over 50 percent.
Last year we probably had four or five guys. We have, I think, one or two guys shooting over 20 percent from threes. You're just not going to -- they've got to knock down open shots.
Just today, with so many opportunities that we had to -- we just couldn't get the ball to drop. And that's probably as big a -- that's been our biggest challenge this year. The only thing we've got to do is get in the weight room, get stronger, get someone to either change their shot completely, and if they do what we tell them to do, we'll be fine and we will improve. So that's what we expect.
Q. It seemed like at times Trevor, Blake, Austin, Chip (Gerald Armelin) were trying to take over the games by themselves. How much does that sort of hurt a team like this that needs to play five strong at the same time?
COACH SMITH: Well, I thought we -- Chip had some open looks. He's still learning and he's trying hard. We kind of -- he's looking down saying, well, coach needs me to score, and Trevor, right at the basket, all he had to do was make -- I mean, Blake, we get some good looks now. And then when we don't go, the pressure mounts. Now you try to -- I thought teamwork wise, we had, what, 15 assists, 13 assists, only eight turnovers. I thought our guys -- we do share the ball. We share the ball, and I thought today if they make those shots, if Chip's shot goes -- he had about three or four open shots from the perimeter, I think Maverick turned down a bunch of them, Austin had some good looks, and that's what good team do. They back up and say, OK, we're going to take the inside away from you and make you beat us from the outside, and we don't have guys that can make those shots other than Blake.
Q. Why do you think that's the case? You have a huge size advantage over Northwestern. Why can't you pound it inside?
COACH SMITH: Well, we did, and we didn't score. I don't know how many times Trevor got the ball slapped out of his hands. He missed an easy basket right inside. But a good team they're going to double you and triple you just like they did, that's just basketball. He might be able to score over one guy or two guys, but he can't score -- they are 6'10", 6'8", 6'7" inside. And if we throw back out to an open guy and they don't make the shot, it makes for a long day.
Q. You're up 44 42 and then they lost that 8 0 run and you talked about having a young team. Did that kind of shock these guys in this setting?
COACH SMITH: Well, I don't know that it shocked us. Just when you have a player like Juice Thompson who can control the floor as well as veteran guys that can knock down the shot like (John) Shurna, even though he struggled shooting the ball today, they had other players that stepped up and played well.
Again, I look at that stretch where we scored one point in about four minutes or maybe three or four, and they -- at that time I think they went up, was it, 10 or 12? So again, you've got to score. We had a number of shots, I don't know how many guys missed shots at that juncture where they -- and I don't think they were quick shots. I think they were just shots we missed.
What we have to do is get the second and third shot, but that's why we're a good rebounding team. We do -- there are a lot of shots that can be retrieved because we miss a lot of shots. What we've got to do is we've got to get some shooters.
Q. You said from last year you've gone down in consistent shooters. Do you see that you have someone on the roster who can pick that up next year or is that something you're still looking for?
COACH SMITH: Well, we have players that I think are -- we have some players in our program already, certainly (Oto) Osenieks is an outstanding shooter. He's probably our second best shooter behind Blake. But he's ineligible. We have Mo Walker, who probably one of the best shooters -- he's probably our best shooting post player as far as his touch from at the free throw line and that type of thing. Elliott Eliason is a high percentage shooter, knows how to play around the basket, and then we sign a couple kids that will help us as far as scoring is concerned. And then the guys that we have, Maverick and Austin, they will improve. They will get better.
Q. If someone had told you you were going to lose 10 of 11 games to close the season, why do you think that would have been, and why do you think that
COACH SMITH: Because I'd think they were crazy. I would say they were crazy. That's it. But what I think it is now, I can see now, we've lost close games, we've blown leads, we haven't made the plays, the stops. It's pretty obvious is what has happened. We don't have someone that's orchestrating our offense or our defense, we just don't.
Q. Obviously the University is working with you on a contract extension, and even though the season has been disappointing, for them to have the confidence in you to further your contract into the future, what does that say about the direction of the program?
COACH SMITH: What do you mean?
Q. What does it say about the direction of the program that you're going to be around for a lot longer than your contract remaining right now?
COACH SMITH: Well, I have a few years left right now, but it means that, yeah, I'll be happy that -- it certainly makes me feel good that the University believes in me and believes in what we're doing and believes in the type of people that we're getting in the program, that they are doing the right things, graduating.
Certainly I'm excited about the future. If you asked me what were some of the things of why we would be better next year or what are some of the improvements that are needed -- the areas that needed improvement, we did. We said let's go out and get some rebounders and we became the number one rebounding team in the league, but no one expected the turnovers.
We didn't expect Al Nolen to break his foot, Devoe Joseph to leave, Maurice Walker to tear his knee up. You can't plan for that. Now, we planned for it by having players here. We could have brought a kid like Elliott Eliason out of red-shirt, but we had made that commitment to him. So there were a lot of different things that could have happened differently.
Even a guy like Oto Osenieks, we could probably could have petitioned the NCAA again, but we thought, hey, we've got a lot of players, we're going to be fine. Those things happen in life. You bite the bullet now and say, 'hey, let's get better in the offseason, improve.' I'm looking forward to being at the 'U' for some time, and hopefully this season or this stretch of bad -- of losses doesn't cause them to pull anything off the table.