#5 Wyoming 67, #4 Air Force 62

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March 8, 2007

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by University of Wyoming head coach Steve McClain and student athletes Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones.

Coach, if you want to just begin with some general comments on the game.

COACH McCLAIN: Well, I think our kids came into the game with the same idea we started out in Denver with last year: it's a whole new season, it's a whole new beginning.

These two guys did nothing but talk to those other guys about being focused, walking in here with a purpose. And yet we knew we were playing a great team, a team that has won a bunch of games this year. We knew we'd have to compete and play as hard as we could.

I thought these two guys got our other guys to get that done. They deserve the credit for it.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q: Brad, you got off to an 8 0 lead. Every time they had a run, you had an answer. How big was that and what were the keys of answering everything they threw at you?

Brad Jones: I don't think we lost the lead, not once the whole game.

COACH McCLAIN: They got up once.

Brad Jones: That was the key. Coach just told us to stay focused. He said in pregame, They going to go in back doors. Get up threes. That's what they do. If they do that, don't get down, keep talking to your teammates.

We went out there focused, like coach said. It was a great team effort, a team win.

Q: Both of you, Coach McClain talked about you guys coming in here with a purpose. Was that purpose today to be aggressive and essentially take the fight to them today?

Brandon Ewing: Most definitely. We definitely wanted to be aggressive on offense and defense. We wanted to dictate the pace of the game and not let them dictate the pace because they are a very good team if they had total control of the game.

Coach preached to us all week, make sure we had the pace of the game the way we want it.

Brad Jones: Like Brandon said, we wanted to get into them early, get the early lead. Coach told us it would be important for us to start off good and start off early. We did that with the first play of the game with a dunk, kind of got the crowd into it. We just kind of controlled the game from there.

Q: Both of you I thought got snubbed on the All Mountain West team. Was that ever in your thinking? You both exploded for big numbers today.

Brandon Ewing: Well, yeah, I would say so. Me and Brad was kind of frustrated for like 24 hours. But all the coaches, all the teammates, all the people around campus told us to keep our head up. It don't matter about the individual accolades, just keep playing as a team. If we win the Mountain West tournament the he whole team wins.

Brad Jones: Like Brandon said, it was kind of frustrating for both of us. I think Brandon deserved first team. Like Brandon said, it's not about the individual accolades. We both team players. We just want to win.

Q: For both players, came down to hitting the free throws there at the end. Burtschi missed four. Seemed like Wyoming was up to the task to hit the free throws down the stretch.

Brandon Ewing: That was kind of big for us. Every time they caught a timeout when they got fouled, coach kept saying, They definitely going to miss one, so make sure we box out. We played in Laramie, we thought they was going to hit the free throws, we didn't box out. That's kind of what hurt us in Laramie.

Coach let us know that every time they were going to miss at least one free throw. That's what they did tonight. Especially on neutral court. That played a big factor for us.

Q: What has to change and what has to stay the same in order for you to be able to get a win now against BYU in the semifinals?

Brad Jones: Well, we're focusing our attention on BYU now. The coaches do a great job of getting us prepared. We just got to stay focused and take it one game at a time.

Tonight I'm sure we'll have a meeting and just go over things about BYU.

Brandon Ewing: One of the main things we have to do, like Brad just stated, is stay focused. We came down here with one thing in our mind: Come out with the championship. That's one thing we wanted to do.

The coaches are going to have us well prepared to play BYU. Like Brad said, we're going to have a meeting as soon as we get back, go over game film, probably go over each individual, and we'll be ready tomorrow.

Q: You talked about winning this thing. What is the mood like in the locker room? Was it celebratory after the game? Do you feel you have some unfinished business?

Brandon Ewing: We feel we have unfinished business because we going into the BYU game. That's a team that swept us this year. They actually beat us at home. We want to come out and just win the whole thing. That's our mindset in the locker room.

Q: You showed a lot of defensive intensity out there. How difficult is it going to be to have that intensity two days in a row?

Brad Jones: We're young guys, young college athletes. If you can't get excited to play in March, I don't think you should be playing basketball. Like Brandon said, we can go for days. We can go play pickup right now. We can play. It won't be a big deal for us.

THE MODERATOR: Brad and Brandon, thank you, guys. We'll let you two go.

Brandon Ewing: Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach McClain.

Q: How important was that fast start and that alley oop to start the game? Was that scripted, something you had planned coming in?

COACH McCLAIN: Brandon scripted it. I was getting ready to give them a set play to run. I hear him in the huddle going, Hey, if they start that way, we're going to run. It has a name.

You know, I was like, Well, you know... Brandon made this comment when we were getting ready to play New Mexico. He said to all the young guys, We're not young any more. New Mexico was kind of the end of their sophomore year, junior year, freshman year, whatever.

I heard him in the locker room saying they were going to run that play, and it's one we work on. You know what, if he believes it will work, then I don't mind putting a little faith in those two of what they think happens out there on the court.

It was kind of fun there at the end of the game to just kind of stand there. Best thing I did was clap my hands and go, Nice job, Brad; nice job, Brandon. You know, they made free throws. Then Joe stepped up. I always love it when a guy makes one that nobody thinks he will. The whole crowd goes crazy.

But, no, we came out with the idea we were going to run that play right off the bat.

Q: Talk about Brad coming out after having to sit out the last game, not playing against Air Force before. He came out with some determination to take control.

COACH McCLAIN: Well, I think, again, I go back to what I talked about: those two, from the minute the New Mexico game was over, we took Sunday off. When we got in there Monday, all they started talking about was focusing and getting ready.

If you aren't going to do that I heard them say it to their teammates. They said, If you aren't going to do it, don't go with us. You know, as coaches, when people might say, Why would your players say that? Because they needed to understand, we're going somewhere most of 'em haven't been. You know, I thought they did a great job of preparing our guys.

Q: They kept trading shots back and forth. Was there ever a sequence or an event there that you thought really turned the game in your favor, where you felt like you had it? Did that happen when the final buzzer sounded?

COACH McCLAIN: When the final buzzer sounded I knew we had it. You know, I knew they'd make a three or two late, and they did. But a couple plays: Brandon got a couple. He got a four point opportunity; he got fouled on two threes.

I thought the play when we hit Joseph late in the game, he went up, they ran at him. Instead of trying to dunk the basketball he just went up and scored it. Then Brad had a big three point play. It goes back to I think that's when they had taken a one point lead. We get a three point play. Took the lead back. From that point we played in the lead.

I can't say enough about Air Force. People keep talking about, Now they've lost four straight, this, that. You know what, what they need to talk about is our league is really good. Nobody in this league will give you anything. You know, we've got two top 25 teams in this league. They were in the top 25 all year.

Forget about all that other stuff. This league's got really good teams. It was a great game. I just go back to, I don't know that we've ever had, in my four years with this group of seniors at Air Force we've had one bad game, and they know that was no good, and we did.

Every game's been like that. Our kids compete hard. They respect each other. It was just a great college basketball game.

Q: Down the stretch, it seemed like your team used the shot clock. Was that your idea? Was that the strategy you wanted?

COACH McCLAIN: Really early in the game we took the shot clock down about four or five times. Again, their idea is to get you to rush and take a quick shot, then you're going to go guard for 30 seconds. Our idea was, let's let them guard for a while, then we'll go down.

We'll still have to guard, but if we just make them wear down a little bit maybe those cuts aren't as hard. Maybe it's just not quite as hard to guard.

Yeah, so there wasn't any question then. I thought our kids managed the time well at the end of the game.

Q: How much did that opening play, the alley oop slam, how much did that set the mental attitude for your team?

COACH McCLAIN: I think it had a lot to do with it. Again, you never want to overexaggerate it. It's kind of like somebody running back the opening kickoff and going, Oh, that's the game. Well, no, it's not the game. But it gave our kids some confidence.

When we went 8 0, then we knew, Okay, if they make a couple baskets we're still in the lead. So it gave us a lot of confidence.

Q: What do you have to do to get BYU tomorrow? Is Air Force an at large team for the tournament right now?

COACH McCLAIN: I don't think there's any question on that question. Air Force should be in the tournament, will be in the tournament. I don't debate that. You have to look at their overall I go back to what I said. Somebody out there needs to say we got a pretty darn good league here is what we got.

How do we beat BYU? Let's see, you got to stop Plaisted, Young, Ainge. You know what, they've got a great basketball team. Dave's done a great job with them. We've got to do a better job on Keena Young. Hurt us both times we played them.

We got to figure out something to do to him. But yet that's why he was the Player of the Year. Nobody else really figured out how to stop him either. Plaisted is so good. Tavernari. Dave's just done a great job with them.

We've got to control the tempo of that game.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.

COACH McCLAIN: Thank you.

Air Force

THE MODERATOR: Joined now by United States Air Force Academy head coach Jeff Bzdelik, Andrew Henke, and Jacob Burtschi.

Coach, if you could begin with some general comments on the game.

COACH BZDELIK: First of all, you're not going to win big games if you don't shoot free throws well, you miss open shots, and don't rebound the basketball. It's that simple.

In addition to that, we had difficulty containing their guards from penetrating into the paint. We had our chances.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q: Jacob, what happened to the aggressiveness, especially from the seniors? I didn't see a lot of aggressiveness from you guys today. It was more Andrew, Tim Anderson today.

Jacob Burtschi: I think the aggressiveness just came in spurts, only when we were doing well. I guess you can kind of leave it to the seniors, a couple of front runners. We want to be aggressive when things are going well, but we disappear sometimes when things aren't. That's a bad job of leadership by the seniors.

The younger guys came in, did an unbelievable job. Just brought that tenacity from the bench. It's something that the seniors didn't bring along.

Q: Coach already mentioned the free throw shooting. Jake missed four straight. There were some others missed. Was that the difference in the game, do you feel, the free throw shooting?

Jacob Burtschi: I think it was the biggest difference. I mean, there's a handful of things. But I think the free throws is the biggest thing. I think we're like a 77% free throw shooting team overall. I think we barely broke 50%. I mean, if you don't make free throws, you don't win games. And that's the way it went.

Q: Andrew, how motivated were you after not playing in the BYU game?

Andrew Henke: I was pretty motivated to get out there and try and do something for our team. Unfortunately, didn't do enough, took a hit.

Q: The dunk to start the game, how much did that set the tone, 8 0 lead?

Jacob Burtschi: I think to an extent, it set the tone pretty well. We wanted to be the aggressor the whole time. That's what they did all 40 minutes. That dunk was huge. Then, you know, we missed a couple open threes.

I mean, we're a better shooting team than that. They knocked down a couple. Brandon Ewing hit that deep three that went way off the rim and dropped in. A few bounces went their way, didn't go our way. That helped them out to get to a great start and they just rolled from there.

Q: Make your case for why you think you should be in the NCAA tournament.

Jacob Burtschi: Well, you shouldn't look at the last couple games. I mean, it's been rough. But you know what, there's a lot of teams that go through a couple rough times during the year. You got to look at the big picture. We lost four straight. Florida lost three straight. A couple teams have a couple rough spots.

You know, what we've done overall, in conference it's been tough. A lot of teams get second shots at us. They were kind of prepared for what's going on. I mean, you know, like I said earlier, a few bounces go a certain team's way. That's just how some of the games wound up.

I think we've shown we can hang with almost anybody. Tell you the truth, our RPI is still great, our strength of schedule is a lot better than what it was last year. I mean, now it's in their hands. We had a chance to take it out of the committee's hands and do it ourselves. Now we're back in the same place we were last year. It's up to the committee.

Q: Jake, can you put your finger on what's happened since this 17 1 start? How disappointing has it been the way the season ended?

Jacob Burtschi: It's been real disappointing. I think we've been 6 7 since the 17 1 start. You know what, there's no excuses out there. Seniors got to do a better job because there's four of us starting. When a couple of us aren't doing our job, it kind of leaks down to the rest of the guys.

I'm not sure that there's a handful of things. The rigors of the academy, a long season. It just starts wearing and tearing. Like I said, there's no excuses. We should have done a lot more. We should have done a lot better than we have the last couple games. It just happens sometimes. Hopefully we get another chance to play again, we're going to do something about it.

THE MODERATOR: Guys, we'll let you two go. Thank you.

Questions for Coach Bzdelik.

Q: Were you surprised or disappointed, amazed by the lack of aggressiveness that he was shown, especially by the seniors?

COACH BZDELIK: At times I've been baffled. Not really sure why there's been inconsistency with more desperation.

Q: We had to ask this question again last year, but can you say why Air Force has such trouble picking up the pace when they go into the post season, the lack of aggressiveness today? It seems like Air Force has trouble shifting gears.

COACH BZDELIK: I think I have an idea. But if I said to you why I think I know, it would be an excuse, and I offer no excuses. We got beat, and congratulations to Wyoming.

Q: In your eyes how important was the start, Wyoming's fast start to this game, in terms of setting the tone?

COACH BZDELIK: Well, it gave them confidence. We saw the lob coming. The whole bench was yelling it. But we just stood there. As Jake said, Ewing hits a three. Hit the back of the rim, went straight up, straight down. Yet we manufactured some really good open looks ourselves.

I think we actually had about three wide open threes, and we didn't make them. Again, it goes back to my opening statement, and that is you're not going to win big games or any games whatsoever if you're not making free throws. I mean, we missed 14 of 'em? We missed open shots. It would be interesting to count and see how many. I don't know, we didn't culminate some defensive possessions with rebounds.

You win at most levels with great guard play, and their guard play was exceptional. We prepared for it.

Q: Can you make a more compelling case than Jacob did as to why the committee should take Air Force Sunday, given your situation at the moment? You're not playing well at the moment, lost six of the last 10, your RPI is dropping.

COACH BZDELIK: You know what, I'm not going to make a case. I'm not really going to answer your question because, you know, everybody's talking now. The only thing that matters is what the committee decides.

We put ourselves in this position. We're at their mercy. It's the only thing I can answer.

Q: Andrew playing 30 minutes, Nick playing 14, was that matchups, a hot hand?

COACH BZDELIK: Nick's been really banged up. I'm looking for aggressiveness, somebody that can make something happen good or bad. There was some bad out there, too. A couple of fouls in the three point shooter for, what, seven points I think it was. Yeah. Something's going to happen, and I'm looking for that. I've been searching for that.

It goes back to like the last home game against BYU. It was senior night. I went with some seniors, gave them the opportunity. Somebody do something, please (smiling).

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.