Tennessee forward Wayne Chism dunks Thursday, March 15, 2007, during practice for the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Tennessee will meet Long Beach State Friday. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)
March 15, 2007
Tennessee Press Conference Transcript
REPORTER: Chris, in a nutshell, how would you explain your season this year, the ups and downs, why you have been so good and some nights.
LOFTON: It's been a roller coaster. We started real well in December. We got a lot of wins in December, I think we were undefeated and we went on a streak where we lost three in a row and we came back towards the end and just made a little run. We're just happy to be here.
REPORTER: For either player, what is it like to play for Coach Pearl? Does he dress up? Does he do body paint at practice?
BRADSHAW: He doesn't, but I think everyone sees his intensity at all times, but he can be relaxed and very easy going for the given situation. So his intensity isn't at the highest level at all times, he knows when to put it on and chooses his time wisely and uses it to get a strong point across.
REPORTER: Dane, you said earlier this week, you're trying to keep a business-like approach, now that you're here, is it easy to do that, more difficult to do that, now that you're sort of in this aura of the NCAA tournament?
BRADSHAW: You want to soak it all in because it's such a great experience and live for the moment, but we don't have any trouble focusing on our opponent. We've seen plenty of film to where we, I won't say, have fear of them, but we understand what a great team they are, and that's our main focus, and I think we have some experienced veterans that know how bad it felt to lose last year, not to mention last year we had ESPN following us and all other types of things. So it's nice not to have too much attention on us, I guess.
REPORTER: Chris, your family show up? You were going to turn your cell phone off, how did you handle the ticket situation?
LOFTON: I just gave it to my parents and let them deal with it, so I wouldn't have to deal with it.
REPORTER: Chris, is there a tendency with these two teams being able to shoot the three as much or as well as they do, can a game sort of evolve into a three-point shooting contest? If so, how do you avoid maybe letting that happen?
LOFTON: I think we've got to limit their transition. When they're on the transition, I think that's when they make most of the threes. I know for us tomorrow is going to be a key getting back getting on defense in transition.
REPORTER: Dane, talk about the energy it takes when you get to this level and trying to match the energy that the other team brings as well.
BRADSHAW: The energy is going to be there from both sides. It really comes down to execution. Each team is going to play it, you either win or go home. It's about execution and paying attention to the game plan and trying to gain whatever advantage you possibly can against the opponent.
REPORTER: Chris, are you concerned at all about being a target of their defense? I'm sure you've seen just about everything all season long. What do you expect them to do to you offensively?
LOFTON: I really don't know. I'm not looking forward to -- I don't look forward to myself, I just try to do whatever I can to help my team.
REPORTER: Finally you're going to be in a position where the guy you're guarding is not six, seven, eight inches taller than you. Just talk about that role that you've had to play and how will it be different in this case?
BRADSHAW: It's going to be similar in playing ourselves a little bit in that they have a four man that had play on the perimeter a little bit and that will pressure the ball and I look forward to that, I enjoy having guards on me. It kind of helps me penetrate with the ball pressure that they put on there, which I like to do. So we'll see what they throw at me, but Sterling Byrd is playing as consistent as anyone for that team, I saw him in the semi final 20 and 12, so I know how capable he is of throwing down the outside shot and getting in the back door, so getting around him and their other post players as well.
REPORTER: Do you expect them to continue pressing the issue, they like to push the ball up the court and how do you defend that?
BRADSHAW: They'll take a lot of quick shots. They play very similar to our style as far as getting out in transition and not being afraid to take those quick shots and I think it can be a game of some really big runs. We can't let that affect us too much because you've got to expect them to make a few baskets in a row and you can't be overwhelmed by them if they get hot for a period of time during the game.
REPORTER: Is there a danger of playing too fast with these guys, getting in too much of an up and down type game?
LOFTON: I don't think so. We love pushing the fast break. Coach has been on us, we need to put the fast back in fast break, that's what we've been trying to do, that's our game right there.
REPORTER: For both you guys, what was the best team you played this year and who was the second best team you played?
BRADSHAW: That's a good one. I'm kind of biased towards the SEC conference, so I love the fact that Florida would have to be one of the best teams we've played coming from the best conference in the country, but as far as overall talent on the floor, I would say North Carolina was the most overwhelming, just at every position.
LOFTON: Yeah, I agree, Florida and North Carolina were the two best teams we played this year and put Ohio State in there, for what they've been this year, those are probably the top three teams we've played.
REPORTER: What was your reaction when you saw the bracket and no top three seeds, was that an opportunity you saw or was it another confirmation that anything can happen, that there's not a real top favorite.
BRADSHAW: I'm not sure I understand the question. Did you say the top three seeds?
REPORTER: Right, there's no top three seeds. When you first saw the bracket, what was your reaction?
BRADSHAW: We felt it was right where we thought it would be, in between 5 and 7 for ourselves, if I'm answering your question. So we fell into the right place. I'm sure Long Beach State feels like they got a pretty good draw and we're happy with ours. So every team that's in the field of 65 is there for a reason, so you've just got to come out and play your best.
REPORTER: You had mentioned last year all the attention of ESPN following you, first time in the NCAA tournament for most of the guys on the team. How much different is it this time around and what do you tell the freshmen to prepare them?
LOFTON: Just it's a business-type trip right now, we're focused on basketball, nothing else. We don't want no distractions. We're just focusing, trying to tell the freshmen, that it's going to be hard to win tomorrow because everybody's going to put it out on the line and play like it's our last.
BRADSHAW: I would say we're in a position of that dangerous 5/12 seed, so it'd be nice to stay out of the headlines the first day or two, so you don't want to be that story.
REPORTER: Has Bruce's approach changed at all this year for the tournament as opposed to has year?
BRADSHAW: His approach hasn't changed since being a Division II guy in Indiana, so he prepared for Long Beach State just as much as he prepared for NTSU the first game of the year, so he goes out there with a chip on his shoulder as a coach and the entire staff does, so I don't see any change in him, but he feels the same way we all do about having felt like we missed an opportunity last year. He wants us to experience that sweet 16 feeling that he has as a coach several times.
REPORTER: Last year you mentioned the cameras following you. Was that a distraction in the business-like approach you're taking or do you think it's toned down, not quite a circus-type atmosphere for you?
LOFTON: I don't know if it was a distraction, but we were getting a lot of attention. When you get a lot of attention, you have a target on your back and everybody seems to play well against you and I think that's what happened.
BRADSHAW: I would just say that, with all those things surrounding the program at the time, it was a new experience for all of us as players, even though we had a bunch of veterans on the team like C. J. and Stanley and Andre, those guys had never been to the NCAA tournament, except Andre at UCLA, so when you tie all that in together with the fact that we really weren't playing that well toward the end of the season, I think it all just combined to an unfavorable situation.
REPORTER: Most of their roster is seniors, I just wonder if that works against you in that you have, first of all, a younger lineup, and secondly, maybe they won't crack as easily as some teams might.
BRADSHAW: You hate to play such an experienced team, but it is what it is, so we know that they're going to stay focused through the entire game, they're an emotional team that can have some huge runs and like I said, we can't be overwhelmed by that, and we need to act like an experienced team because they have some seniors, but right now we're the team that's been here before and we need to act like it.
COACH PEARL: You see this background here and this cup and this stage and I don't care how young you are or how old you are or how many years you've been doing it, if this doesn't send a chill up and down your spine, nothing else does. It is just such an honor and a privilege to be able to compete for a National Championship and play in this tournament considering how difficult it is to get here and how many great teams there are in the tournament and so many that don't get an opportunity to play in it, so we're excited about being here and we hope we get a chance to play some really good basketball this weekend.
REPORTER: Just want to ask you a question about Josh and what he brings to the program now and maybe what he can bring in the future?
COACH PEARL: Josh is a very tough physical defender and he's going to be extremely important to us in our game against Long Beach State because they're so good off the bounce and they've got such tremendous one on one offensive players. Josh is really good at containing his man, he'll be challenged as we all will. Josh is, as was the case for some of our freshmen, physically mature, a little more mentally mature, and so physically, he was able to come into the SEC and look like he belonged.
I think in the off season it will be an opportunity for us to work on his offensive game, particularly his ball handling and his shooting and get him some more confidence as a scorer, but I definitely think he's got a wonderful future in our program.
REPORTER: There's been a lot made about the guard play in this game, rightly so. I was wondering what your thoughts were about the post players and how they're going to affect the outcome of the game.
COACH PEARL: I agree, the guards are tremendous. Both teams are going to put three guards out on the floor that can play and it comes tournament time, the guards make a difference. If Sterling Byrd has been one of the most consistent players, obviously he's one of the most improved players, probably the most improved player in the Big West Conference, a post player steps out, he can handle it. He's got that kind of expectation, he's a tough cover, because he can handle it, he's a rebounder and most consistent player, and then the two post players and they're both very athletic, Bosse and Crews are both good players, both undersized posts that shoot on the basket with good percentages and I would think the high energy guys for sure and then Houston and Wayne Chism, so there's a lot of mirror images as you look at this match-up, and even our front line guys are very much the same, Sterling Byrd might do well with shooting, but as Dane Bradshaw is an undersized forward and does it with play making.
REPORTER: Coach, talking to the guys we were mentioning last year, ESPN following them around, it was the first time for most of them to come to the tournament, now that you've been on this stage, even though you have a younger team, do you feel better they've had that exposure and that experience?
COACH PEARL: I think the experience certainly being there and not taking full advantage of the opportunity was something that stuck with us all summer long and so obviously in trying to get back again this year, we want to go further. And having been in Division II, there were times when we didn't get to play in the Elite Eight, which was Division II, but if we could get into the Sweet 16, we could at least see it from there. I don't think last year with ESPN following us was a distraction, there was more visibility. It may have placed a larger target on our back. That was fine. We had to play really well, and we did play really well, and needed a shot at the buzzer to beat them. And at Wichita State, I thought we had a good basketball game against Wichita State, they were just better that night. So I don't think losing at this point, it wasn't just, oh, it was the first time they were in the tournament, ESPN followed them around, we got beat by a good team.
REPORTER: If you look at the over-under for your game with Long Beach, it will be the highest scoring game in the bracket, '80's, do you think that's the way it will play out?
COACH PEARL: I really do, because I think we're going to have a hard time stopping them, so we better score. And I think both the players want to play that way, I think both coaches have demonstrated that they like to -- that they like transition basketball, and yet it is tournament time, and people are going to be trying to clamp down defensively and the game could be hoping that they let you play, as they usually do at tournament time and that might mean better defense. It might mean the defense has a little more advantage. That said, now I still think it's got to be a high scoring affair.
REPORTER: Coach, how different is it coaching the tournament at Tennessee as opposed to Milwaukee when you're the underdog guy, and second, do you have any more body painting planned?
COACH PEARL: I'm just glad to be in the tournament. Certainly at Wisconsin Milwaukee, you had an opportunity to wear that Cinderella slipper, I find myself in the 5/12 match-up, but having seen it from both sides, when we were at Wisconsin, and Mark Gottfried and I talked about this be, and we beat Alabama, Alabama was a really good team in the SEC, our Milwaukee team beat them because we were really a little bit better, and that's why we won the game. Long Beach State, I look at Long Beach state as a really terrific team with their seniors, if they beat us, it's going to be because they're better. The 5s aren't in the top 10, 15 teams in the country, those physically dominant teams that when they go up against -- and the 12s are a lot better than the 14s, 15s, 16s, so it's sort of -- the talent level out there, I think, is extremely close and I think over the history of this tournament, you're obviously seeing that and, no, there is no body painting plans in my future.
REPORTER: Coach, Dave talked a little bit about how you were able to experience the Sweet 16 as a coach, how bad do you want it for your team?
COACH PEARL: You want it for them, you want it for your fans and obviously for our program. You want to give the guys confidence. I've been there and done that and you feel blessed to have had those opportunities and I want them to enjoy this. I asked them, I said, how was dinner last night? They said, it was really good much I said, how did you enjoy breakfast. They said, it was okay. I said, you want to keep doing this, let's just win. Let's just win and per diem keeps coming in and we keep staying in nice hotels and I like to work. I don't want to stop working. So there's a lot of reasons why I want to advance.
REPORTER: When you look at your entire body of work this year, have you, your staff, the players, have you done a better job in the last year overcoming getting to this point? Has it been a better job all around, do you think?
COACH PEARL: As you know, Chris, from working with me, questions that involve reflection are just questions that I stay away from at this time this year. My answer is going to depend on how we finish and we've got work, there's a lot of work still to be done. I'm very pleased of my basketball team. I'm very proud of them. And to be able to evaluate the difference between last year and this year, I'll let you know after the weekend.
REPORTER: We addressed the 5/12 game just a couple minutes ago, I believe Dane Bradshaw said he didn't want to be in the headlines after this game.
COACH PEARL: Right.
REPORTER: I guess if 12 wins, you're in the headlines. Do you try to avoid that kind of negative thinking or --
COACH PEARL: We've not talked a lot as a team about the match-up of 5 and 12 and all that kind of stuff. We've talked a lot about respecting our opponent. We've talked a lot about getting to know their personnel and understanding the road that those young men have traveled to get to this tournament. And see, here's the difference, there's some perception that because they're either older or they don't play in the SEC or they don't have all the advantage that somehow they're hungrier, and that's not the case much our kids want it just as badly. Our kids have worked just as hard. Our kids are as deserving as this opportunity as anybody. And so we want to work on respecting our opponent. That's the first and foremost.
No, I don't want them worried about -- I don't think Dane answered the question, I don't think he's worried about being a headline for some upset, he's like I am, he wants to advance and he wants the history of Tennessee basketball and he feels a great deal of responsibility to our fans and our university for all that they've done to help us get to this point, now it's our job to carry it forward.
REPORTER: Long Beach is a long way from Knoxville, but the coaching profession is a pretty tight group. What are your thoughts that a guy like Larry Reynolds is having trouble getting a contract extended with the two years he's had?
COACH PEARL: I've not talked to Larry Reynolds, but he's not been extended at this point. Every day I put on ESPN and I see the ticker and I see another friend lose their job and I've never seen so many major jobs that have turned over and unfortunately are just because a lot of schools, they want their program to have what Wisconsin Milwaukee had a few years ago, but obviously Larry Reynolds, John Macy have been, there's a lot of overlap, you're right, it's a small world. I've competed against those guys for years when I was an assistant at Iowa and UC Riverside beat us in Hawaii, I hate to bring that up, but it happened, or in 1995 when Southern Indiana won the National Championship over the Riverside team coached by John when Larry was the associate head coach. But you know what, those guys win. Those guys have been consistently successful in their programs. I hope they think he's done enough to this point to warrant, to warrant an opportunity to come back and continue to lead their program. They play a marvelous style of play. They were the eighth winningest scoring team in the country, they're awfully fun to watch. I don't feel any different for Larry than I do for any other coach in this country as it relates to the pressures to win and I hope that for him and his family he has an opportunity to stay there if he wants.
REPORTER: Coach, as you look at their backdoor especially and Nixon in particular, what jumps out at you about the way they play, Nixon in particular?
COACH PEARL: Well, the way they play is an offense, they run a spread offense and the head coach at Pepperdine a guy that's given credit for being the creator of this offense, the coach at Memphis has adopted it, and every coach gives it their own little flavor, but because of the spacing, it puts their players in position to one on one make great plays, and when you help, there's a back side big that they can lob to or rebound to, they'll put four guys in the perimeter to shoot the three ball, in order to play the system as effectively as it's been played by them, you have to have four guys that can shoot the basketball, and they do. And so that's what makes it very, very difficult to stop. We know what they're going to do. It's not a secret. It's just being able to stop it. I actually think it's -- I actually think the system that they run, that John is running at Memphis, if John had four shooters instead of the three shooters, it would run even better for Memphis. Now, they physically -- Memphis is able to physically overwhelm you, but Long Beach State, Nixon is a nightmare to match up with. Guard him with a guard and he will overpower you. Guard him with a big, and he'll take you off the bounce. And when you help, they have guys that can shoot the ball to make you pay.
REPORTER: Coach, do you think that the LSU loss in the first round, as much as you put into that, do you think that's maybe something they can learn, grow from, and gets their attention for this tournament just because of how despondent they were after that first round loss?
COACH PEARL: You hope it will, for example, Crews had a first half against LSU, didn't play so well after the first half and Wayne Chism struggled for the whole game. A lot of it had to do with the competition. Maybe some of it had to do with the stage, playing in the Atlanta Dome. But at this point, we're not -- they're not freshmen anymore. They've been through the whole year. Do our five men need to play well for us to advance in this tournament? Absolutely they do. But I can't predict how Wayne, for example, is going to respond because there's a chance that his confidence is a little shook. He didn't -- he's had such a wonderful season, all freshmen team, and I'm very, very pleased with where he's at. But he needs a good game to be able to help his confidence. I tell you, the younger guys are affected much more by what happened yesterday than a veteran. A veteran doesn't worry about what happened yesterday, because he can remember what happened two weeks ago. He's not affected by the last game, whereas freshmen are affected by the last play sometimes.
REPORTER: Coach, going back to your experience coaching against Larry and John Macy. Are you kind of digging into your video vaults trying to find stuff or is that just too far in the past to matter to you now?
COACH PEARL: I've looked at the Riverside/Southern Indiana game. But it's a different style of play. I've looked at it kind of for nostalgic reasons in case there was something I could find that might help.
REPORTER: Bruce, can you just break down Chris' abilities and what makes him a special player?
COACH PEARL: Chris Lofton is the best contested shooter in the country. If he can see it, he can make it. Last year he was a shooter. This year he's a scorer. He spent an entire month this summer when we did not allow him to ever come off a screen and catch and stick. He had to dribble it, he had to either drive it to the basket to score, drive it to get fouled or pass it to a teammate to develop that aspect of a scorer's game. I think he's got over 160 free throws attempted this year, last year he had like 60. So he really has changed his game. That ability makes team's game plan completely for him. There are a lot of teams in the country, but like a great post player where you've got to double down, you've got to get the ball out of his hands, Chris Lofton is a guy you've got to game plan for. Whether you trip him, whether you hedge him, whatever you do, we've got to be able to have a counter for it, and I'd say 50 percent or more of our half court offense runs through him and how you choose to guard him. Chris is also somebody that I don't have to say a lot to. He takes everything I say very literally and so I've got to be guarding not saying too much to him, because he will do -- the other day, we were talking about patience offensively, and I was trying to get our guys to be a little more patient. I said, do me a favor, when I'm talking to the team, don't listen to me, you shoot the ball when you're open. I'll get the rest of those guys to be patient.
REPORTER: Coach, how big a crowd do you expect to follow you up from Tennessee and how important is it to you that people show up as much as they can?
COACH PEARL: There's been no bigger story over the last two years involving Tennessee basketball that is greater than the support that we've received from the whole nation. There have been players that have been changed, coaches have been changed, staffs, none of that even comes close to comparing the impact that we've had in the increased numbers of attendance. We're up over 7000 fans average in two years. 7000 average. When we go on the road, in the SEC, and there are tickets available, our fans are going there and gobbling them up. In the SEC, they talk about keeping the blue out, and that's of course Kentucky. And now they're talking about keeping the orange out in men's basketball. So it's a huge factor. I think we'll have a good turnout and if we're to advance this Sunday, we'll have a great turnout.
REPORTER: Bruce, I know this is a different arena, but they pulled the same hardwood from Ohio State out there that you played on back in January. As goofy as it might sound, any motivational advantage to knowing you're going on the same hardwood you played pretty well on against Ohio State?
COACH PEARL: I don't know that the floor surface is as big a factor as the rims and the backgrounds and the familiarity with the baskets I would think would be a lot more familiar. The ball that you play with and the rims you shoot at for me would be a little bit, as far as location is concerned, we're just glad. I think the NCAA has done a marvelous job with the way they've been able to manage to get most teams, most teams regionally, especially the best -- the better seeds, so that their fans can travel, and with this pod system. So the fact that we're within driving distance of Knoxville, it's a great thing for our students and fans.
Tennessee Locker Room Quotes
Josh Tabb, freshman guard
On adjusting to the college game
"It was hard early on, but once I went to a few practices I learned what was expected pretty quick."
On playing in the NCAA Tournament
"This really is a dream come true for me. I remember last year I would watch the games on T.V. and now here I am getting ready to play in them."
Ryan Childress, sophomore forward
On the game against Long Beach State
"It's going to be a high-scoring game. They had a game last week and they scored 60 points in the second half. So we know they can score. We are going to have to play very well defensively in the second half."
JaJuan Smith, junior guard
On Long Beach State
"We are going to have to be patient on offense. They have a lot of good shooters but so do we. We have to execute our plays on offense and make them guard us. Hopefully they will get tired."
Chris Lofton, junior guard
On who wears the orange blazer better - Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl or Illinois head coach Bruce Weber
"I'd have to go with Coach Pearl. He does some pretty crazy things to get us motivated and ready to play. Coach is just the kind of guy who will do anything to get us going, like when he painted his chest."
Long Beach State Press Conference Transcript
REPORTER: Could you talk about a couple of people coming down to see you that might not have seen you play in college?
NIXON: As far as, my grandma has not seen me play since I was at Columbus State and she's coming down and that's really big for me. Everybody's trying to come down, so that's pretty big.
REPORTER: How many people would that be.
NIXON: Anywhere from 60 to 75.
REPORTER: Kevin and Kejuan, what did Coach tell you about Columbus weather-wise, did he give you any pointer?
HOUSTON: He said it was going to be real cold. Yesterday it was fairly warm and today we woke up and it was snowing a little bit, we were like, what's going on. He said it was going to be real cold, so we brought a lot of thermals and stuff like that, so.
REPORTER: Tennessee is a big pressing team. You guys didn't really face the press all year. What have you guys done in practice to attack it and what's your confidence level? I guess we'll start with Kejuan.
JOHNSON: We know they're a pretty good team, they get up on you and lately in practice we've been going over what they do and try to take care of the ball in practice and get it around and find the open spots and look up the court.
HOUSTON: Yeah, Coach had us practice with a couple guys in the back court more than we would have in a game, practiced like six players on the court and trying to break the press. That's pretty much what we've been doing to prepare for the press.
REPORTER: Aaron, you guys were 2-4 at one point this year, what did you think the likelihood you'd be sitting here right now?
NIXON: When we were touring for our conference, we were still pretty high. We lost to UCLA, we knew we had to win the conference championship to get here and those were our goals.
REPORTER: Aaron, as you look at Tennessee, what sticks out to you about the way they play and what the challenge is and how much did you guys watch their Texas game and the Florida game and maybe even the way they played against Ohio State?
NIXON: I watched the game on TV and what sticks out the most is they're relentless, they press, they choose the three, run, which is, I mean, is kind of good, because we do the same, so I mean, it's going to be a good game. They play hard. We're going to play hard.
REPORTER: As long a wait as you've had since you've been in an NCAA tournament, what's the atmosphere been like around the campus?
NIXON: Everybody's been congratulating us, wishing us good luck. We didn't realize how many fans we had until this year. It's more people just congratulating us, professors, people in the streets, it's a good feeling in Long Beach right now.
JOHNSON: Pretty much the same thing, everywhere you walk around the campus, you've got students congratulating you telling you how good you played and how good your team is. Like Aaron said, you walk into class, professors are congratulating you, they know you're going to be out for a week and we're just enjoying it and just living the moment.
REPORTER: Kejuan, have you talked to your uncle at all, because remember when he got in '93, it was like the first time in 16 years, like yourselves, he had a long wait too.
JOHNSON: Just pretty much enjoy it at the moment and go out there and play as hard as you can and play together, and maybe this is a once in a lifetime, you never know when you're going to be back here, and we're all seniors so we won't be able to come back here. It's really a moment we want to take control and play as hard as we can and try to get a W.
REPORTER: Is he coming at all?
JOHNSON: He'll be here tomorrow. Talked to him this morning, he said he'd be out here tomorrow.
REPORTER: Really for any of the guys, is the uncertainty over Coach Reynolds' future, has that been a distraction? Have you dealt with that this year? Is it also a rallying point at all to do well here? Just speak to that issue if you could.
NIXON: It isn't really distracting to us, Coach never brought it up, he coaches like he had 10 more years here, he never brought it up, never told us, this might be my last year so you've got to go do this or do that. He did a heck of a job coaching us and leading us to this tournament.
REPORTER: Talk about Chris Lofton, what makes him a special player, what you guys will need to do to try to shut him down?
HOUSTON: It's obvious he's a great shooter. He can shoot from anywhere on the court. He could penetrate. What we've been doing is try to play as hard defense on him as we can and stick with him and put pressure on him as much as we can, but Tennessee has a great team overall so we also work on all their other players too, prepare for all their other players and work breaking that press.
REPORTER: You guys have worked hard on the press, that's how you guys like to play?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Coach said in practice the last couple days, once you get the ball in, look up the court, don't look back, don't try to dribble in the corners, pretty much once you get the ball, look up court and attack the defense and see what you can get out of that.
REPORTER: You guys being here for the first time, talk about how you think you're going to handle playing on this kind of a stage and your team will handle it.
NIXON: As far as team-wise, we're predominantly a senior team, so for us, we know it's going to be a big crowd, we know everybody's going to be watching, so as being seniors, we've already talked about this, so we'll do just fine.
REPORTER: Talk about how important Mark Dawson is going to be this week, he was fantastic for you in the tournament, how important is he for your success tomorrow?
HOUSTON: He's going to be very critical. We're going to need to get rebounds, we're going to need to have a presence inside as far as defensively and he's going to be big like he always has to be big for us, so Mark's going to be a good key to the game tomorrow.
REPORTER: Kevin, if you had a chance to talk to your athletic director about Coach Reynolds' future, what would you say?
HOUSTON: I and talked to him about his future. We're not concerned about that right now. We're concerned about the game and we're just trying to get this win today -- I mean, tomorrow, so I haven't really talked to him about that.
REPORTER: But if you had a chance to?
HOUSTON: Oh, I have no idea. No comment.
REPORTER: Kevin, what has Aaron meant to your attack, I mean, the way such a strong guy can play inside, outside, cause some mismatch problems, what has he meant to you guys?
HOUSTON: He means a lot to us, man. When we need to score, we call on him, and he gets the job done in time. He's very explosive. He's a great defensive player, and a great rebounder. So he's very key. He's very key to our offense and our defense, so he's just a really good player and he wasn't the MVP for no reason of our conference.
REPORTER: Aaron, when you guys look at the tape, what stands out, where does he really like to play? What have you figured out he really likes to do, Lofton?
NIXON: He obviously likes to shoot the three from the deep corner, half court maybe, that's what it seems like he likes to do. They run him off, get him wide open threes, but obviously good point guard play down low, so we have to key on more than just one guy, so --
REPORTER: There's no top three seeds here, does that give you guys any kind of motivation that anything can happen, that you're not facing one, two, or three at all?
NIXON: Motivation, well, our Coach has us prepared for anything. So our motivation is pretty high right now. But like I said, there's not top three seeds, so it could be adding motivation, but to get to where we've got to go, eventually we've got to face each other, so it's cool, however you look at it.
REPORTER: Just to follow up on that, where do you guys want to go? What's the end goal here?
NIXON: The goal is to go all the way. I mean.
JOHNSON: Just take it one game at a time.
NIXON: We're not happy just to be here, we want to win games. So the goal is to take it one game at a time like he said and go as far as we can.
REPORTER: Obviously when you watch Tennessee, Chris Lofton jumps out at you. Is there some part of their game that you think is not noticed by a lot of people that you saw on tape as you looked at them because Lofton does sort of stand out so much?
JOHNSON: I think pretty much they really have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things besides Chris Lofton, they've got JaJuan Smith who's pretty good, so we're going to have to deal with all the players, it's not just one of them.
REPORTER: You guys like to push pace, it's the way you play, are you going to change up at all just because of the team you're playing here.
HOUSTON: We're not going to change up at all. My job is to put pressure on the defense by pushing the ball up the court and getting guys open and trying to attack with Sterling Byrd on our team and Aaron and Kejuan and we're definitely going to stop that because that's what we do. And if we stop that, then we won't have a chance to be in the game.
COACH REYNOLDS: Obviously we're honored to be here at the tournament. Our guys worked hard all year, one the conference regular season championship and the big west championship and we're just thrilled and honored to represent the big west in this magnificent event.
REPORTER: When you look at Tennessee, how do you size them up? A lot of people look at Lofton, but as a coach, what do you see when you watch him?
COACH REYNOLDS: I see a tremendous team that can -- I think the most impressive thing is how quickly they can change the game and they can put so much pressure on you, turn you over a couple times, and what was a close game now is all of a sudden a 10-point game and now you have to go down to the other end and deal with them running their half court offense very effectively and they can slow the tempo a little bit in the half court and make it tough for you to catch up, but they can go on runs and explode on you in any given moment. So it's going to be key to try to maintain our poise and don't turn the ball over too many times, especially in the back.
REPORTER: Coach, you're such a senior-laden team, can you talk about where you see that experience showing up on the floor during games?
COACH REYNOLDS: Hopefully it shows up in our poise, and in our ability to deal with the magnitude of this event and also with the pressure that Tennessee can apply to you, and those will be two key factors, and then just the experience of whether or not we're behind or ahead in the ball game, that our guys are going to compete because this is the last go around for a lot of them, and they're going to play until the end of that 40 minutes or whatever it happens to be.
REPORTER: Coach, your overall impression of the job Coach Pearl has done in two seasons at Tennessee?
COACH REYNOLDS: Oh fabulous, I've had contests against Coach Pearl, all along through our crease. He's done a super job everywhere he's been, both as an assistant and a head coach. The job he's done in Tennessee, I don't think has surprised anybody after what he did at Milwaukee. He's just done a magnificent job. And to have this team a fifth seed in his second year and still progressing in the right direction, it's unbelievable.
REPORTER: Coach, could you just talk a little bit about Chris Lofton that everyone's obviously seen him on tape? Just talk about the kind of pressure he puts on a team and finding an athlete like that who sort of slipped through the cracks in recruiting and shows up.
COACH REYNOLDS: Well, if he slipped through the cracks, that was a big slip. But he can stress the defense by so much that he actually almost takes you out of where you normally would defend a player. The other thing is, he can get the ball in transition and create stuff for himself and other people. But his ability to come off screens, to take you one an one and take you out on the court and still score the basketball from deep, it's going to be a challenge for us and it's going to definitely stretch our defense a little bit and that's going to open up possibilities for some other guys. You know, we just can't let him free anywhere on the court.
REPORTER: Larry, did you ever talk to Seth Greenberg when you took the job and how was his era perceived at Long Beach?
COACH REYNOLDS: The Seth Greenberg era at Long Beach is the one most people refer to especially going into the NCAA tournament. He had a terrific run at Long Beach and I haven't had an opportunity to talk to set since the tournament pairings were announced. We bump into each other occasionally in and around Long Beach, but his era along with the Tarkanian era are probably are the ones people most talk about.
REPORTER: Did you talk to him?
COACH REYNOLDS: I did talk to him right after I got the job at Long Beach, yes. He taught me how to get to the NCAA tournament.
REPORTER: Larry, obviously you've put the contract issue behind you, because it's been there all year, but as you guys continue to improve and get to this point, how do you deal with that?
COACH REYNOLDS: Well, like I've said before, we have a new president and a new athletic director, and both of those guys told me at the onset of the year that they were going to take a year to evaluate the basketball program and the year's not over yet. We don't want it to end soon, but at that time, I'm sure they will sit down and we'll have some discussion on that and I just have to believe that both of those guys are going to do what's best for the university and what's best for Long Beach State basketball program. And they were more than fair with me in saying, hey, here's what's going to happen and that's happened -- I mean, that's been consistent throughout the year.
REPORTER: Coach, you talked about Lofton over -- JaJuan Smith is the kind of guy that teams need, the defensive aspect that he brings along with the scoring, could you just talk about his role?
COACH REYNOLDS: He's probably one of their keys in the press. He's a quick, long defender and, again, you could spend so much time on Lofton that they have other guys that are very capable of shooting the basketball and scoring it in transition and if your focus is just on that, there are going to be some other explosions. And we realize, there are going to be some people that score some points. We just hope we score some points also at the other end. But they have four or five guys that if you're not careful, or you are paying too much attention to someone else, they can jump up at you and end up with a big, big night. They're definitely not a one-guy team.
REPORTER: Coach, Coach Pearl was talking about the other day on paper you guys are 12 and they're 5, but they're an extremely young team and you're a veteran team. Is that what you think gives you a chance as much as anything else that you've got a grizzled kind of group?
COACH REYNOLDS: We have a competitive group, like I said, they're tenacious competitors, and I think they're going to go at anybody they play. It's not so much Tennessee is a 5 and we're a 12, Tennessee is a 5 for a reason. They've shown, over the course of the year, that they can compete at a very, very high level, and so we're a 12 for a reason, but those things kind of go out the window when the ball comes out. And I think it's going to be a team that controls their emotions, gets into the flow of their game rather quickly and sustains their effort throughout the contest.
REPORTER: The players you were just talking about, this week you did six on five drills in practice it is for the press?
COACH REYNOLDS: We did eight on five. We did seven on five yesterday.
REPORTER: Looking at that drill, how confident are you that they're going to be able to handle the press tomorrow?
COACH REYNOLDS: Well, that's kind of why we did it. We don't have the athletes that can actually press our first -- our first team to make it reasonably to simulate what the quickness and the length of Tennessee is. So we try to put some extra guys on the court hopefully to make that, duplicate it a little more and how it's going to really feel once you're out there, and our guys did okay. I hope they do a little bit better tomorrow, but it's in some ways it helps, and in some ways it hurts, because eight isn't really realistic, but it's going to feel like seven or eight guys on you tomorrow. So I think once our guys get settled into the game, that hopefully we'll be able to make some adjustments and find some ways that we can get the ball in bounds and get it up the court.
REPORTER: Coach, with what you just said about not having the athletes to press them, are you concerned about depth becoming an issue later on in the game and the waves of players coming at you and so forth?
COACH REYNOLDS: Obviously we don't have the players in our second team that can mimic the athletic ability of the guys on Tennessee's first team. We're not going to get up and press them full court because we play seven to eight, possibly nine guys, but we're going to have our seven guys in there, eight guys in there pretty much throughout the game. So depth, we have a pretty good rotation and I'm not really concerned about the depth as much as I am as far as guys coming into the game and being able to step their game up immediately to the level that they're going to have to play.
REPORTER: Coach, do you even consider changing the pace of your team? You guys love to push the ball, love to score a lot of points and yet you're in against a high-octane team full of athletes, do you ask them to ratchet down a little bit or not at all?
COACH REYNOLDS: We're not going to ratchet down so much that anybody will notice it. That's what got us here and you try to change something in two or three days, your kids aren't going to be very comfortable with it, it might look good in practice, but you throw it out there in a game and it could be crazy. So we might be a little more patient at times. We might run the clock a little bit more, but that's something that we would do in a game. It's something we've done in the games in conference play when we get out of synch or when we don't think we're putting enough pressure on the other team's defense.
REPORTER: Do they take pride in who they are?
COACH REYNOLDS: Yes, our kids like to score and they definitely like that about the game, that they have the freedom to shoot the basketball and not too much is said. Usually when they're taking good shots. But we're not a team that's just going to come down there and throw up all kind of threes, we'll take it if it's available, but we're going to be attacking the basket and that's part of our philosophy is get the ball to the basket and hopefully we'll be able to get to the free throw line a little bit also.
REPORTER: Coach, is that the luxury Nixon gives you, I mean, the way he can shoot from outside but also how strong he is?
COACH REYNOLDS: Yes, he and Kevin Houston are very good penetrators for us and Aaron has the ability to shoot the ball from the three and if you plan for that, he is a big, strong kid that can get his way to the basket. Kevin Houston uses a little more finesse and quickness, but those two guys need to get inside the defense and create some opportunities not only for us to score, but opportunities for the guys on the perimeter.
Long Beach State Locker Room Quotes
Travon Free, junior center
On traveling to Ohio
"I have never been to Ohio and never thought I'd be playing basketball here. It was a long trip. We left around 4 a.m., and then got into Chicago, then reached Columbus at 4. It was a drag."
On playing in the NCAA tournament
"The best thing is the support from our fans and the school. There is a lot of pride in us winning from the students. We have gotten emails that this has been a life changing experience for the students. It feels good to know we've given them that experience."
On improvement through the year
"We knew all along what we needed to do to win. We picked up on that and then started getting five-game winning streaks and then nine-game win streaks. The changes really showed."
Aaron Nixon, senior guard
On traveling back to his native Ohio
"I told my teammates to dress appropriately. When we left Long Beach the weather was around 85. My family is going to be able to watch me play, too. They are making the two-hour drive from Cleveland instead of the six-hour flight to Long Beach."
On playing Tennessee
"It's going to be an up-and-down game. They play a similar style that we do. The teams that have had success against them are really physical. We have to be physical when they come around screens."
On the team being nervous
"We have a senior-laden team, so it shouldn't be a problem. We play eight or nine guys and seven of them are seniors, so I think once we start playing we will be fine."