Athens, GA (Mar 22, 2009) - In 2nd round action from the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball tournament on Saturday, Western Kentucky lost to Gonzaga 83-81. This is the transcript of the Western Kentucky post-game press conference as provided by the NCAA and ASAP Sports.
COACH MCDONALD: Just an incredible basketball game. Two big time
programs going at it. I can't say enough about the heart that our team
showed, the leadership, the ability to step up and make big plays. We
got down nine at one point and our guys didn't react poorly at all. We
just wanted to keep playing. I think it got down to a game where the
Zags got one more shot than we did, really, at the basket and that
ended up ending the game.
Just a great ride. A great ride this season. I told the team I
wasn't for a minute going to talk about anything but that. It's been
an incredible, incredible year, a lot because of the guys that are up
here right now in the leadership and the upper classmen stepping up.
Q. Can you talk about that last sequence, you get the rebound, what
happens defensively that allowed them to get into the lane like they
STEFFPHON PETTIGREW: They just got the ball in and ran as hard as
they can down the court and got a good shot. There's nothing else we
could do about that.
Q. Orlando, could you just talk about the emotions now, the
feelings? You guys played your hearts out and to see that last shot go
in and have it end just like that?
ORLANDO MENDEZ VALDEZ: It was devastating. Just for the fact that it
came down to the last possession. If we were down by 10 or 12 it
wouldn't be as bad. But the heat of the moment got really emotional. I
didn't really get too emotional until I got to the locker room and
coach was talking about the year and how guys stepped up. I'm really
just going to miss a lot of these guys and the program, itself. That's
where I really got emotional about the game.
Q. A.J., I know you've been pretty hot for an while now, but can you
talk about how talk about the confidence you guys really had in
shooting and just all night.
A.J. SLAUGHTER: I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and put
our team and be in the game at the end with a chance to win it. I
think we was in a position tonight to win it, but they got a good look
at the basket and had to scramble and made a buzzer beater. We played
our hearts out, so that's all I could ask for.
ORLANDO MENDEZ VALDEZ: I wanted to come out aggressive, I knew if I
came out aggressive it would open up a lot of things for the other
guys, and not just aggressive scoring, but getting into the paint and
looking for open guys.
Q. There was a point there where it looked like it could get out of
control, you were down eight or nine points, but you guys did rally.
You hit a couple of three's from way out and turned it really quick.
Can you talk about that moment and when you really you guys got
yourselves back in it with a chance to win.
ORLANDO MENDEZ VALDEZ: There was something about a team that a lot
of us just believed. I saw a lot of the crowd just leaving and just
got quiet. Our guys just kept their head up and still believed. At
this time of the season, NCAA tournament, anything can happen. You see
that happen many years. And I knew it was going to come down to the
last possession, that's why I just kept my composure.
Q. Could each of you three talk about what your plans are for the
A.J. SLAUGHTER: Get back in the gym and work on things I need to
individually to make my team better.
STEFFPHON PETTIGREW: Just get back in the gym and work on things we
need to work on and hopefully get back in an NCAA tournament again.
ORLANDO MENDEZ VALDEZ: I don't know. Just be with the family and
stay in shape.
Q. Steffphon, did you feel like you had a tip in that was going to
be one of the great moments in Western Kentucky basketball history?
STEFFPHON PETTIGREW: I didn't really think about that at the time. I
tipped it in and just tried to get back and stop them from scoring. We
played hard and that's all we can ask for.
Q. Does it hurt anymore to be able to have that great moment and
then you turn around and a guy's running down and hits the buzzer
STEFFPHON PETTIGREW: It hurts that we lost, but we left everything
out there on the court and we can't ask anything more.
Q. I know it's not the way you wanted to end your career, but now
that you've played your last game, how do you feel about where you've
taken this program and where you set it up to go farther after I guess
next year and years coming?
ORLANDO MENDEZ VALDEZ: Just like in the huddle, I told the guys
they've got a good squad coming in next year. They got a taste of what
it feels like and I strongly believe they can be here next year and be
in the same situation. No doubt with the guys coming in and the guys
they have already, and especially with Coach Mac leading the way.
Q. Coach, what happened with you guys on the free throw line
COACH MCDONALD: We missed some free throws, obviously. We've been up
and down at times. The heat of the moment, different back drops, who
knows. The other day we didn't shoot great from the free throw line,
in the Sun Belt championship we were 14 for 14. Maybe a little
anxious, maybe a little excited with the chance to go to the Sweet 16,
I'm not sure. But it hurt us at times.
We had our chances on the defensive end, also. And you can point at
a lot of different plays that led to the loss, but the bottom line is
it was a one possession game. It was a one possession game, which we
wanted to be right there at the end, we were.
Q. Coach, it happened really quick after halftime, but how much did
it take you guys out of your rhythm when he picked up that big foul, I
think, it was 10 seconds into the second half? How much did the foul
trouble kind of hurt you, as far as what you wanted to do?
COACH MCDONALD: It affected us in a couple of ways. Sally came in
and did a good job, Anthony came in and did a good job being
aggressive and defending. We weren't as good a defensive unit. When he
went back in the game I had to go some zone so he didn't pick up
another foul. I thought Coach Few did a good job of going after him
right after the half. We should have been more prepared for that. It
affects you, not only on the offensive end but defensively, because he
is locked into the game plan.
Q. I believe the tip in that tied it for you with about seven
seconds to go, and you realized afterwards how difficult it was to
defend running backwards full speed and trying not to foul. Did you
try to get a timeout at that time and set something up?
COACH MCDONALD: No. With seven seconds? After the bucket?
Q. After the bucket.
COACH MCDONALD: No, after the bucket we defended. We wanted to
defend. Obviously it's one of those situations, and I think this
happens all the time, that guys are a little bit too afraid to not
foul. And we were in that mode where we wanted to stay in front, you
know, maybe we could have came over and blocked a shot or helped
better. But I think guys are tentative, it's their nature. At the end
of the game you don't want to foul. I wanted a timeout after they
scored, which we didn't get. That was the situation the last seven
Q. Coach, a lot has been made, Coach Few talked about their size,
was that any kind of factor for you and was that any kind of big
factor in defending them, is their length, I guess?
COACH MCDONALD: Yeah, their length bothered us at a lot of different
positions. Bouldin posted up a couple of times and hurt us. Heytvelt,
obviously. They got some easy baskets on some lobs. They did a good
job on the defensive end. They had some blocked shots. I don't know if
they really hurt us on the glass like you would think, if you were
looking at the numbers in terms of height.
But it took a lot out of Pettigrew to defend the whole time. There
were some times we thought we had easy baskets they came over and
blocked. We didn't get as many offensive rebounds in the first half
that we usually get. And we thought we really needed to do that in
order to have a chance and extend the lead. Those are the types of
things that length really helps the Zags.
Q. Coach, like I asked Orlando, how do you think building off of
this win as far as down the road and as far as as much as you guys
have been able to accomplish this year, having the doubts before the
season, how does it set you up for the next couple of years?
COACH MCDONALD: Well, the great thing is we have a lot of guys
coming back from this team. You look at just the experience standpoint
and you look at a guy like Orlando and A.J. and Pett who have been
here, and there's no question they were the most poised guys out there
in game one and game two. And you can't replace that leadership and
experience. So you're excited about what's coming back from the locker
room. And then you throw in, to me, a very exciting recruiting class
with a lot of talent.
So the focal point now becomes returners, improve, work on your
game, but also be great mentors to the young group coming in, because
we have a very young group coming in, a big group. And that's
important. So we're very excited about where we are right now. We're
going to be back and we're going to try to keep dancing a little bit
more next time.
I think it's an exciting future. And I think what the tone that was
set with this coaching staff and the players this year and how much we
improved, it's great the success you have, because when you have
success I think everybody understands you're doing the right thing. So
it's an exciting time.
Q. Coach, I'll ask you real quick about Sergio. What did you see in
him that made you want to go after him and how bright is his future in
COACH MCDONALD: I'm sorry, was the question tonight, like what I saw
in him tonight?
Q. To recruit him, what did you see in him?
COACH MCDONALD: He's got incredible energy. He's a guy that he's
always got a smile on his face. He's always happy. He's always excited
about improving, no matter what he does, and he makes mistakes, and
sometimes he plays well. He always has that same attitude and
approach. And you love that about him, because he wears on you at
times with it, but you love it, because it's infectious. It's one of
the things that the guys just feed off of him some. He's an incredible
athlete that is still learning the game. And he's made huge strides
The biggest thing I can say about him, too, is he really wants to do
well. If you want him to defend better, he really wants to do it,
he'll listen to you. If you want him to get better with his ball
handling, he'll stand there all night and work on his ball handling.
He's got an incredible attitude and outlook on life.
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