First thing’s first – there’s been a change in scheduling for WKU’s first-round tournament game Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe will be played at 6:45 p.m. on the Convention Center court – not at 6:30 p.m. in the Summit Arena.
Also, WKU coach Ken McDonald spoke to the media this afternoon about this week’s preparation, and WKU’s do-or-die situation in this weekend’s tournament.
McDonald, on if he’s feeling any pressure individually to make a big run in this year’s tournament – given the way the season has gone:
“I can’t control things that are not in my hands. I feel pressure all the time to put the best product out there on the floor. There have been times where we’ve made runs and made progress, but then we’ll have a setback. It’s our job as a coaching staff to get our team playing its best coming into the tournament, and we were playing better, and then go out and make sure we get these guys ready to make a run. Then anything can happen.
“I’m excited about having the opportunity to be coaching in the Sun Belt Tournament, I’m going to be positive and we’re going to be upbeat and go in thinking we can win this thing. Some of the fanbase will be there, there will be people coming to the games and we’ll be appreciative of that. And if we gain some momentum, we can do some special things to end the year.”
Does this team have pressure on itself, or is it playing with nothing to lose?
“You over-analyze things as coaches. But I know tournament play and I know the mental state is important. We can’t get down about the last time out and we have to learn from it. The sense of urgency now is important, they have to lend themselves and collectively we don’t have to be perfect – but we have to have a real sense of urgency. We have to go out and make it happen. … I want them to play with passion and finish strong.
“The best team I had here (in 2008-09) no one picked us to do anything. We’d lost Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers – and everyone seemed to have an attitude that they’d come out and watch us, but they knew we wouldn’t be any good. That team developed an ‘us against the world’ personality. If we can bottle some of that up for this tournament knowing the struggles we’ve been through and that we have played some of the best teams in the country – this weekend could be a lot of fun.”
On how open the tournament field is:
“There’s eight-plus teams that (could win it). North Texas isn’t playing good basketball, but if you look at stats and see who they’ve got back – they can do some things. This is a new season for a lot of people and I want it to be that way for us. And I want to bottle up all the frustrations from the year and make it a positive.”
On whether or not his team really understands that it’s literally now or never:
“I can only gauge it off practice with how we’re preparing and you hope a good week can carry over to your first game. We’ll talk a lot about execution, and as we get closer to the game, we need to talk about not being tight but staying aggressive. Also manage the game and don’t beat yourself. The teams that do that advance.
On what the overall theme for the week is:
“We’ve got to play smart and know we’re going to be in every ballgame, we’ve got to take care of this week in terms of preparation and cut out the mental mistakes. We’re also talking about what’s been good to us when we’ve been aggressive, when we’ve played team basketball and played defense we’ve been tough to beat.
“But it’s about playing hard and physical and playing smart. We’ve got to take advantage of what’s right in front of us and play in the now. If we play with that mindset, we’re going to be tough. And that’s where we’re trying to get.
“In Monday’s practice I was happy with our response after the Middle (Tennessee) game – and we came back and really got after it. This group is tough to read sometimes. They’ve been resilient this year in terms of coming back and working, but you’ll have setbacks here and there that throw everything off balance – and you can’t have that come tournament time. We’re going to lean on the experience of the guys that have been in this situation and those guys have to lend themselves and understand the sense of urgency.”
An interesting tidbit came up when a member of the media pointed to a point made by ESPN.com’s Pat Forde that the Sun Belt might be the most wide open conference tournament going this season.
Now as most may recall, it was Forde who speculated last week whether or not WKU athletic director Ross Bjork caught a Louisville basketball game to scout assistant coach Steve Masiello as a “theoretical replacement” for McDonald.
Here’s McDonald’s response:
“Pat Forde is (who), a writer? He’s the authority on the Sun Belt Tournament? Has he ever been to a Sun Belt game? Ok. What was your question?”