What concerns you most about UNLV?
“About a thousand things, but the thing that jumps out at me first is five guys averaging in double figures and two guys averaging 8.3 [and] 8.8. That’s seven guys who can score the ball. They’re good rebounders; they’re averaging eight rebounds a game more than their opponents. Their assist-error ratio is really good. They’re a team. That’s the first thing that jumps out at you. We always try to think the mark of a good defensive team is trying to hold their opponents to under 40 percent and they’re giving up like 36 or 37 percent per game.
“And then I think the other thing, the other mark of a good team, is to go on the road and win games. I saw over half of their Portland game. They were behind at halftime and the Portland crowd was going crazy. They came out and played very well in the second half. They won at Cal; I don’t think that’s the easiest place in the world to go play. And at UTEP. I’ve coached against Tim Floyd and know the type of game preparation he does for each individual opponent. And so they’ve not only won on the road, they’ve won close games on the road and I always think that’s a sign of a good team.”
How close are Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland to being where you want them to be?
“No coach is going answer, ‘Oh, they’re there.’ … They’re coming along. But it’s going to be a process all year long. Dexter is still nowhere near the defensive player that he was last year. It’s not even close. And Marcus is getting better with each and every game, but he’s got to have some consistency about him. I think before the last game I challenged both of them defensively because I thought they played so poorly on the defensive end at Texas. And they came back and Marcus was the defensive player of the game against McNeese State, but McNeese State is not Texas.
"Marcus is not where he’s going to be defensively. Dexter is nowhere near where he has been and so I’m challenging him to get back and be that defensive player to have that identity because he hasn’t shown us that yet. On the positive side, their assist-turnover ratios are both pretty doggone good. On the negative side, their shooting percentage is not as good. So what I do is continually evaluate as you go along.”
Have you considered any changes to the lineup other than the five spot?
“No. The other four guys haven’t done anything to play their way out, and nobody else has done anything to play their way in. P.J. [Hairston] has really done some good things off the bench, but who do you take out? Do you take out Reggie [Bullock]? I think Reggie has done some really good things. And I don’t want to go completely, five small guys out there. But the other four guys haven’t played their way out, and no one has outplayed them at the level that would make you want to make that kind of change. I surprised Desmond Hubert by starting him against McNeese State… I started thinking about who I was going to put down, and Desmond was the first to come to mind so I wrote Desmond down because none of those guys, again, have established that it’s their spot.”
How much can one big win affect a team’s confidence?
“It’s hard to answer that because it would change from team to team, but I’ve seen – like for us, my first year here, beating Connecticut in a nonconference game here was to me a bigger win than one win. They guys gave me that impression after the game, the next day, the next week. And I can’t even remember, maybe we got killed the next game, but I thought that team at that point, it was much bigger than one win…
“I think one loss really hurts and sometimes lingers, but I do believe also that sometimes one win can really give you a little more confidence and linger a little bit, too.”