THE MODERATOR: We're joined by New Mexico. Coach, if you could start with some opening comments on tonight's game.
COACH NEAL: Very hard‑fought game. Knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us. It always has been when we play them.
Leon has done an unbelievable job with their team. I like the way they play. I like their team. I like their personnel.
It's just a tough matchup for us because they play small and we play big. Really happy for our guys. They hung tough, fought hard. I had to play them a little bit longer than I wanted to play them. Hopefully they'll be able to get back and get some rest and get ready for tomorrow.
Very physical. Very intense. Very competitive game. So just fortunate that we won.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student‑athletes.
Q. All week long people have been talking about the rematch of San Diego State. Were you at any point thinking about the rematch and if this game surprised you the way it played out?
ALEX KIRK: I don't think it surprised us. Obviously we had a really close game up there. We knew that Boise was going to come out. They want that automatic bid to the tournament. Every team that's not a guaranteed bid, they're going to take their chances. They had nothing to lose. They came out and gave us a great fight and we were able to hang tough.
Q. With Bropleh, he gets called for the flagrant, how much did that change the game? Talk about his play before and how that affected the game after.
ALEX KIRK: He was playing really good. He was an undersized forward playing against our fours and sometimes matching up against me a little bit. He was playing aggressive and hitting shots. He was the one that hurt us up there a little bit.
What happened happened. Can't really do too much about that. We were able to come out and win.
HUGH GREENWOOD: No, I think when we played them at their place, he turned his season around. He played really well up there. He's taken a leadership role being a senior and whatnot.
I didn't realize it was a flagrant two. He played really well, made some tough shots. He got some open looks, too. It was a credit to him. But it was a credit to us, making plays down the stretch.
Q. Making plays down the stretch, obviously you made enough to win. There were some uncharacteristic things for a two‑time defending champion in this tournament. Kendall air balls a free throw, misses two free throws back‑to‑back. Did you at any point have a sense of panic with some of the mistakes you were giving them?
HUGH GREENWOOD: I mean, not necessarily. I missed free throws early in the game. It doesn't come down to the last couple of free throws. I know that is what everyone looks at. It's the course of the game, 40 minutes worth of play.
A credit to us to be able to pull through. You're always nervous. It's always in the back of your mind. We stayed calm. That's the reason we've won the last two championships. We've dealt with pressure like that before. Every game in this championship are close. Same as last year.
We made plays when we needed to. You have to be careful giving those guys a chance. They can hit threes, make plays.
Q. Hugh, obviously your goal is to win this championship, to get to Saturday's game. Is there any part of you that's happy or extra excited you get that shot against San Diego State after what happened last weekend?
HUGH GREENWOOD: Yeah, absolutely. It's been in the back of our minds since that game. But with us and with our season, we've always taken it one step at a time, one game at a time. Took care of Fresno, took care of Boise. Now we want a rematch. The city of Albuquerque wants a rematch.
We're definitely looking forward to the challenge. We've made the right adjustments in practice. We're looking forward to getting that shot.
Q. Hugh, are you ready for the 1‑3‑1?
HUGH GREENWOOD: Yeah. We've practiced it. We've done what we've needed to do. We have a great coaching staff, great offensive system, players that can execute and can do those things. We made the adjustments and we're looking forward to it.
Q. How much time have you spent on that in practice? Was that something you did right away after that game?
HUGH GREENWOOD: We just approached it like we do everything. We work against 2‑3, 3‑2, press. We worked against 1‑3‑1. We've worked on it throughout the season in bits and pieces. Put a little bit more of an emphasis on it this couple of weeks knowing we might get a shot at San Diego State again. Fresno is another team that pressed a lot. We worked a bunch on that.
We obviously addressed it because it was a problem up at their place, but we'll be ready for it tomorrow.
Q. DD has had two good games. Is this his coming out party?
HUGH GREENWOOD: You just have to let him play. You have the good and bad with DD. One time he'll come down and make a really good play, the next play lose defensively. That's DD. We love him for it.
The energy that he brings, the enthusiasm he brings, he's a quiet kid. You see his leadership from the effort that he puts in. He's done a great job the last couple of games. He's battled a toe injury for the last couple weeks. To see him get healthy again, playing above the rim, that's what DD does.
COACH NEAL: Hugh, that was really good. You just have to be careful about being real honest about things. I've taken my shots this year.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for coach.
Q. The flagrant foul, what did you see and what was the explanation to you?
COACH NEAL: I'll just say this, the kid made a play on the ball. He's playing hard, competing at a high level. I just think he got caught with the rule. The rule is that anything around the head, it's a flagrant two. I think he made a good play on the ball and ended up getting Cam's head.
I have no reason, there's no way he did that on purpose. I think it was just an accident. He's just trying to compete at a high level. He's playing well. He's a great kid. He had a great career there. It's a misfortunate accident or foul that took place. It was bad for him.
Q. When he left, he was emotional.
COACH NEAL: Yeah, he should be emotional. It's his last championship. It's tough.
Q. Did he give you a hug on the way out?
COACH NEAL: No, I shook his hand. I said, You played a great game, I'm sorry you went out like this. I respect their team, their players, their coach. I just felt bad for him 'cause it wasn't intentional. But it's the rule. He made a play on the ball. It wasn't a very good turnout for him.
Q. Cam Bairstow has another one of the games you've seen him have all season long. He played a lot of minutes. Are you in any way worried that three games in three days...
COACH NEAL: I think what's hard with Cam is he plays so hard. He has to take so many hits, so many pushes. The tough thing about playing them is they do a really good job. They put a small guy on, a big guy on you, they really sink in. They made it really physical tonight because they knew that's the way they had to play.
That kept them in the game, made it a very competitive game. That's probably as hard as I've seen them play in a long time defensively, which is much improved.
But I'm not concerned because Cam has a lot of nosebleeds just when he's standing around stretching in practice. I'm not too concerned. I was a little concerned when he went down because it just was awkward. But he's a tough kid.
They've been through it. They've been through this before. They've been through the three days, three games. We'll just try to get them back and rest them and see what happens.
Q. I've seen guys get their noses broken in plays like that. Was there a worry about that with him?
COACH NEAL: I think he's okay. I really haven't asked my trainer. I don't think it's broken. It looks straight. I'm not a doctor. He looked okay. He was just bleeding a lot. That was a concern because if you don't get it stopped bleeding, he can't play.
That was a concern. But I think he's okay. I asked him after if he was okay. I always tease him because I call him robo cop. He's legit robo cop. He just keeps going.
Q. You were focused first on Fresno, then Boise. Now that you have reached the title game, do you think the players and team as a whole are excited it's San Diego State at the end of the road?
COACH NEAL: I just told them, and I think our guys are mature enough with our veterans, I don't know if our newcomers are, I just told them it's one game at a time. Every game is a championship game because if you don't win this game you can't play for the championship.
I think they'll be excited to get another shot. We split with them. They won at home. We won at home. Hopefully it will feel like a home game for us tomorrow.
Q. Ever any thought to not go to Kendall when he's struggling?
COACH NEAL: No. Probably my fault. I played him 40 minutes. I know he's exhausted. He did an unbelievable drive on Drmic. He did an unbelievable job on Tyler Johnson last night. I put a lot of pressure on him, defensively and offensively.
I just know he's going to make plays. He shot an air ball, missed two free throws, came back and made the biggest shot of the game.
You have to give him credit for that, give him credit for having the guts to do that. I never underestimate what he's capable of doing.
Q. Pretty emotional game tonight. Zero points from the bench. Was it tougher for the younger guys to deal with the emotions?
COACH NEAL: Coach didn't play 'em. I played Cullen 14 minutes, played Merv four, played Obij three, played Cleveland seven. Didn't play them much or get them in a rhythm because I didn't feel that I could. I just thought Boise was playing at a high level and I needed to have my main guys out there because you have to win. If you don't win, you go home.
I think they'll be ready to play tomorrow. I thought they played well the first game. I just thought they couldn't get it really going today, had some weird substitution patterns to start when Deshawn got in foul trouble. We had to sub a different way. It kind of got us.
Just felt we needed to go with our guys. It worked out.
Q. About the 1‑3‑1 ‑‑
COACH NEAL: Everybody loves this 1‑3‑1 question.
Q. As a coach, how much do you want another shot at them? You took heat for not calling timeouts.
COACH NEAL: I don't know where I took the heat from. I didn't get asked that question in the press conference. I don't know where the heat is from.
We practice against the 1‑3‑1 all the time. It's just fortunate when you have Hugh Greenwood with four fouls, Kendall Williams, your best play‑maker, with four fouls, he's not on the floor to control the game, you don't make mistakes. You let a great opportunity get away.
My team is getting better. We're improved. We're 26‑6. We have four guys coming back. They had eight guys coming back. I'm really proud of my team. I know what they're about. They've won a lot of games. They're back‑to‑back tournament champions. They let one get away. We didn't three‑peat in the regular season, but we were competing for it. It's a credit to our program, where our program has come. This is our seventh year. We'll just see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, coach.
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