It was a much quieter day at the Rose Garden than the past two days. Today's practices were closed to the public, so fans had no access to the arena. To be honest, after all the noise (bands, fans, etc.) on game day, it was nice to have a little breather.
There was no break for the Bulldogs though. They were back at it today getting ready for their second round showdown against Western Kentucky.
Media wasn't welcome at today's practices either, but we did talk to the players. All of them voiced concern about the Hilltoppers guards. Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter can shoot. They average more than 29 points per game combined. Add in guard/forward Steffphon Pettigrew and guard/forward Sergio Kerusch and you have 53 of the Hilltoppers 72 points per game. All four are in the starting lineup...all four are no taller than 6'5".
The tallest player in Western Kentucky's starting five is Jeremy Evans. He's only 6'9"...making him one of the tallest players on the Hilltoppers roster (two other guys are also 6'9"...there is no one taller). To me, that means 6'11" Josh Heytvelt will be a big time target. The big fella scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Akron...I expect similar numbers tomorrow (if not better).
I'm not trying to take anything away from Western Kentucky...they are a good basketball team. One of the Gonzaga fans I talked to today said he wishes GU was playing Illinois instead (keep in mind Illinois was the No. 5 seed and WKU was the No. 12). The Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt Conference championship, they're in the tourney for the second straight year (they made it to the Sweet 16 last year), and they've already pulled off an upset (although they told me today they never looked at themselves as the underdogs...and they still don't against Gonzaga).
Demetri Goodson said he expects the transition game to be going like crazy, the Hilltoppers to set a lot of ball screens and crash the boards, and he expects Western Kentucky to get after them defensively. He ended by saying, "We have our work cut out for us tomorrow." A lot of the players echoed Goodson's thoughts. It should be very entertaining basketball.
The Bulldogs locker room was very loose again today. They were watching the games on CBS...all sharing their own analysis. They were munching on Subway and Pita Pit, but Matt Bouldin said his pita wasn't any good and said "they make them much better in Spokane." I'm questioning if Robert Sacre has a serious bone in his body. The guy is constantly smiling and laughing. I've learned my lesson...DON'T DO INTERVIEWS NEAR ROBERT SACRE. He's loud! Andrew Sorenson is the same way...you can tell he's really enjoying his last go in the tournament.
I give credit to these kids. The tournament is the culmination of a very long season. All of these guys have ice on some part of their body...and they don't get a break. Practice on Wednesday, play on Thursday, practice on Friday, and a game on Saturday. Add to that all of the pressure of the NCAA Tournament. These players have a lot deal with.
Tip-off is slated for 5:10 tomorrow at the Rose Garden here in Portland. That game can be seen exclusively on KREM 2.
We'll have live coverage from the Rose City tonight as well, including sound from the locker room (stuff you didn't hear in today's press conference) previewing the matchup and much, much more.
Have a great night!