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January 11, 2008

NC State hopes rivalry brings out its best

The North Carolina State men's basketball team doesn't mind winning ugly, just as long as they keeping getting victories.

The Wolfpack do realize they'll need to take their game to a new level Saturday when facing No. 1-ranked North Carolina for the start of the ACC season.

NC State coach Sidney Lowe wasn't sure if junior shooting guard Courtney Fells or sophomore small forward Dennis Horner would be healthy for the game. Both are battling ankle injuries.

To listen to Lowe's weekly press conference from Friday, please click below.

Sidney Lowe press conference (21:59)


Obviously the most important question is what color is your jacket going to be tomorrow?

"(Laughs) That is the most important question? I am going with school colors. I'm going with school colors."

How is Courtney [Fells]?

"He was walking on it yesterday, feeling a little better today. We'll have to see how much he can do in practice. So it's really going to be day-to-day."

Dennis [Horner]?

"Dennis is the same thing."

Is he further ahead than Fells?

"Dennis is a little further ahead, yes."

How is it determined if Fells is going to play?

"I sort of leave that up to the player and Doc really. Different players have different tolerance level, what they can handle. Certainly I don't want anyone out there that's hurt, but I'd hate to tell a player not to play and he's fine to play and thinks he can go."

Who would replace Fells if he can't play?

"Haven't decided yet. That's something we're looking at because we have to look at not only the guy that is starting but we also have to look at what we'll have coming off the bench for us, what's a better combination of players coming off the bench. Do we go with a guy that might be able to make a few more shots or do we go with a guy that's more defensive oriented. That's what we're still talking about that that."

How well do you think the team has been playing during the seven-game win streak?

"I think we're playing pretty good under the circumstances. Obviously with some key injuries for us, especially with Dennis being out and Farnold not there, I think we're playing well, especially from a defensive standpoint. Our defense has really been good. The only thing at times we haven't shot the ball as well and made as many shots as we want to. I think our guys are doing a nice job and making adjustments against different style of teams and being patient. Again especially on that defensive end, it sounds strange to say be patient on the defensive end, but we've been that way because we have played teams that have held the ball, not held the ball but they ran their offense and were very patient offensively waiting for us to break down and we haven't done that."

Will you be relieved to play a team that likes to run up and down?

"You are never relieved to play one of the top teams, the top team in the country, but I think from the standpoint from our guys and what they can expect probably from this point on and what really what we prepared for more or less has been more man-to-man stuff. I think they welcome the challenges of playing a team that is predominantly going to play you man-to-man and is going to be tough and aggressive."

Do you think J.J. Hickson will prefer not seeing a zone?

"Probably, he probably would rather go one-on-one. Not that it's going to be easy because obviously he is playing against a pretty good basketball player over there, but certainly for big men they like to have an opportunity to go one-on-one, just like their big guy does. He got trapped a couple times, he doesn't like that. He likes to be able to go one-on-one. I think certainly J.J. is looking forward to it, certainly, playing against guy and just having to go against one guy instead of two or three."

Are you glad you don't have to sell a game to your players anymore?

"I'm glad that, yeah, they are probably going to be self-motivated on this one, but at the same time I still have to let them know how I feel and what this game means, and the competition, the rivalry, the two schools, you're playing against the top team in the country. I still think they need to know how I feel about it."

What has been the biggest aspect Hickson has matured at since the start of the season?

"I still think he has a lot of room to grow. He is, he's gotten better at being patient on the offensive end. Early at times when teams were double-teaming him, trapping him, he was trying to force it or make a couple of turnovers. I think he has gotten a little better at that. I also think he has gotten much better on the defensive end of understanding situations and sets and where he has to be as far as help is concerned. Early we looked at for example bringing Ben in to finish games because Ben is so solid on the defensive end. Then we had opportunities where J.J. actually finished the game and he made some key possessions for us on defense. So I think he's really improved in that area."

Do you prefer playing the halfcourt style or does the personnel dictate it?

"I think certainly personnel is a factor. Farnold for example is more North-South. He wants to get it and go, that's his game. I think Marques is more of a control game, and Javi is kind of in-between, so they are not guys that really look to push it up. We still like to get rebound and push it ahead and kick it ahead and see if we can get some easy baskets. I think also we've played against some teams that really didn't allow it. They really did a nice job of having tempo of the game and playing in their zone and running their offense and not giving us that opportunity to get back and get some easy baskets. I think certainly personnel though is a factor right now. Right now we don't, we don't have that jet like Farnold in there right now, but we're still going to look to push the ball ahead and see if we can get some easy baskets."

Is there any guy that is not injured on the team right now that you look at and say he has surprised me how far he has come?

"Not really, not really, no one in particular. I think our point guards up until this point, both, I'm sorry, Javi and Marques, have done a very nice job of running our team. I think they've done a nice job of taking care of the basketball. They are not really turning it over. That's a key position for us. I think they might be averaging two, maybe three a game since they've been there together. Our last ball game I think we had 15 turnovers and those guys only had two. So that's very important to us. Those two guys not that it surprised me, but I'm very pleased, very pleased with the way they have handled it."

What concerns you about UNC?

"They can make you concerned in different areas. They have the ability to really get out and run the floor. They can really run one through five, they run. They do a nice job. What makes them so tough is they just play the game. They push the ball up the floor, and then they're so smart that they read situations, they just play where you don't have to call a set. They just read each other and they just play. It's always difficult to guard a team like that because you are trying to prepare for sets. When you have guys that just know how to play and have a feel, it's hard to, it's really hard to prepare, so you have to be really solid on your defensive end. Man-to-man you have to be just basic fundamentally sound. Their running game certainly concerns you because they get out and they can do that. I think that's the biggest thing.

"Obviously they have the big fellow inside that they can go to. Lawson is always a load coming at you, shooters, Ellington, he can go for 30. I think it's just the way they play, I just think it's their knowledge and the way they play the game, that's the main concern."

How are you in better shape this year compared to the last game at UNC?

"Last year about this time I probably couldn't give you about five minutes a game. I think if I played you now I could give you about 10 minutes. I feel great. I feel great. It's just been a matter I guess watching what I've been eating and not having those late night meals while watching film, snacks and things. Took a little advice actually from Coach Williams. I was in the hospital he came over and kind of asked me what did I do for lunch and I told him I didn't have lunch, I was having film or working. He said exactly. Now I get away, and I take that hour, just get away from the game itself."

Are you able to play pickup ball with the other coaches?

"No, no I really haven't. I might try to go out there and coach a little bit, but that's about it. Those guys are serious. They actually have uniforms now, they have jerseys. I heard they had their jersey ceremonies this morning. On the back of Ernie he has 'E'. One of the players made the jerseys up."

Is there any defense in those games?

"No it's high scoring, it's a scoring machine in there."

Was last year the first time you been at the Dean Dome?

"Yes, yes that was my first time."

Not the best memory though?

"Wasn't a great memory, no."

Are you prepared if it is as hot as it was last year?

"We'll have some water there, but I'm not concerned about that. I feel great. When we go in there the main thing is just having our guys prepared and ready to play against a very good ball club. I can't be worried about myself."

Would you prefer that the first two ACC games aren't on the road?

"It is what it is. Like it or not it is what it is. You go play the game, I don't have a complaint about scheduling unless it's a game I feel we shouldn't play, but other than that, no. This is it. This is who we have to play you go do it."

Are you disappointed to be one of two ACC teams to start the conference season with two road games?

"Yeah that's what I complained about, I did complain about that. (laughs) No, I didn't complain about that, but I looked at it and wondered why, why us? No, it's the way it came out, and you go play it. You look at it right now and say it's a tough thing to do, obviously, depending on the outcome of it it could be a great thing. It could be a great thing."

Do you think the UNC game will help find out what kind of team you have?

"I think that depending on, certainly depending on who we have played, because it's hard again to judge your team or look at your team, evaluate your team, if you don't have your complete team. Certainly it would tell you some things about individuals and going down the road when you know you are going into a tough environments and things how guys are going to play. Again these guys have done a great job I think in tough situations. Michigan State game obviously was a tough one for us up there coming off that tournament. I think going up to Seton Hall and playing against a team that is pressing and trapping and doing the things they did against us, our guys handled that very well, they did a good job of that. Obviously down in Orlando, it's more of a neutral site though, but still did a nice job. I expect for us to go and play. I expect us to go and compete. If shots are falling then we are going to be okay. We'll see what happens."

Do you think the team sometimes plays to the level of its competition?

"I think there might be some merit to that. I've said time and time again, when you have a somewhat of a new group, young group in positions and guys, you are going to have that at times. I think again, not having that experience, and this is not because of Farnold or Marques or Javi, but when you don't have that experienced leader at whichever position to get us going, sometimes you do that. Sometimes you do. That energy has to come from me. It has to come from me and that is what I try to do, and recognizing our team. Having said that, if that is the case, then I expect for us to go to Carolina and play OK. We have no choice. We have to play well over there because we are playing a very good ball club."

Do you think the team is giving up too many offensive rebounds and can fix that in one day?

"Actually, just recently did we give up that many offensively. We've gotten better at that. This last ball game, they hurt us with it, and maybe the one before for a few. I think we've done a nice job of cutting that done. That is contributed to those numbers, that shooting percentage, we weren't giving those opportunities. Earlier in the year, we were having problems with it, but we got much better at that. Obviously, going there, we can't allow them to get second shots. They shoot a very good percentage and have people who can score. We have to certainly limit their second opportunities."

Did you see Clemson coach Oliver Purnell sporting his orange blazer?

"I did, I saw coach's blazer."

What did you think of his style?

"You guys are tough. I think coach was representing his program. That is what you do."

Have you created a trend?

"No, I didn't start that. I got that from Coach [Norm] Sloan with his plaid blazer and Coach V [Jim Valvano] wore a red one. Bruce Pearl [at Tennessee] wears a orange one to I think. Coach [Williams] over there [at UNC] has his blue one."

Are you glad to go to a school that has red and white colors as opposed to orange and purple?

"I'm just glad I'm at NC State. I'm just glad I'm at State."

Do you just care about grinding out the win and then just move on?

"I think you just look at the wins. It is different scenarios, different situations, different atmospheres. Different players might be playing. There are so many things that are involved. You can look at teams that we've beaten and they've gone somewhere else and beat a better team. Like Pittsburgh beat Duke, and I think maybe Villanova beat Pittsburgh or something like that. Does that mean we should beat Duke? I don't think we should look at those numbers and say those things. You take the W. At the end of the day, that is all that matters. If we go far in the tournament and do something well, nobody is going to talk about beating this team by 7."

If the team does struggle, then the close games to Presbyterian should be judged differently, don't you think?

"That could be the case. I don't get involved in that aspect of that. People will certainly have their thoughts and their opinions. Certainly, if certain things happen, then you can make it justifiable. You can say that you saw it coming because of this and this and this. Now, if we come out and play like gang busters, and we blow some people out or go into the ACC and turn some people out, it's going to be, 'You can see it was coming.' It is what it is. We got seven in a row and we are going to Carolina to play in ACC play. Now, we'll see what happens. I can't as a coach and look at that and say, 'We struggled against these guys, so we are going to struggle.' I can't say that. We did what we had to do to win the game, pretty much. Now, we are in a situation where we have to do whatever we can to win the game."



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