AZTECS ATHLETICS PRESS CONFERENCE 12/5: BOWL GAME ANNOUNCED

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Story by Liz Alper

Videos courtesy goaztecs.com

For videos of the men's and women's basketball portions of the press conference, as well as Gonzales', Phillips' and Baldwin's portions, click "read more" and scroll down.

December 5, 2017 (San Diego) - Another fun-filled SDSU athlet press conference awaited the media and this week, football offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, sophomore running back Juwan Washington, senior defensive lineman Sergio Phillips and junior safety Parker Baldwin had a bowl game to talk about.  They appeared along with men's basketball head coach Brian Dutcher and women's basketball head coach Stacie Terry.

“(We’re) excited to be here today," Horton opened with. "...we’ll be heading to Texas for the bowl game there against the United States Military Academy. Great opportunity for us. We recruit in Texas, I’m from Texas, Juwan is from Texas, we have about 13 kids on our team and five coaches from Texas. But the best thing is the military academy is having their best season in a long time and it’s a tremendous opportunity for us...Army has thrown it (the ball) 18 times all year...I think they are averaging over 400 yards per game rushing, they obviously like to run the ball.  It’s going to be a great opportunity, a great city with Texas hospitality. I know we’re excited about going home, I know the team is excited to go play and have a good time. It’s a great reward for them and the hard work they put in this year.”

Like everyone else at SDSU, Horton had choice words for senior running back Rashaad Penny's snub in the postseason awards. “I can think of several but being in a press conference in this setting, I need to be politically correct. Whether it was the Doak Walker Award or the Heisman Trophy, it’s supposed to reward the best player in college football. Whether some people think he is or isn’t, obviously we think he is, but to not even be in the final selections for either award – I just want to know what the criteria is and what it’s based on. Maybe some people here got a chance to vote on the thing, maybe I didn’t see the fine print about if you’re from a non-Power 5 conference school it really doesn’t matter. The way I understand it is the best running back in the country according to Doak Walker and the best player in the country according to the Heisman Trophy, how he’s not even a part of that is mind-boggling. We all know who he is and what he is. The young man has done everything right on and off the field, has been as good of an ambassador for this program and university as you could possibly be and he takes it better than a 60-year old man does. I’m more upset than he is, at least outwardly so. So let’s go down to Fort Worth and put on a show, you don’t need a trophy to understand [how important you are]. Youth sports, everybody gets a trophy. So we’re going to try and win the game and have a great game for him and he can ride off into the sunset knowing in my mind that he’s the best player in the country. Look at the production on the field, what are they basing it on? For him not to be included in it, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Coach Gonzales gave a scouting report on Army. "...They average 368 yards per game rushing, that’s number one in the country. They are averaging 31 points per game, they take care of the football similarly to our offense, they are fourth in the country in time of possession, I think we’re ninth. They have us by 36 seconds so I told coach Horton we need to run a couple more plays to change that. In 691 rushing attempts on the season I think they fumbled the ball four times so they take very good care of the football. They don’t throw it a lot, their starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw is a great player, a 5-11, 205-pound kid runs the ball well and has only thrown the ball 39 times on the entire season. Usually when he throws it they are wide open so he doesn’t miss. We’ve got a great challenge, they do a triple option like we just saw against New Mexico and they run it similar to Air Force, the two triple option with double wing backs, so we’ve got a lot to prepare for. Thank God we have three weeks, which gives you a little bit better chance but doesn’t make it any easier. We’re really excited to play them in a bowl game with all the tradition that they have. They have a very important game this weekend against Navy, probably their most important game of the season. They ended Navy’s winning streak that they had last year so they are excited to get an opportunity up in Philadelphia this weekend. It’ll be fun to watch, we’re excited we have an opportunity to play a great opponent in a great bowl game.”

Gonzales talked about what it means to play Army.  “It’s awesome and we have the utmost respect especially in this program. Coach Long’s father was in the military for a long time, my father is an army veteran and served in Vietnam so there is a lot of respect within our staff and our team. What the Black Knights have done, Coach Monken has done a phenomenal job of getting them to where they are at with an opportunity to win nine games if they beat Navy this Saturday. We are honored to be on the same field as them because they protect all our liberties and freedoms and we understand that. We’re very grateful for what they do, they put their lives on the line so that we can live the lives that we live in this wonderful country. Now when the whistles blow on that Saturday, for those 60 minutes, that doesn’t matter, but when those 60 minutes are over we’re extremely honored and proud of those guys. We feel safe and we live in a wonderful country because of them.”

Washington echoed: “It’s always a great opportunity for us because we preach in our program mental and physical toughness and those are the guys that do it all the time, you know that they’re going to play hard no matter what. It’s good for us to see how we compete with them and it’s always fun to play a team like that.”

But Baldwin is the one who most took the opportunity to heart. "It’s an honor to play Army West Point. I took a visit to Army when I was in junior high school and I saw everything they go through. They took me through a freshman’s day at Army and it was crazy to see how hectic their schedule is and what they go through every single day and their commitment to the classroom and to football. Especially visiting there, it made me have more respect for everything they go through and it’s going to be fun to get an opportunity to see how tough we are and get an opportunity to play them.”

Washington also had feelings about Penny's snubs. “Like Coach Horton said, I think all the players are more upset than Rashaad is because week in and week out he produces on the field and never really had any character issues on or off the field. So we don’t know why he wasn’t selected as a finalist for any of those awards but we take it with a grain of salt because he’s going to play no matter what and he’s going to give us his best and he’s going to help us win games.”

Phillips talked about what it means to go back to his home state of Texas. “It’s a blessing to go back to Texas because some of my family has never seen me play but they will be able to this time. We have a lot more players that are probably excited too because we have a bunch from Texas.”

While he's not from Texas, Baldwin's family will be able to see him play as well. “It’s exciting because I have a lot of family in Texas as well as Arkansas so it’s only about a five or six hour drive for a lot of my family members. Both sets of grandparents are going to get to see me play in college for the first time and my family in Texas will be able to see me play football for the first time so it’s very exciting for me as well. I’m glad to have a lot of family and friends out to the game.”

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Next, Coach Terry took the floor. “We’re excited to get back home. We’ve had a lot of traveling excursions in November and we’re excited to get a chance to defend our home court the next two games against UC Irvine and Hope International on Friday and Sunday. Excited for our noon tip on Friday because it’s one of our afternoon games that we are trying to promote and get some of these young fans into our arena and hoping to give them a great show. So we’re excited about where we are, 5-2 and looking to still improve in a lot of different areas, but happy with the progress that we’ve made.”

Terry praised senior guard McKynzie Fort and the lady Aztec seniors. “She’s worked really hard for all the things she’s getting right now. There is no surprise that she’s playing as well as she is, she’s worked for it. She’s determined to have a great senior season and help us win games this year. [I’m] proud of the effort, she’s playing really hard on both sides of the ball and her leadership has improved. I think our record reflects how well she’s playing, she makes us go. Not only her but Lexy Thorderson, Geena Gomez, Khalia Lark, Cheyenne Greenhouse – all of our seniors are really doing a good job leading and leading by example on the floor.”

She also gave the scouting report on UC Irvine. “UC Irvine is a really good team. They have a couple of transfers with some Power 5, Division I experience. They have really scrappy guards who are going to get after us and press us a little bit on makes, man-to-man on misses, so it’s going to be a challenge for us. It’s going to test us to see if we can take care of the ball and make great decisions being sped up a little bit. Looking forward to see if we can push the ball and play at a pace that we’ve tried to identify as our identity and they are going to do everything in their power to slow us down. [They have] a lot of experience from the guard spot with kidswho can shoot it. They have a really good point guard (Lauren Saiki) who is averaging about [four] assists and can really distribute the ball and get them going, So she’s doing a good job there. It’s going to be a good test for us. We’ll be bigger, but their goal will be to try and disrupt what we’re doing, so it will be a great test to see if we can handle our composure in those moments.”

The lady Aztecs take the court against UC Irvine on Friday at noon.

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“It’s time to get to work," Dutcher opened with. "...the next two weeks is pivotal to our season and we have to put the work in at practice in order to see that result on the game floor.”

One of SDSU's main problems on the floor is turnovers.  Dutcher talked about how to correct that. "One, we'll be getting Trey (Kell) back. You get a senior guard out there instead of some freshmen that are still going through their first-time experience in a lot of these games and your veterans take better care of the ball. With that being said, Devin (Watson) had four in the last game, which is atypical for him. He’s not a high-turnover guy, (he averages) 3-to-1 assists-to-turnovers. Devin has to do a better job of managing the game like he did at USD, but you’re going to have a game like that every so often.”

Dutcher isn't worried about the team's three-point shooting. “I think we shoot the ball pretty good. I am not overly concerned with that. Maybe the fact that our best three-point shooter, Max Montana, has only played in two games. I know everyone knows at Arizona State he hit four threes in the first half so I think he adds a dynamic shooting-wise that when he’s not in there, it shows sometimes. That being said, Trey (Kell) being out for two games, he’s improved his shooting vastly. … I think Jeremy (Hemsley) is capable of shooting better than he is, and will, he’s worked at it hard. I’m not overly concerned with our three-point shooting right now. I think as the season goes on, that percentage will go up.”

Dutch gave the scouting report on Cal. “I’ve just looked at Cal’s scores. I really haven’t had a chance to watch them a lot, I’ll start that tonight. Our assistants are already into that, but won’t do anything on Cal for a day or two. This is our time to try to get ourselves better and then we’ll do a two-day prep for Cal leading into the game. Sometimes we’ll subtly do a defensive drill to get ready for Cal without saying it’s Cal. But right now, I think today we’ll try to improve ourselves a little bit on the offensive end to get our timing down on some things. Defensively, (we’ll) just do a couple break down things and then later in the week, we’ll start our Cal prep. Obviously they’ve proven, you know how good Wichita State is, to be up 18 on Wichita State, that doesn’t just happen. They’ve played in spurts. They have a new coaching staff. Wyking (Jones) is a very good coach. I know he’s working to get the team improved and I think you’ll see an improved Cal team as the season goes on.”

Update on Max Montana and Trey Kell's injuries:  “Max is a full go. I played him a couple minutes, which was probably unfair to him, against Bradley. He’d really only practiced one day in two and a half weeks, but I wanted to get him a little game feel. This is big for him this week to get his legs back underneath him and get his game-timing back. I think Trey (Kell) is going to continue to just rehab. I don’t think he’ll practice today or tomorrow. We’ll continue the healing process and the treatment and rehab and hopefully he’ll be ready for Cal, but there’s no guarantee to that. It’s kind of day-to-day and seeing how he’s feeling and how he’s responding to treatment.”

Lastly, he talked about junior Jeremy Hemsley and his struggles. “Jeremy’s playing better. Sometimes you’re not making shots and you think, ‘Well I’ve got to work harder on my offense.’ Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, ‘Let me be more involved defensively and don’t worry about the offense. Let me try to stop that other point guard,’ which he’s done a great job of two straight games. At USD and followed up with Bradley, their best player and most instrumental player is their point guard and Jeremy’s ridden them over ball screens and he’s disrupted. So you can feel good about yourself at one end and it relieves the tension at the other end. Sometimes it’s just a matter of picking the defense up and then things start to fall together and I think that’s a perfect example of what’s happened to Jeremy.”

SDSU men's basketball takes on Cal at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday at Steve Fisher Court.

“Jeremy’s playing better. Sometimes you’re not making shots and you think, ‘Well I’ve got to work harder on my offense.’ Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, ‘Let me be more involved defensively and don’t worry about the offense. Let me try to stop that other point guard,’ which he’s done a great job of two straight games. At USD and followed up with Bradley, their best player and most instrumental player is their point guard and Jeremy’s ridden them over ball screens and he’s disrupted. So you can feel good about yourself at one end and it relieves the tension at the other end. Sometimes it’s just a matter of picking the defense up and then things start to fall together and I think that’s a perfect example of what’s happened to Jeremy.”