Just got done with the team prep before this weekend’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Western will play ninth-seeded Florida International at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. The mood was very high, and head coach Ken McDonald along with the players echoed the same sentiment of high focus going to the tournament. A few notes and quotes going into Hot Springs, Ark:
- Junior guard A.J. Slaughter on his role going into the tournament from last season: “It feels a whole lot different. My role’s definitely changed from being a role guy last year to being one of the main focal points of our team’s success. So it’s definitely a big step this year, but I think I’m looking forward to it.”
- Slaughter on the use of all-conference snubs as motivation: “We talked about that before practice yesterday and just told everybody to go out there with a chip on your shoulder, knowing that some of the guys didn’t get selected as we thought we should. So it’s definitely going to be a motivation factor for me and my teammates.”
- Slaughter also said he’ll be sporting a fade this week at the Sun Belt tournament. Slaughter has been known to have trademark designs etched in his ‘do this season, but junior forward Jeremy Evans, who has taken on the unofficial role of team barber, won’t be going crazy on Slaughter’s scalp.
- Evans on what it will take to win three games in three days at the Sun Belt tournament: “It will take just going out and staying focused and playing hard, and just the effort. Knowing that I can’t do like I’ve been doing this whole season, you know, up and down. And knowing what’s at stake and that we have to go out and win it.”
- Evans on being an Arkansas native playing the tournament in his home state: “I know (my family and friends) are proud of me, and I know they care a lot. And just to know that, I’m here and it’s big that I’m doing what I am. There are some many other people out there that could have this chance, and they’d give anything just to be here.”
- Evans also said that his bum ankle is good for the tournament. Evans said trainer Mike Gaddie has been keeping an eye on it, and staying loose has been key to the healing process.
- McDonald on FIU: The Toppers were 1-1 against the Golden Panthers this season: “They played us I think well, two times. Obviously, they got us down there (in Miami) and the game here we could never get away, we could never really get away from them. So, we expect it to be another good basketball game, in the sense that both teams could win the game. So we’re going to have to play well, we’re going to have to play together. We’re gonna have to make some adjustments physically because big (forward Freddy) Asprilla hurt us, in both games.”
- McDonald on the team’s attitude going in: “We are going in with the attitude that we have to win this tournament to go to the NCAA tournament. We’re either going to the NCAA tournament or we’re going to the NIT. And yesterday we all signed up for the NCAA tournament, which meant I wanted a high level of focus on each possession in practice, because that’s how it’s gonna be in the games. If we have a good week of practice, there is no question we are going to put ourselves in a good position to play well our first time out on Sunday, and that’s the complete focus. We got 40 minutes, that’s all we’re guaranteed. We are in this to win it.”
- McDonald added that senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez’s sprained knee is healing well and he has been limited on his cutting and slashing in practice to rest the knee. He should be 100% for the tournament.
- FIU will also have Nikola Gacesa back. Gacesa is a huge post presence for FIU who missed the last game against WKU due to injury. He averages 10.1 points per game and has played in 27 games this season, with 25 starts.
More tomorrow as we get closer to gametime.