We caught up with Mo Cassara last night, 24 hours or so after the stunning loss to Western Kentucky, and got his take on the mindset of the Flying Dutchmen after the Hilltoppers’ late comeback as well as his other thoughts on the first two games of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic and this morning’s finale against Nebraska. As always, thanks to Mo for his time and accessibility.
How is everyone feeling the day after?
We’ve got a great bunch of guys. They work hard, incredibly hard. We had a couple good team meetings today and film sessions. Our chins are up and we’re going to use these couple real tough losses to ultimately help us get better. That’s been my challenge for this team everyday, is to get better everyday. And I think we’ve gotten better everyday down here. Now our next challenge and the next step, as I told our guys, is to learn how to win. That takes practice and time and we’re working hard at it. Our attitude is great and we’re going to keep working hard and ultimately the wins are going to come.
Is Friday night what you had in mind when you were talking about this season being a work in progress?
Yeah, I think so. I think we really executed our game plan last night, offensively and defensively, and definitely did some good things. I think our guys are starting to learn our system a little bit better. Ultimately, we weren’t able to finish it off last night, and that’s frustrating. But at the same time, my staff and I, we’re still very encouraged with the direction we’re headed.
Friday was obviously your first close game as a Division I head coach. How much self-evaluation did you undergo and what would you do differently, if anything?
I think as a coach—any coach, whether he’s coached a lot of games or a few—you’re always trying to get a little bit better, get an edge. I’ve watched the film, believe it or not, back-to-back-to-back three full times. The big challenge is I need to get a better feel for our guys and certain situations. Still being a new team and still seeing how some guys reacted in the first real tight situation, some guys we felt did a good job and some guys we thought would do a good job didn’t. And we’ve got to do something, we need to continue to analyze and make [more] evaluations and make sure, in these instances, we do it better [next time].
What did you see on the last play?
We drew up a pretty good play, we had a good look at the basket. We knew they were going to run at Charles a lot and we put Shemiye and Mike out to see if we could go to the basket or get a good look at a three. And Shemiye got a pretty good look at he basket. I thought, when it left his hand, it was going on.
Dwan McMillan had a tough game on both sides of the ball. What did you say to him afterward?
He had a disappointing game on a lot of levels. My big challenge to him is he’s got to learn how to be a college point guard and run a team. He’s going to make some mistakes and we’re going to learn through those as he has learn to continue to develop his game and how to run a team. And down the stretch, he didn’t do a very good job. We’re going to work with him and he keeps working hard. His attitude is good. That’s the most important thing to me—his attitude is good, he wants to learn and he wants to be better. He’s got a lot of talent and ability. He just needs more experience.
Down the stretch, do you think Western Kentucky got so hot because it stole the momentum on defense, or did your defense wear down?
I think our defense wore down a little bit. We missed a couple assignments, got out late on a couple of shooters. For about 35, 36 minutes, I thought we did a great job. Our defense was really—with about five minutes to go, they had about 40 points—we did everything exactly the way we wanted to do. There’s a team that goes into St. Joseph’s and beat them by 28 points and our game plan was excellent. We really did a good job I think we got a little tired and part of that right now is we lack some depth between injuries and Brad not playing and some inexperience, That’s part of our issues, especially when you play in a tournament like this. You really feel that when you’re playing two games in a couple days. Depth is an issue for us in a tournament like this.
How pleased were you with the resiliency you guys showed, not only bouncing back from the UNC loss but also the first 10 minutes against Western Kentucky?
I’m very pleased. As a coach, certainly you want to win every game, but I place a lot of value on things that I think are going to really help us down the road as we continue to build and grow. We were able to get right back from a real tough loss against a very good team and come out and perform the way we did against Western Kentucky—obviously, we didn’t come up with the win and we’re all disappointed about that, but I think there’s some real positives to come out of these first couple games.
What were your thoughts on the North Carolina game? Were you guys kind of caught flat-footed by just how hot they were from the field?
Yeah, I mean, they’re a terrific team, and the ironic thing is they come out the following night and Harrison Barnes can’t make a shot. It was just one of those things where we challenged them to make some threes and unfortunately, in the first half, they made 8-of-9. We shot 60 percent from the field [in the first half]. If we didn’t turn the ball over a couple times and let’s say they shot 4-of-9 or 3-of-9 [from 3-point land], heck, we’re not winning the game, but it’s probably a 10- or 12-point game at halftime and you feel like you’ve got a chance. But they shot the ball so well and we got behind and then ultimately their size and speed wore us down and we started to get rushed out there a little bit.
What were some of the other positives you took from the Western Kentucky game?
I really like the way Greg Washington rebounded. I really liked the way that Mike Moore rebounded. I think those guys are going to have to have 7-10 rebounds [per game]. I like the way David Imes rebounded and battled in the backcourt. I really like the way that Shemiye McClendon can continue to score the ball and score in some bunches. He really hit some nice shots for us [Friday] night. I think some guys, on an individual level, did a terrific job, And obviously Charles continues to be one of the best scorers not only in this tournament but in the country.
What is the attitude going into the Nebraska game?
They’re a very good Big 12 team. They’ve got gigantic size in the front court and are just a big, strong team. It’s two teams that have been on similar paths and for certain stretches of time have played very well in this tournament. Against Vanderbilt they looked great and Vanderbilt is a very good team. I don’t think there are any bad teams in this tournament. Nebraska presents a great challenges for us, a big, big front line, a team that we’re going to have to go out and try to execute our game plan [against]. Win or lose, we’re going to walk out of here with some great experience as we move forward and as we get into the meat of our non-conference schedule.