Q-and-A with Mickey McConnell
“We have to play at Portland tomorrow,” McConnell said by phone Friday afternoon. “We’re going to have to turn the page pretty quickly.”
Unfortunately, St. Mary’s didn’t.
Still riding the emotional high from the victory over the Zags, the Gaels fell to Portland 85-70 on Saturday. Disappointing as the loss may have been, Randy Bennett’s squad is 18-4 overall and remains in first place in the West Coast Conference standings with a 6-1 league record.
“We’ve had some good stretches,” McConnell said, “but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Either way, beating Gonzaga was a big step. The Zags have won 10 straight conference championships and hadn’t lost to St. Mary’s in Spokane since 1995 until McConnell swished his heroic shot. McConnell finished with 27 points and scored 32 in the loss to Portland two nights later. He’s averaging 15.9 points on the season.
A 6-foot senior from Mesa, Ariz., McConnell took some time to chat with Yahoo! Sports.
Q: What was the reaction back at St. Mary’s after you guys beat Gonzaga?
A: “I guess people on campus were really excited and honking their horns and stuff. Our fans are really excited, just like we are.”
Q: You’ve had some great teams during your time at St. Mary’s, including the group last year that went to the Sweet 16. How does this team separate itself?
A: “We’re a little bit different. In the past we had some really good size with Omar [Samhan], so we played through the post. Now we’re able to get up and down the court a little bit faster. Everyone is collectively chipping in.”
Q: You lost a tough one to Vanderbilt by 19 points earlier in the week? What happened?
A: “We actually didn’t play too bad. They just played really well. They’re a really good team. It was just one of those days where we needed to bring our best effort and we didn’t do that.”
Q: Luckily you bounced back against Gonzaga. Take me through that last shot from the elbow. It was pretty acrobatic.
A: “There wasn’t much time on the clock, so I knew I was probably going to have to shoot it. When you get in that situation it makes it kind of hard to pass it off. You just want to make sure you get off the shot. Luckily I was able to bounce off [Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre] and put the ball in the basket. It was big for me. Last year I was scoreless at Gonzaga. Luckily this year it worked out where I got some mismatches that led to some open looks.”
Q: What would it mean to this team to end Gonzaga’s run of 10 straight WCC titles?
A: “It’d be huge, especially since our league this year is a lot better than people think. We’ve had some good stretches but by no means do we have it in the bag.”
Q: How did you end up at St. Mary’s?
A: “Originally I’d signed with New Mexico and coach Ritchie McKay. But he left before I ever got there, so I got my release and went and visited UC Irvine. I wasn’t talking to many other schools. Then I visited St. Mary’s and ended up choosing them.”
A: “I liked the whole environment and the rise of the program. It was just a good fit for me as far as the family culture atmosphere. I thought it was the best place for me to go to be successful.”
Q: St. Mary’s traditionally has a lot of foreign players on its team. You used to back up one of them [Patty Mills] before he left for the NBA. What’s it like playing with those guys?
A: “They’re mature when they get here. A lot of them have already lived on their own for awhile. So they know what it’s like to be away from home. That helps with their maturity level and definitely with their unselfishness. Their basketball IQ is usually pretty advanced.”
Q: What’s it like playing for Randy Bennett?
A: “He has a lot of confidence in us as players. That’s how the program needs to be. He feels like we can all get the job done. He does a great job of getting us to focus on the little things we need to get done to be successful. We don’t take any days for granted.”
Q: St. Mary’s lost to BYU by one point earlier this season. Tell me about guarding Jimmer Fredette? Is he as good as everyone says he is?
A: “Uhhh, yes he is (laughing). He plays within the offense and he’s very efficient. He doesn’t take bad shots. He never really has bad shooting percentages, even when he scores 30 or 40. He’s one of those guys where every shot is a good shot for him. He positions himself where he gets good shots and he doesn’t force too many bad ones. He’s got a scorer’s mentality. He’s confident in his abilities. He’s always in attack mode. When you’re guarding him you can’t relax for a second.”
Q: I understand you’ve got quite an athletic family. Your father and grandfather are both high school basketball coaches in Arizona?
A: “My grandpa [Dick] retired four years ago. He’s the winningest high school coach in Arizona high school history. I played for my father [Rick]. He got his 500th career win a few weeks ago. My brother [Matt] plays in the minor leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies and my cousin [Kennedy] plays softball at Virginia.”
Q: So did your grandfather and father ever face each other coaching in a high school basketball game?
A: “When I was sophomore we played his team twice. We won both games. It was fun. The first time we played them it was a little weird for me. It was a tight game and I hadn’t been shooting free throws very well. My grandpa was yelling from the sidelines for his team to foul me. It was kind of weird, coming from him. The next time we played them the score was a little more comfortable.”