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January 2, 2009

NC State hopes to make national splash

North Carolina State will have a national stage Saturday, playing at Florida on CBS television.

NC State coach Sidney Lowe knows the opportunity at hand for his 9-2 Wolfpack, who travel to play in Gainesville. Lowe talked about the importance of playing such a big road game, and updated the health of point guards Javier Gonzalez and Farnold Degand, and small forward Courtney Fells.

Lowe also addressed if sophomore center Tracy Smith's role would change substantially or not following his 31-point outburst against Towson on Wednesday.

Click below to listen to the press conference:

Sidney Lowe audio press conference (20:34)



What kind of opportunity is it for the program to play a nationally televised game against Florida?

"Well, it's an opportunity to obviously play against a good ball club. A team that certainly has had success, a great program. It's a great challenge for our guys, putting us on the road again in a difficult environment. I think it's going to be good to see how we handle that."

How is the health of sophomore point guard Javier Gonzalez?

"He's OK, he did practice today. Timing is off a little bit, but he is back out there."

Will redshirt junior point guard Farnold Degand be wearing his knee brace for the UF game?

"You know, I didn't want to ask on the first day. They talked about it coming off sometime early, the first of the year. We'll sit down and talk about that with Doc and see how comfortable he is with that, and how comfortable Farnold is with it. I think Farnold is definitely starting to come back and his timing is getting better right now. Hopefully, he can get it off soon. I know he wants it off. As long as he feels comfortable with it, it will happen."

In an ideal world would you like to see Degand be able to play 25-30 minutes a game again?

"In an ideal world, I'd like to see him play 25 good minutes. I don't really get caught up in trying to predict or say I want to get this guy this many minutes. I think the players dictate that, they dictate how many minutes they play. Certainly, if he's out there on the floor, he's a great addition with his speed and his experience. Just being able to have him for 25-30 minutes, that's good. He's come a long way from the injury. I thought he played really well for us in the last ball game, at both positions, both one and two [shooting guard]. Certainly, not having Trevor [Ferguson] in there [because of injury], Farnold was big in playing with Julius [Mays], them together."

How is the health of senior small forward Courtney Fells?

"Right now, it looks like it will be nagging because he couldn't practice today. We are hoping it will be better tomorrow, and that he'll play tomorrow. Today, he couldn't go."

Will Fells' be a game-time decision at times?

"I think so, yes. It will be game-day decisions with him and try to get him some rest if we can, and not too much in practice. Try to have him ready for the game if possible. I think it's going to be game-day decisions for a while until we get another little break where we don't have any games and he get the treatment and try to get better."

Is this the same deep bruise near his ankle suffered against Davidson?

"Yes, the same thing from the Davidson game."

How is Dennis Horner handling playing small forward?

"You know, it's certainly been good for us. It gives us another shooter in that position. Playing against the last two opponents that were playing zones, I thought with Courtney and Dennis on the perimeter, knowing they would trap down on the post, we needed to have some shooters out there. Against Loyola, Dennis hit the first two out there. Getting that opportunity to play him there is good for us. The biggest thing with Dennis at the three is playing against smaller guys on the perimeter. He's playing against a three-man who might be 6-4 or 6-3, a ballhandling type of guy or someone you might have to chase off screens, and that is a little more difficult. I think he certainly has given us a lift at that position with Trevor being out and Courtney having to play the two."

Would Horner face Dan Werner of Florida, who is a similar player?

"He [Werner] plays four a lot for them, but he will play some three for them like Dennis. That matchup is a good matchup for Dennis. Werner will play three, but will play four most of the time."

What challenge is there defensively against a team that has five players with 48 three-point attempts or more this season?

"It's something that we have been faced with for several games. It's going to be important that we control that. It's important that we don't give these guys open looks because they can shoot the basketball. We have to try and make it difficult for them, and contest the shots and give them nothing easy. Dennis at three is going to have to guard one of those guys. We have to be very much aware of who we are guarding. Now having said that, they have a pretty good point guard that can create for other guys and he can shoot it as well, very well. He is also excellent at passing the ball and finding shooters. We are going to have to be solid defensively. They execute their stuff well. We need to be disciplined in our game plan and stick with it. Just again, know who we are guarding.

"We know they are going to shoot threes, they are averaging about 23, 24 attempts per game. We know they aren't shy in taking them. They'll take them in transition. We really have to be ready for that. I think the biggest thing for some of our guys watching film is that they will shoot it deep. We can't be surprised if they pull up for that three."

Is there some more fine-tuning you want to do before conference play?

"There are areas that we need to improve on or get better. We certainly have made some progress in several areas. Going into conference play, we know what it is. It's a battle, and it's been a battle all year for us. We have to continue to get better. I don't think we are where we need to be, and I don't think we are where we are going to be. The one thing that has been constant pretty much all season is that we have played hard. That is the main thing. That was the main thing coming into this year is that we were going to play hard. We are doing that and then learning as we go along. I think we've learned from the Loyola game is that when you get up on a team, you have to continue to play and continue to do what you did to get that lead. Towson in the second half, we did that. We just played, executed and it didn't matter who got it. Tracy [Smith] kept getting layups, so we kept throwing it to him. From that standpoint, we definitely grew.

"We are improving in several areas, and we'll have to continue to get better, and I think we are doing that. There are a few teams in this country that are probably already where they are going to be and need to be. But a lot us are still trying to get there. We are making great progress I think."

What does Smith need to do to get more playing time?

"No. 1, Tracy is playing a position [center] that another talented player is playing that position [Ben McCauley]. So for Tracy, 20 minutes is a good night, that's a great night when you are playing with a Ben McCauley at that center position. What he has to do is continue to be productive. That will keep you on the floor. Defensively, he needs to know what we are doing, rebounding the ball, and then offensively, just running our stuff. Just run our stuff, get to your spots, execute and he'll be fine. He can do that. We know that he can score the ball, but just being productive and ready to play."

How much does it help that Smith is a tough matchup for other backup big men?

"I hope not [that other teams can handle him]. I think that is a luxury that we have and you are absolutely right in that we have a guy that is coming off the bench in that position that can really start. He can really start for us, so that's an asset for us, when you have a young man like that that can score like he can. He can go up and rebound like he can, so that's a plus for us. You'd like to take advantage of that. I think that is what good teams do or what good teams have. Sometimes that first unit is solid, but when you go to that second unit or second line of guys, they are much better than your opponents second line of guys. Tracy gives us that, and hopefully, we can utilize that."

How difficult was it for the program to lose the 2006 recruiting class at the end?
"It's very difficult because those young men were scheduled or planned to become part of this program. Now, you have to go out and find guys at such a late time, by that time for that particular year, we couldn't get anyone. We had seven guys on scholarship. Meanwhile, now you are trying to bring in guys the following year, and those young men were juniors at the time, now seniors, so you can't really get in on them. That sets you back. You are trying to find some pieces. It certainly affected us.

"I think we are getting back, and getting around to having a full roster of players and guys that we have recruited. It definitely set us back. You are talking about good basketball players. [Chris Wright] is a good basketball player. He would have been great here. It changes the whole dynamic of your program really."

Do you think the non-conference schedule this year has worked out well for this particular team?

"Yes, I think so. No question about it. I think the game away at Davidson, I thought was a great test for this team early. Gives us some experience on the road against a good ball club. Having Marquette coming in here as a nationally ranked team. Then being able to play some of the other games at home with the injuries that we had. It definitely helped. Now, we'll go on the road against another good ball club. It's another opportunity and great test to see where we are. It's an opportunity to go down there and get a win and then go into conference play."

What do you project for future non-conference slates?

"We are going to continue to look at playing the Marquette's. Arizona is coming on to the schedule. We'll have Florida again next year. We are going to look at playing those teams. I think it is great for your program, and good for your guys to play against someone other than conference teams, which is always a grind and a battle every game. I think you get to see players and teams that you aren't used to seeing every day. Getting that experience to be away in an unfamiliar setting like Florida, that we have no idea about because our guys have never been down there. Hopefully, that is something when you go further down the road, maybe you'll have a little experience at it.

"We'll look to continue to look to play these teams. I think it's great for our school, great for our players to play against those guys, and obviously, if you get some of those W's, it helps your program."

For a story on Stephen Curry and Davidson, with them playing at Duke, how tough is it to stop him?

"You know there is a way, but you might get beat. You could double him and not let him shoot all the time, but then he's so smart and he has other guys. You can't stop him. You just try and make it tough for him. Now, you can't stop him for several reasons. One, he obviously is an outstanding player and an unselfish player. What makes him most dangerous is that his light is beyond green. He can shoot it any time he wants. He can take 40 shots.

"When you are playing against a guy who is shooting the ball the way he can, and pass the ball the way he can, who is as smart as he is, and he can also shoot it 40 times, that is just tough to stop. That is what he does and that is how they win.

"The bottom line, if he shoots 10 times or 40 times, if they win, that is all that matters."

Is Curry someone who transcends college basketball with fans?

"I don't know, I don't want to take anything away from that young man. I haven't looked at it in that way. I can you tell you that when he plays, people are excited about watching him. When you hear people talk about him, they talk about him with excitement. There are a lot of great players out here, but it's something when you hear players and coaches talk about him, they talk about him with just a little different [tone]. I don't know if it's excitement or appreciation for the way he plays the game. He's fun to watch. He's not fun to play against. Maybe that is why people are saying what they are because he is. I want to say he's a throwback, but he's not a throwback. He's just fun to watch play."

Did you play in a Big Four Tournament?

"I did."

What did you think about it as a player and what would you think about it as a coach?

"As a player, I enjoyed it, it was great. It was early, you are playing against teams right away. It's an opportunity to get a quick jump on one of them or two of them. It was exciting. Back then, you'd play against each other at least three times and possibly four in the ACC Tournament. It was just big, a huge deal. I enjoyed it as a player.

"As a coach, I don't know, why not? You can talk to Coach K and Roy because they've been around a little longer than I have. They might convince me there is a reason to not to do it. I played in it, so I might have a different view of it. It was fun."

Which NC State player would want to shoot 40 shots like Curry?

"Dereck Whittenburg. Are you talking about this year's team? I don't know if we have a guy that would want 40 shots. Tracy probably took 40 in high school. Tracy probably did. The thing about it, when Curry is taking that 30 or 40, a lot of times he is shooting a good percentage. It's not how many you take, but how many you make. He seems to even when he's not shooting well, he seems to make the ones toward the end. That's a special talent, that's special."



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