Feb. 24, 2011
UNLVRebels.com had a chance to sit down with UNLV Athletics Director Jim Livengood to talk about March Madness, how the Mountain West Conference stacks up and what we can expect for the Runnin’ Rebels. Livengood is a former chair of the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament selection committee.
UNLVRebels.com: How special is this time of year for you?
Livengood: I absolutely love it. But it’s not about me or any other administrator or any other member of our department. It’s about how fun this time of the year is for fans when your team is involved and, most importantly, how great it is for the student-athletes involved. So many memories are made during February and March.
UNLVRebels.com: How would you assess the positioning of the Mountain West Conference right now on a national level?
Livengood: This is a very good basketball league and I think people know that nationally. I’d love to see us get four teams in again. I don’t know if that will happen if one of the top seeds wins the conference tournament, but there is the chance… Colorado State had a tough week as they lost to two good teams [UNLV and BYU]. But they are definitely worthy of consideration and still have a chance to make a statement. And, of course, we [UNLV] don’t want to take anything for granted.
UNLVRebels.com: Does San Diego State or BYU have a shot at a No. 1 seed?
Livengood: Absolutely. The way I see that happening is if the winner of this Saturday’s game [Feb. 26; BYU at San Diego State] runs the table during the rest of regular season play and then wins the conference tournament. Of course, I don’t want to see that happen, but I’m a little biased about who I’m rooting for in the conference tournament. (laughs)
UNLVRebels.com: What does it mean for the Mountain West to have two teams [No. 4/6 SDSU and No. 7 BYU] ranked in the Top 10 for such a long period of time?
Livengood: It’s so valuable. And for us [UNLV] to be No. 3 in the conference right now, it’s huge. We have seven losses, but only three of them are to teams outside of the Top 10. And, heck, Louisville is a Top 15 team. That’s something new for the Rebels over the past couple of seasons – playing in such a high-quality conference. In the top conferences like the Mountain West is now, good basketball teams lose games to other good teams. This past week is a good example. Colorado State is a good basketball team trying to earn its way into the NCAA Tournament, but they went 0-2 this week losing to two real good teams [UNLV and BYU]. That is happening all around the nation at this time of the year.
UNLVRebels.com: How do you feel about the position the Runnin’ Rebels are in right now for a NCAA Tournament at-large bid?
Livengood: I think Rebel fans should feel really good about the position we are in for an at-large berth. This past week on the road was tremendous in that regard. Beating two good teams on the road in sold out, hostile environments plays really well with the selection committee at this time of the year. We are a really good road team and that is important. But that said, each game becomes more important at this time of the year. There is still work left to do. I know the team is not satisfied and that is all that really matters at this point.
UNLVRebels.com: What impressed you the most about the two road wins this past week?
Livengood: Without a doubt, the character our guys showed in both games makes me proud and I hope it makes our fans proud. And, that’s easily attributable to the way Lon Kruger does things. That’s what makes him so good at what he does
Listen, it’s been an odd year. We got off to the best start in 20 years (9-0) and then the shots stopped falling and we went into a funk. The guys were playing hard, but it’s tough to keep fighting when the shots aren’t falling. But they kept playing hard, still found ways to win and that showed me a lot. It was a tough off-season and that has impacted our season, probably much more than most of us care to admit. And, in reality, most of us don’t want to worry about the whys. We think those are just excuses.
But Lon never hit the panic button, even when the shots weren’t falling. He knew his priority was to instill confidence in our guys. Shooting is all about confidence and he never doubted the players. More importantly, they knew he never doubted them. That is the key. That showed in the second half at Colorado State. It was fun to watch and see the results and to understand why it was happening.
Then, at New Mexico, to see our guys battle through all of the adversity and the foul trouble, that showed character. Like their coach, they never hit the panic button, even when they were down late. It made be proud to be a Rebel.
Now, our guys have to build off that and keep getting better. It’s a great position to be in – to already have 21 wins at this time of the year and to have a chance to keep getting better and to keep playing games. The goal in college basketball is to peak at the right time – in March – and this team has a chance to do just that.
UNLVRebels.com: What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
Livengood: (Laughs) I’ve been doing this too long to know I won’t give an answer people will like. All I worry about right now is for us to come out on Saturday night [at home vs. Wyoming], play with fight and help give our crowd something to root for. The rest takes care of itself.
Listen, we are three or four timely shots away from having just four losses and being a Top 15 team ourselves. If you would have told me that this past summer, I’m not quite sure I would have believed you.
But, that said, strange things happen – this is college sports. Wyoming is going to come in here Saturday off of a win and want to make a statement against us. If they knock us off, all of the sudden, we’re questioning ourselves.
My dad taught me something about the sports world: “You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.” But that does not mean I’m not excited for what the next few weeks might bring.