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Volume 70, Issue 79, Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sports

Penders says Cougars' confidence growing

Squad has seen tough practices; UH would beat Rice at home

By Sam Khan Jr.
The Daily Cougar

UH head coach Tom Penders has brought major change to the Cougar basketball program in just half a season. The Daily Cougar sat down with Penders to get a sense of the team's identity and if it had lived up to Penders' expectations. 

Sam Khan: Talk about where the team is from Game 1 to now in terms of its identity.

Tom Penders: All teams find their identity as the season wears on. I think our kids grasped really early on how important the defensive side of the ball is, and that was really big. I have to really give (junior guard) Brian Latham a lot of that credit. He's a big reason why we've improved. He takes pride in shutting down people, and shutting down the other team's offense. He totally lays it out on the line on the defensive end, and that helps because I've always been a defensive coach. It's about pressure D, getting easy buckets, scoring in transition. 


Cougar head coach Tom Penders says the team's early success has given them a boost of confidence that puts the players in the mentality of reaching March Madness.
Stephen Pinchback/The Daily Cougar

In today's society, in basketball, kids come out with these reputations not based on the defensive end of things; It's all about offense. It's hard to find guys like Brian. Then (sophomore guard) Lanny Smith, (senior guard) Andre Owens, (junior forward) Ramon Dyer and the rest of the guys who weren't really known as defensive oriented kids started to pick up on it. We've come a long way, but there are certain steps that you must go through as a program.

SK: After the two tough road losses to Washington and Texas A&M, you put them through a big challenge with some tough practices that were longer, harder and later. What was that week like?

TP: I couldn't throw it all out on them early. You can't start out like that. If I had put in the hell week in the preseason, guys would be looking around and wondering "what the hell is going on here?" We had a really tough week after the A&M game, but we had the time to do it. I'm not a believer in wearing guys down and putting them through a lot of stuff in the preseason because they're in class.

So I waited, and I knew even though we were doing pretty well early in the season that we were going to have to go through that. And every place I've been, we've had player reunions, kids get together and they all talk about that murderous week. I had been waiting and that was the perfect opportunity. They lost a couple of games, and rather then getting them down on themselves, we pulled them all together and made them accountable, made them understand what team toughness and togetherness is, how to never give in, and that you never turn on your teammates.

SK: After the Rice game, you said that the Owls were where you guys wanted to be. How close are you to that now?

TP: I think if we played Rice again on a neutral floor, we'd have a great chance to beat them, and I think if we played them here (at Hofheinz Pavilion) we would beat them. They're a senior team, and (head coach) Willis Wilson has been there for many years, but I think our program has come to the point where we're every bit as good as Rice. But I have a lot of respect for Coach Wilson and those (players).

SK: It seems that there has been a definite change in attitudes with the players, because you hear Smith and Owens talking about reaching the NCAA Tournament on a pretty frequent basis. Talk about the change in thinking this team has undergone after having tough seasons in the past.

TP: I love it. After working with this team a few times early on, I felt that we had potential to win a lot of games. So we kind of threw it out there at them as something to shoot for. And they have bought into it and they're thinking, "why not now?" Confidence comes from a lot of things, but there's nothing like winning to help build it. The next hurdle was beating a Conference USA road team. When you're in a good conference like C-USA, any road win is a great win. It's a very difficult but necessary step in the confidence level of your ballclub. And I've tried to help them build that.
 

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