NEW ORLEANS -- When Wake Forest’s players entered the interview room at the New Orleans Arena on Wednesday, there was little interest and a lot of gloom. As the last of eight teams to proceed to the podium, pushing East Coast deadlines at 7 p.m. Central Time, Wake was questioned only by three North Carolina reporters and one local reporter -- and given the Demon Deacons’ run of five losses in six games, it was a grim line of inquiry.
Forty-eight hours later, the Deacons were back, and they couldn’t stop smiling. Thursday’s overtime win over Texas took an unimaginable amount of pressure off Wake Forest, from last season’s upset by Cleveland State to this season’s slide to the finish. As the Deacons prepared to play Kentucky tomorrow, there’s suddenly reason for optimism.
“We were 18-5, I want to say a month ago,” Wake Forest guard Ish Smith said. “We were a team that was looking like we can really, really make some noise. We’re still that same team. Nothing has changed. I just think we went through a stretch, we lost five of our last six, and our confidence took a little hit.
“I don’t know how it goes from -- it’s night and day. But we’re still the same team with the same talent. And hopefully the Texas game gave us a little bit more confidence to move on.”
The good vibes were everywhere. Asked about Smith’s speed, L.D. Williams responded with a story about the team’s senior speeches.
“He told Ishmael, ‘Freshman year, you didn’t stop until you hit the baseline,’ ” Williams said. “He said, ‘Now you know to stop when you hit a layup.’ ”
Asked who told that joke, Williams replied, “Chas (McFarland).”
Sitting next to him, Smith chuckled. “It figures.”
And if anyone had reason to be grim, it was Williams, whose turnover on an inbounds play gave Texas a shot to win the game in regulation. But he could laugh about his error Friday in the wake of the win.
“I probably made the most boneheaded mistake of the tournament yesterday when I traveled on the baseline,” Williams said. “But, you know, we sent the game into overtime. We were down eight (in overtime) and found a way to win the game. To be honest, none of the guys on my team were like, ‘Dang, L, what were you thinking?’ Not still, to right now. I haven’t heard anything about the mistake.”
Of course, all these good feelings could be wiped out in a few possessions if Kentucky comes out the way the Wildcats did against East Tennessee State, when coach John Calipari described his team as a “buzzsaw.”
For now, though, Wake Forest is doing something that the Deacons haven’t been able to do for a long time in the postseason: They’re enjoying it.