Coach's Corner: Cats strong in November

The Wildcats get started for real on Tuesday night when they meet San Diego in the first round of the preseason N.I.T.. Lute Olson dicussed this team as well as the Wildcats' success in November.

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Olson opened the press gathering with an update on the last few practices:

"We have had good practices since Thursday. I think we gained a lot in the exhibition games but the University of San Diego will create a whole lot more problems than either of the exhibition teams created. They have good experience, good size. Not thin of shooters. I would look for it to be a real challenge for us.

"We will not play Isaiah (Fox), but it was encouraging to see Mohammed be able to come in and play some for us. He certainly made a difference on the glass. He is still working hard to pick up some of the offensive things, but I think we can count on him to give us some assistance there. We always have the option, you saw Thursday night, of using Hassan Adams defending the four-man and he gave us really good defensive quickness on the court with (Chris) Rodgers, (Mustafa) Shakur, and (Salim) Stoudamire. So we do have some options that way if need be. If you see the size with San Diego, that would create some problems, but on the other hand I think our quickness can create some problems as well."

On Fox's status for Thrusday:

"Well I hope we play Thursday. If the team plays Thursday, I think Isaiah will play Thursday. He has done a really nice job. He has been working very hard in practice. He hasn't let this affect him in the least. I would say if we play Thursday, he'll play."

Olson was then asked about how he thought the rotation would be?

"Well, we are still working on that. We can go deeper. There still is a sizable difference in the day-to-day performance in the freshmen and the returning guys, but they are getting closer to where we need to have them. This time of year is always a difficult time because there are so many new things they are getting hit with. I think it is hard to digest that much in this short of time. But if those guys will come in and play defense, rebound and not worry about points we'll be fine. That was the problem we had on Thursday. I thought there were some bad shots taken. Sometimes young guys think 'Well, the way for me to stay in the game is to score some points,' and nothing could be further from the truth with us. The best way to stay in the game here when you are coming off the bench is to defend and rebound and you are going to increase your playing time."

On Kirk Walters:

" As of right now we would redshirt Kirk. If anything happens in terms of injuries or problems of that type, then we have talked to him about that as a possibility. He's good with it. His parents are good with it. They really feel that would enhance Kirk's opportunities to get where he wants to get. It gives him an extra year with his schoolwork; he can work on his advanced degree and all that."

On which freshmen are most ready to contribute:

"It sort of depends on the day. The guy that has been playing well for what we need has been Daniel Dillion. He has been making a lot of progress. Early, he was turning the ball over a lot. Now he is doing a much better job of taking care of the ball. He is one of our best rebounders. All of them need consistency. It's easier to get consistency on the defensive end and the boards than it is on the offensive end. I thought Jawann (McClellan) had a very good practice on Friday and Saturday. Much more intense defensively and we need that intensity. We need to have someone step up that we can come off the bench with and count on getting some rebounds for us as well."

On what Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire bring to the team:

"In Channing's case I think it obvious how much stronger he is and how much more aggressive he is. He's running the court really well as he's always done, but I think he is catching and finishing plays better in the open court. It was an interesting thing to see where Salim would have a bad shooting night like he had on Thursday night but it didn't affect the rest of his play. He played very well defensively. He did a nice job of running the club when Mustafa was out. That is the kind of maturity that we have been seeing from him where he understands he can affect the game in a lot of different ways in a positive manner. In the past if he had a bad shooting game it would usually affect the rest of is game."

On whether Mustafa Shakur can develop into more of a leader:

" Mustafa, I said it a year ago, he's a very natural leader, but it's very difficult for a freshman to provide that. He started this year the first day of practice as one of our leaders. Thursday night I thought you could see the difference when Mustafa was out of the game.

On Ivan Radenovic's improvement:

"He is quicker. He is stronger. A lot of times don't realize as they get stronger they also get quicker. They think maybe the added weight will slow them down. It doesn't if it is weight that has been put on in the right way."

On the personality of the team:

"I think the chemistry is going to continue to build and be a strong point with us. They are very personable guys. I think they enjoy and have fun playing. If you can play hard and have fun playing I think that is the best combination."

On the Wildcats' success in the N.I.T. and November in general:

"Our intent is to play as well as we can at the time we are playing. That doesn't mean we will be as good now as in December or January. We have had good success in the Preseason N.I.T. It's always a challenge when it's a one-game tournament and you hope to make it a two-game tournament and you hope to make it a three- and four-game tournament. Probably the immediacy of it gets everybody fired up. Which I'm sure will be true with San Diego as well. Our record in November has been good but it hasn't been all that much better than it's been any other month. The advantage that you usually have with a program of our type is that, in November, you get a bigger share of home games than you do at any other time during the course of the year."

On Arizona's success at neutral sites:

"Again, I think it goes down to the immediacy. If there is a championship involved guys get excited about that. Once you hit January, February, and March you are going to be on the road half the time. That makes a big difference. All one has to do is take a look at what our record at McKale has been and what our record on the road has been."

On San Diego Coach Brad Holland?

"I know Brad well. I actually watched him as a high school player, in college, obviously when he was an assistant at UCLA. He does a very good job. He's a very classy guy, very much a gentleman. He has done a great job at San Diego. That's not the easiest place in the world to do it because of the size of the facility and the rest of it. He and his staff have done a very solid job in a lot of different ways."

On the process of getting the team ready early in the year:

"With the practice situation I think this year we have good competition at every spot. I think that leads to guys being ready to play. If you don't have good competition in a practice situation I don't think you make the improvement day-by-day that you do with competition. If we have scrimmage it is usually close. That also is indicative of the types of competitors we have in this program. They are used to winning. They've been used to winning in high school situations with very few exceptions. It's the kind of thing with guys that are used to winning they know what it takes, they know the extra effort it takes to win."

On the team's progress since the start of practice:

"I think we have been making good progress from day-to-day. Sometimes there is a day where you just as soon not had them out there. I think for the most part we have had very competitive practice situations. They have worked hard in the drill-work. One of the problems with drill-work is that you can do really well in the drills, but do they transfer over to what you are doing in the full-court. We don't do a lot of full-court in our practice situations. We do a lot of half-court and then we'll fast break from missed and made so we can make the quick transition. I think our big guys are doing a better job of getting the ball in-bounded quickly. We have to do a better job of getting the rebound exchanged with the point guard better what we are doing. I think we are making progress. In my opinion we have a tremendous amount yet to achieve in terms of how well we can play. We aren't anywhere near what we need to be."

On how this team ranks in terms of quickness compared to the others he has coached:

"I think this one is probably as quick as any team we've had. We're not as quick at the four spot as say we were with Bennett Davison or last year with Hassan. We are very quick with the four perimeter guys right now that are carrying the load, and Channing has very good quickness. For a guy his size he is very quick."

On the improvement in Chris Rodgers' attitude:

"The good thing with Chris now is that he has accepted that role where he is going to be the guy to come off the bench we need an immediate look from. It 's been obvious in the games to this point, the exhibition games, that he's come off the bench ready to go the second he hits the floor. That is a great ability to have. There are a lot of guys it takes them a couple of minutes to get warmed up. The second he hits the floor he's getting after you. There are a lot of comparisons with what he can do with Jason Terry. That was the great thing JT could do and is still doing. I saw where he played 33 minutes last night coming off the bench. There are not a lot of guys that can come off the bench and be at full speed immediately. I think Chris has that ability."

On whether Mohammed Tangara will be able to play more than he did in the Sonoma State game:

"It all depends on the game situation. He is doing well. It's just difficult to miss that many practices and, I think I said before, in the early practices for a freshman to miss a day is like a veteran missing a week. There is so much being thrown at them and the only way you learn is not by just standing there and listening and watching, you need to get repetitions to learn in this game. It has to be an instinctive thing."

On how much Tangara has been able to practice:

"I would say less than half the time we have been able to have him in any kind of contact. I would say probably a third of the time. The good thing is the last week he was able to go every day. In addition to that, just to show you the type of guy he is, he's gone up to Justin (Kokoskie), athletic trainer)and asked if he could run on the underwater treadmill more because he doesn't feel any pain from that and he needs to get in better condition. That's the type of attitude that he has. He is a very willing worker and learns quickly."

On Ivan Radenovic's adjustment since last year:

"From the end of last year to the current time, I would say he is the most improved player out there. He is much stronger. He has adjusted to how the game is played. He is more confident in his shot right now. He has been very active defensively compared to a year ago. A month from now, hopefully he is a lot more active than he is right now. From the end of last season until now, I would say the two most improved players out there are Kirk and Ivan."

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