Coach's Corner: Olson on Eastern Washington

The Holiday break is over and the Cats get ready for three games this week, including the start of the Pac-10 season. Lute Olson met with the media on Monday and discussed Eastern Washington and the rest of the Fiesta Bowl Classic field.

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Opening Comments:
"It's great to have the field that we have in here. It's getting more and more difficult to get top caliber teams because it's hard for teams to give up two home games. Last year all four of the teams that were in here ended up in the NCAA tournament and the four that are in here now were all in the tournament last year. So even though some are not the big names, they certainly have had successful programs. Starting with us, but eastern Washington also Butler and Richmond have excellent basketball traditions, so I think it should be an entertaining tournament with some good competition."

"For the first time in a number of years all of our guys made it back for practice last night. Some of them came back in a day early just to make sure. Mustafa (Shakur) ended up staying here. A year ago he had problems coming out of Philadelphia. It's a good thing he came back, with all the problems they had in Philadelphia yesterday with the snow and the luggage. They were all ready to go. We had a great practice last night. Obviously they had all worked out a couple times during they're four days off. We ended up having five of the guys stay here.

"Chris Rodgers stayed here, Mustafa, as well as Ivan (Radenovic, Daniel (Dillon), and Mohamed (Tangara). All of them had dinner up at our house with my family, although I was back in Pittsburgh, but they came up with Matt Brase. Out of the 14 guys, six of them were here the whole time.

"As far as Eastern Washington is concerned, they run a lot of the stuff that Utah runs because of the coach's involvement there. They're a team that will play man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone. So hopefully we'll see some of each. The more we face multiple defenses, the better off we feel we'll be for league play. For those of you who saw some of the Marquette game, Marquette did try to go to a zone for a while and we hurt them badly in it. I think it's just been a process that's developed with us, zone offense always takes longer to get in. They have nice size on their team. Them have some excellent shooters. I expect it will be challenging, especially with Marc Axton. He creates a lot of problems at 6-7, 225lbs, he plays inside and outside and is a very good perimeter shooter. All of their big guys shoot the ball well in and out of the post area. That will test us I think in a number of ways."

Do you have any concerns about your team shooting the ball well?
"I've never been concerned about the shooting. I've been concerned about our shot selection and our willingness to make the extra pass. We can see that in our practice situations now that we are moving the ball well. If we make the extra pass and get the open shot then I don't think there's any problem with our shooting.

"As far as Salim Stoudamire goes, a game after disciplinary action he always plays very well. Have you seen an indication of that in practice?

"He shot the ball very well last night. Chris (Rodgers) shot the ball very well last night. Salim's a great shooter, the only thing that would keep him from hitting a great percentage is if he doesn't take great shots. But I think he's been very unselfish in the practice situations. The shots he hit against Manhattan, there were some that were long, but they were all open good looks. His only miss in the first half was slam dunk at the end of the half were we were in a last second shot situation. But he shot it well yesterday. He's doing really a nice job out there with his leadership. He's been very positive with the guys and I see no reason why that won't continue.

Who will start Stoudamire or Rodgers?
"I don't know. I've always said I'm less concerned about who starts. I'm more concerned with who finishes. I really don't know. We'll see how things go in practice situations today. I'm comfortable with both of them. What are you hoping you will get from the games in the Fiesta Bowl Classic as the team prepares for conference play?

"As we tell the guys before every game, we can't waste any games now in terms of our preparation. We just need to keep getting better and better. We need to make sure our defense stays solid and hopefully gets better as we go. We have two games here in preparation for Sunday (first Pac-10 conference game), so that's the way we'll look at it. We want to play well in both games, as we always would, but when your getting closer to league you want to make sure that your fine tuning."

What specific areas would you like the team to improve in preparation for league play?
"I'd like to see us continue defending the way we have been and continue to rebound, and then making sure that offensively were taking care of the ball and making the extra pass. We've had a few more turnovers than I'm comfortable with. Hopefully we can cut those down. Are goal will be to keep that under a dozen. I think at the pace we play, anything under 12 would be good. I'm not sure how many we've been forcing, but I think it's well above that.

Are you worried at all about the team getting up to play a team that is 2-8?
"No, at this point I don't think our guys are concerned about how the other team plays as much as that we play well.

Do you expect to see some zone?
"It really doesn't make any difference to us, because at this point I think we're pretty well prepared for whatever. It's just like Marquette. Marquette's definitely a better man-to-man team. But yet they did try some zone. And Manhattan did also. The important thing is that we defend well and that we attack when we get the ball. The reason for the slow type game we had against Marquette probably had more to do with our defense than anything. They're not a team that wants to slow it down. I think our defense was so tough that they had a hard time getting a shot off. A lot of times they were taking halfway desperation shots to beat the clock. "

Did last year's season of less stellar defense create a sense of urgency to defend well this year?
"Anytime you have young guys your going to struggle some defensively, because young guys have no idea the kind of effort that you have to put in every time the opponent gets the ball. The other problem last year is we didn't have the depth. If we got Channing (Frye) in foul trouble, we really didn't have anywhere to go, and he was in foul trouble a lot. But this year, if Channing gets in foul trouble, certainly it hurts us some, but it doesn't kill us like it did a year ago. Depth means a lot. If your going to put in the kind of effort we do defensively you have to have depth so you can get guys a blow now and then."

On the subject of depth, talk about the benefit of getting Daniel Dillon and Bret Brielmaier in for quality first half minutes.
"I feel very comfortable with Bret at anytime. He defends as well as anyone we have. And he doesn't hurt us on offense because he's very disciplined. He's not going to take shots that aren't good shots and he goes hard to the boards. Daniel is our best rebounding guard no question, and he has learned to take care of the ball no. He had one turnover in the Marquette game and that was suspect as to whether one of their guys got a piece of the pass. He'll defend with anyone we have and rebound better than anyone we have. As long as he's not throwing the ball all over the arena like he was early in the practice sessions, we feel very comfortable with him. And even though Daniel's a freshman, he's had a lot of international experience. I think international experience, when someone's playing for their country, those are pressure packed games."

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