Coach's Corner: High praise for Hernandez

The Wildcats are coming off a week of extreme highs and lows. They beat Washington in a classic battle, but two days later they fell to Washington State for the first time since the mid-80's. Lute Olson discussed last weekend and also broke down Cal and Stanford.

Olson opened the media gathering by discussing the Washington State loss:

"By looking at the tape of Washington State, it was definitely a case of some people not playing any where near their capabilities. I thought of the starters, Mustafa (Shakur) and Ivan (Radenovic) really played well. I felt at the time they did, and when I watched the tape I was more convinced. So we just need to get everybody on the same page. I figured that Washington would beat ASU, so we turn the corner tied for first.

"I said at the start of the season that I thought whoever won it (the conference championship) could have four or five losses, and I don't think the picture has changed a whole lot. Stanford has come on to be what we all expected them to be at the start of the season. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that (Chris) Hernandez was not at full speed earlier, and his is a game-breaker, a game-decider, and has certainly shown that. It 's my feeling that the conference should do a better job of selling some of our players nationally, and in my opinion, it should start with him.

Question: Couldn't you say the same thing about California's Richard Midgley?

"He is a really good player, but I don't think there are many (Chris) Hernandezes in this country.

"Yes, he (Midgley) is underrated. Outside of the west, if you say Midgley in ACC country, they think it's a new candy bar or something (laughs)."

Who does Chris Hernandez remind you of as far as former Pac-10 players? Maybe a Todd Lichti?

"He's more like a Miles Simon. Todd Lichti was more really like a three or a two. But as far as his leadership, he's more like a Miles or (UCLA's) Tyus Edney, although I think Chris' are more impressive than Edney's. A lot was said a year ago about their (Stanford's) forwards and (Matt) Lottich, but the one guy they couldn't have done without last year was Chris Hernandez, in my opinion."

Question: What are your feelings about the players-only meeting? (The players scheduled a players only meeting for Monday night)

"I think that's a necessary thing every so often during the season. It's a case to where guys just have to express themselves and tell it like it is. It's a good idea to clear the air. It's a good time to do it halfway through the league season, just like the one at the end of non-conference was a good idea."

Question: In each of the four losses, Salim Stoudamire hasn't always been able to get good looks. How do you prepare for California, one of the teams that played him very tough?

"I talked with Salim today once we had broken the tapes down, and I felt that he was getting more into the rhythmic movement, instead of making good, sharp, hard cuts. It was not a matter of screens, it was a matter of him executing. (Washington State's Thomas) Kelati did a really good job on him, and I think his length bothered Salim. Kelati is equally as quick as Salim, but I think Salim needs to be harder to guard. That's up to him.

"Earlier when we faced the box-and-one for the first time, I didn't think the post guys did a good job of helping him. But I think the help was all there (Saturday).

"The most important thing is that everyone moves and is hard to guard for the entire possession. The difference between a good player and one that is really good player has to do with how hard he is to guard on in the entire possession. That's something we talk about prior to every game and in practice. We talk about it all of the time. You need to make hard cuts. You need to utilize screens. Your job as an offensive player is to make life as miserable as possible for the defender."

Can you talk about Chris Rodgers?

"He'll practice today and we'll evaluate what happens. It's just like what it was with Salim (Dec. 18). We'll see how he does in a practice situation. Salim handled it well and up until Saturday, he's been the best he has been in four years here in that stretch. I expect him (Chris) to react in a manner that he needs to react."

Do you think that Ivan Radenovic is the team's most improved player?

"I felt that way since the start of the year. I think I said that when practice started and it was asked who are the most improved guys? I said that Ivan was one of them. It's amazing how well he is playing when you consider that he's been playing since the middle of last year.

"He's one of our best defenders on the team. He's long on the perimeter. He uses his hands to challenge passes. He's a better shooter than he's shown, but some of that is confidence that will come with experience. He can really shoot it. When he gets open shots, we want him to take that shot. He runs the court well.

"He had a bad rebounding game against Washington. He was out there with a real strong determination, I thought, on Saturday because he knew he didn't hit the boards well on Thursday. There is no secret to rebounding. It's going after the ball and checking people out.

"I also thought Mustafa played outstanding. You can see his conference percentages coming up. I think he's really playing well. The one thing he needs to continue working at is containing penetration. He should be one of the best defensive guards in the country because of his quick feet, his work ethic and his length. I think you are going to see that."

Question: What was the situation with Channing (Frye) on Saturday?

"You know what I'd like? I'd like for him to catch the ball and put it in the hole more (laughs). It's fundamental stuff. There is no excuse for Channing to get four rebounds in two games. Up until very recently, he had been very consistent, but he was off (last week). Even Thursday night where he got 14 in the second half, I look at two rebounds and it tells you how aggressive you are, or how unaggressive you are."

Could you talk about your bench?

"I thought both Jesus (Verdejo) and Daniel (Dillon) played well. We should have played them more. At the time you go with your veterans and you go with experience in that type of game.

"We have to start using Kirk (Walters) more and get his confidence more. He will be a key guy for us.

Question: With both California and Stanford, do you feel like you will be seeing better teams than you saw last month?

"Oh yes they are playing a lot better. It's made a difference for Cal to get their guard back. (Ayinde) Ubaka has done a really good job of getting the ball down. He's a sophomore now after starting as a point guard as a freshman. He makes a big difference. The big kid, Rod Benson, is really playing well, and playing well in all phases - scoring, rebounding, challenging shots. The difference right now is those two."

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