Coach's Corner: Fielding questions

Lute Olson had no opening statements. He strolled into the press room with a new pair of Nikes and set to answering questions. He sat down and let the collected media members fire away.

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Question: Are you surprised with the predicament that ASU is in right now? They played very well down here two months ago and are a much-improved team over the past year.

Well they played really well in a lot of games. They have lost some close ones that they weren't able to close out. I would say at that point that they would be in the top division and they are very close. Looking at the game with Washington State, Washington State hit a shot that cost them the game, and they (WSU) missed a shot that could have beaten us. That's how close that they have been. They're a good team. We know that its going to be a battle right to the end, they played us well down here, and there is no reason to think that they wont do the same there, if not better at home.

Question: What are your thoughts on ASU right now and how they are playing?

We like to have people try to outrun us. That's our style and that's the way we're used to playing. I think its pretty obvious with ASU, with as good of a player that Ike (Diogu) is, you almost have to figure that he has to touch it every time down. I think that's something they've done a good job of utilizing his abilities. If you take a look at his numbers, you don't get numbers like that unless you are being set up to get the ball.

The thing I said early is it looks like they've added shooters to their team that has really helped them. If you look at the numbers that Bryson Krueger has added, he's a very good three-point shooter. Kevin Kruger, who we of course knew was a good three-point shooter. Bryson only played a few minutes here, he has added a lot to the team with his ability to shoot the ball.

It appears that they're going more and more to getting the ball inside to Ike in watching their recent games. It seems like every time down court it's in his hands, whether or not it comes back out is depending if you're doubling or what's happening on the court. I still say that they are a good team. Their record is backing up what I said at the start. I feel our team is a lot better, as will Rob think his team is better. We'll get a chance to see which team has improved the most.

Question: Pac-10 coaches seem to be in agreement that they want the conference tournament to be including all teams. What have been some of the obstacles to make that happen and what are some of the solutions?

Well the solution is a pretty simple solution. As coaches, we voted 10 to nothing to have all 10 teams in it. If you were going to have a tournament why in the world would you ever exclude two teams? So there are two solutions. One you could play, even on Tuesday night, after the (regular season) games are done on Saturday, have the 7 play the 10 at the home of the 7, have 9 play 8 at the home of the 8th place team. It would take two teams away from school for a day, but it would not affect the two home teams. Or you could eliminate the Wednesday night, instead of us being there for the dinner; have the teams play that night. You could have the other six teams at the banquet and the others playing.

It makes no sense to the 10 coaches in this league that this would happen, but obviously it doesn't make sense to a lot of the AD's. But thank goodness Jim (Livengood) sees it just as we do, that it's only fair to include all 10 teams. To the league, with the sponsors and all that, they want to have the dinner, but just don't have the 7-10 teams there. It detracts a little from the dinner, but still most of us are there.

One of the great things about the dinner is to choose someone from each school to be placed in the Hall of Honor. I think it's fabulous. For example with us, to have Pete Williams, he should be honored; he's really at the foundation of this program. From a national standpoint, Kerr and Elliot are the guys who got us the national expose, but we would not be the team had Pete Williams not come here. So I'm just thrilled that he's being honored. Plus he's been one of the most loyal players ever to this program. He stays in touch all the time and comes to any of the games he can.

Question: Do you think Salim had an off night or were people taking shots they normally don't take?

He (Salim) still has the best numbers in the country. Did we take shots that we normally haven't? No. As a team we're we've been the top three-point shooting team in the league and we have the best three-point shooter in the country. After its all over, we shouldn't have taken 11 threes in the first half, the only one we should have taken was the one we made. But you have to go with what got us there and what got us there was that we were playing inside out.

Question: What's your opinion on the Pac-10 Player of the Year, with Salim and Ike at the top, but one being from the winning team does that seem to hurt one's chances?

I have always felt that this award, if it comes down to two people, should go to the one who's team wins the league. I think Damon was Co-Player of the Year one year (1995) but didn't get it because we didn't win the league.

In Ike's defense, he's had to do this with two or three people hanging all over him, and had he been with us, he probably would have had more opportunities and it would have been harder to double and triple team him as teams have. You have to take a look at Salim's numbers and it would be pretty hard to argue why we wouldn't feel he should be the guy.

Question: With a lot to play for on both ends, there has to be a lot to like about this game?

Yes, I think so. Things can still be on the line for ASU, certainly there will be implications as far as postseason play. It's more then just playing a game against a state rival; there is a lot more hanging on this game than that.

Question: Do you think with what happened last year up in Tempe will prove to be motivation for this week's game?

No, I think our guys are going to handle whatever is done. I made comments after the Washington game, I was very impressed with the Washington crowd with how they came out and supported their team. I think it was not a case of being there just to scream and yell at the opponents. They were there to cheer their team on. I think a lot can be learned from the sportsmanship of that type of crowd.

One of the reasons I am very proud of the crowd here at McKale is that they come to cheer on the Wildcats not to harass the opponents. I know that in some instances, that may not be the truth when it's ASU, because that's a really deep-seated hatred from fans of both sides, but that's nothing I would feel proud of. But I don't need to learn any new words. I hope our fans come to cheer the Wildcats and theirs for the Sun Devils. There have been some really ugly things in the relationship of these schools whether it is baseball or basketball. I think that really detracts from the game. In basketball at least, I have not seen poor sportsmanship in either side in 22 years, the players have always handled themselves and I think they will this year. I hope the fans will handle themselves as well as the players do.

Question: Besides Salim, how comfortable are you with the other guys on the perimeter?

If you look at our numbers from three, there really pretty good. In conference play, I think Hassan (Adams) has done a good job at selecting his shots. Earlier his percentage was not good because he was taking more threes then he should shoot. But now he is up over 50 percent from the field in twos. Mustafa (Shakur) is 39 (percent) from three, and Chris (Rodgers) has struggled, but I think that's more of getting in the game and getting a rhythm.

The only thing I feel, is when our inside guys have been as dominant they have, it should be a case of inside out. I'm opposed to quick shots that come, not off the break, because off the break the defense is still moving and recovering, but when we get to the half court, the worst thing that we or any team can do is take quick shots, because we have not moved the defense to where we can get a good second shot.

As I've said all along with the big guys, some of it has to do with their timing on cuts to get open. Channing (Frye) has been shooting well, and we need to take more advantage of that.

Question: I know your looking to surpass John Wooden, would it be more special to get it against ASU?

No I'd rather have it in my pocket now. To me it wouldn't make any difference who it was against unless it came against UCLA, it might be more meaningful. Whether it came now or later, or against any other team it wouldn't make any difference. But that's not something I go into the game thinking about, its nothing like that at all.

What's been behind the weekend Channing had?

He's playing much stronger; he's taking hits, and is still finishing the shots. He's just gotten a lot better since he started here as a freshman. That's true of every year that he has been here, because he works so hard. He's worked so hard on his strength, I think it's helpful in the practice situations, as well.

Question: Do you ever keep a percentage of what guys are making when it comes to mid-range shots?

No, we keep track of no passes, one pass, two passes, and three passes, and then we show percentage-wise what we shoot when we share the ball. We were poor in the first half this weekend. It was like night and day, but it always is. It's a little frustrating from a coaching standpoint.

Luke Walton was out here a few weeks ago and I asked him if this had changed in the five years he was here and he said "Nope." Its all the same, it's a low percentage with fewer passes and higher with more passes. In terms of stats that we put on the board at halftime, that's the first one that goes up, one or less passes. The other stat that goes up is offensive rebounds, possessions, the number we have versus what they have, along with turnovers. Those two things are consistent with us.

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