Question: Has there ever been a more important final two weeks to a Pac-10 season?
Lute Olson: "(This is a) Big week for us, a big week for a lot of teams in the league. As I indicated earlier, I think the league champ or co-champs will be in that position as a result of the last game a week from Saturday. When you take a look at the schedules, we're fortunate to have three games at home. But this week, USC and UCLA are up in the Bay Area, and the last weekend Oregon is at USC and UCLA. The teams that are bunched in the top six will be meeting one another through the next two weeks, especially next week.
"The team that has probably played the best through this whole thing has been USC. Teams hit three-pointers at the buzzer that took games from them. They are a very good team. They have depth and in Sam Clancy they have one of the most dominant players in the conference because he does so many things for them."
"On the road trip we should have won the UCLA game. We outplayed them for most of the ballgame. To their credit, they came back late. Whereas with USC, I thought they outplayed us. It took exceptional three-point shooting for us to stay in it down the stretch."
Question: It appears offensively your team has really started to gel. What are you most concerned about as you close out the regular season:
Lute Olson: "We have to rebound a whole lot better against the good teams, and that starts Wednesday night with ASU. They dominated us on the glass up there. We need to get much more consistent on the boards. We need to have our guards contributing every game. We need to have Ricky (Anderson) and Luke (Walton) pursuing the ball as hard as they did in the second half of the USC game. That's a part of the game that should not vary. It's like the defensive effort...the board effort has to be better by us because it's not like we have a guy in the middle that's going to go up and get double figures in each game.
Question: Haven't the more physical teams given you more problems on the glass?
Lute Olson: Channing's (Frye) biggest problem is when he goes against the really physical-type board players like (David) Bluthenthal, Clancy, (UCLA's Dan) Gadzuric, and (Arizona State's Chad) Prewitt hurt us on the boards up there. We need to get more consistency on the glass."
Question: How do want to get the guards more involved with rebounding?
Lute Olson: "I was talking about the defensive glass, because we need the guards back for defensive balance. It's on the defensive glass that we've been so inconsistent. I think at Stanford Jason Gardner had six (rebounds) and if he gets six, then we are going to be in pretty good shape. Generally, when guards get rebounds, they result in fast break baskets or opportunities."
Question: How can the big guys be more effective on the glass?
Lute Olson: "We need to get someone in the middle that's going to give us consistent rebounding. And then Luke, Ricky, Jason and Salim (Stoudamire) need to understand that it's a win or lose situation on the defensive boards. I don't think that we're always responding to the urgency of cutting down on the extra opportunities. At USC they had 19 more offensive opportunities than we did. They had a plus-11 on turnovers and a plus-eight on offensive rebounds. We were down 19 possessions. How do you get that down to the last shot? The only way you do it is by shooting the lights out and you can't expect to do that every night. We need to get some consistency on the glass, especially from all of the juniors."
Question: Do you think the freshmen hit a wall at this time of the year?
Lute Olson: "I don't believe that. I think they hit a wall if you allow them to get lazy mentally. If there is a wall that's hit, it is a mental wall that should be taken care of by a guy that's tough enough to work through it. I haven't seen Salim Stoudamire hit a wall. No one works harder on his game than Salim does in terms of away from the practice court. I think it's a case of mental toughness that all of them have to develop. With freshmen, their biggest downfall may be mental toughness because they haven't been through this for years like the others have."
Are you pleased with the way the team has been playing defensively?
Lute Olson: "I think we're getting better. The last thing to come with freshman is defense. We've done a better job of responding to drivers. A month ago we were a step slow in responding to situations like that, and I think we are responding much better right now. That's a key part of your defense. We are getting better. The biggest thing with us is that we have to solve our rebounding problem. Even in Los Angeles, we played pretty well defensively. What killed us was our inability to clear the boards. It wasn't the first shot that was a problem, it was the second and third shots."
Question: Has Jason Gardner come out of his shooting slump.
If they are big shots, Jason is generally a very good percentage shooter. If you look at the shots that he has to hit, you know a really big shot, his percentage is unbelievable. The time you worry about Jason is when it's not a big game or it's just past the line. At USC, he had a couple of real wide open looks early in the game and missed them and Coach (Rodney) Tention said he's too close to the basket (laughter)."