Coach's Corner: Next stop, San Jose

Lute Olson is busy preparing for the Sweet 16 match-up against Oklahoma, but spoke with the media. The Sooners are 2-0 vs. Arizona in the Tournament, but records will be thrown out the door when the two teams square off in San Jose.

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Olson began the press conference with an openign statement:

Olson: "Just in general about our advancing to the Sweet 16, I thought we played probably as well as we needed to play to get those two wins. The way Santa Barbara shot the ball from three really created a problem for us. But again down the stretch, we made the shots and free throws that we needed to make. With Wyoming, their front line was very physical and, I thought, very talented. But then again, it seemed like the same kind of thing. We'd get the lead up to 10 and then suddenly be back down to five or three. That's, in my opinion, because the other two teams were highly competitive. The game becomes a game of runs and you just hope that your run lasts longer or is the final run of the game.

"With the matchup with Oklahoma, it's a tough matchup for us. The three teams that they would be the most like would be the three teams we've had the most trouble with-Connecticut, Kansas and Oregon. Their perimeter guys are very quick, they shoot the ball from out. But they take the ball to the basket really well too, very quick perimeter players. They go to the boards a lot, similar to USC. They send four guys and they're very athletic and very quick. So it's not just our inside guys who have to do the job on the boards, it's everybody. Defensively, they really get after you hard. I notice in their stats that they've given up a lot more fouls than their opponents. Defensively, they're probably more like ASU on the perimeter than anybody else that we've played recently. Connecticut and Kansas were similar also, in that you're fighting to get open for every pass. They get into you hard and once you catch the ball, it's a case of you'd better set good screens and you'd better make good cuts and stay active throughout the possession."

"They (Oklahoma) are in an attack mode all the time with their quickness, the best comparison for me are the three teams I mentioned earlier-Kansas, Connecticut and Oregon. All three of those teams are very attack oriented and I think Oklahoma is, as well."

Question: How hard is it for your young team to play a complete 40 minutes?

Olson: "Better teams don't have the same kind of problems that we have, or have had. I think now, the young guys understand it's the time of the season where you'd better be ready to put together 40 minutes and I think we're getting closer to that. Sometimes, if we get in trouble during the course of the game, it's when we're taking quick shots and not letting the game come to us. But we've been able to come out and play well early. And we've been able to come out of the locker room and play well and still have some times in between where we may appear that we're lagging but that may also have something to do with the other team. But the worst problem we still have is becoming a patient offensive team."

Question: Do you feel that the tough schedule helped the team in Albuquerque?

Olson: "It's pretty obvious that the schedule we've played has been very important to us. As I've indicated throughout the years we've always tried to play two or three non-conference games in tough environments. I think that experience was really helpful to us. I'm actually relieved that we could get through the situation in Albuquerque because I was very concerned about the altitude. I don't believe as Tark (Jerry Tarkanian) believed that it doesn't make any difference because you're playing inside anyway, as he told his teams. (laughter) But I think in terms of what we took out of there, it was great to see Channing (Frye) have the kind of game that he did. I really feel like our young post guys are doing a better job of getting their men sealed off and making quick moves with the ball, as opposed to what we dealt with up until about two weeks ago. We're reacting much better and quicker inside. I think anytime you can continue to win in tournament play, and I'm talking about the Pac-10 and here, every game has been a win or go home kind of thing. I think that's good for our guys because they're very competitive people and, like in the Pac-10 tournament, they did not want to leave until they had a chance to play on Saturday. I think that's the same thing that's going on right now.

"The NCAA Tournament is always a different experience because you're 40 minutes from the end of your season. That's the biggest thing. Now, in our going to San Jose, it's going to be a large arena with more of an NCAA (neutral-site) feel, as opposed to playing in Albuquerque which was like playing on the road. In San Jose, I think there will be a lot of Oklahoma fans, a lot of Arizona fans, a lot of UCLA and Missouri fans. I think it will be more of a feel of an NCAA Tournament than what we faced in Albuquerque. That's the reason we play in The Pond in Anaheim, in America West Arena this year, is to get that kind of environment of an NCAA Tournament game."

"Interestingly enough, we've played all four teams that are left in the Midwest bracket, Illinois, Kansas, Texas and Oregon. And that's indicative of how tough our schedule was."

Question: What do you expect from Jason Gardner in Regional play at San Jose?

Olson: "Exactly what we got in Albuquerque, great court leadership, he had eight assists and not very many turnovers. Jason understands that his job is more than just scoring. Early in the year, it was obvious that we had to have him score a lot. I thought he did a good job defensively of keeping his guy out of the lane, better than probably what we would have seen early in the year. With that game against Wyoming, if you looked at the shooting percentages of him and Luke, you'd think we were in big trouble. But we got big production from Channing. I don't know what the percentage for the three juniors was, but it wasn't good. We were able to win despite Jason not having a great shooting game. But typical of Jason once it got down to crunch time, he was pretty good, as he always is."

Question: Are you happy with how the freshmen played at The Pit?

Olson: "I think they (the freshmen) have gotten a lot better, and I think they'll be better after practice today. That's how critical time is for them, they're just very young guys that need experience. And the only way to get experience is experience. Channing has stepped up very big for us, Isaiah (Fox) has stepped up big. Dennis Latimore's defensive job on Saturday was key, he did a great job for us. Probably the best we've seen out of Dennis in terms of reaction and recognizing when someone was in trouble, switching out and that kind of thing. The contribution of both he and Isaiah, although you didn't see them for a long time, they really did a nice job for us."

Question: To what do you attribute Channing Frye's recent performances?

Olson: "As you recall, he had some great games in the early part of the Pac-10. I think the biggest thing with Channing is he needs to stay focused. During that stretch where he had a number of good games in the league, I think he got a little complacent. The bench is a great motivator. I think he likes starting rather than sitting on the bench at the start."

Question: What do you think about the job Kelvin Sampson has done at Oklahoma?

Olson: "I'm happy to see the success they're having. Even at Washington State when they weren't winning, Kelvin was doing a great job. It's a lot easier to get it done in Norman than Pullman. He's a hard-worker, a quality guy and he does things the right way. He's got a great staff. It's certainly going to be a challenge for us, but I'm happy to see them surviving to this point.

"We played them in a home-and-home back when Billy Tubbs was there. I think it would be a great matchup, I think it'd be national television on that. Both Kelvin and Karen have been good friends to both Bobbi and I."

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