Coach's Corner: 1-on-1 with Lute Olson

The effectiveness of Arizona's most-publicized press was a pleasant surprise to many, including head coach Lute Olson. In this exclusive interview with Cat Tracks Magazine publisher Doug Carr, Olson analyzes Arizona defensively, and the improvements the team still needs to make.

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Cat Tracks: What's your philosophy on using the full-court press?

Olson: "My feeling with the press is we want to be ready to use it against anybody, but we're not going to be inflexible either. Iowa with Tom Davis, for instance, was going to press period. When they tried to press us it was a joke. When you try to press teams on the road, sometimes it's tough. For example, with us, when we play Oregon at Oregon I don't know if the press is going to be the way to go. That's why we have to be so sound in our half-court defense. If the press works to someone's else's advantage, then we need to be able to defend full-court, half-court, three-quarter court, whatever, and that's what we're trying to build toward."

Cat Tracks: I was impressed with the way you rotated and helped on defense. For the most part the perimeter guys guarded very well. All in all, I think you had to pleased with the perimeter defense.

Olson: "What was really good to see is that Jason Gardner is putting much more pressure on the ball. It's not just now you need to do it, but it will enhance your chances a whole lot of making the NBA. You have to be a great defender. I was really impressed with Will Bynum. Before, when Will would get out and pressure the ball he'd reach, but he was in great position. Andre Iguodala is going to be an outstanding defender, but he still has a lot of work to do. It's not like guarding guys in high school. You have to be able to move your feet. Hassan is going to be a good one, but he has a long way to go. They aren't yet used to the intensity at this level and they tire quickly. We have to figure out a way to solve that. The big guys will find out that you need to make big guys put the ball on the floor when they're on the perimeter. We can't help a guy if they're letting them get a three."

Cat Tracks: Isaiah Fox and Rick Anderson have done well defensively.

Olson: "Isaiah has made the greatest improvement defensively, in my opinion, from a year ago. Some of that has to do with that he has his weight down about 10 pounds from what it was a year ago. He really works hard on his lateral movement. Ricky has made a lot of progress. He has worked with getting quicker with his feet, but he's also mentally tougher than what he was. A year ago, he sort of felt he couldn't stop somebody, and if you start thinking you can't, then you won't."

Cat Tracks: Did the arrival of the freshmen help Anderson focus better?

Olson: "No question. He heard all of spring, summer and fall that he was the guy who was going to get beat out for a spot. That motivated him. The fact he also stayed here in Tucson during the summer and worked on his conditioning helped a great deal. Brad Arnett, the strength coach, did a great job with him. Ricky didn't have someone to push him and work with him the year before, when he decided to go home."

Cat Tracks: The battle between Channing Frye and Isaiah Fox has been very even so far.

Olson: "The guy who started hasn't played as well as the guy who came off the bench. Channing was the starter most of the time last year and did a great job, but both players had periods where they got a bit complacent. It's a constant challenge. There isn't anybody on our team who can get complacent, because if they do they'll be sitting next to me."

Cat Tracks: What on-court combination works best for you?

Olson: "Different combinations have worked well at different stages. I want any of the three guys: Will, Hassan and Andre to feel comfortable about starting. I've always been more interested in who finishes than who starts. Andre seems to start better, but right now, Hassan is a better finisher. Andre is also turning the ball over too much. He's going to be an excellent passer, but like Luke Walton was, every pass he tries to make now is a tremendous pass, and as a result the assist-to-turnover ratio is not good. The job of the passer is to get the pass there."

Cat Tracks: Playing time is so evenly distributed, I think everyone realizes they're going to get a lot of minutes.

Olson: "The constant flow of fresh people coming into the game can be very wearing against the opposition."

Cat Tracks: What do you want to improve on?

Olson: "Same thing, we want to improve defensively. There are some rotation things we need to work on, especially in the block. We're still not there with the freshmen consistently. We hope to get into the face of shooters better, and make them drive. We need to be quicker at providing assistance on a drive. The post guys are doing a good job on the baseline, but we're not doing as well on drives in the middle. If a guy's driving, we need to attack him. We have to be proactive there."

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