Coach's Corner: Off to Washington

The Wildcats head to Washington in sole posession of first place. Lute Olson spoke with the media on Tuesday and discussed the Huskies, the Cougars and his own team.

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Question: Some people are saying that the Pac-10 is having a down year. Do you agree?
Lute Olson: "I don't know about that. I think Cal has been good along. Stanford had some rough spots early, not real early. They went out east and shocked a lot of people. The thing that got people off their bandwagon was when they had finals and didn't play for two weeks and got beat twice in their own tournament. If you lay off for two weeks for exams, that (a letdown) could happen to anybody. They beat some good teams back east.

"Within the top five teams (in the league), three of us have played Kansas and we're 2-1, including two neutral-sites and a game at Kansas. That's got to be impressive. In the early going, maybe you could say that (the Pac-10 is down), but I don't think you could say that now. I think our conference is strong, as it always seems to be when we get into league play.

"We have a lot of good young players in the conference. Take a look at USC with the number of young guys they are playing. They will return everyone next year. Washington, with all of the young guys they are playing, maybe it took some of the teams a little longer to round into form, but I think the conference is very solid."

Question: Is Washington kind of a scary team with their athleticism?
Olson: "Yes, they are very athletic and very deep, so it's not a situation where if one guy gets in foul trouble or isn't hitting, it's not going to kill them because they have a lot of guys that can score.

"Washington State, for that matter, is very athletic as well. It was a big blow for them to lose Marcus Moore. If you recall when they played here, they had a couple of guys out with injuries. Had they been here that night, it would have been a real challenge. In watching their tape against Washington, Washington State went to the boards as well as anyone I've seen go to the boards. They just couldn't make layins. They must have had 20 offensive rebounds, but didn't convert. Both of these teams are very athletic and dangerous."

Question: When you look at Washington's lineup and see four freshmen, does that influence the your approach to the game?
Olson: "We need to play how we play. The worst thing is not to play your game. We're playing against the game itself. We're playing against possessions, offensive rebounding, turnovers. It doesn't make any difference who we are playing. We need to focus on how we play and let others adjust to us."

Question: Do you see Salim Stoudamire returning to the same type of player as last year's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year?
Olson: "It's tough to be out six to eight weeks. It was his first-ever ankle sprain. Once you go through that, it takes a while to accept the fact that now you are healthy and mentally you can do the same things you've been doing all along. Then the conditioning factor is huge, especially for someone who plays as hard as he plays defensively. You have to get your game confidence back. When you're going in and you're tired after three minutes and you are a perimeter shooter, it kills you because you lose your legs early. I thought it took him a while to be quicker in catching and shooting. I think he is back now and as close to 100 percent as he can be."

Question: Does Salim enjoy playing the point guard position?
Olson: "He really likes playing the point. He does a great job of getting the ball ahead in the offense. He does the best job of that. I think he enjoys that role, and frankly, with what we do offensively, once he gives the ball up, he has great opportunities to score. People really have to pay attention to him. The good thing with Salim is that he is a combo guard. He is a shooter first, but I have no doubts about his playing the point."

"With his experience, Salim could be a very good leader. He needs to communicate more. His body language needs to be a whole lot more positive. If guys are going to feed off you, you need to look like you're not in a constant state of depression. It's getting better. This is the year for him to continue to develop his game, but it is also a chance for him to develop his leadership skills as well. Because Salim plays so well in all phases of the game, the guys would accept him as a leader in no time flat."

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