Arrington and Buffs Prepare for Oklahoma

Junior center <A HREF=[PlayerNode:1515876]>Lamont Arrington</A> had his best game to date in CU's win at Richmond Tuesday. But the competition moves to another level for Arrington and his teammates Saturday as Colorado begins Big 12 play at Oklahoma. Also inside, Coach Ricardo Patton's thoughts on the season so far, and what's ahead.

The 6-foot-11 Arrington is playing his first season of Division I basketball after transferring to Colorado from Schoolcraft Junior College. Arrington's role has been greatly increased in recent games after teammate Julius Ashby suffered a foot injury. He had eight points and five rebounds in 28 minutes at Richmond, but Patton praised the little things Arrington did in the win, things that didn't show up in the box score. The win put CU at 8-3 as they head into Big 12 play Saturday at Oklahoma (2 p.m. MT).

BSN spoke with Arrington before Thursday's practice.

Q: What have your teammates been saying to you about what to expect in the Big 12?
They said it's nothing to be scared about or worried about. There's a big difference in the level of play — it's a lot higher. But if we just go out there and play — play smart, play together, play as a team — we'll be all right.

They've said when you're going against the big names, just continue to battle and play hard.

That's what the coaches have been saying, too, to just continue to increase my work ethic. The harder I work, the better I'll go out there and play.

Q: Are you excited to start the conference season?
I'm excited. These are the most important games. These are the games you want to win. The other games (in non-conference) are a chance to learn. And a couple of the teams weren't that good. But now you've got to learn from your mistakes, play harder and hopefully get the win.

Q: What's been the biggest adjustment for you playing at Colorado?
The biggest adjustment is just the level of play. Some of the guys are bigger than me. I went against a couple of 7-footers. Matching the strength and matching the intensity level is what's my biggest problem.

But listening to the coaches since Julius (Ashby) got injured, I've learned a lot about my game. I took this whole week and increased my level of work. In the last game we had (the win at Richmond) it showed up. The coaches said I did pretty good. Getting more playing time and listening to the coaches is making me improve.

Q: What was the difference between the Utah and the Richmond games?
Against Utah we figured we could win, but I don't think we prepared ourselves as a team as much. We weren't really mentally prepared. Utah, that's a bigtime school. It was a road game, but we treated it like a home game. We just really weren't prepared.

As far as Richmond, after losing to Utah like that, you already know — you're on the road again and you've got to be prepared.

Q: Were practices tougher after the Utah loss? Did Coach Patton turn up the heat a little bit?
They were tougher, but it wasn't punishment. It was tougher just to get us ready and show us what it's like. It was to get the competition among each other higher.

Q: What do you know about Oklahoma?
I know they've got some great players. Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray. I played against (Gray's) team this summer in Juco. I didn't get a chance to guard him, but he's definitely athletic and he goes hard.

I know they're big and solid. And, again, it's a Big 12 game so everybody's going to be there to play.

Q: Kelvin Sampson's teams always play hard.
That's their main thing. I had the pleasure of meeting Coach Sampson a couple of times. When I was at Schoolcraft (junior college) he came a couple times to look at a couple guys. (My coach) told me what kind of coach Sampson was, and how the Big 12 operates. I know it's going to be a dogfight in Oklahoma.


On Oklahoma
I think the biggest thing for us playing against Oklahoma is to be able to take the defensive pressure that they're going to put on us. I call it "man up." We need to be prepared for 40 minutes of fighting. I mean fighting for rebounds, fighting for fast break points. Just fighting to win the ballgame.

If we can match their intensity, then we have a chance. That's going to be the biggest thing that I look for right away.

And we can't look around for help from the officials, we can't look around for help from anybody other than the guys that are on that team on the floor.

Q: They've got Bookout and Gray inside. How do you match up against those two?
I don't know that we can. Both of those guys are very good players. To be honest with you, I think they're better than our post players. So how are we going to fight them, I'm not quite sure. But we're going to do the best we can.

I think athletically they're better than our guys. Taj Gray is as good an athlete as you're going to see anywhere on anybody's team. He's just a man in the paint. Bookout knows how to play, and he's a tough, hard-nosed guy.

Q: Lamont said you've challenged him in recent weeks to work harder in getting ready for Big 12 play. Have you seen him doing that?
I think Lamont has always worked really hard. I think this has all been new to him to play at this high level and this intensity. I saw the biggest change in him at Richmond. That's been his best game so far. A lot of things he did won't show up in the stat sheet, but he changed shots, got out in the zone schemes, we threw it in and he threw it out when he had to. He scored some easy buckets, went to the basket strong and got some dunks. It was his best game so far this year.

Q: Will you do anything different in practice to get the team ready for the pressure they'll face at Oklahoma?
We'll talk about how physical it's going to be. But we talked about that before Richmond.

At Utah, it was a very physically played game. I noticed that our guys, when calls weren't made and they thought it was a foul, they were looking around at the officials, looking at me…it's like, you've got to play through that. I can't help you rebound, I can't help you guard a guy, I can't help you make the right pass. You've got to do what we've worked on every day in practice. And at Richmond, they didn't look for help from anybody. They didn't go up and shoot the basketball looking for the foul. At Utah they did. You can' see it on the film. They'd go up and think they got bumped, and when the foul wasn't called, instead of sprinting back in transition defense, they're looking around like, "what happened?" That's a sign of immaturity, but at Richmond they didn't do that.

Q: Are you surprised to be 8-3 heading into Big 12 play?
Yes. I didn't expect our guys to play as well early. Because of just having guys who had not started or played a lot of minutes now. They were in various secondary roles last season. Now they're in primary roles, and that takes some time to get used to. I didn't know who was going to be the man, so to speak.

It's surprising in a way, because I thought the (non-conference) schedule was too hard, to be honest with you. Too hard for this group this early.

Q: You've talked about the chemistry being better this year. Why do you think that is?
We don't have any egos. I have to take blame for part of our problems with egos last year. I'm in charge and I allowed some things to happen that I probably shouldn't have. In terms of just making guys play as hard as we know you've got to play in order to win. I tolerated things that I think these guys know I'm not going to tolerate this year.

After the season last year, I told each player when we had individual meetings, I told them if I made one mistake last year — (to reporters) you guys may say I made a lot of mistakes — but if I made one mistake it was tolerating a lot of garbage. That's what I call it. Guys not doing what they needed to do in order to help this team. It got us to the NIT. In my mind, we could have gotten to the NIT without the garbage.

So I told each guy, ‘I learn from my mistakes. I don't make the same mistake twice.'

Q: Given what you're saying about the better team chemistry this year, and your team playing better earlier than you expected, how much fun are you having this season?
I don't know that coaches have fun until after the season. You win one, you're worried about the next one. Think about it: we just beat a good team on the road. I'm not sure who thought we could go (to Richmond) and win, and now we've got to go to Oklahoma. (laughing) You tell me how much fun I'm having.

Maybe guys that have been in it a lot longer than me know how to have fun after games. I really don't know how to have fun. I get out of one, I'm worried about the next one.

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