Scott Garson: At UCLA, all expectations are always very high - we know it's to finish at the top of the Pac-12 and to make runs and to be in the NCAA tournament. So we are never satisfied; we are happier that our team is playing better as the year has gone on. I think we are improving a lot. We're a much better team right now than we were a month ago, let alone two or three months ago for sure. But we still have a long ways to go to reach the expectations that we set out ourselves before the season started.
The Bootleg: Josh Owens said after the loss to Arizona that at 6-5, the Cardinal don't feel as if they are out of the race for the Pac-12 title. You guys have the same record; do you share the same sentiment?
Scott Garson: No question. There's still a long ways to go, we have several weeks to play, and the way it has been this year - the Pac-12 has been so wide open and a lot of have struggled on the road. So that key is winning road games and of course taking care of your home games, but you gotta win some road games. That's where are struggles have been; we have dropped some opportunities on the road we've had for one reason or another - the other teams have made the plays down the stretch that we didn't make - so we're trying to figure that out ourselves. But we had the most difficult stretch to start the conference season; we had five of our first seven games on the road, so we're getting that back now. We're going to have quite a few home games to finish off, so we are looking forward to hopefully winning in our pseudo-home this year.
TB: What has it that been like, playing all of your "home" games away from campus? Your record in conference at home is perfect, but do you still feel a significant loss in home court advantage?
SG: You don't have the student crowd that the other schools have; it has been very evident. It's just harder to get there; it's not as easy as walking down from the dorms or walking over from the apartment and having the loud atmosphere to lift your team up when things aren't going well or to lift you up even further when things are going well. And that's an advantage when you're home. That's why teams over the course of time in college basketball have always been better at home than on the road because of that crowd, that backing and the familiarity. One of the tough things besides the fact that we aren't able to have a large student section is that we don't practice in the facility that we play in. That has been the hardest part for us; we have been in the LA Sports Arena a couple handful of times this year, and that's it. That's where we play our home games. We practiced there once and other than that, just the games that we have played there is when we have been there…We're more familiar [with the gym] now at this point of the season than the teams coming in, but not by that much.
TB: Every team in conference has the goal of getting a split on the road, which you guys did this past weekend, but I'm sure you guys felt like you should have gotten both, right?
SG: Yeah, and a lot of credit goes to Washington and Terrence Ross in particular. A lot of times when you look at situations like that where from our perspective we blew a great opportunity, but the other team has to make plays too. And he made the shots and they made the plays and the foul shots that were necessary to get the win. That being said, it is always difficult and disappointing when you let one slip away when you have the lead late, and to let something go like that, that wasn't easy. But a lot of times, that can turn in from one loss to two losses really fast and the good news is that we did bounce back and win against a good Washington State team who is very good at home and they played really well - Brock Motum is really good. We bounced back and found a way to win on Saturday. That was really important for our psyche and just to get an actual win on the road other than the USC win was good.
TB: What was the difference down the stretch between the loss on Thursday and win on Saturday against Washington State?
SG: I think we made better decisions offensively. We executed much better offensively down the stretch; we didn't execute well in what we were trying to do in Thursday's loss. More importantly than anything, we were getting stops defensively. Actually, our zone helped us a lot against Washington State. We were struggling a little bit in our man-to-man and went to a zone and it really helped us. When you are on the road and you have opportunities to win, it's going to come down to getting stops late in the game. You have to get defensive stops. And that's much harder to do than people realize. Like I said, when other teams have their home crowd getting excited, they're fired up. You gotta really dig down deep and get tough, get stops and get big defensive rebounds late in the game, and we were able to do that against Washington State.
TB: Individually Josh Smith had a tremendous weekend off the bench, including 19 points in that win over Washington State. It really looks like he is getting in better shape as the season has gone along. What else has propelled his strong play?
SG: He is improving; he's getting in better shape. Part of it, obviously, he's from Washington, so he had a real special motivation going home and wanting to play well in front of family and friends. As Coach Howland mentioned earlier in the week to the team, we have to tell Josh to just try and pretend that you're in Washington every weekend (laughs), because he has played really well in his home state. We hope that continues, and that's the potential Josh has. Josh has the potential to dominate games and we hope that he can continue to do that on a consistent basis, and then our team will be more consistent.
TB: Considering how he played last week, do you keep him on the bench for the punch he provides as a reserve, or is he just playing too well to keep out of the starting lineup?
SG: There are different reasons. One thing is you don't want him to pick up an early foul or anything like that. But a lot of it just has to do with match-ups. For example, Washington State had their four and their five man both shoot three-point shots; they are both very good perimeter players. And that's a difficult guard for Josh to start the game out, and so in that particular case, we started Anthony Stover because he was a better match-up with Travis Wear injured and not playing [Wear suffered a high ankle sprain against Washington. Last I checked, he is unlikely to play much against Stanford, according to the LA Times' article linked here: LA Times Article]. A lot of it just has to come down to match-ups, and that's just where it's at and who we are able to match up with defensively. At the same time, of course, teams have to match up with us, too, when Josh is in there.
TB: The last time you played Stanford, Lazeric Jones was unstoppable, scoring 26 points. Was it just one of those games where the basket looked like an ocean to him, or was there something he did differently in that game that allowed him to be so successful?
SG: He has had some pretty good scoring games this year. Zeke is a very good shooter, a very good scorer and there are certain nights sometimes where you are feeling it a little more than other nights. He really had it going that night, so we kept going to him and calling his number. And that is one thing that Coach Howland is good at recognizing is when one guy has got it going, we are usually pretty good at executing over the years of getting that guy the ball where he is able to score. So it was a good night and hopefully it won't be the last good night for Zeke.
TB: The Bruins have dominated Stanford in LA, having not lost to the Cardinal in SoCal since the 2004-05 season. Is there a recurring theme in those games that you can point to as to why you have been victorious over and over again against Stanford?
SG: Stanford has had some really good teams over the years. Dating back to the Lopez twins, we had an unbelievable game with them that we won in overtime to win the conference championship one year. I don't know if there's any recurring theme other than we have just found a way at the end of the game to win. It's always tougher on the road, as I was saying. Conversely, we are having our struggles on the road this year and doing better at home. Stanford is a really good team - I don't think there is any specific reason as to why that has happened, sometimes those things go in cycles.
TB: Finally coach, what do you think your Bruins need to do to earn a season split with the Cardinal on Thursday night?
SG: We certainly have to make our free throws a lot better than we did when we were up at Stanford, that's for sure. That's one thing, and then they pose a lot of problems. Josh Owens is very good inside, so you have the issue of defending him and then you have guys who can really shoot the ball. Aaron Bright shoots the heck out of the ball, Anthony Brown shoots the heck out of the ball, Chasson Randle is a really good shooter. Powell is now back and playing more significant minutes and a lot better than he was playing coming off of his injury when we last faced him. So in our minds right now, Stanford is a better team than they were when we saw them at the start of the Pac-12 just based on the personnel. They're a tough match-up because you have to be able to defend the three-point shot. At the same time, if you're doing that, you're leaving Owens alone down low one-on-one, where he is very, very good. So we're going to have to really do a good job of the defending the three-point line and we're going to have to do a good job executing offensively because some of the best defense is when you have the ball in your hands and you're not on defense. We have shot the ball really well in conference, and it's going to come down to us being able to get stops and hold Stanford to a reasonable field goal percentage.
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