The Bootleg(Encina 502): What improvements in your game do you attribute to the coaching staff? Are those improvements from assistant coaches working with you or from Mike Montgomery working with you?
Ryan Mendez: Typically, Monty's philosophy has been catered towards the team, and improving the team as a whole. As a freshman and sophomore, it really has been about improving the team. When Coach Taylor came, you know, things change with the different personnel you get as well. He has brought a lot to improve us individually, so that collectively we then improve as a team. All of our drills in the post-season back to the pre-season focus on our footwork, focus on our ball-handling skills, getting closer to the basket, drawing a couple defenders and then kicking it out. I think one of the big pluses you've seen this year that you haven't seen in the past is because we have started to focus a little more in the individual, in refining our skills, so that when we are on the court, we just make everybody better. Obviously, though, it comes from the top-down.
The Bootleg: Even just the entry passes seem more decisive and accurate from the wings this year...
Ryan Mendez: It opens everything up when you have the ability to pass, shoot and drive. In the past, a lot of us have just depended on shooting the three-pointer. Look at Weems - he was typically just a three-point shooter, who sometimes got in the lane every now and then. You look at Sauer, he was geared towards going to the basket more than relying on the three. But with this group of guys we have now at the wings, we're all capable of shooting the three, and teams all know that. They know that if they pressure us, we're all capable of taking it to the hole. I think it's really opened everything up for us.
The Bootleg: Is this the best transition team you've seen at Stanford?
Ryan Mendez: I think so. I think there is definitely an emphasis on running a little bit more. We have a little different personnel than we've had in the past, and coach puts an emphasis on taking advantage of the transition game now. That's something I don't think we did last year. I even got bored sometimes watching games last year because they were just grinders. If you're not really affiliated with Stanford, you don't want to be seeing maybe some of this basketball. But I definitely think we've pushed up the tempo a little bit, and we're creating and getting easy buckets. That's helped us out a lot.
The Bootleg: People have generalized in the past that a pressure team can break Stanford down, but now we see a Stanford team that can break the press. So do you guys relish a team that comes in and tries to press you now.
Ryan Mendez: I think so. Like coach made the comment, there's good pressure and there's bad pressure. If there's bad pressure, we're going to exploit it every single time. If there's good pressure, we just have to be a little more refined with what we do - people need to be in the right positions. When teams pressure, you can't be afraid. As soon as you see the opening, you have to attack the opening. If you draw two defenders, then somebody has to be open. I think that is something that we've worked on a lot this year. The coaching staff has done a great job putting in the new style of press break, sort of the second year running that style.
The Bootleg: What is the toughest game you've played this year?
Ryan Mendez: I think we go into all the games, really ready to play. We anticipate their best effort each and every time, always wanting it more than the other team. As far as the toughest game, I think there have been certain tests throughout the year. When you look back at the beginning of the year against Duke, some people thought we were going to lose that. We ended up pulling it out in overtime - even sending it to overtime was a pretty good achievement, I thought, especially for such a young team. That was definitely a tough battle. You have to say Arizona. Madsen was just coming back, I didn't play well, Casey didn't play well, Moseley - you can argue he didn't even play well until he hit those late threes. I would say that was our toughest game without anyone stepping up. When you look up and down the line, in key games somebody has always stepped up his play, but I don't think we had that against Arizona.
The Bootleg: Is there one team that you don't want to face in the NCAA Tournament, one team you think matches up really well with Stanford?
Ryan Mendez: I'm sure there are a ton of teams that will match up well with us. But in order to be the best, you have to play the best and beat the best. If Cincinnati is down the line for us, or even getting the hurdle of Connecticut - I know they haven't been playing really well - going through them would be nice. I don't think this team will back down from anyone, and I think we are willing to challenge anyone, too.
The Bootleg: Do you guys have the same perception that the fans do, that there is an East Coast bias - Stanford gets no love, the Pac-10 gets no love?
Ryan Mendez: You have to see where the media is located. All the major conferences are really on ESPN. They all play on ESPN, so all the highlights and everything associated with basketball is going to be directed to how ESPN views it. They are just a big part of college basketball, and that is where it hurts the Pac-10 not playing on ESPN. Yeah, you can certainly argue that, but there is nothing we can really do about it.
The Bootleg: Can you guys play any better than you did Saturday against Cal?
Ryan Mendez: (big grin) Yeah, I didn't hit my four threes.