Are you surprised at the Pac-10 logjam?
"No, I go back to what I said from day one. This league from top to bottom is the most competitive that it has been in a while. The only thing that surprised me, and I think I said this a week or two ago, was that Arizona State hadn't won a game. They had two losses at home where they basically got beat at the buzzer. No, I'm not surprised."
"I am surprised at how many teams have such key players that are so injured. You just look from top to bottom, whether it's UCLA or Oregon or Washington. So many guys are banged up with injury. We have two days off, and I come out Monday [to practice]. For me, I was remotely excited thinking we would come out Monday and probably be as healthy as we have been in maybe a couple weeks. Peter [Prowitt] can't go. 20 minutes in, Kenny Brown sprains his ankle. Then 15 minutes in, Chris [Hernandez] tweaks his back, so Chris couldn't finish practice. He won't practice today. Then I hear from the Pac-10 conference call where Rod Benson injures his knee."
How serious is Chris' injury?
"We're going to hold him out. He didn't practice [the rest of] yesterday. He won't practice today. His term when he came up to me was, 'Coach, I tweaked my back in one-on-one close-outs.' His back is what it is. We'll find out today. But for precautionary reasons we are going to hold him out. When you strain your back or your tweak it, you want to make sure it gets as healthy as possible - especially when you consider the type of pressure we are about to face Thursday."
Prognosis for Thursday?
"Oh, I think he'll be ready. I think he'll be ready for the game. That's why we're holding him out."
Is this similar to his back episode last January?
"I don't know. He just said that he tweaked it. I talked to our trainer, Tomo [Yamada]. He said he strained it and he probably could go - probably could practice - but I want to hold him out."
Is Hernandez pretty important for the Arizona game match-ups?
"Well, yeah, he is important in every game and really important in this game, but regardless, we still have to try to do the things we have been doing pretty good over the last two and a half weeks. Compete at a high level. Try to take whatever we are doing defensively and rebounding-wise, making open shots at home, and see if we can do that on the road against a very good Arizona basketball team. They are probably the best defensive team in the league, in terms of their ability to get up in the passing lanes, be active, steal the basketball and go on 10-0 or 15-2 runs."
What is your expectation for Prowitt this week?
"Well, I tell you, it's hard because he hasn't practiced. He hasn't been up and down the floor in what seems like forever. His conditioning is going to be a problem if he's able to play Thursday. Hopefully he'll be able to spell Matt [Haryasz] and guard [Ivan] Radenovic. That's my expectation for Peter. I don't fully expect Peter to be able to go and contribute at a high level. He hasn't been able to practice in like two weeks, now."
Is there concern that Prowitt's back problem is something that could linger?
"Yeah, I think anytime you have a problem with your back, it can linger, especially when you're playing basketball. Lower back pains, lower back problems - they are what they are. So to answer your question, yes."
Are you concerned by your team's lack of road success?
"I'd be sitting up here lying to you if I said I wasn't concerned. I think you can attribute that to two things. It's toughness - the level of toughness of your approach. And then also, I try to look at who we've played on the road in the league. I thought UCLA was clearly better than we were. I though USC - when Matt went down, we made a run there when we played good basketball in the second half - but they had three guys who made key plays. Those three guys being Lodrick Stewart, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt. I think it's all attributed to mental and physical toughness when you go on the road. You have to do a better job taking care of the ball. Every mistake you make magnifies. Rebounding and being able to execute offensively are just huge, especially with a team like Arizona. And getting off to a good start."
What kind of progress has your team made in toughness?
"At home, I thought we improved immensely. There is a comfort zone playing at home that you play under. But you look at all the good team, all the good players. All the tough-minded teams, all the tough-minded players. They win on the road. That's just a mental and a physical thing. The next thing for us to show is that we can compete on the road like we have competed at home."
Is this Arizona team atypically not strong?
"Well, they look plenty strong to me. I say that based off of Radenovic, [Chris] Rodgers, Hassan Adams, [Mustafa] Shakur, [Kirk] Walters and Jawann McClellan - those are all guys who played on that team last year that was basically a game away from going to the Final Four. Everybody - not me, I'm not included - wants to say that they don't shoot it from the perimeter well. Well, when you've got the ability to get to the rim and beat your opponent at the point of attack off the dribble, why would you want to stand out there and shoot three's? I think defensively this team is really talented and really good. They can put on the floor 6'4", 6'5", 6'6" and Radenovic at 6'9" and really cause problems. They can really cause problems. For us, the challenge is going to be early, can we handle their pressure - whether it's halfcourt, whether it's fullcourt, whether it's man, whether it's zone. What have they lost, two in a row? Can anybody remember the last time Arizona lost three in a row? We'll get their maximum effort."
Why do you think they don't have a typical Arizona record?
"Parity in college basketball. Parity in college basketball. Hey, they haven't been playing bad teams. Who did they lose to? UCLA - that's a pretty good basketball team. Michigan State. I mean, there's just a lot of parity. For me, when it is all said and done, do I think Arizona will be one of the last teams standing? Probably. They're too talented. They're too explosive. They're too quick. And then the guy running the show, he's got a clue, I'd like to think. But I'm more concerned about us trying to get better at the things where we have had some success over the last two weeks, regardless of who is on the floor."
What are the areas where you can see that your team is improving?
"Our execution - believe it or not, for me to talk offense - our execution offensively at crucial times against Cal, against Oregon State and against Oregon was good. And then guys having some confidence to step up and knock a shot down. Whether it's been at home or it's been on the road, we've been getting the same shots. The ball has been going down for us. Defensively there have been times when we really have done a good job sustaining our level of tenacity and energy. We haven't been exactly in the right place in the right time - when in man, we haven't recovered. But we have been really aggressive and competing, from that stand point. And we kept our poise. From an individual standpoint, Tim Morris has played pretty good basketball defensively and rebounding. He's given us a good lift in three games. Taj [Finger] has been Taj - he's always out there with a lot of effort - but being undersized and overmatched I thought Taj did a good job. Not just against Leon Powe, but in the two previous games. He didn't have the silly fouls or have silly breakdowns. Chris - good for him; the ball has gone down for him. Mitch [Johnson] has done a pretty good job taking care of the ball. Dan [Grunfeld] has appeared fresh at times. It's not going to be something where we are going to wow anybody, with our explosiveness or our individual play. That's why I keep going back: collectively, we're starting to really do the little things and look like a 'Stanford team' in terms of our execution and our grit, at certain times."
Has Tim's spark each of the last three games proven a level of consistency - that it is not a fluke?
"You would hope, but then again, it has been three home games. There is a comfort zone at home. The next step for Tim, just like our team, is can he duplicate what we've done at home on the road? That's the next step for us."
With Tim's ascension, do you keep him coming off the bench as a stopper/rebounder, or do you shake up the lineup?
"We don't want to change anything. We'll go with the same five, provided that they are healthy. He has done a pretty good job in his role, and I like what Mitch has done in terms of taking away from some of the ballhandling responsibilities from Chris and the responsibility to try to make everybody better. That has enabled Chris, I would like to think, to shoot the ball. Then at crucial times, Chris has the ball in his hands. I like our rotation. I would like it if Peter would be healthy and we could add one more guy to that rotation."
When Kirk Walters is not in the game, who do you expect Arizona to play in the post?
"From all the tapes I've seen, when Kirk is not in the game, they will put Hassan down in the post."
Then Haryasz moves out with his man to the perimeter?
"Oh yeah. We're going to go made-miss. Matt is going to guard Radenovic. If they start the way they started last game, we're going to put Danny on Hassan. We'll probably put Mitch on Rodgers and play Taj on Marcus Williams or Jawann McClellan. And then Chris will guard Shakur. They key for us is being able to go made-miss and take some time off the clock. Score and get back into a zone, or our 32-12, which is our preventative fullcourt press back to zone that we used against Oregon State. Hassan is a handful. I don't think there is anybody in our conference who can guard Hassan Adams. Hopefully we can contain him and slow him down. That's the big concern. Defensively in a man situation, I don't think we have a favorable match-up, just because of their speed and quickness."
So if Haryasz is out on the perimeter guarding Radenovic...
"Would you rather have Hassan Adams in the post, or would you rather have him out on the perimeter trying to go by a guy and making everybody better? You try to pick your poison. Quite frankly, I'd rather have him down around the block. Matt is going to have to do a good job because Radenovic can shoot it from the perimeter. He has to be in a position where he can help in the post and still get back out to his man. For us, it's total team defense. Total team defense. Hassan does a very good job scoring the ball, but he doesn't get enough credit for making other people better. He really doesn't get enough credit. Then I have to believe that McClellan, who didn't play bad over the weekend against the Oregon schools, will be much better because he has those two games under his belt."
Is there any scenario you can see where one team races out ahead in this conference?
"I don't think so. You'd like to think - and I say this prematurely - but you'd like to think Washington because they're the healthiest team right now. But I don't know. I don't know. It's just really hard. Washington goes in and beats USC on the road and they have 20-some odd turnovers. You go figure. UCLA, when we left there, I said to myself, 'My God, they have a chance because they are getting all their guys back.' Then [Cedric] Bozeman goes down. [Josh] Shipp goes down. [Lorenzo] Mata goes down. Whoever is going to be the healthiest down the stretch, I've got to figure they're going to be the team."
When Arizona goes small with Hassan Adams at the 'four,' how do you react to that?
"Just because he's 6'4", that doesn't make them small. We're going to do what we've been doing. We're not changing anything. We're not going to react, and we cannot simulate their athletic ability and quickness. For me, the game is predicated off of quickness and explosiveness, as opposed to size. That's where they have a lot of advantages. When he is at the four, Taj will guard him. Then we'll put Danny on whoever their other perimeter player is. Just because Hassan Adams is 6'4" and 205, that doesn't mean he plays small. There is a 45-inch vertical there. That's plenty tall enough."
Is it an overstatement to say that Tim could match up well against Hassan Adams?
"I don't know that there is any one guy in this league who can match up with Hassan Adams. As much as we're talking about Hassan Adams, I think everybody on our team from an individual standpoint has to step up their level of defense. The match-ups are favorable for Arizona because of their quickness and explosiveness, when you talk about man [defense]. McClellan, Marcus Williams - all of them. That's why we go made-miss and we want to play some zone. Try to get them in a situation where they have to slow down and have to make some decisions, as opposed to coming down at the point of attack against the man and constantly get in a rhythm and constantly beat you off the point of attack off the dribble."
How did you like your team's zone against Cal?
"At times, I thought we did okay. I thought at times Cal did what they wanted to, particularly to start the second half. Leon [Powe] did pretty much what he wanted to. But at times - at crucial times - when we went made-miss, we got the necessary stops when we needed to. You look at the start of the game, when we went made-miss. I think we scored right off the top with Haryasz. Then we came down in a zone, and we lost [Ayinde] Ubaka. A couple times, he hit two deep threes. Then in the second half, I want to say with 10 minutes left in the game and the game in the balance going back and forth, we were able to get out to him in those situations. For us, we are getting better in certain situations and getting better at certain times of understanding our defensive responsibilities, getting there and getting something done that is positive."
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