Tuesdays with the Team: UA/ASU, Part 2

TheBootleg.com's tireless staff writer Daniel Novinson sat in on the weekly men's basketball press conference Tuesday after the Cardinal's weekend split with the Oregon schools in their first road series in conference play. Check out Part 2 of 2 with Daniel's takes and the coaches' and players' perspectives on the team's performance and the team's preparation for Arizona and ASU this week.

Mitch Johnson

Doing alright. Starting classes back up is always fun. The shopping period is kind of casual. They're not really mandatory, you can kind of see what you want to take.

One of my best friends here is also a Sociology major. I'm giving him a lot of grief over that quote. Doesn't work that way when you're not in the play the computer game Second Life for six hours per week class that a lot of the team is in.

 

On Arizona:

I've seen them a little more than other teams because they've been on TV more. Last year they had a couple guys, Radenovic, Shakur, were a big part of their team for four years, the usual suspects you saw year-in year-out whenever I've been here. Obviously, Bayless is a freshman who's awesome. I always thought they were a underrated defensive team, but defensively this year they've kind of had more grind-it-out games than expected. A couple of times I remember, Texas A&M, down 15 or 20, and they came back and won against really good teams. Obviously, their D has been really good, because to come back, you can't just trade buckets.

 

On Bayless:

He's good. I don't know if there's anything you're going to do to take him out of the game. He's just good with the ball, real aggressive, doesn't make a whole bunch of unnecessary moves, seems to get to the free throw line a lot, puts a lot of pressure on the def. I think we've done a good job this year playing team defense.

 

On ASU:

It's arguably the best conference in the country and you're undefeated after two weeks. I mean, they beat Arizona and they beat Oregon.

Especially in conferences this good [Daniel: and with the RPI counting road losses 1.4 times] your home games are ones you have to take advantage of. Sometimes, going on the road and getting splits is a good thing.

 

On whether he's pleased with the season to-date:

Feel good? Yeah. I think we need do a better job against good teams or teams that are quote-unquote good teams. I think Sunday's game again evidenced we can play with teams, it's just a couple of plays at the end of games where especially we need do a little better and be more efficient.

Definitely, I think every loss we've had this year is a missed opportunity. Every game, we always give the other team credit, but looking back on the game, we always see things on the tape we could have done.

 

I pounce and ask what we could have done better against Oregon:

The shooting is going to come and go. Obviously, some games we'll shoot great, and some games not, but the big thing after the Oregon game, I saw Coach Donny G, and he tracks the offensive stats when we went inside first and then outside. It was a much higher percentage than when we kept it outside. Extremely higher whenever a ball touched a post. (Pause.) Not getting caught up in the emotion of the game. It was a very good crowd, very emotional game. We probably made some decisions and some plays we shouldn't have. But again, a great team, and we had a shot at the end to win.

 

Lawrence is going to be Lawrence. One thing I always say, big games he's usually there. If he comes and has a couple of down games, when we really need him he's going to hit the shot, going to make most of them.

Damning use of "usually" and "most."

 

On stats:

We've played 16 games. The numbers are going to be what they are. No one's going to increase or decrease, except maybe by one or two points. The farther you make it in the Tournament, the more recognition you're going to get.

 

Johnson then quickly caught himself and replaced "the Tournament" with "March." The big guy hasn't yet mentioned the NCAAs, the younger Johnson explained, and so Mitch certainly wasn't going to be the first to break that seal.

 

I ask my what does Taj do better this season question:

I don't know what the big difference is, but the thing about Taj is you always know what you're going to get. So much of his game is hustle and efficiency, so it's pretty clear, he's not going to take ten shots this game and not enough the next. Offensive rebounds, loose balls, a lot of times that's bigger than his actual stats. He's great, you can insert him with any combination and he's going to do great.

Thinly-veiled shot at some of the guards?

 

Whether there were more lineups against Oregon:

Maybe. I think part of that was matchups. They went pretty small for a minute and Fred got in foul trouble. We tried different things, had diff guys who've contributed.

 

I ask about his improvement:

I had a very good summer. I worked out up at home, dedicated myself just to basketball [as opposed to summer school in previous years] and had some good competition up there. I worked out a lot, it's all I had to do with no school. l I think it helped a lot and gave me a pre-preseason and set a new tone, showed I did have that confidence to set a new tone.

 

Taj Finger:

Tough interview because the guy's so agreeable and just kind of repeats back at you whatever you ask and doesn't give you much else.

 

Budinger's great, Hill's a real big guy. It's going to be a tough game.

 

How you like where you are now?

We're fine right now. 2-2. The only teams undefeated right now are UCLA and ASU. We're just one or two games back, and just trying to get better right now.

 

Confident after Oregon?

It was a tough loss to Oregon. We all felt we could have, should have won that game, but yeah, we're as confidence as ever.

 

Guess it was rocking out there?

Oregon, they got some great fans, always get super-loud, trying to get into your head. It was definitely rocking out there, yeah.

 

Late game:

We were right there 65-63, Brook is taking the shot that we wanted right there. We had to foul and they hit some free throws.

Maybe he misspoke or we're misunderstanding, but there's no way that corner airball was the shot we wanted for Brook, right?

 

Yeah, that's our game plan, pound it down low and take advantage.

 

We don't really have to count on one person. Anyone really is capable of getting 15 on any given night.

 

On the free throws:

I was able to kind of block out the crowd and just sink them in there. I guess some of the guys had an off-night but we'll definitely get that corrected, shoot 50 or 100 each day and kind of get that back in there.

Well, not if Coach has his say.

 

I haven't beat Arizona for awhile now, so it would be really nice to get a win against them. ASU's playing great basketball. We definitely have to get both of these to stay competitive.

 

On Radenovic's departure:

We call him the Stanford killer. I'm glad, maybe it's a mental thing, but he had all the confidence in the world against us, scoring 30 or 40 points per game.

 

I ask about Mitch's improvement:

He's just taking care of the ball and making the right decisions. On the break, if he has an open man, he sets him up and if not, he slows it down. If he has an open shot, he's taking advantage. He's taking it to the rim a little harder, a little stronger.

 

I ask about the reason for his improvement:

Being a senior. Last year I was a little injured, this year I'm feeling great, healthy. Me, Pete and Kenny, the seniors here, kind of say, no matter what, if play five or ten minutes, just have fun and be there for the team. If I score five points, ten points, just try to have fun.

Am I really forgetful or was this injury never disclosed publicly?

 

On his passion:

The only way I play is with passion. I feel like if I play hard, I get everyone to play hard and the team fires up its intensity.


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