Tuesdays with the Team: Part 1

In Part 1 of 2, Daniel Novinson reports on Tuesday's press conference where Mitch Johnson and Brook Lopez talk about a tale of two halves versus ASU: how the team's mentality led to the deficit and how they snapped out of it during an emotional halftime. Mitch speaks about running the offense with different personnel against varying defenses, and both talk about Brook's improvement since 2006-07.

Mitch Johnson:

On Arizona State:

I guess the easiest and kind of most cliché story would be a tale of two halves. I think they came in playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and energy. We talked about them being a young team, like we experience last year and the year before, when you're riding high, you're riding pretty high. They came in 4-0, first place in the Pac-10. We told ourselves before we came out, we huddled up, if we let them get going and feel good about themselves, it's going to be tough. They hit some shots offensively where it's like – does every Shipp shoot like this in this gym? That zone was pretty effective, it did exactly what they wanted and we started thinking way too much. We stopped being aggressive and offensively were on our heels that half.

On the offense against ASU's zone:

It's almost like a matchup zone, almost like a man-to-man, we have a coup offenses we can run against both. We did a couple of zone offenses and a couple, kind of motion stuff, run the two big boys. The thing is too, they're a lot more athletic this year than last year, a little longer. They're pretty good.

On beating that zone:

It helped that we started pushing the ball offensively and started getting more of a pace, instead of letting them get set every time. I know that's one thing I need to work on. Even games where we want to slow the game down, we need to push into the frontcourt to get the ball into the motion. If we bring it up at a pace, guys might not be in the right position. Even like UCLA -- though walk it up on Collison, it's like he plays offense on D.

On the difference he notices in Brook Lopez:

Just the experience factor. Anyone that's stayed in college more than one year knows it: you've kind of seen everything. You kind of know what to expect to a certain extent. He's been double-teamed, he's had bad calls, he's had good games, he's had bad games, he's been on TV. This time, he's kind of just playing. His supporting cast, as in us, is playing better too and I think that's helping. He's kind of settling down. His first year, he was going faster and taking quick moves, which a lot of young guys do.

On improvements in the twins:

I don't think either of the twins have really come close to getting a technical all year. Sometimes Brook will go to talk to the ref, but he's usually calm, just to ask a question, ‘Did I lead with my elbow?', ‘He's holding, can you watch that?' I've never had to pull him back this year.

He's doing a great job catching and going up. Both of them are doing a great job passing out of the double team. It's a huge difference between this year and last year that ultimately gets them more opportunities to score one-on-one, because then teams start worrying about double-teaming. I think ASU played them straight up almost the whole game.

On the outside game to balance the twins inside:

It comes and goes. The shooting comes and goes. But when we do it as a team consistently, when we shoot well enough to make them respect us, so they can't sag, I think we'll be alright. ‘Even some of the bricks,' I tell the twins, ‘all those are basically lobs to you guys.' I'm serious though. Sometimes our best offense is to get it up there and let those guys and Fred and Law and Taj go play volleyball until someone gets that in. One series against ASU, we didn't score, but we had six shots point-blank. Not many plays are going to get you that.

On his mentality with different lineups on the floor:

I think it definitely changes what you're thinking, depending on your personnel. I know for sure with those two in the game, teams will double the post more, we'll get more offensive rebounds. On defense, if you have to push up on someone you've got a little help back there. It definitely can affect your decision-making and how you're thinking.

On halftime at ASU:

We all knew. We all knew. Coach J really didn't have to come in and say ‘I saw this or that.' It was really evident it didn't have a lot to do with basketball, it had to do with our personality and mentality as a team. I remember we huddled as a team, the players only, it got pretty crazy and we didn't talk too much about basketball. We just knew: whatever it takes.

On the halftime huddle:

Usually before we go out, we huddle as a team and I say something. I thought what we had to do was come out and show we were going to be the aggressors and kind of be the ones dictating the tempo and how the game was going to be played.

Brook Lopez

On his changed play:

I try to just do whatever I can for the team now. I sort of focus more on going to basket instead of fading away and hitting the glass more.

On whether he's carrying more of the offensive load:

Yeah, I am. I definitely feel that and I guess that's maybe because of Anthony's little slump in a couple of games. But he's getting good looks out there, so I don't think we really need to worry about that. Those are shots he normally hits.

On passing out of double teams:

Yeah that's definitely something we worked on since last year, since Louisville, stuff like that. Just asserting our presence down low, attacking the basket, then when they start respecting us inside, kicking it out more. When we're rolling and get our outside game rolling, it's pretty hard to beat us that way.

Why since Louisville?

Just in the sense of turnovers and taking care of the ball was an emphasis for us.

On halftime at ASU:

We really were just disappointed in ourselves. Mitch really looks to pick us up at times like that and really gets into us, because he really expects more of us, and we really expect more for ourselves.

On what Mitch said:

I don't remember. Whatever it was was obviously the right thing. He was definitely shouting, there was a sense of anger in his tone. Obviously, not mad at us, mad at the game.

On the mentality against ASU:

We felt they came in really cocky for all the young guys they got on their team and their 10-game win streak. We really didn't want to get punked by them. We wanted to hit them first and when we didn't do that we didn't want to continue reeling.

On who else speaks up:

Definitely Taj, Peter, Fred. A lot of the older guys.

I tell him Mitch said he thought the team's struggles at times had to do with the team's personality, and ask what it is about the team's personality that causes the cold streaks.

Tough question. Tough question. [Pause.]

I guess it's just a sense of aggression. I guess it just comes down to points in the game where execution is big and we make bad mistakes. Clearly at times, we still go back and play like it was last season. I'm definitely guilty of that. I can remember instances against Arizona and ASU where I made bad passes or put up a bad shot.

On his maturity:

I just try to focus on the game and not let the referees or any outside factors take me out of it.

On his improved rebounding:

I watched Law a lot over the summer and over the course of last year. He does a really good job of following his shot. Whether he's in the post or shooting, hell get another shot and draw fouls as well.

On covering more area on rebounds:

Yeah. That's what I try to do: ignore the other guy and get to the ball, whether he's there or not. The ball's what scores.

Second-favorite quote of the year. First place is still Taj in the aftermath of USC, I believe: "I like my wins like I like my women – pretty. But I'll take an ugly one or two."


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