Editor's Note: The following piece contains quotes from a press conference, along with some of the writer's views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.
Well, first I'd like to thank the seniors. Those guys have done a heck of a job over four years in the program, five for Fred Washington. Usually in my tenure as a head coach for nine years, I don't start seniors, but I thought these guys were worth it. Kenny Brown played well at Washington State, Fred and Taj are practically starters and Peter's been banged up, but has given so much in practice.
It's probably as good of a win in terms of emotion, in terms of what we were playing for, as we've had all year. We knew had to play well, we were very resilient. They were composed for most part; I was one who lost composure. I thought kids did a good job of settling down. This was a very, very good basketball team.
Trent specifically said on Tuesday he wouldn't start the seniors, and they were as worthy then as they are now, so I wonder what changed his mind. With Brook Lopez out there too, the five starters were the five guys who are gone next year. The senior lineup fell into a 2-0 hole, and then the starters came in after two minutes, so it's unfair to blame the poor start on them. Blame the rest of the team for not being mentally ready.
Stanford should be in L.A. for the next three straight weekends, and all in win-or-bust (no first place finish, no Pac-10 crown, no NCAA second weekend) situations. That's great luck – Stanford essentially has two weeks to iron out the kinks before going through the same routine for real.
On what he said at halftime:
I just went over things to do in the second half. We wanted to slide Brook and Robin off the midpost. For the most part, I said ‘Hey, they played extremely well. They were the aggressors. We need to find a way to ease back in possession by possession.'
I think you have to tip hat to Anthony and Fred guarding him. When we say how to help, that's what we're talking about. You can't even let him get a touch when he's in a rhythm.
On defense in the second half:
I thought from the 10-minute mark on, we were as good as we've been all year defensively, and they've got three guys, Taylor [Rochestie], Kyle [Weaver] and Derrick [Low], who do a good job of driving and making people better. That's not fair to make our perimeter guys guard them by themselves. Usually they try to force Robin and Brook off and get the perimeter guys to guard by themselves and they did that at times.
If we can keep it in the halfcourt, regardless of who or where we play, I think we have a chance. I really do.
Trent Johnson's surprisingly upbeat throughout this presser. We've had big wins throughout this season, but this is the first time his opening statement was about his team and not the other guys, and one of the first pressers where he was almost entirely positive. (Just look at Thursday's for a contrast.)
Pat Forde, sticking in town after cameoing as the Tree for Thursday's first half, asks about whether Johnson's pleased with the defense:
Extremely so, considering who we played and how well they've been playing. They make you guard a full shot clock, they value every possession, that's probably as good of a win as we've had at home considering we hadn't been very good the last two games. The rebounding and defense really came out this afternoon.
They sure did in the second half, but for the fourth straight game, the team didn't rebound and defend to its potential for a full 40 minutes. I'm afraid that Brook Lopez' ability to carry this team on his back is allowing the team to make that a habit. It's worked out three of the last four games, but if this were the NCAAs, we wouldn't have played those last three.
On his composure:
I've got six technicals in four years, and one of them this year was for I don't know, jumping up and down. I don't measure it in terms of technicals, I measure it in terms of keeping my composure.
On the win:
I just didn't want to let the seniors go out like that. We wanted to stay in the race for a Pac-10 championship, we wanted to go out there and wanted to go play.
On whether he was frustrated in the first half.
[Brook just shrugs.]
Trent Johnson intercedes: "Brook has facial expressions kind of like his head coach where sometimes he appears to be frustrated and was not. Quite frankly, if I had three guys hacking me, I'd be getting frustrated too. That's what happens when you play with emotion. Sometimes his facial expressions are saying one thing, but his emotions deep down are another. I know that because he didn't hit me when he took me out. [Smiles.]
In my opinion, Brook was frustrated, which Coach Johnson implicitly acknowledges (I'd be getting frustrated too), but then don't split hairs and pretend he wasn't. What's more interesting though is that there doesn't seem to be bad blood left between him and Brook. He really jumped in to defend him, like he does three questions later. I guess winning solves everything.
Back to Brook Lopez, on his attitude in the second half:
I was just trying to go as hard as I could possession by possession, score get a stop, score, get a stop.
On whether he'd rather win the Pac-10 regular season or make the Sweet 16:
I just take it a game at a time.
About whether that might have been his last game:
Trent Johnson intercedes: That's yet to be determined. [Smiles.]
Brook Lopez: I'm not thinking about that during the season. I'm thinking about Taj, Kenny, Peter, Fred. They're so valuable to the team.
So, say you knew you were going pro next year. What would you say in response to that question? Yup, pretty much what Brook said verbatim. My sophomore friends who are chummy with the twins agree: he's gone and Robin's leaning toward returning.
Also, congrats to the AP's Janie McCauley (they strip her name off it, but it's usually her recap that you're reading in any outlet in the world that's not the Merc, the Chron, the Daily or the Bootleg) for asking that question, the 600-pound elephant no one had brought up all season long. She also mentioned to me pregame that she's been to two Tuesday pressers this season, not one, as I'd mentioned in a previous piece. The point that we're getting a lot more coverage now that we're top-10 stands, but my apologies on the error.
I ask about Taj:
Like Coach is saying, it's Taj, I don't know how else to put it. It's what we expect.
On whether his play got brother going:
I'd have to say he was already going and that helped me going. When I know someone on the other end is going to finish, I'm going to play with a lot more confidence.
On the UCLA showdown:
At the beginning of the year, we laid out goals to achieve and I'd say we've achieved about all of them, all the possible goals at this point. The Pac-10 championship is just one more goal. We've been saying the whole season, ‘win a championship, protect our home court.'
I ask about what these goals were:
We have overall goals, like going undefeated in the preseason, winning the Pac-10 conference championship, winning the Pac-10 tournament, winning the NCAA Tournament. Also we have in-game goals like outrebounding the other team every game and lowering their field goal percentage to under 45 or so.
(Trent Johnson: "Can we go now? [As another question starts…] Guess not.")
On his brother's performance:
We worked hard. Everyone worked hard. I appreciate what everyone did.
(Trent Johnson: "Even me?" [Smiles.])
On whether he thought he was going to lose:
I never felt that during whole game, even when we were down. I don't know if that's a good thing.
(Trent Johnson: We're 15-1 at home, why would he feel like that?)
(Trent Johnson: Can we go now?)
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