Tuesdays with the Team: Trent Johnson

Daniel Novinson breaks down the individual matchups and divulges the latest injury news for the men's basketball team. Plus, Trent Johnson speaks up about how he's approaching this Thursday's tilt with the UCLA Bruins.

Editor's Note: The following column/commentary offers 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.

The matchups:

Anthony and Fred confirmed to me that they'd be guarding Westbrook and Shipp, and Coach Johnson said Robin will be shadowing Love, so here's what it'll look like when UCLA has the ball against Stanford's starters:

  1. Mitch Johnson on Darren Collison (14 points per game)
  2. Anthony Goods on Russell Westbrook (12 points)
  3. Fred Washington on Josh Shipp (14 points)
  4. Brook Lopez on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (nine points)
  5. Robin Lopez on Kevin Love (17 points)

I really like that our best defender, Robin, is on UCLA's most prolific scorer. I also really like that Brook is on UCLA's weakest link offensively, because that means fewer fouls and more rest for him on that end of the court. Plus, the logic still applies when offensively-limited Lorenzo Mata-Real (three points) will check in for Mbah a Moute.

Given that Robin's on Love, and given that Goods and Washington have proven themselves as defenders this year, the Collison on Mitch Johnson matchup is far and away the one that scares me most. Mitch got beat repeatedly by TaJuan Porter, Nic Wise and Derrick Low this year. No shame in that all those guys are NBA-caliber, but then again, so's Collison. Plus, it's not exactly like any of the other defenders can leave their guy open to readily help out Mitch on D.

If I'm Collison (shooting 50 percent on threes in conference), Johnson has to guard me close, and so I drive, drive, drive, peel off defenders and dish off at the last second to Love. How well Johnson does defending that point-of-attack will go a long way toward determining Thursday's winner.

By and large, I'd expect the reciprocal matchups when Stanford has the ball, except that Ben Howland said Brook Lopez is going to be doubled readily. Stanford needs its perimeter shooters and Robin Lopez to show up – the opportunity will be there for them.

The injuries:

Nothing serious, thankfully, and players and Coach Johnson downplayed whatever there was.

Anthony Goods had back problems but insists he's okay now:

"It was just back problems," he said when I mentioned that Trent Johnson had indicated last week he was banged up. "I guess I'm getting old and karma's catching up talking about Fred. It's just a little sore, it's nothing. I feel the best I've felt in months."

[Note, Trent Johnson refers to Goods' bum hip in three paragraphs. Maybe that's the same injury Goods was describing or maybe it's another bruise.]

Brook Lopez's hand is slightly swollen, according to Coach Johnson. Didn't seem to bother him against WSU.

Fred Washington's bruised a bone in his left hand, which is his shooting hand.

"I'm pretty healthy," he said when I asked about his health. "I had a bone bruise in my hand against UW, so I'm getting back. I'm not going to wear the splint today [Tuesday]. I'm at 85 percent. I'll be fine by Thursday. It hurt a lot on Saturday, but it's better now."

Here's Trent Johnson's take:

"We're in excellent health for the most part. Anthony's hip, Fred's finger's the same as it was, and Brook's hand is a little swollen, but they're out practicing and playing," he said after Tuesday afternoon practice. "It's the typical mix of bruises, but I think our guys are generally excited about the opportunity in front of us and it should be a fun time of year to be playing. There's a lot to play for."

The coach:

Trent Johnson:

On whether he's treating Thursday's game differently:

No, because regardless of what happens Thursday, we have to play a very good basketball team on Saturday.

On how he is treating the game:

Thursday for me, and what I talked to them about, is an opportunity to play the best team in our conference, proven off the last two or three years. A team, a program that doesn't have any weaknesses, an excellent opponent, but all that said, we have to be doing what we've been doing all year. As long as we play as well as we have all year long… We have to play well. There hasn't been a team that's beaten them all year that hasn't played well. We need to play well.

On whether UCLA's physical defense has set a tone for the league:

I think from a player's standpoint, you have to say that, because they win and they're physical, but like I've always said, coaches in general, we understand that you have to defend, rebound, take care [of the ball]. Any coach will tell you that. UCLA's done an excellent, not a good, excellent job in those areas.

I ask about the plan to slow down Love:

We're going to do what we always do, and make him work for everything he can get. We'll play Robin on him and try to beat him to his sweet spot. If he catches in the post, we'll try to stay down and play hard and aggressive.

On whether Love's worthy of the hype:

I don't think Kevin Love got a lot of hype. Everything he's gotten, he's deserved. The thing that impresses me most about him is his high basketball IQ, but his demeanor, his temperament is excellent. He makes other guys better. He can score, he can rebound, he's just a very, very good basketball player, but for me personally, when I see guy like that and see how carries himself, that's the most impressive. You can say that to lots of guys on basketball team, Westbrook, Collison, Shipp, Luc and so on.

I heard that back in Love's sophomore year, Trent Johnson said he was going to be the next Elton Brand, only one of the best posts at the college level. Guy can evaluate talent.

On whether UCLA's the conference's most physical team:

That's tough to say because it's picking hairs to me. We're physical, Washington State is physical, USC is very physical. If you ask me which is the most physical game we've played all year, it's the USC game here. UCLA is physical, but in the way the game's supposed to be played. You don't see them doing things wrong, they play the game, keep their demeanor, keep their composure and have always been like that. Kevin Love was like that in high school, that's why they're the caliber of player they are.

He, and to a lesser extent the players, really bent over backwards not to put up any bulletin board material about UCLA. That's part of a bigger trend. The first several months of the season, we'd get Coach Johnson from 12-12:20 or so, and then the players until they started practice at 12:45, but now we get the players first and Johnson's been coming in at 12:35 or so, which means we're getting him for half the time. Us print guys aren't happy. Yesterday, something came up at the last minute, so we actually didn't get him until practice ended at 2:30. [Or, as one of my professional colleagues said ‘Maybe he wanted to ice us.' I was laughing for a good 30 seconds.]

Add to the change in Tuesday schedule, whether out of intention or just convenience, the ‘can we go nows' at postgame press conferences (which I think have been getting shorter, too) and Johnson's increasingly acting like he's second-to-last, not second in the league. Guess it's a matter of trying to limit distractions and tone down the hype as the team climbs the polls.

On whether UCLA's better than last year:

Yeah, because the league's better, because of the experience factor. Josh is a senior, Darren [is too]. You can't have the experience they've had and beat the people they've beat and not be better. They have a post presence and still have a perimeter presence. They lost Aaron Afflalo, which is a big loss, but Westbrook and Shipp have taken on that responsibility with their scoring and their defense.

Pretty boiler-plate, but I like what's bolded. UCLA was scary strong on the perimeter last year, as they are this year. The difference is they now have a go-to post scorer they lacked last season. I saw them at 5:1 online to win it all – better odds than North Carolina (11:2) or anyone else in the country for that matter, and that's a big reason why.

On his biggest game:

That's hard. There's been a few. I don't know if I can honestly pick one out. Playing's different from coaching. As a player, the last one, because it's last one, my last college game. It was on the road, at Montana.

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