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.
After a Friday shoot-around at the Galen Center, Trent Johnson held court with myself, Jake Curtis of the San Francisco Chronicle and Darren Sabedra of the San Jose Mercury News in Beverly Hills' Hyatt Regency Century Plaza lobby. If you've never been to Beverly Hills before, suffice it to say I was probably the worst-dressed guy in a square mile – in a polo shirt. Despite the surroundings, Trent Johnson had plenty to say about USC, a decidedly blue-collar, physical team. (Oh, and he might have had a comment or two about last night's game, too.)
(Injury update: Mitch missed shoot-around because of his injuries, Anthony has a bum hand, and Fred's as banged up as always.)
On the early start:
11 a.m. for TV. We've been in that situation before. The sooner we play, the sooner we get it behind us.
On whether he has any feelings on the call on Hill:
I've got feelings, but over the last six minutes it should have never gotten to that. We were in a position to make plays and had some breakdowns. For the life of me, I don't get caught up in that, I don't know what you want from me. The officials are human and they make mistakes. Lawrence postgame [saying that you can't obsess over any one whistle], that was Law. I didn't prep him on anything. We were in a position against a very, very good team that won the premier conference in the country and reached two Final Fours – we had some breakdowns and they beat us, that's all. All that being said, we have to be resilient like we have all year long against a team that's that talented physically. I like this particular group because they're real easy to talk to. Some guys hear and don't believe, but these guys believe. No one's talking about UCLA; they're talking about the next game, the next practice. We have to play a team that's well-coached and presents more matchup problems than UCLA.
On why he hasn't obsessed over the UCLA game:
What would that do for us, for me to react? They going to give us that game back? That's sports. Do I feel for them, my guys. Oh, you better believe I do. One of the guys from L.A. said, "I want to apologize for Darren Collison and Westbrook. You held the ball." I said, "Those kids worked their butts off. Who am I to judge how they react when they're excited?" For me, that's stuff in sports that's just out of my control. I worry about us, what we're doing. I congratulate UCLA... Sometimes you work your tail off and don't get what you deserve.
On Collison's comments that Hill's block was clean, and the whistle was a makeup call:
I don't know Darren that well. I don't pay attention, I don't listen to that. They stepped up and he made two huge free throws, huge plays down the stretch. What kids say in the heat of battle, it's such an emotional time...
Johnson ducked the question, wisely. Nice of him to kind of give Collison an out.
On the team:
This team is slowly but surely establishing themselves in very fine fashion. What these guys have done is very impressive in this conference. Not a lot of Stanford faithful thought these folks would be where they are... Two weeks before we started practice, I said, "I have a good feeling about this team." We go out and work. We worked hard.
On the magnitude of the loss:
A loss is a loss. It's easier for me to reflect after the end of the year. I think that's how you have to be. That's me. When it's done, I'll have plenty of time to reflect in terms of losses and magnitude of losses.
On bouncing back for USC:
They'll respond like they always have, and will be ready to play, be ready to compete to the best of their ability. You guys are not going to like to hear this, but we've gotten beat because the other team's been better than us, with the exception of one game. It's not like this team goes out and lays eggs or chokes.
How about Law sitting there, going in and out, and then coming down out of a timeout when the score's tied [on Stanford's last possession in regulation]? He looked at me and I said, "take him." He takes him and goes to other end and makes that play. To me, that way outweighs any shots he's missed all year long, to have the courage in that setting to make that play.
Mitch, tired as heck chasing [Collison] around. Drew comes in to give the guy a spell and they attack him... [Not exactly sure of the point Johnson's trying to make here. Interesting to note that Mitch was wiped against Collison, and the reason Shiller came in was specifically to spell him.]
Brook never lost his composure at one time in that game and physically, that was the most physical game he's ever played in. We got beat.
The one inferior opponent is Siena.
I ask about Stanford standing at 20 points in the paint and a +7 rebounding margin at halftime, but finishing with just 28 points low and a +2 edge:
What changed was that the two teams are very good rebounding teams, so there's going to be some give and take. In terms of points in the paint, we were throwing it in. We were throwing it in. Some were going down but some didn't. I went back and looked at the tape and offensively, we executed. Some guys were pushed off the block further than they should have been, like Brook, but for the most part, our execution was the same. Anthony got in the lane a couple of times and got stripped, but that happens. The rebounding can be skewed depending on who's playing. We're playing a team just as good, so you expect an even battle.
On his mood at halftime:
I felt good at halftime. We'd played good defense, but this is a good, potentially great, team and I knew they were going to make two, three, four runs. For someone to come in and think we were going to blow them out, that's just not reality.
I ask about what breakdowns there were in the last five minutes of regulation:
We had some free throw line blockout assignments, a couple point of attacks. We lost Josh on a big three, but I say breakdown in terms of the guy guarding should get his hands high, but was tired. Taj Finger, at the line, it was physical, but you've got to do what you've got to do. And then Collison, Mitch was late on a closeout and fouls him, four-point play. Those are breakdowns, that from the standpoint of closing out at bad angle, that's something he's been consistent at doing better.
I assume he means Mitch letting Collison penetrate in terms of point-of-attack breakdowns.
Johnson: "Can we talk about USC?" Fair enough.
They're a lot better than earlier in the year and Mayo's probably playing a lot better, but Jefferson's playing a lot better basketball in his rhythm, in terms of what they're doing. For us, they're explosive, their ability to keep it in the halfcourt and spread us, spread our bigs and get shots off the bounce, is going to be tough. I thought our game versus them, as I've said, was as physical of a game as we've been in all year now. I have lot of respect for Tim Floyd. He's as good as it gets.
Okay, there are the keys defensively. Limit dribble penetration, limit USC's transition opportunities (the manifestation of explosiveness) and try to not get burnt keeping the posts down low.
I ask who he's most concerned about:
Jefferson is as explosive and as athletic as it gets, and I think that's going to cause some problems, if he's engaged. The other is Hackett, big, strong. And Mayo – those guys cause problems for you. We're going to have to get contributions from other guys because Mitch is banged up, Anthony has a hand problem, Fred's banged up.
Between the "but" in the first sentence of his first quote on USC and throwing in Mayo as almost an afterthought here, I think it's stopping Jefferson, not Mayo, that Johnson's most worried about.
On whether anyone missed today's shoot-around:
We just shot and didn't practice. Mitch is just shot – his hip, his hand, his shoulder. He's hurt – he just doesn't talk about it. But for him not to shoot around, it's killing him.
I'm taking any future reports of "oh, everyone's fine" with a grain of salt, because I ask every week and get that answer, and then we always hear retroactively about injuries like Mitch's.
On Mitch's play:
He played excellent. One turnover and five assists against that pressure. I thought he was very good.
I ask whether Fred's injuries limited his minutes last night:
A little bit. He's struggling with his hand, but Landry came in and played well, Law came in and played well. Fred is a senior and all, but whether he's injured or whatever, he hasn't played as well as he's capable. Landry came in and gave us a lift, and Law came in played well.
The implication is that Washington's healthy enough, but Johnson just felt more comfortable with Fields and Hill in the game.
On tomorrow's itinerary:
8:30 a.m. wakeup. If they want to shoot around, we'll be up at 7 a.m.
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