Editor's Note: The following story contains commentary from the writer's "real-time" 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.
On winning Pac-10 Coach of the Year:
Thank you. Good players. Good staff.
On preparing for an unknown opponent:
We'll concentrate on us, prepare on both [teams]. Third time around, we have a pretty good feel. OSU has as much to play for as Arizona in my mind. I don't anticipate any team changing.
On how the team's different from 12 months ago:
Well, experience. I think the spring and summer have helped us, and the level of play in the conference has helped us. I don't anticipate any type of defensive pressure or quickness from an individual or team standpoint that we haven't seen. I think last year at this time, everything was so new, so that should help us
On the Italy trip:
I think it helped, like I said earlier in the year, from the standpoint of Mitch getting games in against top competition. I think it helped Drew Shiller, Robin and Brook from the standpoint of being able to play – any time you play with better players whether in a league or college guys. The kids have always been close, so from that standpoint, it's never been a concern.
On whether he felt USC was a letdown:
No not whatsoever. I said going into the weekend Thursday, regardless of what happened that we were going to have a tougher matchup Saturday. [USC] handled us physically. They have four or five guys who can take us off the deck. I think the guy did a good job of handling the pressure, but when we crossed the timeline, we had the ball in the wrong hands and that took time off the clock. We had shots that didn't go down and they really hounded us physically. It's not like we weren't ready or the kids were flat. They were just flat better. They've improved on what they did in the non-conference throughout the conference season.
Last Tuesday, Coach Johnson said USC would be tough: "If you ask me which is the most physical game we've played all year, it's the USC game here," and he reiterated the concern with the Trojans Friday: "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." So point taken, but he still never said that USC would be a tougher matchup than UCLA. Could you imagine him saying that before the UCLA game? Me neither.
On how he slept after the controversial calls at the end of the UCLA loss:
It's interesting that you ask that because I was pretty much the same. It happens, but I tend to dwell on that we put ourselves in that situation. It never should have come to that. A couple of blockouts, a couple of turnovers. And goodness, it happens. I've never been one and never will be to blame the officials. I look at us, look at me. It was a typical night Thursday. I felt for the group, like I said earlier, because they put in so much energy knowing they can compete for the Pac-10 championship. They knew to a man. I didn't think others did but I know these kids did.
On whether he views the Pac-10 regular season and Pac-10 Tournaments as separate:
New season. New season. New approach – one game at a time. The non-conference is a season. Conference is a season. Pac-10 is a season. The NCAA Tournament after that, if we play well, we don't have three games in a row. We have Thursday/Saturday or Friday/Sunday. What I just talked about is making sure they enjoy however long they have together because so much emphasis is put on the magnitude of these games. I don't look at it as pressure, but I know these kids do.
Our very own Pat Fitzgerald asks about whether Stanford's depth will be advantageous :
You'd like to think so, but you have to take game at time and see what happens. There's not much difference between Anthony, Fred, Landry, Kenny and Drew. Mitch is the one guy who's dominant, and done a good job taking care of the ball. We look at him as being invaluable to us. Versus certain teams, versus certain individuals, we can play Landry, Drew back there. Up front, we're plenty solid, and deep enough. I use the word solid because Brook, Robin, Taj and Law.
Wow. Biggest two sentences of the day. No offense to the last three players on that list, but that Coach sees them as equal to his other starting wings represents what I believe to be a big step backwards for Goods and Washington. And that next sentence says all you need to know – none of those guys by themselves are viewed as indispensible. Fans had hoped that Washington and Goods could develop into those types of players this year, but it didn't happen, at least in the regular season. You can also read those two lists as the players' approximate order on the depth chart – seems to correlate pretty well.
On the attitude shift between last year and this year:
I think it goes back to experience. I think kids are more relaxed for this game on Thursday. It's not going to make or break us. My approach, our approach as a staff is the same: the next game, the next practice is so important, so big.
To be fair, we also needed to win in the Pac-10 Tournament a lot more last year than we did this year, as I believe a reporter pointed out.
On the practice schedule:
We had yesterday off, two days off and usually we come out Monday and Tuesday extremely hard and Wednesday is a review day, but we hadn't had two days off in three weeks. I thought it would be good because of school and we'll go extremely hard today [Tuesday] and Wednesday. We have guys banged up. Fred and Anthony are banged up, but they, to a person, all wanted to practice yesterday. But school's important now.
On whether that schedule would have been the same had Stanford won both games in L.A:
Oh yeah, no question. It was in calendar all along, no question. The reason's because of school but also because, regardless of what happens, we have to play next week.
I ask about how he would have felt if he'd known in November that this is where the team would end up:
I would have felt we probably came up a little short, based upon our ability to defend, take care of the ball and rebound, and again I base that off coming off of spring and coming out of the fall and so that's the truth, that's the truth.
A reporter comments that he was saying that back before the season started. [He was.]:
Yeah, and I told Anthony in October, I said, ‘I have a real good feeling about our group.' I said it's the first time I'd felt that since being a head coach in my fifth year in Nevada. That's what happens when you trust guys. Because quite frankly Daniel, you asked the question, where'd you pick us? I think how hard we've worked, we've competed. Injuries here and there will take their toll.
I think I picked Stanford either fourth or fifth in the conference, and for the team to bow out in the Round of 32 in the Daily, fairly reflective of the general consensus five months ago. I hope I'm too pessimistic on both counts.
On whether the Pac-10 ballots were done by teleconference or fax:
We just voted and faxed it in. That was done last Wednesday and I sent mine off Wednesday night because I had pretty good indication of the players. You can split hairs, there's so many guys deserving, some guys are going to get left out.
Presumably Johnson isn't the only coach to vote before the final horn sounds. So did anyone who just missed the cut have a monster last weekend? If so they probably were a victim of timing.
On Love, not Brook Lopez, being named Player of the Year:
My thoughts are Kevin's very deserving. The first-place team, as a freshman,
he handled everything from the standpoint of publicity, rebounding, defense,
poise, you name it. Very complete. Very deserving.
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