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 not knowing who you're going to play:
You've just got to prepare mentally for travelling, being back in L.A., preparing for everything you know. Both teams, OSU and Arizona, are very athletic, both teams – any team can beat any team on any given night. It's amazing that Arizona is a seven seed; they finished 8-10 in conference. OSU's been playing teams very tough, they played us tough in the second game. They've been playing some close games.
Oregon State lost to Arizona 81-45 a week ago. They lost all but one Pac-10 game by at least nine, and their last eight by double figures. Public statements notwithstanding, I have to imagine we're scouting for Arizona, and I think the best we can home for on Wednesday is that it's within single figures with 10 or five minutes left, so that Arizona has to play the starters for 30 minutes.
On whether he views it as one game at a time:
I'd like to win the whole tournament, especially after this past weekend. Winning the Pac-10 is a goal of ours.
On why this past weekend's motivating him:
Because we got swept and I feel should have won both games.
I think the energy was there. I think people don't realize how good USC was. Don't get me wrong – we didn't play as well as we should, but just because they're not one of top two or three teams in the conference, USC's still a very talented team.
On how he's improved his scoring:
Just practice, going against Peter and Brook. He's always told me to be a little more selfish on the offensive end.
On whether his shots down the stretch at WSU have sparked a run:
I think there's a little bit of a confidence boost there. I think just starting to get comfortable with Brook being back on the floor – at the beginning of the season our chemistry wasn't as strong. I've had decent offensive outings, I suppose.
On improved passing out of doubles:
I think that's just experience. We had lot of trouble last year and Coach has been harping on that point, and I guess our court vision has just developed due to that.
Another point for the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. While fans complained in the offseason, he noticed the same issue we all did, and responded.
On whether he's learnt to play physical with practice against his brother:
Our practice against everyone is pretty physical. When you got Peter, Brook and Josh all in the post, you don't get a rest. You don't get a break.
Whenever he's asked about his brother, Robin always makes sure not to elevate him above the rest of the team.
On whether he'd ever seen a shot like Shipp's against Cal:
In a game of horse. [Shakes head.] Nope.
On the difference between this team and the team 12 months ago:
I'd like to say that we don't give up as easily. Just look at all the games we were down at half. We probably would have given those away last season.
Responding to the same question:
My first thing I jumped on is eight or nine wins. That's a big difference. [Smiles.] I think a lot of improvement and experience we've had individually and collectively as team have led to us maybe learning to come out on top in close games, games we were down. This year, we're more inc lined to come back or if we're down just tighten this up and that up, whereas last year, I don't know, but maybe it was ‘Here we go again. Dang it, we're down again.'
On whether experience is helping this team:
I think definitely. When you play some of teams we've played, and been in close games, and been in close games and come back and beat the teams you've beat, definitely… I mean, no question. Another year in Coach Johnson's system. Guys have been here three and four years, stuff like that.
On not going into the NCAA Tournament with three straight losses:
It's huge. It's momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. We want to get the winning feeling back when we go to the NCAA Tournament. Last week obviously was very tough against two good teams on their home court, but at the same time, we don't want to go into the NCAAs losing three games.
On whether Stanford was intimidated in the NCAAs last year:
It may have been, but I think we're a very different team this year in a lot of ways. I think it's just the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Fred and the older guys have been there, but they can't take the drama, the importance and intensity and give that to us. They can talk and share their experiences, but when you get there, it's a whole different level, a whole different story. From practice to shootarounds to media it can be a little overwhelming to such a young team with a lot of new faces, and maybe that was part of what happened last year.
On whether last year's served as motivation for this year:
I think for most part probably it's something we focused on and looked back at last spring and summer. This year is a new year and a new team. [Robin Lopez nods vigorously.] I think we looked at it as its own team, its own year in itself. We've played better and tried to improve.
On the difference between this team and the team 12 months ago:
We're more mature, more experienced. I think we just had time to gel together more. Going to Italy definitely helped us on a more personal level and so did playing basketball against older, professional athletes, really learning basketball.
On whether the team was emotionally over the UCLA loss by the USC tip:
I think so. I think, as I said to some of you guys at the end of the USC game, I said I know everyone's going be saying ‘letdown, they didn't come to play,' but I really felt we had a good practice on Friday and came into the USC game ready to play. We played a heck of a game, they just threw that junk D. It goes back to wanting to slow down the game and take better shots. I don't think it's lethargy or being in a different place. I just think they outplayed us. That's a very good team who's been playing well lately, especially at home. I think that was two different games, not a continuation.
My friends on campus and fans here have been asking why we don't push it up when we break the press and have a 3-on-2 (or whatever) edge, and I think this is a big reason – sure an open three is good, but when we miss, there's no one down low to rebound and the other team can run it the other way – which respectively negates our biggest strength (size) and exposes our biggest weakness (speed/athleticism). Coach Johnson later also mentions that when we broke the press, it'd often be in the wrong guy's hands, and so the one-man edge doesn't do as much good when, say, it's Robin Lopez with the ball by the timeline (as I remember happening several times against USC). So I still think we should push with a man-edge (if for no other reason than forcing the other team out of that press), but I liked the few possessions against USC where, instead of settling for the open shot, we took it down low and drew a foul and got a dunk or two.
On USC's press:
When we broke the press we took the fools' gold [the early open three, as Johnson explained postgame Saturday] and got to play to their tempo. Sometimes the long misses are almost like turnovers because they get it and run.
On how to counter if a future opponent presses:
More than counter, I think it's tempo. They got us into their tempo and took us out of our rhythm. I think we were going a little too fast. Look up, we were down ten, the crowd was going crazy, now a couple of guys are trying to make too much happen. I know, for example, Robin set pick for me on the right, and I didn't come off it, but tried to make a strong move in hole.
On whether slowing down implies passing up open looks:
We talk about not necessarily passing shots up, but giving these two [gestures to the twins] touches down low. One of them should get a touch. That's the one thing we need to keep doing. They need to keep touching it and then maybe we'll get a shot later in the shot clock, and folks down there are in position to rebound.
On playing in control:
We just have to take our time. For the most part we did outstanding, particularly at UCLA, which is a very hostile crowd. I don't think we got out of control for the most part. I think USC was different in that we put ourselves in such hole it was like we were fighting ourselves almost.
On USC's defense:
I think a couple of games they played a triangle-and-two. They didn't play that on us Saturday. It almost looked like at the start they'd double Brook -- front him and set the weak side wing on him, sandwich him – before he got ball and just really packed the paint. [Brook: Fred's man was just sitting down in my lap.]
Perhaps that's part of why Washington played just six minutes against USC.
I ask about his health:
I'm fine. It's the best my body's felt in the last three years, which is surprising because I've played more minutes. I'm fine. Everyone's sore this time of year.
Coach Johnson has said his players tend to say they're fine when they're not, and he said Mitch was banged up last Friday. Something to keep an eye on.
I ask if he'd be pleased if he knew back in the fall that this would be the team's record, and this would be how they've played in the regular season:
Second place? I mean I wouldn't say I'd be shocked, I'd be happy with it. The goal of playing basketball is to win, to win the Championship, so I'd guess I'd be a little disappointed in that.
On his right hand:
It's fine. Really. It'll get hit now and then, get hit, nothing
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