Interview: Howland and Players After MSU

Ben Howland, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt and Josh Smith all answered questions after UCLA's win over Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday...

Coach Ben Howland and three of his starters, Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee and Josh Smith, answered questions from the media after the win over Michigan State.

COACH HOWLAND: I thought the first 30 minutes of the game we played as well as we've played all year at both ends of the floor. We really executed well defensively and offensively, got the ball inside in the first half and built that nice lead. We knew they'd make runs at us. Their team is too good, and they have too much toughness. You have to credit them the way they fought back and clawed back into it. They made one run at us early, and we handled that pretty good, and then we got up 21. And then we got a little complacent and all of a sudden they were right there.
They made a bunch of threes in the second half. They made eight, nine threes in the second half, 9 for 18. I thought Malcolm's defense on Lucas was huge. He didn't score until the last seven minutes of the game. All three of these kids played very well tonight, and this was obviously a big win for us over a team that's been to back-to-back Final Fours with the nucleus of that team out there tonight for Michigan State.

Q. Joshua, what was your mindset after you realized that you had the upper hand in size and in power down low? You got a lot of boards tonight, 5 for 7 from the field, they sent you to the free-throw line a lot tonight. Touch on what you thought and how that changed the game for you so you could open up the floor for your teammates to shoot from the outside.
Joshua Smith: The game plan was just to be aggressive. You know, with a team like that, you've just got to be aggressive, just got to hit them in the mouth first, and that's what we did in the first half. With me, I was just trying to be aggressive, seal a place for my team and just try to help them out.

Q. Malcolm, what was the game plan on Lucas, and obviously it seemed like he came back to be a factor in the game the second half. What was he doing to get back in it?
MALCOLM LEE: Well, we really didn't have a game plan for him, we just knew he was a good player, so we just had to play defense on him. They run a lot of ball picks for him, so we knew we had to respect that. But he's an All-American guard, so we knew that although he didn't have a pretty good first half, midway through the second half that's when he started coming back. That's when you seen him hit a lot of shots. So we knew he was going to come back, but luckily we was able to take a few hits and just withstand it.

Q. Tyler, can you talk about the physical nature of this game? You guys alluded to it, coach kind of alluded to it. It really was a bumping, grinding kind of game, the kind of game we used to see Coach Howland coach when he was at Pittsburgh. Just talk about that.
TYLER HONEYCUTT: We knew it was going to be physical play. We've had experienced with this playing St. John's, Villanova, teams like that. We knew they were going to crash the boards. We needed to get them off the boards. We worked on boxing out the whole week at practice every day just so this wouldn't happen. We did a good job, our bigs did a good job sealing the post, getting easy open shots, getting to the free-throw line.

Q. Malcolm, you've played in these before, and a lot has been made about the experience factor between Michigan State and you guys. Did any of the slippage that happened in the second half have to do with just the lack of experience and nerves or what would you credit it to?
MALCOLM LEE: I mean, I think we can credit it to just their experience. They've went to two Final Fours like in the past three years, so they've been in these kind of situations many times, so we knew that their experience and their olderness, or whatever, we knew that that was going to come back. And that's what they did. But like I said earlier, I'm real glad our team withstands adversity and was able to come out with this.

Q. Tyler, Durrell Summers had some comments about you yesterday. Did you know about those, and did you use those as any motivation tonight?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: Yeah, coach told me during film session before the game exactly what he thought about me, and I did take it as motivation. I wasn't going to go out and play selfish and try to get at him just one-on-one. I just wanted to win, and shots opened up for me, everything worked out how we wanted it to.

Q. Your next opponent is Florida, and you obviously have a history with them. Talk a little bit about what you will talk to your players about in looking ahead to that match-up.
COACH HOWLAND: You know, I'll be honest with you, I haven't really watched them at all, and I won't until tonight when we get back or this morning when we get back. You know, I've seen them throughout the year in a couple games where I'm not really studying, I'm just enjoying the fact how good they are. They're really talented. Their guard play is tremendous. They shoot the ball well. Tyus is a great athlete, the big kid inside, the transfer student. What's his name, from Georgetown? He's a very good player. They've got -- obviously Parsons is Player of the Year in the conference, so they're very, very talented, another really talented Florida team. We know that we're up against it, and we're excited about the challenge and looking forward to playing them.

Q. Talk to us about the defensive scheme you had on Kalin Lucas. You really held him down for the balance of the ballgame.
COACH HOWLAND: Well, Malcolm does a great job trailing everything, getting over the top of screens, trailing on doubles. I've said before I think Malcolm is the best defender at his position in the country. I don't think there's anyone better than Malcolm defensively at the two or the one and today he was guarding the one. He can guard the one, two, three, he's versatile, and his teammates were helping him, we did a good job extending.
But for the most part, it was a good job by him. And he has length. He has good size, and he has quick feet to be able to stay in front.
I thought overall our defense as a team was as good as it's been all year in the first half, and I thought we did a great job from everyone. They got a little going -- you're going to see like Green, Green is a heck of a player. Green is a hard match-up because he can step out and make threes and he's such a good passer. He had ten assists tonight. He leads their team in assists in the conference. That guy is a very, very good player.

Q. A lot has been made about the youth of your team. How much can a win like this boost your confidence and help you get over that inexperience factor?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, any time you win in this tournament it's a big deal. I mean, this is -- I was listening to Tom in the background there. He's absolutely right, this is the greatest sporting event in our culture, in America. And it's so great because so many people are tuned in and involved. You know, to get a win in this tournament and have a chance to play again is huge. It's great for all our players, and there's no question, beating Michigan State, I mean, this is a team that went to back-to-back Final Fours the last two years. They are a tournament-tested, very hard-nosed tough group. It's a huge win for us and I'm sure it's a confidence booster for our players, no question.

Q. You guys were on the positive side of an 18-point differential on points in the paint. You guys only took two three-pointers in the second half. Talk about the adjustment at halftime you made seeing the mismatch down below and how you could get Smith involved and some of our other big men.
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, Josh is a hard match-up for anybody. He's really good. I thought his teammates did a great job feeding him in the post. When they made their initial run starting the second half, he answered twice with a couple key baskets for us. When he fell down and he got his funny bone hit, it hurt us a little bit. I was really pleased with Joshua tonight. I thought he did another tremendous job for us. He's a really good passer, too. So if you double him, he's able to pass.
I thought Reeves tonight had a double-double. I mean, this is another double-double in the biggest game of the year for Reeves Nelson. That's huge for us. And we had good balance. We had four players in double figures.
And I thought Brendan Lane's play off the bench tonight was huge. Brendan played great for us tonight and really made some key plays for his team.

Q. How frustrating was it down the stretch with the missed free throws? And what was going through your mind during that late run?
COACH HOWLAND: You know, I just felt bad that we stepped up there three different times and had two shot fouls and missed all six of them. We've just got to keep working at it. We've improved a lot as a foul shooting team from the beginning of the year to where we are now. And it's something that we will do tomorrow. We'll shoot some foul shots tomorrow.

Q. You mentioned Brendan, but you used your bench a lot, a little more than usual tonight. Even Tyler and Jerime got some good minutes, too. Can you talk about the plan using them?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, that was on purpose, and that's something we'll look to do again on Saturday. I mean, I thought our bench gave us tremendous minutes. Tyler Lamb and Josh both took charges tonight that were big plays for us, that forced two turnovers at key junctures of the game. I was really pleased with our bench play. Then Jerime came in and gave us very good minutes tonight, and he does on a consistent basis, and has throughout the year.


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