Q. Tyler, can you talk about the potential of going up against Florida's guards?
Tyler Honeycutt: You know, they're small, explosive, they can shoot, they're strong. They're good at coming off ball screens and getting to the rack and finding their teammates.
Q. Coach Donovan was just in here about ten minutes ago and he described Joshua Smith as a freight train. You guys go against him in practice or whatever; is that an apropos description for him? Do you have any nicknames at all for him or what have you, because his body type is definitely different than what you see on most basketball floors?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: Yeah, you know, usually whenever we play five on five, whoever's team he's on usually wins because you get two points for offensive rebounds, and he's getting about two or three or those. And once he gets deep, it's hard. You've got to pretty much foul him, you've got to pre-jump before he jumps to even have a chance to stop him.
Lazeric Jones: Yeah, he's real dominant. I mean, there's really not too much you can do when he's got his mind set that he wants to score or wants to go get a rebound. We go through every day in practice, so I feel pretty bad for our opposing team.
Q. Do you guys have a nickname for him?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: Just Big Josh.
Q. Tyler, you're a So Cal native. Do you remember watching UCLA Florida match-ups a few years ago?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: Yeah, a little bit. The thing that sticks out to me is the lob that he caught on the out of bounds play. That's a real classic; it's kind of nasty. And I remember a little bit of the games. I didn't watch too much college when I was in high school, but I remember that game.
Q. Tyler, you mentioned after last game a lot of talk that Ben Howland has brought so-called smash-mouth basketball to the West Coast. Are we out of place where there's distinctions between East Coast and West Coast basketball?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: A little bit. I think the West Coast still doesn't get as much credit as the East Coast especially because there's more ranked teams on the East Coast. PAC-10 gets a little downplayed, but it's good that we've got four teams into the tournament. One was already knocked out. But the three that are left, we're trying to survive and show how good the PAC-10 is.
COACH HOWLAND: We're excited about the opportunity to play another day, and obviously we're playing a great team in Florida. They won the regular season, the SEC, really, really talented. I really have been impressed watching them on film. Boynton and Walker are very, very good guards. They make so much happen with their ability to put the ball on the floor and create for others as well as themselves. Parsons is an outstanding talent. I mean, how many times do you see a 6'10" three man, which is what he is. He's very, very skilled, shoots it, passes it, rebounds it. And then their two inside guys, Tyus and Macklin are very, very good. Macklin is big, strong, good low post scorer and Tyus is extremely ultra athletic. And when they come off, those kids, off the bench Young in particular is really impressive, big, coming off the bench.
We know we've got our work cut out for us. We know it's going to be an us-against-the-world mentality playing in Florida, against Florida, but we're excited about the opportunity.
Q. Malcolm Lee has been such a great defender for you all year long, especially last night, especially when you consider the circumstances with the knee. What does he do that makes him so good on defense, and why do you have so much confidence in him?
COACH HOWLAND: Number one, he's extremely athletic. Malcolm is very fast. He has great lateral quickness and has great a great motor, really plays hard. It's something he's always done. And he really follows his assignments well. You know, he knows what he's supposed to be doing. He never loses focus, never relaxes away from the ball. I've said he's the best defender at his position in the country, and I really believe that. And it's exciting.
What you pointed out, you know, the fact that he's playing through some pain right now in his knee, and he's excited. He's one of our two captains and a real leader. He took a shot to the head last night and got three staples put in his head. He's got a lot of toughness and deserves a lot of credit for the success we've had this year.
Q. Florida went through a situation where they were kind of rebuilding after the back-to-back championships. You know you maybe had a similar situation after the Final Four in '08. Can you talk about that? And is it rewarding to get back to this point and what have been some of the ups and downs?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, I mean, Billy went through a thing where they lost Horford and Noah both early, and the amazing thing was they came back at all. That's what's impressed me, after they won it in '06 to come back again and win it again was incredible with Brewer. Really a special team.
When you lose -- I think all three of those kids left early, if I'm not mistaken. When you lose those kind of players early, it's hard to replace them right away when you're losing a ton of guys. We lost early after the draft in '08, and we rebounded pretty well in '09 because Carlson decided to stay. And we had Ship and Aboya. But then '10, a year ago, it was really a rebuilding deal. I'm excited about our young team. We don't have a senior on this club. We finished one game out of first in the PAC-10 and had a chance going into last weekend. And obviously yesterday was a great win for us, and now another opportunity to play against a great team in the NCAA Tournament.
So I really feel very fortunate the way we have bounced back and really like our team.
Q. Kind of on the same subject, while you're in that situation where the last couple years you've had a lot more youth, not the lottery picks that you had in previous years, does it change you as a coach? Do you have to become more of an instructor, more patient? How do you have to change your methods?
COACH HOWLAND: I don't really think it's a lot different. We're still teaching. And it's funny, I went back and watched -- the last time we played Michigan State was in November of '07 going into '08, and I watched that the other night before we played Michigan State. It was fun to watch Mbah a Moute, and Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Lorenzo Mata-Real, and Alfred Aboya and all these kids we had, Josh Ship. But we're still teaching the same things, doing the same things. We've tweaked some things this year defensively which have helped us. I think we've actually improved a lot defensively from the beginning of the year, and we really changed the way we guarded screens midway through the season after the Washington game at home, and it's really improved our defense. And the guys have gotten better and better and better at it.
You're always trying to tweak things to your personnel, and that's why we changed this year, especially for Josh. He had a great game last night. I thought he was a real force down low.
Q. Billy was in earlier and saying that he thought you had a different style of team than you had in 2006 and 2007 because of your personnel. Can you contrast or compare the styles of then and now?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, our team in '06 and '07 were very good, and so were theirs. They won it both years and had unbelievable talent. They had a big kid off the bench that also went in the second round. Who was that big 6'9", 6'10" kid? Richards. You talk about players. That guy was humongous and a big-time player.
And both these teams have gone through the rebuilding. Our team is probably -- we have a very, very good low post scorer that we didn't have in '06 or '07, when we played Florida and Josh. We had nobody like Josh. We had Aboya and Carlson. I think the strength of our team, we have a lot of strength up front in terms of low post scoring that we probably didn't have in those two years as much. But they're similar teams in that we're still emphasizing trying to defend and trying to out rebound our opponent, so not a lot has changed in that respect.
Q. Last night Izzo said that you had brought smash-mouth basketball to the West Coast. Was that an intentional thing for you guys to get tougher down low? And do you think tomorrow night's game is going to be decided in the paint?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, they have great guards, and so we've got to do -- when you look at their scoring leaders, three of their top four scoring leaders are their perimeter players. Their one, two and three I think are one, two, three with Macklin being the fourth. They have four guys in double figures, so we've got to do a great job on the perimeter.
But there's no question, Billy's teams have always done a wonderful job of getting the ball inside and creating the low post threat. Macklin is that guy for them. He's really good around the basket, he's big and strong, he's a senior. I think he's a fifth-year senior, he's got a lot of experience so he's tough. But we've got to do a good job at both ends, both inside and outside.
Q. Just following up a little bit on the reference to bringing the smash-mouth to the West Coast, I'm asking your thoughts on whether or not you buy into this distinction between West Coast basketball, East Coast basketball, because I know there's been a lot of talk that the West Coast has been softer in the past or --
COACH HOWLAND: I go back and I think about Mike Montgomery has been the coach in the PAC-10 either at Stanford or Cal for a long time. They play a very physical brand of basketball and have. The University of Washington is a very physical team. And I think good basketball is playing the right way. I mean, it is a physical game. It is blocking out. It is using your body to hold your ground and set good screens and -- and I've always felt that way. And I think it gets characterized sometimes as West Coast is the up-and-down, more loose, where you look at our league the last four or five years, the defensive teams, Kevin O'Neill has done a great job with their program at SC. Defensively, Herb Sendek's defense at Arizona and Arizona State has been very good.
So there's a lot of teams in our conference up and down that play good defense and are physical.
Q. To hear the Florida media and then the Florida coaches talk about Josh Smith, you'd think he was a unicorn. They've never seen a guy like him ever. Is he that unique to you? Obviously you're his coach, but is he someone that shocks you when you see what he does or who he is and his body and everything?
COACH HOWLAND: I think Josh is special. I think Josh is just scratching the surface of where he can go with his talents. You know, he really, really gets committed to getting in better and better condition and shape and dropping his body fat. The sky's the limit for him because he's got such great hands. His feet are so good. You know, he's anymore believe. He's got great feel for the game, outstanding touch. He can knock down his free throws. So I think Josh is just scratching the surface of who he can be.
I thought he had a great week of practice leading up to our game last night. He was very dominant. I mean, he was really, really coming on, so it's exciting. I'm excited for him and obviously for our team.
Q. Just to follow up on the point, you touched on Josh's conditioning. How can you see he handle up tempo situations and how important is tempo in this game?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, it's going to be important. They really push the ball. They're great in transition. Florida really gets up and down. But I think he's done a good job and especially the latter third of the season Josh has done a good job in transition. You're talking about like the Arizona game or the Washington game, he had big games against both of those teams who are very up and down. So he's improved, better and better.
You know, the other bigs on the other team are always trying to beat him down, and Josh puts his head down, moves his arms, he can get there pretty good.
Q. After that 2007 Final Four meeting with Florida, were you more surprised that Billy left to coach the Orlando Magic or were you more surprised he came back to start building this thing back up again?
COACH HOWLAND: You know what, I'm glad that he stayed, and I think he did the right thing. He's got a wonderful family. He helped start a school there, one of his sons plays there, the Catholic school in town. He's done a lot for the community. Billy is a Hall of Fame coach. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame, and I think the University of Florida is so lucky to have him, and what a great blessing that is to have him and have that kind of a coach leading their program in terms of longevity. They're very fortunate. I think it's great. He's great for the college game, so I am glad he stayed. It's been really, really positive.
I'm glad Izzo stayed. Both these guys turned down $30 million plus to go coach in the pros. I told Tom last summer I was so happy he did that. Imagine right now if he was in Cleveland how much fun he'd be having. You know what, it's not all about the money. You've got to be happy, too.
Q. Are you cognizant of the fact that UCLA fans would probably be ecstatic with a win over Florida regardless of the fact that this particular game is for the Sweet 16, and is that a motivating factor at all for you, that this is the team that knocked you out of the Final Four twice?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, those were both disappointing losses and we were beaten by very good teams both years. You know, the championship game in '06, we really thought we had a good shot. That was a really emotional roller coaster week. I remember finding out the day of the game that Coach Wooden went into the hospital, right before the game. Dan Guerrero came in and told me, my boss, so I was in shock about that. He was watching the game from inside his hospital room there in the Valley.
But you have to give them credit. Both those years, you think about Noah and Horford, these guys are both big-time players in the NBA along with Brewer, and their guard Sidney Greenson was great, they had great teams.
This is a new year, but we don't need what happened in the past to motivate us any more than we're motivated. This is the NCAA Tournament. If you don't win, your season is over. I think our team is plenty motivated and we would be no matter who we were playing. And the fact that we're playing Florida here in Florida makes it doubly difficult because it's like we're playing a road game. It's like we're in a PAC-10 road game here on the road.
Q. You had said earlier this year your team is perfect for TV because you make things exciting. Last night is a perfect example. Is that just the personality of this team, and is it simply because you don't have a senior on the roster? Is that just a bad excuse?
COACH HOWLAND: I don't know that. If we knocked down our foul shots, and I watched the last few minutes of that game today, we're up 10, and Lazeric made a nice pass to Reeves for a dunk shot and gets the charge, where if he just stops we're up 12 and it's like 1:40 to go. And then we missed a bunch of foul shots in the last minute and a half to make it a lot closer than it should have been.
And you have to credit Michigan State; they made some tough shots. They made some big threes. They really fought their way back, and I knew they were not going to go away easy. They've won too many big games in this tournament the previous two years. It's a great win. I said that about our team in the past in jest, just in fun, trying to keep it loose. Because it is tough when we make it hard on ourselves like we did last night.
Q. You've had great success in the NCAA Tournament, and I'd like to get your thoughts on this year's event. Why in your view are the mid-majors and even the low majors having the success against the big guys, the power conference schools like the schools from your league and everywhere in the country? Is it 347 teams or the talent is spread out? Is it AAU basketball where everybody plays each other over the summer? It looks like the gap between the power conference big boys and the mid and low majors has really narrowed and the games have been incredible so far.
A. And I think that's been true here for a number of years. In '06 we played against LSU and Billy's team played against George Mason who was in the Final Four that year. Butler last year out of a major conference goes to the national championship. I just watched that missed half court shot last night on some highlight. That would have been the greatest shot ever if that thing had gone in. That was a good drawn-up play.
Part of it is when you have the high major schools losing kids early to the draft, and then you have the mid-majors that have fourth and fifth year players, red shirt, and then when you see the high majors that have those kind of squads.
Like last year look at Duke, they had three seniors that all started that were all very good college players along with two juniors in Singler and Nolan Smith. So they had some really good players and also experienced depth and the same thing.
You look at Pitt this year, Jamie's team, he's got three very good seniors and juniors that are playing the bulk of their minutes and that's what I'm seeing more and more with these high majors that win big down the end. You're going to see guys that have been around longer and a little older in many cases.
But the parity in college basketball is unbelievable. It's tremendous. And it's getting closer and closer. You look at Morehead State beating Louisville yesterday. Louisville had an unbelievable season. Morehead State had a great year, but it's not that different. Anybody can beat anybody in this tournament. That's what makes it so great. And there will be a time that the 16 is going to beat the 1. I don't know when it's going to happen, but it's going to happen here in the not-too-distant future. It just is. That's the only thing we haven't seen yet. But that's what makes this tournament so exciting is the little guy often comes ahead.
Q. I know you've paid a lot of attention to the minutes especially for people like Malcolm who will play 35, 38 minutes and he's still coming off an injury. He looked a little gassed yesterday toward the end. Was the team tired at all in that last eight and a half minutes and could that help explain the free throws?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, I'm sure they were a little -- especially Malcolm, as hard as he plays. He plays so hard that I tried to give him a rest there in the second half just for a minute, but it's hard to get him out of there when he does such a good job defensively, especially on the other team's best player almost every night. But yeah, I'm sure we were a little gassed.
I really tried to use our bench. Like Brendan Lane's minutes yesterday for huge for us. I thought he played great. Jerime Anderson played 19 minutes. I thought Tyler Lamb did a good job in his minutes off the bench, as did Stover, and I'll have to continue to do that tomorrow.
Q. Kind of a two-part question a little bit. When did you have the epiphany to put Josh back into the starting lineup? And when you get to the second round or third round, how important is it to set your tone rather than let the other team set their tone? Did that play anything into bringing Josh into the starting lineup?
COACH HOWLAND: It's just I want to get off to a good start. He is one of our best five players. He should be our starting center. I just thought it was the right thing to do. We got off to a good start last night with him in the game. He changes the game when he's in there because he's a low post threat. There's so few guys that are really good in the low post, or anywhere, whether it's in the NBA or college basketball. When you find one and you have one, it's important to take advantage of it.
He's just going to get better and better. Josh is a very good passer, very skilled. The reason we haven't been starting here is because earlier in the season he was getting in foul trouble early, and there comes a point where, hey, you're no longer a freshman, let's go, let's play without fouling the first couple minutes. That's what the plan was.
And I really decided to do that after our practice on Saturday, I think. I thought about it myself, and -- right, last night, I said, he should be starting, we've got to get off to a good start, so that's what we did.
Q. When you get to the Final Four championship you expect the guy on the other bench to be a legend, you expect him to be a Hall of Fame guy. To see Bob Huggins, Ben Howland, John Calipari, and Billy Donovan in the second rond here, is that kind of surprising you to see that level of coach? I mean, there are no mid majors, no surprises in this region right now.
COACH HOWLAND: And I'll tell you, I saw the highlights of the Kentucky game, and Princeton played great. I mean, anything can happen in this tournament. Obviously we were all in the coaches' meeting together, the eight coaches, Wednesday. Everybody that gets to this level is a good coach. But you look at Huggins, you look at Izzo, you look at Billy obviously, you look at Calipari, I mean, unbelievable success these guys have had. All those guys will undoubtedly be Hall of Fame coaches. Huggins is incredible what he's done, and he started really young as a head coach. I think he's in his 28th year as a head coach. He got his first job when he was in his late 20s. Billy was really young, too. I mean, these guys are all Hall of Fame coaches. It's pretty incredible.
Howland, Jones & Honeycutt on Florida
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