AUDIO: Howland Conference Call

Coach Ben Howland talked about facing Texas, but also playing in Reliant Stadium...


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BH: Yeah, we're excited to be coming down. We leave today. Looking forward to playing at Reliant [Stadium]. That'll be a really good experience for our players. Exciting. And I'm also real pleased to have the involvement of the hospital there that is raising money for cancer, and I think that's a beautiful thing that's associated with this game Saturday. And I think it's really, really important that we continue to do everything we can to fight cancer. So I was really pleased when I learned about that a couple of months ago.

Q: Thank you, Coach.

Q: Ben, you think you and Rick Barnes can kind of relate with some of the things you've gone through in recent years with young players, you know, guys leaving. The whole modern college basketball world…

BH: Well, Rick [Barnes] does a great job. He's one of the top coaches in America, and I just have great respect for all of what he's accomplished there at UT [University of Texas]. To be in the NCAA Tournament every year he's been there. And just all the winning that's taken place and all the players that have gone on beyond his program and gone to the NBA. Just super impressive. Part of being in the modern day is losing players early. That always makes it tough not knowing for sure how long you're going to have kids in your program. And losing the leaders and future leaders of your programs early so I definitely relate to that, and what he's dealt with. Again, my hat's off to what an incredible job that Rick Barnes and his staff has done over the past 14-15 years at UT. It's been amazing.

Q: what kind of unique challenges is playing at a place like Reliant Stadium for such a young team like you have?

BH: well, it's tough for everybody. When you don't have the depth perception in the background that you're normally used to in an arena. I think it's definitely different for shooters. I'm not quite sure how, Tracy [Pierson] they're setting this floor up. I was told at one time that it was just going to be out in the middle, out toward the center. From both sides. So I'm unclear how exactly it's going to be. Usually when you're playing in the Final Four in one of these big football stadiums, they're off to the side a little bit. A little closer to one side of the building where you have a little more depth perception. However it is, it'll be equal for both teams. And it'll be, I think, a real fun experience for our players.

Q: just a note on that, we are setting up end zone configuration so it'll be at one end zone. That'll be the structure.

BH: Thank you.

Q: Coach, talk a little bit about the matchups with Texas.

BH: well, I'll tell you what. They're really big and strong when you look at Texas. They have this young man, [Cameron] Ridley who's a freshman. I saw him play on the AAU circuit, and he's a big powerful kid. He's really impressive. I love [Sheldon] McClellan. He's their leading scorer. The guy can really score and really shoot. [Julien] Lewis is a very good player, another one of their wings that's very impressive. Both of those kids have played against us and played well. [Jonathan] Holmes is a very strong aggressive rebounder. They're playing with Javan Felix, a young man that we recruited some, at the point. [Myck] Kabongo's still out. I don't know if Kabongo is eligible for our game or not. I'm not even sure of his status and haven't received an update on that. They have a lot of depth up front. They bring a lot of bigs. Prince [Ibeh] comes off the bench. They've got some good shooters. I don't know exactly how you say #33's name [Ioannis Papapetrou] but I know he can shoot the ball really well, watching him on the film last night. They have a lot of bigs and a lot of size. They play both man and zone recently in their most recent games so I'm sure we'll see both of those looks defensively. They really, really try to jam it on you inside. They run some good halfcourt sets, and they're always obviously very good in transition.

Q: what can you take from that San Marcos [game]? And what kind of improvement have you seen from the team so far over the season?

BH: I thought we had a good practice yesterday [Wednesday, December 5], Tracy. We're just trying to get to the simple things. Having a good stance on the ball, jumping to the ball, closing out… we're just going to keep building. Slowly, but surely. And trying to get those things back on our man defense. We've played some zone in some of our recent games just to give ourselves a chance because our man defense has so far to go. But I think our team is getting more comfortable with one another. And it was good to have Tony [Parker] back in the lineup. That was a good thing for us to have another fresh big body we can go to, and we'll definitely need him here on Saturday.

Q: Ben, you guys have sort of been playing Texas a lot in recent years. Do you enjoy having that kind of rivalry with an out-of-conference opponent?

BH: well, I think it's a good game for us. It's an area where there's a big recruiting base. They have a great program. A great history and tradition. We've had some good games with them. I especially remember especially Kevin [Love]'s freshman year, that was the first game of the series. They beat us here [Pauley Pavilion]. That was one of our 4 losses that year. They really, really played well. Darren Collison had been hurt and couldn't play for awhile. It was his first game back, and their little point guard, I'm not sure what pro team he's on now, played really well in that game. It was a heck of a game. But they have a very good team and a very good program as I talked about at the onset.

Q: Ben, does anything surprise you about your team this year, good or bad?

BH: I'm not sure anything surprises me. I mean, our youth is something that we knew was going to be an issue. We have good young players but they're still learning things for the first time and that's something I have to continue to stay aware of, and we just have to keep pushing them. And we need good leadership from our veteran players like the Wear twins and Larry Drew [II] and Norman Powell. We're calling Norman Powell a veteran, and he's just a second year player.

Q: Ben, do you marvel at what… [John] Calipari [head coach of University of Kentucky] has to go through this every year… would you want to do this kind of thing? Is it worth it?

BH: well, last year, he had 3 very good veterans. He had the 2 guards that had been there, 1 was a senior even. And then he added some really good players. Anthony Davis was a pretty special freshman when you look at what he brought to the table but yeah, it would be difficult every single year to do what he's doing, no question. And to have the success that he's had, you have to really understand how amazing that is.

Q: Thanks.

BH: Thank you.

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