Howland's Tuesday Press Conference

Ben Howland talks about Larry Drew's improved shooting, the number of plays he's running this year, and the week off before the USC game...

Ben Howland on Tuesday:


BH: everybody's got their recorders. Fire away.

Q: what's the plan for the 8 days off for you guys?

BH: well, here's what we did. We took Sunday off. We went the last 2 days. We worked a lot of 5 on drill stuff, without contact. Tomorrow [Wednesday], we're going to take off. And then we're going to come back with hard contact practices Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Shorter obviously the day before the game on Saturday. And then play the game [on Sunday]. Shabazz [Muhammad] could not practice today. He has pink eye. He's got a very contagious… his eye's swollen so you guys won't be seeing him today. So he wasn't allowed to practice. He had to actually take the contacts out of his eyes because of the irritating effect of his pink eye. We're hopeful that it'll be resolved and okay by Thursday when we reconvene for practice.

Q: do you like having this slow break to kind of work on stuff at this point of the season?

BH: yeah. I would've liked it, honestly, to have had more break between the last time we played. I like the idea of… historically, in my tenure, we always had an intersectional game. For TV. To make some extra CBS money, per se. And I'm glad that we get this time. I think it's good for teams this time of year. We have a lot of things. You're going the whole year so much based on the next game and we prepare for the game. That sometimes, you lose the opportunity… like we did a lot of skill development the last 2 days. A lot of just reading the screens and shortening passes and working out screens. Seeing the different options available to us when we trail versus when a player doesn't trail and goes underneath. Just all sorts of little things that are the details that matter so much. Sometimes, because we're preparing for the next game and the games just keep coming at you, you don't get a chance to do that much, especially during the season. So this was great. Really liked it. Just sorry it's raining.

Q: what about the fact that you guys are playing only 7 guys? 7.5 guys. And just the chance to rest some legs.

BH: yeah, you know what though? We're not resting. We're kind of winding down here. It's good that we took Sunday off. We had the day off. I was vacillating between giving 2 days off in a row, then we go 5 days in a row before we play. And I think the players preferred what we did. And I know our trainer, our strength coach, I weighed in with them on it and they felt this was the better move and so that's what we did. But definitely, getting in some rest is important. Some of these guys are such gym rats. I was preaching to them that it's like, "hey, this is important and we have tomorrow off but it negates things if you come in here and shoot from 10 o'clock tomorrow night until 1 o'clock in the morning." Which they've been known to do. Come in here and they just want to shoot for hour upon hour at night. And sometimes you can see that affects you so… I'm telling you, these guys like the gym and that's a good problem.

Q: you've broken down much of the tape from the last time you played them?

BH: yeah, it's depressing. I remember watching it the last time when we played, right after. We watched it as a team. God, they were very good and we were very poor. We were in our "blue out" mode and trying to play to the crowd amongst… we'll watch edits of that game. Not the whole game again. But with the team, we'll watch edits before practice on Thursday which I think will remind them of our play in that game. It wasn't pretty.

Q: I would assume the edits would be not somebody on your side going in for a dunk or hitting the big shot…

BH: yeah, there's so many times… but again, give them credit. I thought they had a great game plan. They did a great job. But we could definitely play better than we did last time.

Q: how much was Shabazz really able to go in that game?

BH: I mean, he was really… I tell you what, I thought about that watching it, thinking back to that game, that he was able to play at all was really a testament to his toughness. And the fact that really, Travis was cleared an hour before the game finally. Because he had some hesitancy which is normal even though it was a mild concussion. He basically had no contact for a week. But that's no excuse. Bottom line is we had a lead. A 2 point lead in overtime. Gambled and gave them a 3 pointer. After it was all said and done, we still had a chance to win and we couldn't capitalize on it.

Q: any thoughts on your approach to this game? Here, Shabazz is out again for something.

BH: completely different. Pink eye is not closely related to the flu virus that he had. He was really really hurting. He doesn't even own a pair of glasses. If he had a pair of glasses today, he could've practiced. He doesn't even own a normal pair of reading glasses. We have to help him get a pair. For these kind of emergencies.

Q: Only those lensless ones that he wears.

BH: right. "fashion". He has a "fashion sense".

Q: Ben, what did you see different in Larry [Drew II]'s performance over the weekend? To shoot like he did?

BH: you know, he's been really working hard on his shot. I looked at the stats today, he is almost at 40% on the season from 3. Overall, on the season. That is really really good. He should be shooting more of them. But I thought overall the difference was a tale of two different games completely. When we don't have something in transition, we've got to do a better job that… simplifying what we do, doing less things, and doing them well. And reading how they're playing us. That's kind what we worked on the last two days in terms of our half-court stuff. I thought we did a better job both in transition, because we did a good job getting stops, but we also against Stanford, if you went back and watched the film, we had 3 layups. 2 layups and a dunk on their made baskets in the first 20 points of the game which is huge for us. any time that you can do that and get a made basket after the other team scores, that's really really big. That shows that we're pushing hard.

Q: in the ASU and USC games, it looked like teams were kind of playing off of Larry a bit, do you think the kind of the improved shooting stroke he's shown is going to prevent teams from doing that so much?

BH: yeah, I think it just gives him more confidence to shoot the ball if he's wide open. We want him to do that. Pick and choose. It's time, score, and flow of the game. Those are the 3 things that are always taken into account as a player as you play the game. It's time, score, flow. Sometimes they may have given you a wide open shot, but they're on a 6-0 run so we're not going to shoot it on the very first wide open… we're going to keep the ball for a minute here. Things like that.

Q: what do you mean by "doing less on offense"?

BH: running less sets. Like we went into the game Saturday, I told them, these are the 9 things we're going to run, and that's it. So let's execute what it is that we do and really execute those 9 simple things well. Reading the defense. In years' past, we had as many as 45 different sets that we've been known to in a given game.

Q: do you try to whittle that down…

BH: I think with this team. Not always. I like… I think it's really hard when you have a half a day to prepare for a team or a day and another team's running so many different things intricately. That's why when you get to some of our teams, I think that the PAC-12, because it's hard, our league is used to having to prepare for games on a quick turnaround so I think when our teams get to the tournament this year, I think our teams benefit from the way we do our conference. I don't like how we do it. I'd much rather prefer what they're doing in every other BCS league, but because of the geography and the way things are set up in the PAC-12, it's really necessary the way we do it. So although it's harder during the regular season, conference season, I think it better prepares teams for NCAA Tournament play.

Q: when you are running just 9 plays though, does it leave you vulnerable to a team figuring out what those 9 plays are, knowing you only have 9 options on offense or anything like that?

BH: no. It's 9 plays but there's multiple options. Nine is actually a lot.

Q: why is simplifying better with this group?

BH: we're young. You know, we're working on execution. It doesn't matter. Whatever you run, it doesn't really matter. It's has to do with how you execute. Are you setting hard screens? Are you cutting hard? Are you coming off of ball screens low? Are you reading at the end of the play? It's about reading what the defense gives you.

Q: was it just this weekend that you decided… how long have you been working…

BH: oh, you know, we probably normally have about 20 things we could run or 18. Instead of 15, 18 against California, it's 9 against Stanford. This is all we're doing.

Q: that was the goal of 8 or 9 against Stanford?

BH: correct.

Q: okay, so it didn't happen before?

BH: no.

Q: you talked about the transition offense, there were times in that Stanford game, the transition offense got a little stagnant. What exactly are you guys working on this week to help that…

BH: I don't think that happened in the Stanford game. I think it really happened in the Cal game. I totally disagree. In the Stanford game, what did we shoot from the field?

Q: 50%. 54%.

BH: yeah, if you're shooting over 50%, you're doing well.

Q: what things have you worked on when the primary … isn't there?

BH: setting up and running those 9 things which are half-court offensive sets.

Q: running less plays. Does that require you to take maybe more of a leap of faith in their playmaking ability? That they can…

BH: no. Execution. It's all about execution and reading. You're reading. In other words, it's not a, you know… you have different reads. If he trails me, I'm going to curl. If he goes ball side of the screen, I'm going to fade. If he fades, I have to shorten the pass. If he goes underneath, I'm going to rescreen. One thing we're doing is we're setting more flat screens for Larry. We did that Saturday. In other words, at the end of possessions, instead of angling the screen, we were setting a flat screen so he could get a running start and you can't go underneath a flat screen and stay in front of the ball as easily. So we're probably be doing things like that for him as well. I thought Larry was terrific in the game the other day. He got a little bit tired and had a few more turnovers than normal, but I thought his overall play was outstanding.

Q: was that fatigue? The turnovers?

BH: yeah, I just think he gets fatigued. Making the one handed pass and throwing it away. He had like a couple turnovers that he normally wouldn't get. I was looking at the national stats today. We're fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. This team is. And it starts with Larry and Kyle [Anderson]. They're doing such a good job handling the ball. That's an impressive stat. We've never been that high. How are we compensating for not being a great rebounding team? Taking really good care of the basketball and making good decisions with it. We've got to keep getting better at our rebounding. I thought we did that Saturday. Much better. And part of that, like I talked about after the loss at Cal, how poor offense leads to tougher possessions defensively. They work in unison. When you're good offensively, it helps your defense. When you're good defensively, it helps your offense. And the flip side is true. When you're poor defensively, it hurts your offense because they're scoring every time they're taking it to the net. And when you're poor offensively, it's leading to breaks and opportunities for the other team.

Q: the work you did the last couple of days, was there much time spent not just with Shabazz but with others about how to handle that double team? The type that Cal was running in that game.

BH: yeah, they were only doing it with Shabazz. Not with the rest of the team that much.

Q: has he been schooled..

BH: he only practiced yesterday [Monday].

Q: how impressive has Larry's longevity been? Just considering he's playing 38 minutes a game and hasn't really had a break from that especially before this week?

BH: I think he's playing 35 but I could be wrong.

Q: was it something like that? There were some games he played as much as 38.

BH: oh yeah, I think he played 37 on Saturday. But you know, it just shows what a great athlete he is because we're asking him to play really hard in those minutes. And he's handling it well. He's playing it like a senior.

Q: a lot of your half-court offense has been finding Shabazz curling off the offball screen. Why is he so effective at shooting the jumper off that screen really quickly like that?

BH: you know what? He's just really talented in that way. He's improved. I think his jump shots have really improved this year. I think he's really worked at it. If you go back and watch the film, how he's leaving his hand up and following through… to me, the writer... I forgot the writer that was from the Bay Area, what about that 4-point play? I watched the game on the plane when we were going home. He was right. That was the key backbreaker for them. Because it was about a 4 point game and all of a sudden, boom, it went to 8. And they had switched and it was a good screen and then he was wide open and the guy got there late and knocked him down. But he really stayed in his shot. That was really a big shot. That was really exciting.

Q: how different is this layoff which is going between from Stanford to the USC game different from the last time you had a layoff like this?

BH: I can't remember the last time we had 8 days between games.

Q: I mean like the preparation. How is it different? What are you doing this time that you didn't do the first time against ‘SC?

BH: the last 2 days, we didn't do anything with contact. We just primarily focused on offensive execution. We worked on how to read screens, how to set screens, how to shorten passes. A lot of skill development. Now we'll come back to our normal routine which starts on Thursday where we're preparing for what they run offensively. How they defended us defensively and getting more into USC basketball and how we're going to prepare for them as we move toward the game Sunday.

Q: does it seem like the players [audio difficulties]. Larry had some pretty harsh words last time out right after the loss.

BH: I don't remember that. What were the harsh words?

Q: he said he wanted to kill them the next time coming out.

BH: that's not appropriate. Of course, our guys want to win. That was a very disappointing loss for us. That's what happens when you have USC-UCLA. It's important. They're playing well. That game started a 4-game winning streak. It would've been 5 if they could've beat Cal which they were up 15 in the second half. They're playing really good right now. Very good basketball. 4 guys in double figures. Give their staff a lot of credit. They've done a great job with those kids.

Q: thoughts on Dr. Buss?

BH: yeah, I was really sad. Jerry Buss was really nice to me during my tenure here. I've been in his box a couple of times. What he meant to the city of LA. With everything he's done for the Lakers and their organization. He's been great for basketball. As Magic [Johnson] spoke of last night, he brought the whole "event" and "showtime" really to basketball. It's incredible. I was listening to all the stuff they were doing last night. 1979. The Finals. The year they won with Magic. Part of that was tape-delayed. Can you imagine? Part of that was tape-delayed? The NBA Championship. I mean, such a different era. Now, all the advertising dollars are going right into sports because so many people watch live anymore. It's just amazing how it's evolved.

Any other questions? Okay, thanks.

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