Howland After Arizona Win

Head Coach Ben Howland talked about the big victory over the Wildcats and about how he's certain it was Shabazz Muhammad's last game in Pauley Pavilion...


BH: … we have a bunch of recruits in our locker room so I apologize for keeping you so late. I don't even know what time it is, but that was a great win for us. I thought that… they came out and really hurt us on the offensive glass. At the midway point of the second half, we did a great job of finally coming back and fighting a little better on the boards. Kyle [Anderson]'s first half tonight might be his best first half of the year. He was just phenomenal in the first half. We didn't play… I was told to play Travis [Wear] 15-20 minutes. I thought he did a great job considering he hadn't been out there for 8 days playing with any contact. I thought Dave [Wear], his brother, did a tremendous job again. He was 1 rebound from a double-double. And that's a very good team we beat today. I mean, Arizona is outstanding. They've got really good personnel. Obviously [Grant] Jerrett really hurt us. He's a heck of a player. Just really proud of the team. I thought Larry [Drew II] again did a perfect job distributing the ball. You know, obviously, just so you know, that turnover he throws away to Kyle is my fault as I explained it to the team. We're not organized enough when we're running 4. 4 is just to move the ball to run some clock. We've got to get to our pindown actually and it's my fault for not executing that better. It's not the players' fault so that loss would've been on me if they had come back on us. I thought that Shabazz [Muhammad]… I was so thankful that Shabazz knocked down those foul shots down. Obviously, he played only 9 minutes in the first half, is that right? Because of the foul trouble. We just didn't want to go into the second half… because we had the lead, with him with 3 fouls. And it's a great win. It was a great crowd today. It was awesome to have Pauley [Pavilion] rocking the way it did today. Phenomenal support from our fans. It was great to have one of the former championship teams here. That's always special. And just overall, really excited for our team going into this last week. Questions?

Q: leading into this last week, I mean, can you see how it's all set up for you guys now at this point?

BH: you know what though? We talked about this though even 2 weeks ago, we control our own destiny. And I know that Washington State had Oregon down 17 at Wazzu 10 days ago and they were lucky to come back and get that win. And we've got our hands full on this road trip. It's a tough road trip. I didn't know until today when I asked about Shabazz's eye from the trainer that we were leaving and playing Wednesday. Again, I didn't know we were playing Wednesday until today so that means we're on the road longer. It gives us more prep time for the second game on the road trip. But we're leaving, I guess, Tuesday after practice and this is a long trip. But yeah, we control our own destiny. No question about that.

Q: Ben, how pleasing is it to see Larry have this night on senior day, given his reputation when he left North Carolina to his reputation now, I don't know that there's been a bigger change in college basketball.

BH: yeah, you know, like I said many times, I've talked about the fact that I really think it's a raw deal in terms of his reputation. I remember so many national media were kind of having him maligned when he came here. And I was so happy because it was such a blunder by me initially not being more patient in recruitment of him. His family's so close. I've had a million recruiting mistakes. It was just one of many. And I was really happy for Larry that he made it back here. I'm just so excited about the kind of year that he's had for us. He's on his way to being the all-time assist leader for one season in the history of UCLA basketball which is a tremendous statement. I'm just happy for him. He has a long future playing this game too. His improvement defensively. His improvement in his shot. I'm just so excited about Larry Drew, and what he's brought this team. His leadership as well as his fine overall play.

Q: did people question you for taking him?

BH: you know, I got some snide remarks but for me, this was a no-brainer. I was thinking about it today. I'm just depressed because if we would've had him for 4 years, it probably would've been 3 years actually because he would've already been gone. But God works in mysterious ways.

Q: Ben, what does it mean to you to get this sweep over a team like Arizona, given the circumstances of the season?

BH: well, you can see how good they are. It was very evident today how talented they are. How deep they are. I thought that [Mark] Lyons played great particularly in the first half. He was really a load. Really impressive, looking to score. I thought that it was a good basketball game. And when we had a lead, I was disappointed that we couldn't sustain it but we had what? A 14 point lead? 72-58? And it became a close game again. I'm just glad we snuck out here with a win. Sean [Miller] is a tremendous, tremendous coach. If you told me right now that Arizona is going to be in Atlanta [Georgia] for the Final Four, that's a very, very big possibility. They're that good.

Q: Ben, what did you think about Shabazz being the guy to get that defensive rebound when [audio difficulties]

BH: very excited about that. You know, Bazz, really is very very quick to leak out like when we were playing in the summer. He's really improved. He's improved so much as a player. Defensively. Defensive rebound. You can see how special he's going to be for a long time to come. And really, if there's anybody that you want to shoot foul shots down the stretch in the game, in that situation, I want him. [audio difficulties] He wants to take that shot. As we all know, he's disappointed when he doesn't. That was a joke.

Q: Coach, was there any discussion of coming… obviously, it's senior night, but was there any discussion with Shabazz of the possibility that this is his last year in college?

BH: well, you know what? You bring up a good point. After having Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday, the #1 player of the year in the respective high school classes… and I actually had some hope that you know… but I'm very much a realist now. I knew going into this deal that this was a one year deal. And it should be. He's a lottery pick. He's a top 5 pick. And when you have that going for you, it's absolutely the right thing for him too. So that was his last game in Pauley Pavilion.

Q: and was that something you talked about with him?

BH: no. But I know that. He knows that. We all know that. So we want to see him go as long as possible. And to answer your question, we're not doing senior day for 1-and-doners. I mean, you never know. I remember the kid from Kansas was leaving and then he hurt himself and had to come back and then they won a championship. Brandon Rush. We don't want that to happen but you never know.

Q: Ben, can you describe Kyle's development a little bit over the year?

BH: I think his development's been spectacular. When you look at the pick and pop… I thought I had to give him a little more rest than I did. He played really hard. He's such a good rebounder so it's just hard to take him out of the game, he's so important to us. I thought on a couple of touch passes, you could see in the middle of the floor, I think it was a touch pass to Dave Wear one time, he got two of them. Just tremendous passes. He's just so skilled and you see his potential upside. He's really special. Everybody on our team has improved a lot this year. Not just our freshmen. But typically freshmen have a bigger jump because of their starting point in terms of what they're used to, coming in here.

Q: was it just typical growing pains for him in November, December? Or did he kind of have to get comfortable in this role of playing off-ball a little more than he was used to?

BH: like you're talking about is his development as off-the-ball. I'm thinking about him defensively. I'm thinking about him, #1 defensively. But it's like having 2 point guards with him and Larry. Kyle's future is with the ball obviously.

Q: Ben, you talked about how Shabazz likes to rise up in these big-time spotlight situations, what is it about his makeup that enables him to do that?

BH: God, that's a good question because I'd like to bottle it and sell it. I just think he's always been a great competitor and tough. He's always been the man. He's used to that role. He loves to win. I'm just so pleased with his overall development. I think he's just really improved in every facet of his game. And you have to think about this now, I was having a conversation with Gary Vitti [Los Angeles Lakers athletic trainer] the other day because I was looking for motivation for Travis because he's got a legitimate bad sprain. We walked through yesterday at full speed. And then he didn't go last night because of swelling. He's playing with pain. But I was talking with Gary and started thinking about Shabazz and all his nagging [injuries]… he sprained his ankle. This kid played today on a sprained ankle, Shabazz did. He's got the pink eye and all the different things. It just shows what a great competitor he is. That flu that he had for the ‘SC game here was brutal. I don't know how many kids could've played with that and would want to play with that. It just says so much about him. I think the thing that makes him who he is, is just how competitive he is. And that's what makes the great ones great. They want to do everything they can to make the team win.

Q: Ben, you mentioned about Shabazz and after this year being gone. Do you have the same feel about Kyle? That this is his…

BH: you know what? I don't know that. I mean, there's definitely always that possibility with any of our players. But, you know, with Bazz, I'm just keeping it real.

Q: is there any urgency to develop [audio difficulties] knowing he's only going to be here one year?

BH: you know what? He's not treated any differently than anybody else. This wasn't meant to be an announcement of Shabazz going pro. I was just being honest as I try to be answering questions.

Q: Ben, is this as resilient as you have seen this team this year and if so, what has been the reason for the change from November?

BH: experience. Experience and adversity. How you get experience and how you grow from it and how you grow from adversity. We've had our share of adversity this year, especially early on. I'm proud of the way our… And it says about how, all our players, how competitive and tough they are. So, you know, those are the 2 factors.

Q: Ben, you talked about all the moving parts all season long, whether it be the inexperience or the freshmen kind of getting used to roles, do you kind of feel like all the moving parts are moving together at just the right time?

BH: yeah, the one thing I pray for, and I'll be honest with you, I pray before practice, every game, for us to remain healthy. And I say tonight that I would rather have lost this game than have one of our 8 guys injured. I'm always in prayer about our guys and their health. And I can't say enough about [audio difficulties] and what a tremendous job he does. Because, you know, we are where we are in our health and stuff. Very careful with our practices or try to be. But we still ended up getting Travis with a sprained foot so I'm hoping he's okay. I've already talked with him about how he responded. He definitely will get some treatment tomorrow. I don't know if we even announced but he did have an MRI yesterday and we found out, or maybe it was the day before yesterday, but we found out he was negative on the MRI. So what that does for a kid, it tells him about the level of discomfort.

Q: do you feel like this team is coming together more than it has all season long?

BH: yeah, I think we're peaking at the right time. And the thing is, we're winning close games. And that's what… We've won 6 out of 7. We win close games and that's what we expect.

Thank you.

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