Head Coach Ben Howland answered questions at his first weekly press conference today.
Howland was asked a variety of questions concerning tomorrow night's exhibition game against EA Sports West All-Stars. He said that, first, his team was really looking forward to finally playing against another team and commented on what they were looking to get out of the game: "We've been in 20 practices now, which is not a lot. But still after a certain amount of time, they're tired of beating up each other. They're looking forward to playing against someone else. Exhibition games are important. It gives us a chance to show the players where we are on tape. We'll start to work on the rotation a little bit. I want to see them come out and execute what we've been trying to do at both ends of the floor: Transition defense, doing a good job of getting back, staying between the ball and the basket, not getting beat on penetration. I want to see a good job of hedging on ball screens, jumping to the ball, all basic fundamentals."
About EA Sports, who is 1-5 on the exhibition season: "This team plays both defenses and we want to execute against both man and zone. They won last night. They beat Colorado State at the buzzer. They have three former Bruins, and Ricky Anderson. They're getting in shape now. Ed O'Bannon has played very well in their last three games. It will be a good test. And I told our players: Of all their games, which game do you think they'd like to play their best game in? Three former Bruins want to play great at Pauley Pavilion in front of their old fans."
Howland was asked how important it was to win exhibition games, especially since last year's team lost theirs: "I'm sure the team is focused on winning, but it's not a big deal based on last year. Every time you step on the floor you want to win. I hate to talk about last year, and dwell on last year because last year's over with. But if you're talking about last year, they did lose the first exhibition game by 30. It's one thing to lose a close one. It's another to get blown out by 30 points. Anytime you get beat badly, your fans, and most importantly the players and coaches, are upset. They're going to play hard, and with a lot of emotion."
Howland said that for the two exhibition games he won't play any zone defense. "So you can put that out for EA Sports to read. I'm sure they'll be very concerned. We're going to play 40 minutes of man-to-man."
The starting five is still the same as Howland announced last week. He did, say, though, that he wanted to utilize the exhibition games to evaluate his personnel. "I want everyone to get a chance in these first two exhibition games, to evaluate players under the lights," he said.
Howland talked a great deal about T.J. Cummings: "T.J. is really starting to play well in practice, especially in the last week. He can be a big factor for us. We're really going to miss T.J. He gives us another quality big man inside who competes and has some experience. I think he's really starting to figure out what I'm looking for out of him. He's being more unselfish with the ball. He's been a good rebounder, he's being a good teammate, and consequently he's getting a lot of open looks."
On whether T.J. will be eligible: "We're hopeful and optimisitc he'll take care of business to get eligible. They just took mid-terms this last week and I couldn't comment on that anyway."
On Trevor Ariza getting acclimated: "I think Trevor will be fine right away. I think my concern for him is over the long haul how he's going to handle the physical part to it. We're playing him at power forward at 200 pounds out of necessity. He's a hard matchup for a four man to match up with. He can go around just about anybody on the drive, and he's very good at making passes when he gets past them. He'll cause matchup problems on the offensive end. On the defensive end it will be a tougher matchup for him. Tomorrow, he'll match up against Matt Barnes, and Matt is more of a perimeter four man than he is a post-up four man. But when we got into Pac-10 play, Stanford, Trevor will have to guard Davis, who is 230 pounds. So that becomes an issue down the road."
Howland was asked various questions about how the team has performed in practice:
-- "The one thing I like about this team is that they're very unselfish. Cedric Bozeman is playing very well in practice. I think Michael Fey has played very well in practice. Trevor Ariza has great upside as a freshman. Freshmen are going to have their ups and downs, especially with a 198-pound body. But he's going to be a very good player. Dijon is shooting the ball so well. We keep stats of every day of our practices. The one thing I was astounded by is that he's shooting 65% from the field in practice, and 62% from three. He's really playing well in practice. And you play in the game how you practice every day. That's one of my big things that I want these kids to understand. You're going to execute in the game how we execute every day against each other."
-- "I think the one thing from practice I was most excited about was our ability to pass. I think Dijon, Trevor and Cedric in particular have ended up being better passers than I had hoped for. And passing is so important to being a good player. If you're a good passer, you have a good feel and understanding for the game. If you're a good passer, you can make others better. And it's not only their ability to pass, but their unselfishness."
-- "What we're doing offensively is pushing the ball. And if there's nothing there, we'll set up and run a play in the motion, or a play into another set play. There are always different reads off of each of the plays that you're running. They're getting better at the little nuances. How to slip screen some people are extending, how to slip an on-ball pick. It's getting better."
-- "We added three new plays yesterday. For some of these kids it's a lot to remember. I think have about ten or eleven plays in right now. Eventually it will be 20 or 25. We'll use those 10 or 11 tomorrow."
-- "There are so many things to put in, and we've only had 20 practices. You have to put in the zone press offense, man press offense, half-court press offense, man-to-man offense, zone offense, end-line OBs, sideline OBs, zone attacks against different kinds of zones. 1-3-1, triangle-and-two, box-and-one. So there are a lot of things you have to work on in a short amount of time."
"Our leading rebounders in practice has been Trevor Ariza, followed by Dijon Thompson, followed by Janou Rubin. I would hope it would be Hollins or Fey. But they're also beating up each other, and blocking out each other. Fey is our leading offensive rebounder by far. Michael has to become a better defensive rebounder. That's a real weakness for him right now. He doesn't do a good enough job on the defensive glass. But I'm big on all five guys rebounding on defense."
-- "Dijon leads us in defensive rebounds. I'm pleased how he's rebounding the ball. My thing with Dijon is: Who was the second leading rebounder in the Pac-10 last year? Josh Childress, a three-man at Stanford. We need the same kind of productivity out of him here at UCLA. That's an impressive stat. It says a lot about that kid and how good he is."
-- "Our players are doing a good job of feeding the post, and the big guys are doing a good job of taking advantage to looking to score, but also pass it back out. Mike Fey has done a great job. He's 256 pounds and he's playing wide. He's getting himself big. It will be interesting to see how he does. Right now for him it will be easier than down the road, because he really has no one to push him from behind, because Ryan Hollins is 225 pounds. So he has him by 30 pounds."
Howland talked about how he'll have to compensate for lack of depth: "We'll have to get players to step up that are going to be playing roles for us. Josiah Johnson will back up at the four spot for us. If we have foul trouble, which is going to happen I'm sure at times, he's going to back up at the five. Ryan Walcott is going to definitely play a role behind Ced at the one. And Janou Rubin and Jon Crispin are fighting to back up at that wing position."
What is he more concerned about - scoring points or defense? "I'm more concerned with how we're going to defend. We'll be able to score. The guys have really shown it to me. It will be interesting to see how they do tomorrow. I think our big guys will both be able to score. And that's another reason we need T.J. down the line, because he can score."
Howland was asked if it will sink in that he's the coach at UCLA when he takes the Pauley Pavilion floor: "Not really. I've been here. I'm the coach. And I hope to be here a long time. I'm looking forward to the game for our team. I'm now excited to get started with the season. I'm very excited about building this program. I think the most exciting thing right now is that national signing day is tomorrow. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting some good signatures tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. That will be exciting. Because this is a player's game. I think that we're off to a good start in recruiting."