Howland's Press Conference

Head Coach Ben Howland answers questions about keeping the team motivated, the Pac-10 tournament, and this weekend's game against the Bay Area schools...

Is there an injury update on Josiah Johnson?

"Josiah was hurt yesterday in practice. We just got back the results of an MRI done this morning. He has a strain of his MCL. It's his left leg. The ligaments are all apparently fine. In terms of them being torn, that's not an issue. There's a slight bone bruise to it. He won't be playing for sure this weekend. I'm not sure how long it will put him out for."

Is Brian Morrison back to 100%?

"I watched the tape of our practice yesterday, and I don't watch every tape of practice this time of year, but I did yesterday, just to get a feel for some things. A couple of times it looked like he was dragging his leg. I'm not sure if it's his hamstring or his ankle. I would say he's able to play but not 100%. He is dragging it, as you would see on this tape, at one point. I think it's his ankle more than his hamstring."

When he was out, many thought he was the guy who could alleviate some of your deficiencies when he returned. Was that unrealistic?

"The way he was playing before he was hurt against Michigan State, he was really starting to play well. But he's missed six weeks of practice, so it's his timing. But it's also breaking some of his habits. When we started the season, he would jump in the air to pass, which is a major fundamental error, all the time. He's still doing it. he did it down eight against Arizona in the game the other day, in the second half, when we had three straight turnovers that made it twelve. He did it yesterday in practice again. That time, in terms of the repetition and leaning, he's missed out on. It's the repetition of doing things right, and it's really affected him in a negative way, in terms of trying to break some of those habits. He was finally getting passed it, between October and December 21st. Again, his first two games back against USC and St. John's he was not healthy completely. He was playing because we wanted to get him back in. It's unfortunate. Because the Washington weekend, in the last ten minutes of practice I thought he was really ready and them boom, the ankle goes. So he's had a tough go. So, no, I don't think it was unrealistic based on how he played in December. But he's lost a lot of that important learning and re-learning and repetition of proper fundamentals. Even yesterday. That's one of the reasons I watched the practice tape. He took three jump shots yesterday that were just terrible shots, with a guy on him. Terrible shots. Then he's not shooting the ball when he's wide open. So he's shooting when he shouldn't be and not when he should be. Again, that's having not played and been out for so long."

Is Ryan Walcott playing alongside Cedric Bozeman something you might do more of?

"Really it was because we weren't handling the ball. There were 28 turnovers in that game. We had our best two ball-handlers in at the same time. Ryan only did have one turnover in 27 minutes. I think Ced had seven. We probably won't do that as much. That game dictated it due to how poorly we were handling pressure, as well as the ASU game. We had 51 turnovers last weekend. We had 23 in a game we should have won on Thursday. A seven-point lead with 62 seconds to go. That's a tough one to swallow."

Do you have more confidence in Walcott?

"Ryan's done a good job for us. Everybody has limitations. I need to play him more, like I did against Washington. I think he played 12 minutes against the Washington schools, in the second game when we beat the Huskies here. I can't remember how many he played against ASU, but it was 8 to 10 minutes."

How difficult is the match-up against Leon Powe? What else can you do besides just emphasizing blocking out?

"He's so strong. He took us off the dribble. He knocked us underneath and got second shots. He faced up and spun on us. He scored a lot of different ways. He stepped back and hit a jump shot that put it to eight, 66-58, in the game up there. He's a very good player. He's averaging 15, 3 and 9.6, for a freshman. A nineteen-year-old freshman. He's probably a little older than your average freshman. But he's an outstanding player. He's created match-up problems for just about everyone he's faced. He didn't play as well against Stanford the other day, because Stanford actually had a guy who was bigger and stronger than he was that wasn't giving up any ground. That's where size and strength become such an important factor in being a good basketball player. In most cases, he's bigger and stronger than most of the guys he's playing against. And he's tough. It's a good combo."

What makes him such a good rebounder?

"He moves pretty well laterally. He really pursues the ball and is relentless, like all good rebounders are. He has a great atttitude, and a great nose for the ball, and that attitude about rebounding. He understands. It's one thing I told Ryan Hollins in the game on Saturday. I asked him, ‘Ryan, how many rebounds do you have?' Towards the end of the game. He said, ‘I don't know.' I said, ‘I want you to always know for the rest of your career how many rebounds you have every game.' I want our guys to actually keep track of it. There is no such thing as a selfish rebounder. I want him to know. One, two, three, four, five. How many there are. It's a motivator. We lost both games' battle of the boards last weekend. So we're 0-8 when we lose the game on the boards and 9-1 when we win them. Something like that."

Can you make a kid tough, or do you have to recruit a tough kid?

"I think you can help a kid develop that atittude, but it has to be somewhat in them. Leon Powe showed up with a relentlessness about rebounding that he brought with him. He was a top ten player in the country coming out of high school. He's a great player, a great get for Cal. But he had that in him. You can help develop it, but you can't instill it. At this level, when you're 17, 18 or 19 years old, you're either tough or you're not tough. You can help a kid who is tough get tougher. You can emphasize the importance of toughness and continue to teach it, and work on it. But you can only take it so far. It's just like – it's easier to make a good shooter into a great shooter, than a non-shooter into someone who can shoot. That's actually Tom Davis, and I kind of agree with him."

After the game, Cedric and Dijon Thompson were talking about some confusion on inbounding the ball after a basket. How is that supposed to work?

"It's our three man. At one point we had Dijon taking it out, and we don't want him to take it out. It's not his strength. Even when he's in and Trevor Ariza's the four, and he's the three, which isn't that often, we need to get Trevor to take it out because he's more proficient at it. That really hurt us at the end of the first half when we had a couple of key turnovers with a 1:31 to go."

Is Stanford the most physical team in the country?

"Stanford is a very, very physical team, partly due to the fact that they have big, strong guys. They obviously have an outstanding strength program. Whether they're the most physical team in the country, I can't answer that. I'm sure that they're one of them, if they're not the most physical team. What's really amazing, is because of their great depth, they overcame all the injuries. They won nine games without Josh Childress and have won five now without Justin Davis. And Haryasz was out for a while. They have great depth, and it's a sign of a great team."

Is the way they play the way you'd like to play?

"We'd like to be undefeated, yeah. I do like the way they play physical. It starts with Chris Hernandez. We were watching film into the wee hours of the morning the night before we played Arizona. I was watching what a tough little guy Hernandez is. He comes in and lays out his body, blocking out on Channing Frye. It's just a real pleasure to see how tough they are, one through five. That little guy is as tough as it gets. That's what makes them good. He makes up for a lack of some other things, being a leaper, or whatever. He is tough physically. He is tough mentally. The toughness issue is to give up your body, be physical and not shy away from contact. It's really important. That's one of the big reasons they're so successful."

Have you and the team reassessed your goals at this point?

"Yeah, I had that talk with the players. I told them, we have to be trying, number one, to get a winning season. Number two, the Pac-10 tournament. Mathematically, no one is out of the Pac-10 tournament yet. Anything can happen. We have to make sure we get there and then start to build some momentum and play well when we get to the Pac-10 tournament. Our goal is to get there. Anything can happen in those situations. I know that first-hand."

Is this one of the benefits of having a tournament? In a season, like this there wouldn't be much to play for at this point.

"I think it's good for teams. Again, I don't think it's good to play 18 league games and then potentially have three games on top of that. I know for a fact that hurts our league in the RPI, which ultimately decides how many teams you get into the NCAA tournament and where they're going to be seeded. There's a diminishing return beating up on your own teams in your own league over and over. Like us for example. We have two non-conference games in the middle of our conference. So we'll have potential to play 23 games between January 2nd and March 13th. That's a lot of games. I would bet there are some NBA games that don't play that many games in that amount of time."

Is it possible for someone to upset either Stanford or Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament this year?

"Yeah, I think it can happen. I still have to say going into the tournament Stanford and Arizona have to be favored. But there are a number of other good teams that have chance to go in there and win."

Is your team excited about the chance to play Cal and Stanford?

"We had a good practice yesterday (Monday). We had a day off from school because of the holiday. We watched some of the Arizona game, which I do to try to continue to teach. They shouldn't be playing if they're not excited. There are only so many games in your career. T.J. Cummings is coming down the stretch and looking at his last six regular season games with Jon Crispin. We have a number of juniors in our program. I would hope."


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