"Brian Morrison did not practice again yesterday. It's been very frustrating. I've been told by the trainer that what he has are symptoms that lead us to believe it's a bone bruise. We haven't done the MRI to confirm that. He's been out three weeks now with the ankle as of tomorrow. I don't know what his status is for today (Tuesday). It's unlikely he'll play Wednesday."
Can you put your finger on why Stanford was able to go on that big run in the first half after you were up 19-17?
"We had the ball up 19-17, came down and Janou Rubin tried to drive the middle instead of pulling it out because there was nothing there. There were actually four shirts from the other team. He jumped-stopped, threw the ball to Ryan Hollins, which you don't usually want to do. You don't want to give your five man the ball out at 20 feet running at full speed. It was a bad decision. But it was getting caught up in the moment. The crowd was oohing and ahhing. It was a sign of inexperience and lack of game experience. What really hurt us is we took about four bad shots in a row, and every bad shot led to them scoring. T.J. Cummings took a shot in the corner. Dijon Thompson went behind the back and took an off-balance leaping leaner. Those were two bad shots. Cedric Bozeman made a turnover trying to drive. I think it was his only turnover, but it wasn't a good decision. It compounds. Instead of slowing down, we started playing quicker against a zone. When they went zone you should slow down and be patient, if you're a team that understands how to attack zones. And then they made tough shots. Matt Lottich made a big shot to go up 14 with a guy right in his face. T.J.'s bad shot in the corner led to a wide open three by Nick Robinson, in a transition defense mistake. We watched that yesterday as a team, that exact point in the game, to see how this all came down. So hopefully we can learn from it. We also watched some of the tape from the first USC game. And I would say that has to be our worst half of the year, that first half against USC."
The same thing happened against USC with the zone. How do you get your players to attack it correctly?
"We've done a better job of attacking zones as of late. For a while they were really zoning us a lot. Then on the Arizona trip teams went back to man-to-man for a number of games. But their zone, Stanford's, is a little more unorthodox. It's a 1-1 alignment. So it's a little different. It's just learning and seeing it, understanding what's going on, and continuing to talk about it and emphasizing what's important. We didn't get the ball inside very well Saturday. We were much better in the second half. Then we had our chances. We had a comeback and cut it to ten, but then took three really quick shots. I even looked at the guys yesterday in practice and told them. If we take bad shots I'm just going to yank guys now. Because bad shots not only hurt you offensively but defensively. We've been pretty consistent in taking some quick, bad shots throughout the year. It's been an Achilles Heel for us."
To what degree has your team improved since the first USC game?
"They know what to expect of USC this time, having played them once already. SC came in to here, and played very inspired basketball, Desmon Farmer in particular. He's very emotional, and plays with his emotions on his sleeve. He feeds off himself. He gets excited with himself and that gets him going even more. Our biggest thing is keeping the ball in front of us. If you went back and watch that tape at all, we got beat horribly the first two possessions off the bounce. A cross-over by a Craven, and the Farmer crosses over in the second possession. That's why we went zone with 15 minutes left in the game to help us get back in the game. At some point we're going to have to try to guard them man-to-man too, and stay in front of the ball. Bottom line, they run their sets and it comes down to being able to stay in front of the ball. They're very athletic. The two Cravens, Stewarts and Farmer are all outstanding athletes that can beat you off the dribble. That's something we've had a problem with all year, athletically being able to match up with guys that can stay in front of the ball. That's why we miss Brian Morrison than in any other aspect. His ability to guard the dribble and trail the shooters."
Can you succeed in stopping or frustrate Farmer?
"I don't know if we can frustrate him. We want to try to keep him under control. Especially at the Sports Arena, he has a tendency to really get on a roll. He's hitting 40% from three, and he's taken 119 threes in fifteen games. So he's putting it up a lot and hitting 40%."
But USC has still played quite a few poor games and you have a better record than they do...
"With the rivalry thing, though, you kind of throw out the records. It adds another dimension to the game."
When USC was beating you in Pauley Pavilion, with the USC band playing, did it really strike you about what this rivalry is about?
"Yeah it did. What really struck me is sitting in my locker room before the game and having to listen to their band. I went, ‘Hey, that doesn't sound right.' I didn't know that we had the opposing bands come into our facility during the conference. They don't do that in a lot of places, that I'm aware of. Apparently in this conference it's only with your rival team that it's allowed to happen. So that was weird for me. I went up to Dan Guerrero and said, ‘Dan, what is their band doing here?' Not only that, they're getting in free. Those were seats free and set aside. We're not even selling them. It's a home game, we go to their place, their band. We go to our place, our band. I never heard of that. It's something I guess everyone in our conference agreed to."
Is your band going tomorrow?
"I assume they are. I will say that the band will be there in full force."
So, USC has looked very good at times. But why have they lost so many games?
"In watching them, like against Stanford last Thursday, it was a three-point game. They've lost some tough, close games. When you look at some of their losses, there are games that they could have won. I thought their Washington game at home, it was a close game that could have gone to the last five minutes of the game either way. They've lost some tough games."
In terms of standings, how important is the game?
"As I told our players, we have to get some more wins in our conference. If you look at it mathematically, Oregon State, with their win over Arizona, if we tie with them they beat us on a tie-breaker. I think if we tie with USC they beat us on a tie-breaker because they beat Arizona and we didn't. There are so many mathetical factors that go into this. We just have to take care of business.
"USC is as athletic as anyone in our conference. They create a lot of havoc with their quick hands. In our game, in the high post, they stole the ball from our bigs a few times. Usually their turnovers turn into easy scores. They play with a lot of intensity. I respect how hard they play."
Have your players talked about how important this game is?
"I haven't heard it. I read quotes from Dijon that he didn't care if we win another game as long as we beat USC. I guess he thinks it's important."
How effective was the zone against USC the first time, and will you use it extensively again?
"We'll probably have to, if we can't stay in front of the ball, which is why we went to it last time. Stanford zoned them a lot on Thursday. We don't play a lot of zone. They're also probably better at home against the zone than on the road, as most teams would be. Farmer has 25-foot range on his jumper. He has unbelievable range. The other day against Cal, the kid who shot the ball well was Lodrick Stewart. He had five threes in the game and made his first five shots."
Will Jon Crispin continue to play the type of minutes he has recently?
"He'll continue to play. I would say right now that Brian Morrison won't play on Wednesday since he didn't even practice Monday. In terms of our depth, I would anticipate (Crispin) would play. And Josiah Johnson won't play. He's probably out for both games this weekend. So I guess that puts us at nine scholarship athletes at this point."
Will Trevor Ariza return to the starting lineup?
"Yeah. Starting Crispin, I was hoping that would give us a lift. And I wanted to do the right thing for our seniors. Jon, with his play in the Washington and Cal games deserved his last Pac-10 home game start. He plays hard and plays with some fire and aggression, which we need, at the defensive end. He was right there on Lottich for some tough shots. Lottich is just a very good player."
How important is it to stop the losing streak against USC?
"The most significant thing is to get a win to ensure our seeding and entry into the Pac-10 tournament. Right now, instead of being 7-8, if we had won against Arizona State, that game really looms large. If you look at any of the losses in conference, that's the game we should have not let slip away. We'd be in a much better position than we are now, just that one more win. Sixty-two seconds to go and up seven, and we make one out of four foul shots in the last 50 seconds. That's tough."
When they start putting up bad shots in a row, do they get into a hangdog mentality, in a funk?
"A ‘hangdog mentality?' That's a new one for me. Snowball would be my old school term. We used a lot of time outs in that first half of the Stanford game to try to stop the bleeding. I think I used three. But this isn't the first time this has happened. That's why I thought against Cal on Thursday, we were really good with our shot selection. The only really bad I can remember, was when we were up 20 and Trevor did a one-bounce dribble with seven minutes to go and I yanked him right away. T.J. was really good. He really let the game come to him, played really smart and had one of his better games. I don't know if it's the size of the game. For example on Saturday, against the #1 team, on CBS. I'd have to go back and look at that. The one thing we need to do – and I told our team about. I always like to throw you guys an interesting stat since I'm a stat guy. But defensively when you look at our ability to guard the ball, I'm not one that's a proponent to gamble and go for steals. But I think when you're playing hard, active with your hands, rotating down and you're quick to help defensively, we should be getting more deflections and creating more steals. I asked our team that today. ‘Where do you think we are nationally, steals as a team, going into last week?' Relative to the 325 schools that play Division 1 basketball, we were 325 going into last weekend. Dead last. We had thirteen this last weekend, so we might be up to 323 or 324. That's a problem. That's something we have to get better at as a program as we progress. We have to have more pride. You can play very good defense and not gamble, but create more than 4.2 steals per game. But you have to be athletic, knowing your scouting report and how to get steals. That's a shocking stat right there. That's why it's important to have athleticism. I think USC leads the league in steals per game."
They get out of position a lot on defense. How can you exploit that?
"You have to be able to put the ball on the floor, penetrate and make things happen on the dribble. Ced did that in the second half. He got more aggressive, and we were screening for him. But if you remember, we got some stops so we were able to transition and push the ball."