Howland's Press Conference

Head Coach Ben Howland answers questions from the press about the Notre Dame game, the upcoming games against the Oregon schools, the chances at the Pac-10 tournament, and more...

A Brian Morrison update?

"He was limping on it yesterday. We were doing some class checks. Chris Carlson, my director of basketball operations, said he was watching him go to class around noon yesterday and he was limping. He had no idea that Chris was there watching him. It's still tender, not completely healed. It's been 27 days since he injured it initially. In retrospect, it was probably unwise to let him come back so quickly. I think he's going to try to give it a go today, but that's all I can say. The fact that he was limping on it yesterday and it's bothering him when he ran on it on the treadmill yesterday, leads me to believe it will be unlikely he'll be able to do a whole lot this coming weekend."

How about Josiah Johnson?

"He's out. I don't think you'll see Jo the rest of the season, at this rate. He has a long way to go."

Have you looked at the tie-breaker procedures?

"Yeah, I've looked at them all. Basically if we can get at least one win, if we can win on Thursday, we'll get in for sure. The best thing we can do is get a win here on Thursday against Oregon State."

Is it hard to believe you're discussing the possibilities of getting into the Pac-10 tournament?

"Not hard to believe. It's the one thing about sports, anything is possible. It's disappointing that I have to look at all of these scenarios right now. But even when I watch that game, the first time against Oregon State, we didn't play flawless basketball, by any means. We won but we didn't play great in that game."

Why do you think Oregon State has done so much better at home than on the road?

"I think it's typical of most college basketball teams, playing better at home than on the road. There's more of a home-court advantage in basketball than any other sport. There's more intimacy. Plus, Oregon State is young. They have everybody back. They're getting better and improving. This Lucas kid is an interesting story. He was a walk-on. I don't know if he was a recruited walk-on. But my understanding was that he played only two years of high school basketball. He was averaging 19.3 in conference games going into last weekend's games. Maurice Lucas's son."

You said you had to re-adjust your goals and expectations a couple of weeks ago. Where are those now with the season close to being over?

It remains to be seen where we finish. We still have these two games and then, hopefully, the conference tournament. This weekend will have a lot to do with where we're seeded. If we in both we'll finish in fourth. If we lose both we could finish as low as ninth. That's a wide range of possibilities here as go into the last weekend of the season. We hope we can finish with two Ws. Obviously that' won't be easy. Oregon has dropped four in a row, so they'll be tough as they go into the last weekend of home games. Oregon State is much better at home than on the road. There is still hope for them that they'll get into the tournament. So there's a lot left to be done here."

Is a lack of leadership on this team something you address with the players?

"Not so much talking about a lack of leadership on the team. Vocal leadership within your team is important to have. It's something we may have had a shortfall in this year. Sometimes that's just what it is. Jon Crispin, the whole year, has been the guy talking in the huddle. Before each and every game, to your team. He's been the vocal leader, when they get ready to go out on the floor. Usually it's people with the most minutes who would be doing that. It's team dynamics. But that's where it is. It'd probably be better if we had one of our captains, or one of the kids playing more minutes. Jon has done a good job trying to lead. He was doing that when he wasn't even playing. So I give him some credit. He wants to win. In terms of the effort, they really took it to us this other day. Timmermans said after the game about this conference relative to physical play. We weren't real physical. You can see one time in the films how size and strength mattters. One time, the big kid, Rick Cornett, comes off the bench. He hit Ryan Hollins with his right shoulder, turned and hit him again with his left shoulder, knocked him back twice and scored easily. He's bigger and stronger. That's where size and strength matter so much. With all the disappointment we're feeling how we played, hopefully the guys that are coming back are going to learn from that and be motivated by it, and get in the weight room, and do the things that are necessary to improve, and get better as an individual and as a team. You can look at us right now, we're starting a couple of guys that it's unlikely they can bench their weight. In college basketball, at the higher level, particularly what we're in, size and strength really matters."

Has the lack of success been mostly due to lack of physical play or has it also been mental?

"Well, we should have won the game Wednesday at USC. We had the ball up five three different times in the last three minutes in the overtime. A couple of those plays we made turnovers on was somewhat mental, too. Your mental affects your physical. I look at the USC game, or the ASU game, we made some mental errors. We were up six against ASU with 35 seconds to go, the guys beating us and we're jumping in the air to try to deflect it rather than stay on the floor and stay with the shooter. So those are mental things. It's not always physical. Not being able to stay in front of the basketball and defend the ball, that's physical. I thought our guys came back yesterday and had a good practice. If you watch the practice tape, we were diving on the floor for loose balls in a drill because we missed it one time early in the practice. We were doing a drill where we take charges. Those are the ways you try to do it, in practice, where it carries over to the game. That really has been a shortcoming – our lack of taking a charge this year. It's been frustration on my part because there have been so many opportunites and we didn't capitalize. Both taking charge and diving on the floor. I have to do a better job of getting them to do that."

In your experience in re-building programs, is there further to go here than at the other schools where you've been?

"The difference is that Northern Arizona never won. They had never been in the NCAA tournament ever. We went for the first time ever. So it's a different degree, in terms of expectations. We're on our way. We're having a great recruiting year. The kids that will come back in this program will be better because of their experiences here. A year from now we'll still have a lot of youngsters in the program, but we're going to get it done. I'm not in any way doubting that for a second."

But do you have further to go here?

"For example, at Pitt in my first year we had Brandin Knight sitting there. He was just a freshman, developing. He was a player that was a four-year guy, a true point guard, who got better every year. And I had two redshirts. Jaron Brown, who is their starting three-man right now. And Chad Johnson, who we got through transfer. And even though they didn't play that year they were getting year. Having kids in your program every day helps. Jaron Brown really improved a lot from five years ago to right now. He was 264 pounds at the height of his weight in that redshirt year. He grew up a lot, and got better each and every year."

Julius Page said something about how he developed under you at Pitt. Do you remember what he was like when you first got him?

"Very well. He didn't know how to jump shot, make plays at the end of penetration. He learned a lot. A lot of that was having a good point guard like Brandin. Brandin was a consummate, fundamentally-sound point guard. Julius came in with a lot to learn. But he had a great competitiveness about him. He's a kid that had highs and lows that first year, and then became a consistent player in that second year. Usually, to me, that's when you make the biggest jump over the four year career. With Pitt players, it was between their freshman and sophomore year. I would expect that Trevor Ariza will be a much better player having gone through this experience as a freshman, next year. Providing he does all the things he needs to do off the floor, in the weight room, etc., this off-season. But Julius, he came a long way. I think he's a big reason for where they are. He's a great defender, a heart of a lion, and a winner."

T.J. Cumming was disastisfied about his playing time on Saturday. Did you speak to him about it?

"I spoke with him before practice yesterday. I knew he was upset. He didn't play. I explaiend very clearly. In just reviewing the film. His defense was really lacking. It was very, very suspect, at best. We need him to play well to win. When you look at our seven conference wins, in six of those seven, he's played well. The only game where he played poorly and we won in our conference wins was against Oregon State. He played 21 minutes, just like he did on Saturday. But you know, this is not about playing him because he's a senior. If he's not producing, and he's not doing his job and taking care of his responsibilities, at either end of the floor, we have to play the guys that are going to give us a chance to win. I think after explaining it to him...he had a decent practice yesterday. He was 3-for-11 in practice, with three rebounds. But he had an interesting stat. He had four steals yesterday. I explained to him before practice that in 618 minutes total, he had three steals on the year. You would expect if you're playing hard, active and working hard all the time, you'd have more than one every 200 minutes of play."

Will the lineup stay the same?

"I don't know what will happen in practice this week, but I anticipate going back to the lineup we used against USC. Crispin started against Notre Dame because he was a senior and his last game. Jon's played hard. It all depends on whether Morrison can do anything. I don't have a strong sense of optimism that his ankle will allow him to practice a lot the next two days or play this weekend."

Have you emphasized to the players how significant these two games are?

"I explained it to them. It was the first thing we talked about. We can finish in fourth place, or we can finish in ninth place. We have control of our own destiny. It won't be easy. We're on the road, these teams are hungry. And everybody wants to win. Really when you go back and look at the last game, we played poorly on Saturday. A lot of those early shots led to quick opportunities for the other team. The first shot of the game was a bad shot. T.J. was short on a three. And then Crispin had a wide-open shot on the second play of the game and he just missed it. It was a good shot. But then there were about three or four subsequent plays offensively where we took quick shots that led to them having opportunities at the other end. When we cut it to eight, we couldn't block out. It was really disappointing that we didn't play better Saturday. After having a good showing, with the exception of losing, on Wednesday against our rivals. I thought that even though we lost that game we played with a lot of heart and character. I know it doesn't make up for losing, but that's why I was surprised with our effort on Saturday."

What's your opinion of the difference in conferences?

"This year, clearly, the Big East has a stronger conference. They have 14 teams instead of ten. If you look at the last five or six years, it's very much similar. I think someone pointed out to me that 42 of the 50 starters in our league return next year. League's go through things. The ACC only had three teams going to the tournament three or four years ago. So much depends on your talent level as a program and a league."

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