Howland's Press Conference

Head Coach Ben Howland meets the press Tuesday and discusses the upcoming Pac-10 tournament, the matchup against Washington, and more...

Are you excited about the Pac-10 tournament?

"Yeah, we're looking forward to it. Yesterday, taking the day off, that's two days off for only the first time in two months. That will be a good thing. To get a little bounce back in our legs. I started thinking about that today. Maybe I should have taken two days off the week of the first USC game, because I think we flew back to St. John's and then turned around to play Washington State. It's a long year. We've been going a long time here. So I think that will help us. We're playing a team that's playing the best ball in the Pac-10 in Washington. They've won 12 of their last 13 league games."

Can you beat them three times?

"It's hard to beat a good team three times, and they definitely are a good team. They finished second in our league. Again, like I said, they're the hottest in the league, having won 12 of 13. Their only loss was to us. I know that there is a lot of motivation on both parts. They can't for sure feel that they'll make the NCAA tournament, based on what I'm hearing from all the ‘experts.' So this is a big game for them. It's a new season. A new year. That's how I'm approaching it. And I think our players will be excited for the opportunity."

Are you in favor of the tournament?

"I think the tournament's great. I think it keeps interest all the way up until the very end. We were sitting there with our hearts in our laps flying back from Eugene on Saturday. I think it's true for fans. I would like it to get all ten teams in. I don't like cutting out two teams. I think you should be rewarded, like in the Big East. In that twelve-team conference the top four teams get a bye. So maybe in our league, the first six teams do, if you have all ten in. I've said this a lot. I think 18 league games are too many. In terms of how it reflects in your RPI. There's a diminishing return when you start to beat up on each other in your conference. We are the only major conference that plays 18 conference games. The SEC, the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, ACC, none of them do but us. I know for a fact talking to the head of the committee for the NCAA tournament a year ago, as well as the head of the committee the previous year, there is no question that there is a definite diminishing return after you've played so many games. And when you've played 18, plus three in the tournament, I think that's one reason why you hear Coach Olson and Coach Montgomery in years past say why they don't want this. It's all about the Pac-10 getting into the NCAA tournament as many teams as possible, then those teams being seeded high, and doing well. Because seedings matter."

Do you think the conference schedule will change?

"I think it will. I don't know how far down the road, but I think it will."

Other than just the talent, what made your Pitt teams good in conference tournament play?

"Number one, they were excited to be there. When they went to the finals, it was for the first time in the history of Pitt three years ago, my first year there, and then subsequently the next two years, and then they'll probably go again this year. It is a matter of preparation for an opponent and really going in with a goal in mind that you're going to win it. It's a culmination of the year. That tournament back there, it's so different. It's a huge tradition, people love it. It's a very difficult ticket to get. I think the tournament's a good thing. I think it's good to have in the same place every year. So people can go every year. I think it will happen like that for this league. And it could become a really special event, and exciting."

When you look at how Washington started conference play to how they finished, what do you think happened to turn them around?

"It's really ironic. We started out 5-0 and they started out 0-5. They finished second and we finished seventh. I think that overtime win they had at ASU, they needed a win to get over the hump and then they started playing well. They have a young team. They'll be even better next year. He (Coach Lorenzo Romar) has some experienced players there like Nate Robinson, who I think is outstanding, and Mike Jensen, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy and Curtis Allen. They did a good job in finding Bobby Jones and Hakeem Rollins, and Tre Simmons. He's played very well in the last four games. They have outstanding guard play. They have three guys that can play the point guard, they shoot well and are very athletic. They pose a lot of problems with their ability to put the ball in the basket. I expect they'll try to press us and pick us up full court, and try to create turnovers early in that game."

Did they zone you much last time?

"They zoned us some. We attacked it well. What happened is that when Arizona played zone that first time when we lost to them, we worked on it and became a much better team in attacking zones. Now after a while we haven't seen that much of it. Not many teams have played zone against us lately. If you look at the stats, our biggest problem is our inability to pass the ball and not turn it over. We're last in the league in turnover margin and assists-to-turnovers. It's taking care of the basketball."

Is that something at this point in the season that you can do a quick fix on?

"No, there really isn't a quick fix to it. I think this last weekend we had 38 turnovers. They were very tight, close games. It's just a couple of those possessions are the difference between winning and losing. We have to do a better job. A lot of the turnovers weren't when they were pressing. We had one turnover against the press on Saturday at Oregon. There were 19 other turnovers more or less in the halfcourt."

How do you approach the tournament mentally?

"One game at a time. It's a one-game season. Sudden death for us. We know we're not going anywhere unless we win the tournament this weekend. All we can do is focus on Washington for Thursday. If we can win that game, it gives us another day of life. That's where it is. I felt after the game on Saturday that we were done. I was elated that USC won in Corvalis. You have to give them credit. They overcame a lot of adversity."

How awkward was it for you to root for USC?

"It wasn't awkward. Henry (Bibby) is a Bruin, isn't he?"

How did the players react?

"They were happy. We actually were leaving Eugene when it was 34-19. I'm having the stewardess go up to the cockpit to find out the score, and we find out that the cut it to four with seven minutes to go, that didn't shock me either. When we touched down, my assistant got on the phone and we found out as we were touching down. Then the guys were happy."

Is your team loose about the tournament or is there a confidence issue?

"I think we have to go in with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let's play hard, be loose and have fun. One thing we did on Friday before we played Oregon, I tried to keep it a little fun for them at this point in the year. That's why you started playing this game is to have fun. Now fun is winning. But fun is also playing the game, and competing. We have to approach it that way. We are the underdog going into this game. Being the underdog is usually easier."

When you watch the film how is Washington better now?

"I thought we really played well against them the second time. Jensen is really playing well. When they played us here, Simmons didn't play well. Now in the last four games, he's averaging 16 a game. They have a lot of weapons, a lot of different guys that can beat you on any given night. It could be Roy, could be Jensen. The other kid that's played well consistently is Jones, from Long Beach Poly High School. And Conroy, he had 27 in that game up there. Rollins is a great athlete. They have a lot of good players. And I love Robinson. He's a football player, man. He's jumping over people and trying to dunk on them at 5-8. He's a phenomenal athlete. I can see (Washington Head Football Coach Keith) Gilberston, saying, ‘Man, he'd look good back in a football uniform.' He plays with that kind of attitude, that fealessness and aggresiveness, going through people. I can see that his dad was a good running back. I've had kids like this over the years. Brandin Knight and Julius Page, the starting backcourt at Pitt, were football players in high school. You can see some of that come out in an aggressive player."

Has it been difficult to defend quicker teams like Washington?

"We've been playing a lot of zone, like this last weekend. And that's not because I think the zone defense is the best way to stop people necessarily. We've had a hard time matching up with people defensively, especially on the wings. It's been difficult for Dijon Thompson to match up with the two, quickness-wise, and same thing for Trevor Ariza at the three. When I look back all year, and when we played the best in any one game it was the Michigan State game. A big part of that was having Brian Morrison chasing that Chris Hill kid all over the place, and being athletic, quick and strong enough to do it. As I reflect now, with hindsight being 20-20, we really missed Brian Morrison. If he's going to play this weekend, if he doesn't get hurt today or tomorrow, he shot 300 shots yesterday. He was the one guy I wanted to get a bunch of shots, since he's missed so much. He's played 44 minutes in the Pac-10 going into last weekend's games. We were counting on a little more than that going into the year. But that's part of the game. That's why it's important to have depth."

Is Washington an easier match-up than others in the conference for you?

"You know what? I've always thought that in these tournaments no one is an easy matchup. You have to beat whoever you play. It's always tough."

How it it to get your team motivated against a team like Washington?

"Hey, we've been fortunate. Michael Fey loves to play against the Huskies. He's from Seattle. He's had his two best games in the conference against Washington. I told the team, ‘Hey, Mike it's you and T.J.' T.J. has had two double-doubles. He's had 21-11 and 18-11 and Fey has been a force inside, by far the best he's played against anybody, the best effort, against U-Dub."

What's your relationship like with Romar?

"I've known Lorenzo since we went to high school. We used to play pick-up ball at Cerritos College. I was a year older than him. He used to come to Cerritos every day in the summer and play. Lorenzo is really a good person and a great guy. He's done an outstanding job this year. He did a great job here at UCLA for Coach Harrick, on that team in 1995 when they won a national championship. I'm sure he misses the commute, wherever the hell he was commuting from. I think he was way out in Agoura. An hour commute each way."

How is Brian Morrison physically?

"He's not 100%. I'm guessing he's about 85%. That's tough. He cant' get this year back so he might has well play. I put him in as the first sub on the perimeter on Saturday and plan to do that again. He started the last game he was healthy was the second half against Michigan State. I know he can really help us. It's hard to get your timing when you're not practicing every day. I really feel for him. Even moreso for his team. He hasn't been healthy since that December 21st game."

Do you approach this like a home game?

"I wouldn't consider it a home game, but we're glad, for example, we're not spending Wednesday night in a hotel. We're going to go to school Thursday morning, so we're approaching it from as a home game, from that standpoint. We've missed so much school this year. We're not taking our practice time Wednesday at the Staples Center. We're going to go to school and pratice here like we normally would for a home game. Then we're going to the banquet Wednesday night, and then go to class Thursday morning, and then head out to Staples after that. So in that respect we're treating it like a home game."

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