With the UCLA basketball players taking final exams this week, Head Coach Steve Lavin faced the press alone this Tuesday. Here are his answers to various questions tossed his way:
Question: Were you surprised at how well the team played against Alabama?
Lavin: No. We have a lot of veterans and they've lost games before, or they've played badly before. They know it's a long season, a lot of up and down, and they know they're expected to bounce back after a bad game.
Question: Are you experimenting with using bigger lineups?
Lavin: Yes. We're also experimenting with smaller lineups. You might see a lineup with Dan, TJ and Matt together, with Matt playing the 3. With our zones, 1-2-2, 2-3, Matt can be very effective out on the wing.
Question: Isn't Matt better as a "4"?
Lavin: In some matchups, yes. Against Alabama, we were able to use him to handle the fullcourt pressure when Jason or Dijon were playing the point. Against other teams, Matt can play more of a wing position.
Question: You said you weren't surprised at how well you played against Alabama. Do you think you played well because it was a game on national TV against a ranked opponent?
Lavin: No. We are playing better because at the start of the season I made the mistake of extending our defense. We played the wrong defense against Ball State and Pepperdine and lost. So we went to the matchup zone and now we are putting our players in a position to win instead of putting them in a position to lose. It was my fault, as the coach, not the player's fault. Of course, playing at the Pond, we get great fan support there. The team was surprised at how loud it was, because they're not used to having a home court advantage like that.
Question: Matt Barnes played a lot of minutes in the Alabama game and he played very well. Did you know going into the game that you were going to play him a lot of minutes or was that something that just evolved as the game went on?
Lavin: It was a combination of both things. He played great in practice all week long. Plus, we wanted him to matchup with Rod Grizzard, and we knew Alabama would press us and with two big men in the lineup we knew Matt would give us a great pressure release bringing the ball up against their defense. So, the plan was for him to play a lot. And then, he did play very well.
Question: How do you stop a player like Jerry Green (of UC-Irvine)?
Lavin: He's as prolific a scorer as there is on the west coast. He can hit the 3, break you down off the dribble. We just need to have a collective awareness of where he is on the court at all times and make sure a man has a hand in his face, try to deny him the ball. We have started installing the half-court traps that worked so well for us last year, traps along the baseline, the sidelines, like we did with Granville and Gardner last year, and hopefully that will allow us to apply more pressure and still settle back into our zone quickly.
Question: You said at the beginning of the year that you would play fullcourt pressure for 40 minutes. That obviously didn't work. What went wrong?
Lavin: I just messed up as a coach. I knew we'd lost Earl, Moose and Jason Flowers. I didn't expect to see Ced get hurt so quickly. He was hurt that first exhibition game and we didn't realize how bad it was until much later. Ray redshirting, that was a factor I might've missed. I was convinced we could still play extended pressure defense because of our depth, but it became clear after a few games that just isn't the case with this year's team. I first started to worry after the Ball State game, though it really didn't sink in because they scored 91 against us playing fullcourt pressure and 93 against Kansas, which is a halfcourt defensive team. But the Pepperdine game exposed all of our weaknesses in an extended defense. We were in no man's land, defensively. Pepperdine got any shots they wanted, when they wanted them, inside, 3s. Plus, we were expending so much energy trying to extend our defense, it was hurting our offensive efficiency as well. I think with the matchup zone, we will be able to keep quicker players out of the lane and force more bad shots, and we will become a more efficient team on offense as well, find more of a rhythm, where we make less turnovers ourselves and get better shots. We still have very high expectations for this team. Against Riverside, we took little baby steps, but we had a streak in the second half where they missed 11 straight field goals and we were able to pull away. We got two streaks of defensive stops against Alabama, and we pulled away at the end of both halves. We need those kinds of streaks to win. We still have a lot of work to do at both ends, but we feel we're making some progress.
Question: Will Ryan Walcott play more?
Lavin: Yes. He's had two great days of practice. I think his numbers were as good in 11 minutes against Alabama as their starting point guard, who was a high school All-American, got in 25 minutes. His knees are fine now. He suffered a setback when his grandfather died, but he's doing very well in practice and he will play more. Hopefully, when Ced comes back, the experience that Ryan gets now will pay off for us down the road.
Question: How is Cedric Bozeman doing? When do you expect him back?
Lavin: We really don't have a precise timetable. It's more like a day by day progress report from the doctors and trainer. He's doing a lot of cardiovascular work, riding the bike, but you want to err on the side of caution with a young player who has his whole career ahead of him. We won't throw him back into the fire when he comes back, we'll start out playing him maybe 5 minutes per half and then just see how it goes from there.
Question: Did you get a chance to see Arizona play?
Lavin: Some from the locker room before our game. They are in a great flow offensively right now. Jason Gardner is just terrific, and he's surrounded by players like Walton and Anderson who really understand he's the go-to guy, and they both know both their strengths and weaknesses really well. Based on how well they are playing, they have to be the favorite going into the Pac-10.