Howland's Tuesday Press Conference

Head Coach <b>Ben Howland</b> answers questions about the Arizona game, the team's stamina, and the challenge of playing against the resurgent Stanford Cardinal on Thursday...

Head Coach Ben Howland addressed the media at his weekly Tuesday press conference.

How different is Stanford without Josh Childress?

"I'll tell you where they're different this year is when they're without Chris Hernandez. The one game against Arizona State that he doesn't play in is vastly different than when he does play. I explained to the team yesterday - he was the best point guard in the conference a year ago. I remember Lute Olson echoing those sentiments. I was so impressed with him. He's the same guy. He's had the back spasms. He's really, really good. They had a great chance to beat Washington on the road. Washington I think is fifth in the RPI right now, and they missed a layup to go up by one with about ten seconds to go. To answer your question, Childress was a great player. He was the MVP of the league a year ago. Matt Lottich was a great competitor and a really tough kid. They still are very, very good. If you look at the Stanford team we're playing against, Rob Little and Nick Robinson are seniors. Robinson is a returned missionary, so he's about 24. Matt Haryasz and Dan Grunfeld and Hernandez are all juniors. And Hernandez is a fourth-year junior because he had a reshirt year because of his foot problem. So it's an older, experienced team that is playing very well right now. They really handily dominated Cal on Saturday.  They beat Arizona fair and square at home."

What do you like about Hernandez?

"Just how tough he is. What a great competitor he is. That's for starters. He really shoots the ball well. He's a very good shooter. He starts out the game, coming right at you shooting threes. He plays with a lot of confidence. But his toughness, competitiveness, his leadership, just how hard he plays, he's outstanding."

With Pac-10 teams high in the RPI ratings, do you think that's something people just don't know or realize about the conference?

"We're second in league RPIs. It changes a little bit every week. That's good for our conference. As a conference we are ahead of the Big 12, which I think is third. And we are just behind the ACC, which is a little surprising. The difference is very, vey minor. It's like hundredths."

The loss on Saturday must have been frustrating. But did it also show the progress your team has made?

"It was frustrating, because we had a great opportunity. We were up 50-42, we had the ball, and I think there was 10 minutes left. I think we had the opportunity twice to go up ten. I watched the game four times now. Our whole team watched it again yesterday, and went through it possession by possession for 2 ½ hours. The thing is, we were right there with one of the best teams in the country on their home floor with a chance to win. We didn't capitalize, but there were a lot of positives. There are a lot of things we can do better to improve upon."

Did Arron Afflalo get over that last play?

"He's a great competitor, Aaron. He takes a lot of pride in his defense, which is one of the reasons why he is a good defender.  I don't know if he's completely over it. It always helps to go back out and get on that horse the next time. Salim Stoudamire is a very good player and he really had it going."

Did you talk to Arron about the last play? He seemed bothered by it after the game..

"You would hope and expect that. We were all bothered and disappointed after the loss. What happened was that he had just fouled him the play before. It was a two-point game, and you don't want to foul him, and put him to the line, which is what he did. So he was a little hesitant to get on him too tight. Stoudamire took an advantage of it and took a tough shot, a shot he obviously can make. In the last five or six games, Stoudamire is shooting 66% from three, which is phenomenal. It's like 99% from two. That's a good shot."

Do you think Dijon Thompson is playing like one of the best players in the country right now?

"Yeah. Just look at what he's done. When I go back and look at the tape of the game again and again, he's doing so many positive things that don't show up on the stat line. Yes, he's the second-leading scorer, and the second-leading rebounder in the conference. But he's laying a body, blocking out people. He's doing the little things. He's rotating over. He's making the extra pass. He is working for position every time. A good rebounder works for position every time on offense, and you only get a small portion of those rebounds. But you have to work every time. And all great players have that work ethic. And he's playing with real toughness, too.  Channing Frye didn't score in the second half, which is a real positive for us. In the second half we did a great job on Frye. Dijon's there, he rotates over and he bodies up, and does a good job. So he's doing a lot of the little things. He's really providing the leadership, that tough environment. I think he's the one who came out and got us going and provided a spark for our team."

Did you feel that he had the potential to play this way?

"I'll tell you what, I'm elated. I'm excited about it. You knew he was going to be a good player this year. As a senior, this is his last chance, the last time to go around, and he's really seizing it. His shooting percentage is really good, his free throw percentage.  You look at all of his numbers. The only tough part is I'm having to play him more minutes than is ideal.  He played 37 on Thursday, and 35, 36 or 37 on Saturday. That's tough. The same thing with Jordan Farmar. I did a poor job of subbing Jordan on Saturday. He didn't come out in the second half, even though he played 14 in the first half, being in foul trouble. I did a poor job not giving him a blow there, too."

With Dijon, Arizona put various guys on him to defend him. Is that what teams will do with him?

"Yeah, I think teams will do that. Dijon, in watching the film, he realized he had a couple of opportunities. Whenever he has a big on him, he should be facing up. When he has a small, he can take them down low. He can hurt you so many ways. He can take a guy who is 6-5 or 6-6 and play with his back to the basket. Because of his extension on his shot is really up high, and he leans back a little bit. It's really hard to get to his shot and he's perfected that. With big buys he has to take them away and drive, which he did. Late in the game, he tied it at 68 all. We had it at 68 all with 1:38 to go and we needed to get a stop. We turned sideways on taking the charge. We were right there with a great opportunity. One stop there and we give ourselves a chance, through all the mistakes that we made. 23 turnovers is obviously huge. Then not making our foul shots at our normal clip. We were nine for 27. Those are probably the two biggest stats for the game."

Is it tough down the stretch for a young kid like Jordan to make those foul shots?

"Yeah. Ryan, though, was two for six. Jordan was six for ten. There was one other miss by Dijon."

Do think it was good for Dijon to go to the NBA camp last summer and realize he should come back?

"You'd have to ask him that. I think it was a positive. It gave him a chance to see what he needed to improve on. I'm not sure what conversation you have there.  I don't think they really had a conversation with him like I was expecting. No one every told him that from the NBA. But I think it was a good experience for him, yeah."

With Farmar, is it hard to take him out of the game since he brings so much to the court?

"It's hard for me because we don't have a true back-up point guard. He does so much, that's exactly right. It's hard to take him out of the game. He's been playing those type of minutes for us. It's like with Dijon. It's hard for me to take him out of the game. Those two guys in particular. You have a point guard and your senior leader and your best player. You want to keep your best player in the game as much as possible. I think it's easier for Dijon.  Dijon is 22 years old and more mature physically. Jordan turned 18 November 30th."

Are those turnovers okay, since he's in the game so much and you're letting him work his way through it?

"He had the nine turnovers against Oregon State. Then I think he went on a run when he had only three turnovers in our next three games, playing over a hundred-some minutes. Then the other day he came back at Arizona State he had maybe two, and then against Arizona, he had four, and that was against real intense pressure. One was a carry. I think we were the only team getting called for it in that game, and there were a lot of guys carrying the ball. Every year it's a point of emphasis going into the season, and then they just don't call it. And there was Morrison's. His was more obvious to me. So we had two go against us. That's the state of the game. I'm reading the book from the writer of the L.A. Times, the NBA beat writer. He's talking about how Magic Johnson came into the league it changed everything. He palmed it every time he got it. You go back to the Big East, every kid palms it. You would call palming on every possession of every game. Like Coach Wooden said, you can't go behind the back without palming the ball, when you think about it. Where is the line? I don't know."

How are the freshmen holding up conditioning-wise?

"They're pretty good. Last week - and I did the same thing yesterday - because we're playing them so many minutes, each of the last two Mondays we haven't practiced our top six guys in terms of running up and down. We've watched film, shot foul shots. The rest of the team we do individual workouts with. Then we'll practice hard today and tomorrow to get ready for Stanford. We're at a point right now where we've played 14 games, and a lot of intensity has gone into every one of those games. It's just hard. I thought Josh Shipp held up pretty well the other night. He played 36 minutes against Arizona. He's our second-leading rebounder right now in conference games at 5.8. He's doing a really good job rebounding."

How is Lorenzo Mata holding up in Pac-10 play?

"'It's hard. You're throwing him in there to go up against Ike Diogu and Frye, NBA players, two veterans, two guys that are physical. As soon as they see a freshman, it's like a shark smelling blood. They're going right after him. He's good, though. He has a great attitude. He's a great kid. That's another coaching thing. I should have played him more minutes against Arizona. He needs that experience. That's my fault. When go back and think about our two biggest wins in the league, Oregon and Washington, he played a huge role in both those games."

Is there a limitation on the condition and stamina for the freshmen? Will they be in better condition as sophomores?

"I don't think their conditioning is that big of an issue. I think anybody gets tired. It's not unique to just freshmen. But, of course, if you get older and become more physically mature, they'll get better. Especially after coming through this year, and then going through all of the weight-lifting between this year and next. A lot of it is strength. Someone asked me about Hernandez, what makes him so special. He's really strong. He benches over 300 pounds. That guy is strong. Strength is such a factor in the game of basketball at any position."

How many of your guys bench press over 300 pounds?

"Michael Fey and Matt McKinney are the two I'm aware of."

Jordan looks thin and doesn't always look quick, but all of a sudden he'll make a move. How will it affect his game when he continues to build strength?

"His quickness is good. Last spring he was 182 pounds and he actually worked hard to get to 180 to start the season. He's probably 170 to 174 right now. We'll have to throw him on the scale and find out. He has good speed and good quickness."

Would you like to see him get stronger?

"Yeah. I would like to see all of our guys get stronger."

How much does Hernandez's strength affect the matchup with Farmar?

"In terms of offensively, we're not that worried about him as much as defensively. Hernandez comes down and he causes problem by lowering his shoulder. He's very good at playing physical."

How does Jordan offset that?

"He has to step up to the challenge, like he did with Aaron Brooks. He's first team all league, returning player."

Has your defense improved?

"I thought we were a better defensive team this weekend than the weekend before. Both in the Arizona State game and Arizona. We did a great job of doubling the post and then rotating out of it. Dijon and Ryan Hollins were good. Mike Fey played his best defensive game since I've been here against Arizona State. Just being able to body, and push Diogu off the block. He really did a good job when you watch the film against Diogu. But we still have a long ways to go defensively. Our opponents are shooting 44.9%.  I thought we played good defense thus far in our league, in particular against Oregon and Arizona State. We played pretty good defense the second halves in the come-back wins against the Washingtons. They shot 40%."

Dijon said he thought that in the league it's a matter of out-scoring the other team, and if you get a team that can play a little defense you can do pretty well.

"I still really believe you have to be a good defensive team. When you go look at the national stats in field goal position defense. Right there are the top is Kansas, Duke, all the same that are at the top in terms of Ws.  Whoever it is. Rebound margin and field goal percentage is how you win championships. One thing we've done this year is that we're getting the ball out quick. We were fatigued to the point where sometimes I wanted to push it but sometimes we just didn't because we were tired on Saturday. We got some easy baskets and it hurt people in transition. Even early in the second half against Arizona, we push it up and missed a wide-open shot. And one time on a good break, Brian Morrison instead of shooting a lay-up he passes to Ryan. Instead of getting two underneath the basket by himself, we only get one. Those are the baskets that really big. Any easy basket you can get is huge."

Dijon said he can't wait to get Arizona at home. Is that a good thing to hear?

"Yeah. He's expressing himself. He's disappointed we lost. I think it's in reference to his disappointment, and the fact that we're going to have one more opportunity to play them. Our focus right now is on Stanford, who's very good, and playing with confidence now with two good wins. They crushed Cal at their place. I think they were up 16 or 18 at the half. Obviously they beat Arizona, who is very good, as we just witnessed."

Have the freshmen developed as quickly as you thought, or quicker?

"I think they're doing very well. It's hard to be a freshman and get thrown into a situation where you're asked to play 30+ minutes a game. And then you're playing two other freshmen in the backcourt right by you. There's no other experienced guy who's been through it before.  It's always easy when you're playing with someone who's been through it. That's why Dijon has been so instrumental. He's been very good with the freshmen, and very good with our big guys. He's been a very good leader. The one thing I see in him is he's playing with a lot of emotion. He's really showing it."

How do you match up against Stanford, compared to the other teams, in terms of playing style?

"They push the ball hard on minutes. But they're going to be very patient and come down and run their sets. Dan Grunfeld is very good. We haven't talked about him. He's the third-leading scorer in the Pac-10, right behind Dijon. He's shooting a very high percentage. He's a very good player and a tough matchup. They're very patient. When they get a lead, they're more like Washington State, in terms of really being patient and play that style in the halfcourt. With Hernandez, though, they're looking to push. Our transition defense was not good against Arizona, and that was one of the problems. So we have to work on that today and tomorrow, emphasize it and really talk about it. That's what we watched a lot in the film session yesterday."

Is there anything you can do to make Brian Morrison a more consistent player for the remainder of the year?

"I thought he was on a nice little run there, where he had played really well at Oregon State, Oregon and the two Washington schools.  Where I need him to shore up is defensively. He should be our best perimeter defender. Athletically, strength-wise and toughness. He's tough. Brian has toughness. But he just has to put more of a focus on it himself. But yeah, I think we can get more consistency out of him night in and night out."

With Stanford beating you in Pauley Pavilion the last seven years, how important has it been to protect your home court this season?

"That was one of our goals this season was to not get beat at home. Fortunately we've been able to keep that alive thus far. There have been some close, exciting games. Pepperdine, Michigan, the two Washington schools. But it's always important to protect your home court. Our crowd in the last game was phenomenal, against Washington. I think it really inspired our team."

Is it starting to get to what you're looking for?

"Yeah, I hope so. It's an obvious advantage, just like it is for any team, just like it was for Arizona. Their players fed off that crowd on Saturday. That was a great crowd for them."

Does the streak of wins for Stanford at Pauley Pavilion affect your players?

"I don't know. I was thinking about it. Our freshmen were in sixth grade when that streak started. They really haven't been affected by it. It's a whole new year, and a whole new deal. I don't really talk to them about it. It's just about, hey, the next game, they're very good, coming off wins against Arizona and wins against Cal. They're a team that won 30 games. If you look Robinson, Hernandez, Little and Haryasz, these guys were all in their top seven last year. Their losses are to Michigan State, and to Louisville, and Washington, which they could have won, and at Washington State, which we all know is tough. And with Arizona State, Arizona State is very good, but Hernandez didn't play."

How do you think they'll match up defensively against Dijon? Will they go with Haryasz?

"I don't think they'll go that way. I think they'll start out with Robinson on him, and then do the same thing Arizona did, just play around with it. It will be Haryasz or Robinson, but it may be Robinson, but I don't think it matters to Dijon."

With UCLA getting more publicity, from like Dick Vitale, do your players listen to that?

"It's great that Dick is talking about us. He's very much the voice of college basketball and is listened to. I'm glad to hear that, because I didn't know that. It's great for our program, great for our players. It's exciting for them to be talking about us. I know he was very positive about our players and our program when we played Michigan State and he did the game."

Ideally how many minutes would you like to play Jordan and Dijon?

"Ideally it'd be 30 minutes a game, but that's not going to happen."

Have either one of them ever asked to come out?

"I think maybe once this year Dijon told me he needed a blow. It might have been after he was on that big layoff from that hand injury. He never wants to come out, which is a sign of a good competitor. I like that. They're really not going to say anything. As a coach you have to have a feel for it and try to read it. Sometimes when you play tired you have a diminishing return. I tried to give him a blow right before the next media time out so they get a little longer opportunity to sit."

How do you read them?

"Body language. The look on his face. When you play hard you're going to get tired. There's no one in the NBA playing 48 minutes."

Can you tell us about your signed recruit, Darren Collison, and what he'll provide for you next year?

"He's a very, very exciting prospect. He's an outstanding player who has led his team to now I believe a record of 15 or 16 in 1 at Etiwanda High School. He's very quick, very athletic, a good decision-maker. He's an outstanding passer and can create a lot of stuff. He's really quick, and fast. So I'm excited about Darren."

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