Head Coach Ben Howland addressed the media Tuesday in his weekly press conference.
Can you talk about the good and bad aspects of how your team tends to fall behind early in games?
"Really the three games that come to mind are the two Washington schools here and the USC game. We were down by 11 against Arizona State, but it wasn't as big a deficit as those three games. I'm just reviewing the film again from Washington State, so I'm reliving it again. In terms of our play, it's a combination of two things. Most often it's our defensive mistakes. Even in the Washington State and Cal games, when we fell behind, and with Cal we weren't able to come back, we were inept offensively. In speaking of just our most recent game, in our defense we came out and weren't physical enough. We didn't come out and play physically at the same level that USC was playing, in terms of how hard they were making their cuts. We weren't standing cutters up. We weren't as physical as we needed to be. In the second half, we really did that, and that really keyed our rally to get back in that game."
Have you figured out why this happens?
"We have talked about it, and spend a lot of time on it. We had plenty of time to prepare for this last game. You have to give USC some credit. I thought they came out and played really hard, and did a good job of executing. Starting that game, for example, we doubled the post. We had been hurt in the previous two games, and Jeff McMillan was able to pass out of it. One of the threes that Gabriel Pruitt got was a deflected ball that went right to Pruitt. But we changed that (the doubling in the post) after the first five or ten minutes. And then also the turnovers. In all of those games you have to look at the turnovers we've had. 13 turnovers in the first half on Saturday. And a lot of them are just unforced, bad plays as opposed to being forced into them."
Are they thinking too much?
"I don't know if they're anxious. Some of that may be true for Saturday's game. Each game is different. It's hard to say. Saturday was built up. It's a rivalry. The young kids know each other, and there's a lot of play in the media about that. I would imagine some of that would have an effect. I don't know."
Do you think they've figured it out yet?
"I hope so. Do I think we'll ever fall behind again by a large deficit in a game?"
"Like I told them yesterday, we have to come out and be physical. Stand up cutters. How you learn best, both as an individual and as a team, is to see yourself (on film). See what you did well, and see what you need to do better."
Could it be because you have a young team?
"I think we're at a point now that I would hope those guys have received enough experience that we're past being able to say we're going to use that as a reason why."
Is Matt McKinney possibly the kind of player you might need, a real physical player?
"Matt did play physically and that's one thing that really helped us. He also handles the ball decently. He made one really nice pass in that game where he caught it at free-throw line, pass-faked and threw it down low to Lorenzo Mata for a lay-up. There's that ability to handle the ball. But yes, he did lay his body on people. He came out and was able to rotate down, and block out. We do need that out of Matt. We need that physical play, to answer your question. Yeah, that's one thing I'm excited about. I think he'll be able to play a few more minutes now. Just like in practice yesterday, he's able to go up and down better. It was astounding. None of you have seen him in practice. It would be up and down, up and down, and he was totally keeled over. Part of it now is getting in better and better shape as we move forward."
Were you worried about him?
"Yeah. That's why we had all of those tests done. We had every test done that you could possibly imagine. A lot of them had to do with testing his heart and his pulminary functions. We were always assured that there was no chance that he had any life-threatening type of situation."
Is he still using the Gatorade treatment?
"It was the change in his medicine. It wasn't the electrolytes."
Is he the most physical guy on the team?
"I'd guess him or Dijon Thompson. I thought Dijon did a really good job defensively in the second half in that game Saturday. He created some steals, playing the passing lanes. But if you watch the film, he's rotating down and laying a body on people. He did a good job for us in trying to be physical."
Last year, did you ever imagine that Dijon would play at this level?
"I think it was hard for him last year since he was playing the two spot. One of our things is that the two gets back on defense. But I was looking at his numbers today, his best rebounding was his sophomore year at 4.7 per game. Now he's at 8.2. He's really improved in that area. But he's improved in every area. I thought he had it in him. He had the talent. Part of it too is his light going on. You see it often times with a kid who has that talent going from his junior to his senior year and really take it to the next level. What he has been able to do, which has really surprised me, is his ability to defend at the four spot. I was always worried about that as we talked about having to make this change in the middle of this year. I didn't really expect to do that this much going into the season. It's turned out to really help us. His ability to defend the four, hold his own there and do a good job, has been probably the most surprising thing about his abilities. That takes toughness. He's taking on guys who are bigger, with wide bodies. He's done a very good job."
Is this the kind of response out of Mata you were hoping for?
"Yes. It's one game at a time, and we have to put together another game now. Lorenzo was much improved on Saturday, as opposed to the previous three or four games.Yesterday he had a good practice. He had 12 rebounds in practice, which was by far the most on our team. That was a real positive. He's a great kid. You talk about being young, it really applies to him from the standpoint that this is his third or fourth year of organized basketball. He hasn't been playing AAU ball since he was 8 years old, or playing three times a week. For that matter, being coached all that time. He's really doing a good job. I'm excited about how he played. That one tip-in he had where he tipped it in and fell down, no one else on our team can make that play but him."
Do you think Washington State coming off such a big win like over Arizona is a positive for you or a negative?
"I think neither. It gives them confidence. They beat one of the top teams in the league, a nationally-ranked team on their home floor. Also, the flip side is, you hate to play a team that is coming off a loss that has that edge to them. There are two ways of looking at it, two schools of thought. We have to go up there and play against a good team on their home floor that's very, very disciplined and tough. It's going to be a hard game."
Will it be easier playing them the second time?
"Our guys have definitely been through the ringer once. They know what to expect. And we're definitely going to watch some film of that today, before we even go out there, to remind them of what it is. We kind of worked on it some yesterday."
In the first game, it seemed like they didn't play Washington State-style basketball in the second half. Would you expect that to happen again?
"I don't think that was so much the case. They had it going. They had some open looks. They were still very patient and took their time. We just were able to put together a couple of runs. I didn't think they started to run up and down or change. I'm watching the film now and I'm not seeing that. They'll push it on you on a missed shot. On a made shot, they typically will take their time. I watched the Arizona and Arizona State games from this last weekend. They're consistent in how they play."
Does mounting big comebacks create a positive mindset?
"It's definitely a positive when you're down big and you can come back and get the win. If you look at the game Saturday, we had the big deficit, we took the lead by seven, and then they came back and took the lead from us. To be able to still hold on and fight back...Dijon made some big plays down the stretch. The intention foul was a good play in our favor. It worked to our advantage. It was a good break. We're down two and he should have just given us the lay-up. But we get the lay-up but get the ball back to score and go up. That was 69-67. We still actually had it tied later and they had the ball. So I give our kids a lot of credit to hang in there and fight."
Do you think it makes them not panic now when they get down because they've done it before?
"I don't think they panic. But we want to get to where we come out, take a lead, keep building on it and win, as opposed to having to do these miraculous comebacks that we've seen four times now."
Is it defensively where you want to see improvement early in the game?
"It's both ends. The first play of the game we know they're going to double the post. And we tell Michael Fey and he gets it and dribbles it, out of habit, and they stole it from him right away. It's important to get a good start. That's kind of what happened to Arizona. They were down 8-2 after six minutes on Saturday. That's how they want to get you."
Did you have expectations for Mata before the season?
"I did. I thought he'd be our best rebounder. I think he is in regard to minutes play. One great stat I was looking at today is that Josh Shipp is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game in conference games, which is outstanding for a freshman. He's the second-leading rebounder on the team next to Dijon. So I'm really happy how he's rebounding. And also Jordan Farmar. Jordan is not able to rebound on offense since he's getting back on the shot. Yet he's at 4 rebounds a game going into our last game."
What makes Shipp such a good rebounder?
"He has a nose for the ball. He's not afraid to get in there. He's around the ball all the time. He's quick to the ball. He has some instincts to be right where the ball is. He has very good anticipation where the ball is coming off."
Do you think there's a correlation that Fey's worst three games of the season have all been losses?
"I think it's coincidence. We need Mike to score, to have a balance. The other day we were fortunate to win, considering he had one point for the game. Lorenzo came in and gave us eight points. Mike is one of the top field goal percentage shooters in the conference. He's taking about eight or nine shots a game."
Where is Arron Afflalo's game right now?
"He's streaky. The other day he got into that streak where he made those three in a row. But I thought he came out and was tentative in that game. He's got to use his body better to his ability. He has this Adonis body that he has to use to be a more physical player, especially offensively. We keep talking about him getting more defensive rebounds for us. He's not rebounding on offense. We want him back on the shot to take away transition opportunities for our opponents. But the big thing is that Arron needs to rebound for us at the defensive end of the floor. He's done a good job for the most part. You talk about being a young player...we're asking him to guard the other team's best player, night in and night out. He did a great job Saturday on Lodrick Stewart, who only had five points, which is shocking because he's a very good player. He's on him the first half, and then in the second half he went to Nick Young for the last 16 minutes and did a great job on Nick. Nick had 17 the first half, and wasn't on at all the second half. He had five in the second half, and Arron was on him the majority of the time. He's going to grow into being a very good on-ball defender. He has to improve his defense off the ball, like knowing when to rotate. Sometimes he gets to standing and watching when his man is not involved, instead of rotating. Every kid has things to work on. They all have to get better. There isn't one guy that doesn't need to improve in certain areas."
Did you think he'd be this good defensively?
"Going into the year I didn't know he'd be as good defensively as he is. I thought Cedric Bozeman would have been our best on-ball defender. Ced was first clearly going to be our best stopper at stopping a guy, before he was hurt, with his quickness and his length. He was strong, before he got hurt. Arron has proved to be someone who is going to be very capable."
Has he taken that stopper role?
"He has. He took on Salim Stoudamire, Thomas Kelati...tough games, and others he had to guard there. It's been a learning experience for him, I'm sure."
Do you think he's lost confidence in his shooting?
"I don't know that. If you look at his numbers, his three-point shooting percentage is 38%, one of the better percentages on the team. He got it going the other day. Those three threes were really big for us. And he had a good practice yesterday. He's in watching film. He really wants it bad. That's one thing that's good. He works at it. He has a good attitude."
What makes Kelati so good?
"I'll tell you, he's really good. I would venture to say that either he or Jeff Varem are the two most under-rated players in the conference. They're both spectacular players. Kelati, for one, is very, very quick. He'll have a shot at playing at the next level. That's how good I think he is. He has a good handle. He did very good defensively against Stoudamire. Stoudamire was four for fourteen. He has the quickness, and he has the length to be able to contest shots and stay right with him. He did a fabulous job on Stoudamire. The best I've seen of anyone in the conference. And he really, really shoots it. He was in a slump going into that game against Arizona, and then he made seven of ten on threes. He has good quickness, he's very athletic, he has a great handle, he has a great crossover, almost to the point where it looks like he's carrying the ball some, he has a good in-out. If you watch him he has very good off-the-ball skills, and is very good at scoring off the dribble when he has the ball, and his ability to catch and shoot, and he creates for others. He's a very skilled passer. He plays extremely hard and he makes big shots. If you remember our game here. He made two very tough threes against us, one to tie it in regulation and another to put it into OT."
Looing back on the season, having to guard guys like Kelati, Grunfeld and Stoudamire, how big of a loss was Cedric?
"I knew all along Cedric was a huge loss. We're playing only four guys at those three perimeter spots. It would have been nice to have had Ced all year. But that's "what-if." For a lot of reasons. His ability to pass. He was rebounding well. Ced was playing by far the best ball that I've seen him play since I've been here before he got hurt, in multiple positions. He could guard the one, two or three. He was playing physically. He was blocking out, laying a body."
What's the latest on him? Is he running?
"They're bringing him along slowly. He's not running yet. He is running, in the pool. They have him in the pool."
Has he done any shooting?
"No. He can stand there and shoot but nothing worthwhile. I fully expect him to be back at full strength."
Will he be able to do participate in the spring workouts?
"No. My anticipation is he won't be ready to do anything like that until June. May or June. Right about when we're getting ready to stop the individual workouts and get ready for finals."
Does Cedric still hang around with the team?
"Yes. He's up there right now getting his re-hab. Ced has really been dilligent following through on his re-hab. And he's had a lot of experience here doing that. He does what he's supposed to do."
Matt McKinney, in an interview, said that the condition of being fatigued quickly he had been suffering from was a result of the medication he was taking for a severe stomach ailment.
McKinney had insisted on continuing to take the medicine he was
The UCLA medical staff had suggested that the medication causing his fatigue. When they continued to suggest he switch medications, McKinney finally did.