Head Coach Ben Howland answer questions from the media today in his weekly press conference.
Is your opponent's offensive rebounding your biggest concern at this point?
"It is after our last game, yeah. We watched the film, and I showed some of the clips to the team yesterday and then we worked on blocking out. We have to get back to doing a good job of that, against these athletic teams that we're facing coming up, starting Thursday. Arizona State is very athletic. Ike Diogu is the leading offensive rebounder in the conference. He is a load, but their hold team is. Serge Angounou, their power forward, is a very good rebounder. So they have some guys that will really come at you."
Will you be doubling Diogu?
"We can't discuss game plans for publication, ala Lodrick Stewart. But he (Diogu) is definitely a load to handle."
What did you right against him the last time out?
"We did a good job in our last time playing against him, defending him, number one. But he's coming off his best week as a Sun Devil. He was player of the week in the Pac-10. he had 39 and 35 in his last two games. He's brimming with confidence right now. He's a real load. He's a great player. We did do a good job on his last time. We did a good job in terms of our rotations. What we did really well in that game is make our free throws. I think we made our last fifteen in a row."
With a matchup against Diogu, will Michael Fey have a bigger role than he did this last weeekend?
"Yeah. He'll be one of the main people required to try to defend Diogu. Fey is the number one guy. He has the most strength, size and weight to be able to hold his own ground. If you go back and watch, like I watched the Stanford game against ASU, Diogu just manhandles Rob Little and Matt Haryasz, and those are big, strong guys. It's tough. But yeah. Mike had a bad matchup Thursday in Pullman, just from the standpoint that there wasn't a low-post presence on their team. Even in Seattle, to the same extent. This is more of a normal weekend coming up, where you have a five man down there on the block trying to score."
Do you think you played about as well as you did all season on that road trip to Arizona? Do you think you're playing as well now, or playing better?
"We were coming off a two games of come-from-behind victories. Yeah, we played well on that road trip. We played well at ASU, but we were also down by 11 or 12 in the first half of that game, and fought our way back to take the lead at halftime. So, it's a thing where we have to really bounce back from Saturday's tough defeat. I thought we did a good job winning in Pullman on Thursday. I think it's going to be hard for most teams to go in and get a win in Pullman this year. I know it's happened twice already, but it's not an easy feat for anybody. So that was a real positive out of last weekend, to get the win at Washington State. I think they're on the road this week against the Oregons. But that's going to tough for people to do, and they probably still have five home games left I think."
Why are you guys so successful doubling Diogu while other teams aren't?
"I don't know that, that other teams aren't. It worked for us well the first time we played him. But we also doubled him in Tempe a year ago, and he had 27 or 28 points. And then here a year ago, the main thing, if I'm not mistaken, he got in foul trouble in that game. That's what limited his minutes."
Why do you think you had success against him this year then?
"It may have been one of the first times he saw a lot of that maybe. I'm not sure. I'll tell you this: he'll be very patient. Against Stanford he scored just four points in the first ten minutes of the game, and he ended up with 39. So he had 35 in the last 30 minutes. He's much better than he was a year ago, in my opinion, in that his outside, face-up game, his jumper, is really, really good."
Are you still going to try to get Dijon Thompson more rest?
"That's the hope. That would be ideal. I think he played 43 and 38. That's a lot of minutes. One of you asked me about how important that first game was, and how he had to play so many minutes. But every game, your next game, is always the most important game of the year. It's just tough. We're asking him to do so much, as we are of Jordan Farmar."
Are you aware of how many minutes they're playing during the game?
"I'm aware. Dijon came out against Washington State for about 20 seconds in the second half. I don't think he came out at all against Washington in the second half."
Dijon said he could do more if he shot the ball a little bit more. Do you think he's getting it enough?
"I think he's been fine there. I think he's been good in terms of letting the game come to him. If it comes to where you're a one-dimensional team, you're easier to defend. I thought his stat line against Washington State, where he got to the free-throw line, was really important. He was 8-for-11 from the field and I think 8-of-9 from the line. He's getting plenty of opportunities. And he's shooting a good percentage. He's not forcing it a lot. His shooting percentage is way up from a year ago. Right now, I think on the season I think, inside of three, he's 65-for-110 in the conference."
Watching film, do you think he's taking good shots?
"He's been pretty good for the most part. Once in a while your leading scorer will take a bad shot. But for the most part he's playing within himself and letting things come to him, which is good."
What do you think has caught Jordan by surprise this year, something that maybe he underestimated?
"I don't know, if there's anything that necessarily surprised him. I think it's hard for any freshman. The one thing is that people really want to come out and get after him. He and Arron Afflalo are the McDonald's All-Americans. I know I had players on the other end of that, at Pitt, that weren't highly recruited McDonald's types, and they couldn't wait to play against those guys, to try to prove themselves. So you always have someone coming at you, trying to play their best game against you, night in and night out. He's been exceptional I think. We're asking so much of him. I think the thing that surprised him is that he hardly ever comes out. Going into the year we had Cedric Bozeman, and we were going to be able to have less of a need there of keeping Jordan in on every possession of every game."
Does it help with his development or hurt it?
"In the long run, it helps him."
Do you think most of your kids are strong enough to play really physically?
"No, but they will be. That's one thing you can say about Washington, is the strength of their playes. That's the advantage of having been in the program, of being older and being experienced."
Was Saturday an aberration for Josh Shipp, or is he getting more comfortable in the offense?
"I don't think it was an aberration. It came to him. He got some offensive rebounds and putbacks. He knows how to space. He has good instincts on how to space when he doesn't have the ball, to give himself opportunities to get himself open. He got to the line a lot. I forget how many times it was. He's doing a better job of getting to the line and knocking down his foul shots."
Did you think he'd have this kind of production this year?
"Early in practice I didn't. I was just talking to my staff about it yesterday. If you were talking up to this point right now, he's our most improved player from the beginning of the season to right now, without question."
In what way?
"In every way. Blocking out. He still has lapses. But I remember the first two weeks of practice, blocking out was not something that was habit for him. Now I think he's one of our better guys at using his body, at both ends of the floor. Good offensive rebounders are guys who lay their body around and know how to block out. He's been good being able to handle a lot of minutes, too. His stamina is pretty good. He has a good feel for the game."
It seems like everyone has heard so much about Farmar and Afflalo, and Shipp can tend to surprise people. Is it the same for you and the staff?
"I don't think that so much. I always thought he'd be a good player. But I didn't foresee him playing 31 minutes a game in the Pac-10, and being our second-leading rebounder on the team. Going into the year, that was not something I was anticipating. It's not any cut on him. Going into the year we thought we'd have Ced and Janou Rubin there to play more minutes, especially Ced. Everything changed when we lost him."
Shipp benefitted more than anyone because of Ced?
"I think they all benefitted."
When did you see that you had to get Shipp in there?
You know, he did a good job in practice, especially once we started playing games. Obviously when he came into the Boston College game, he gave us a good lift off the bench and did a lot of good things. I think he started from that point forward. That's when we made the move, if I'm not mistaken, to put Dijon at the four. Now Dijon missed the next game because it was Pepperdine, but Josh was going to start in that game anyway. One thing he's done a good job of, he's lifted throughout the season. He gets in there and lifts. He gets that part. Maybe it's having an older brother that's been through it and learned through the experience of his older brother. He's actually done a good job of that, keeping his body up, and that's important."
How many wins do you think it will take to get to the NCAA tournament?
"I don't know that. I'm just focused totally on our next game. I do think our league will get four teams in. I think it should, because of the RPI of the conference."
Do you think the conference RPI will remain high, with it being almost all conference games from here on out?
"I think eventually you start to see some of a diminishing return, which is one of the reasons I want to play 16, as opposed to 18, conference games, which will never happen. It makes sense. That's one of the big reasons. Talking with people on the committee, and people who have been on the chair of that committee, that's actually a mathematical fact."
Is the Arizona State game really important since you could be playing for fourth place on Thursday?
"It's the most important game of the year. That's how the next game always is. When you get to this point of the year, in the conference, the biggest game of the year is Thursday. Then Thursday night at 9:30, the biggest game is Saturday. Every game is huge. I guess that's the bottom line."
Will the Notre Dame take on bigger significance for the conference, since it gives you a chance to play an out-of-conference team?
"They're going to be good. But I predict they're going to have a good shot at Boston College. I would not be surprised if Notre Dame beats BC tonight. They should have beaten Syracuse at Syracuse, up 11 with five to go. They're playing well right now. They're a very good team."
Is Jordan's foul shooting a concern at all?
"He shot 100 foul shots yesterday at the end of practice. I had him shoot more. My whole thing is that successful repetition is the best for that. He was 89 for 100 yesterday, and he shot it very well."
Can you tell what's going wrong with him?
"I think he's just been a little short on his last few. He's just making the necessary adjustments in his foul shooting."
Do you think coming in fourth in this conference, if you only have 17 wins, is enough to make the tournament?
"I can't answer that. We played a very difficult schedule. Boston College, Michigan State, Notre Dame. You look at Michigan. Pepperdine was playing really well when we did beat them. I know they've kind of fallen on hard times the last few weeks, but I still think they could end up winning that conference tournament, in the WCC. I wouldn't be surprised at that. So we've had tough games. And they do look at that. They really are harping on that, the strength of schedule. That's why our league is ranked so high. That's the key."
If you got two wins over Arizona State, do you feel pretty confident they couldn't take ASU over you?
"Not at all. Every game matters. You've seen that happen before, where other teams have finished even, for example, but beat a certain team twice, and they didn't go but the other team did. There was someone out of the ACC when I was at Pittsburgh. I saw that happen, but I can't remember the circumstances."
How similar is Josh's game to that of his brother, Joe Shipp?
"I don't know his brother that well, since I was back east when he was at Cal. We played them in the NCAA tournament and beat them, and that was his senior year, and I was really, really impressed with Joe. In just how physical he was, how big and strong, and what a load he was. I don't have a great feel for Joe, though. I haven't watched him play ten times, other than the film going into that game. I can't remember it that well. I remember he was a heck of a player. I'm sure they're different, based on the opinions of other people. I was talking to Marques Johnson on the plane ride. I was asking him the same thing. They're different, is his assessment, and he got to see Joe a lot, since he does our league for TV. But they're both good players."
How has Jordan dealt with the physical nature of college basketball?
"People are trying to be physical with him. He's going to get stronger. He's got very good speed and quickness. And one way to counteract speed and quickness is to be physical with that person, and try to beat him up physically. And that's what people do. Being a slow player myself, and I wasn't that strong, but I still tried to play physical with your opponent who is quicker and faster. He actually did a great job between spring, when he was a senior in high school, and the beginning of this school year. He did an outstanding job. He put on about 12 pounds. If I'm not mistaken he was 162 last April, and he started the season about 180, maybe 178. I'm probably guessing he's now 175 or 173. Right in that range."
What would be his optimal weight?
"Probably down the road his optimal weight will be about 185, as he matures. He'll be 185, as we all know, if he never lifts a weight, several years from now, just naturally. He'll work really hard to get that strength level. Strength level and size, they matter. You see it in other players, as they grow and mature."
Has there ever been a guy who got so big he lost his quickness?
"Rarely, but it can happen. If you watch NBA games, go look at their bodies. They're significantly bigger and stronger than guys at our level, at every position. Go look at Jason Kidd's body. The best players are usually the biggest, strongest guys. You look at Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, and right now it would be Jason Kidd. He's the strong, really physical point guard. Really good players are big and strong in my mind, while you have a few exceptions to that. Look at local players. Corey Magette. Look at his body. He's an Adonis beast, and he uses that body. Elton Brand. Caron Butler has a great physique, and they lift really hard at Connecticut. I know that for a fact. In this conference the last few years, you look at Stanford, and what they do in the weight room with their kids. I guess to answer your question, very rarely does a guy get too big. I'm so old, it used to be they told basketball players, don't lift, you'll get too bulky and won't be able to shoot. I remember that as a kid growing up. But then it kind of changed in the mid-'70s, maybe a little earlier. But there was a time when that was the line of thinking. Now you have personal trainers."
Do any of your guys have them?
"I think sometimes in the off-season they do. For the most part they use our strength coach. But I've had guys do that."