head Coach Ben Howland answered questions Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
Billy Packer and Digger Phelps said that if you won Sunday it got four teams in the NCAA tournament from the Pac-10, and if you lose only two would go. Have you heard from the rest of the Pac-10?
"I know, at least I read, that the third place team has always gone out of this league. It hasn't been that long that five teams got in from the Pac-10 a few years back. I think on more than a couple of occasions. The bottom line is that we're not even worried about that right now. We're worried about Oregon State, which is a very good team that is playing good basketball. It has arguable one of the best big guys in the league in David Lucas. He's averaging 18.2 and 8.5 rebounds a game. Nick DeWitz is coming off a game where he had seven threes in one game. Our total focus is nothing other than Oregon State. The Notre Dame win was a great win for us, a very important win for us. It was a very important win against a good team, one that will be in the NCAA tournament I think undoubtedly, with their quality wins over Boston College, UConn, Villanova, etc. It was a very important win for us. We played well."
Did you double Lucas in your first game against Oregon State?
"In that game we did not. We even played some zone. That was his first game back. I think it was his second game back actually. He had played a few minutes in their last non-conference game at home. But he's a load."
Is he the key?
"You know, he's very, very good. But they're very talented. You look at DeWitz, he's averaging 14.2, and he's averaging the highest 3-point percentage in the league, although he hasn't shot obviously as many as Salim Stoudamire. He's only shooting 58% from three in the conference. He's averaging 2+ blocks a game. He's a player that can score face up, back to the basket, put the ball on the floor. He does a lot of things, he's a good offensive rebounder. Chris Stephens was in the top ten in the league in scoring last year. J.S. Nash was a real problem for us. Jason Fontenet is a real problem with his quickness and explosiveness. They're a very, very talented team with lots of numbers. Lamar Hurd is a guy who plays with high energy and defends. He disrupts things with his defense. Sasa Cuic is a very good player who is a freshman. They're starting the big kid (Kyle Jeffers) who is a load. He's humongous. So they have a lot of players."
When you look at making 14 threes against Notre Dame, is that too many threes?
"I'm glad they went in. We took 23 of them. We talked about taking too many against Arizona at home, and also in our first Cal game, which was a lot because of the zone. But most of the shots were open shots. And we do have a good shooting team. Brian Morrison is a good shooter, shooting 42% from three in the conference, and over 40% on the year. Arron Afflalo is really shooting the ball confidently here late in the season. He was three for three, and they were all good shots. Jordan Farmar made a couple of big ones. Josh Shipp, who hadn't been shooting it well, knocked down two huge threes in that game. I'm just glad they went down. We had it going. Sometimes you have it going like that. But for the most part they were open shots. A lot of them were assisted. We had 20 assists, where we're penetrating, drawing and kicking. I remember Dijon Thompson had a few. Jordan passed the ball very well, and Arron passed the ball very well in that game. So there was a lot of good passing."
Is there a danger when you make a lot of them that they'll rely on it too much the next game?
"I don't think that. We still got the ball inside to Michael Fey and we'll continue to do that. I think Mike was a little tentative early in that game, in terms of not being aggressive enough with his post-up. It's something we'll talk about and work on here in practice. But Mike had a big game for us in our last game because he had nine rebounds. Late in the game he got some big boards for us. He did a good job of holding his ground against Torin Francis, most noteably, because that guy's a load."
Talk about the play of Josh Shipp, playing 32 minutes with a sprained ankle...
"We don't plan on having him practice today. I'm hopeful he'll be able to do something tomorrow in practice before we play on Thursday. But that remains to be seen. It was sore this morning when he woke up. He had treatment on it yesterday. He'll get treatment againt today, but he had class from 9:30 to noon. And another one at 1, so he'll have to get a treatment in there. So when he shows up here don't keep him too long."
Would you consider holding him out against OSU to rest him?
"There's no way that we're going to hold him out if he can play. Absolutely not. We have only four guys on the perimeter to play. Think about the possibility. If he doesn't play, who's going to play?"
Looking ahead, how deep...
"I'm not going to look ahead. I'm looking at Oregon State. What we'd probably have to do, if say he couldn't play on Thursday, Dijon would have to play more minutes on the perimeter, and we'd have to play more minutes with Matt McKinney, Ryan Hollins and Josiah Johnson. I'm hoping that, after talking to him yesterday, that Lorenzo Mata will be able to play some for us. He didn't play at all in either of our last two games. I think he played for just a minute against USC and none on Sunday. It's been a couple of weeks now. A lot of it is based on his pain tolerance, and I think he's feeling better and more comfortable. I'm hopeful he'll be able to get back in and give us some important minutes."
When you double the post, is it often more about what it does for you defensively than what it does to stop somebody?
"I think it makes us aggressive. Ideally you don't want to have to do that. Ideally it's better to not do it. We did it the first game against USC, and Jeff McMillan passed right out of it and hurt us. It's not something that's ideal. We knew going into the Notre Dame that they were really going to go with Francis inside. It was in the paper when we arrived on Friday. 'I want the ball more. Give me the ball.' You saw that was their game plan. Give him the ball, give him the ball, give him the ball. Not a lot of people had doubled him, it worked to our advantage and we stayed with it."
It seems like sometimes when Fey is moving his more able to make plays...
"He's not the one usually that's running over. He's the one who's standing his ground and trying not to get barreled over until we can get over and help him. My contention was that Francis, had we not doubled him, Fey would have gotten in foul trouble and we lose his minutes. And also Francis is good. He had 22 at home against UConn. It's hard. It seems like everybody we play has a real good post guy."
David Lucas has 12 assists in 17 games. Is he a good passer?
"You know what? I think he is a good passer. But he's even a better scorer. Look at his shooting percentage. He's very hard. He has a very unorthodox move that I think he got from his dad. He plays with his back to the basket. He did it against us, and I've seen it on film. He'll throw the ball out ahead of him with a defender behind him, and he'll spin around and go grab it. It's unbelievable. He's really good. He's going to make some money playing basketball."
What has made the doubling so effective? Is it Dijon with his quickness?
"The only time it didn't work and we really got hurt on it all year was the first time against USC. In that game, we just performed poorly early in the game and it hurt us. In reviewing it, they also got a couple of lucky breaks. They get a tip and there's Gabriel Pruitt standing in the corner and catching it and shooting it. There's always the potential to get hurt by it. Washington State does it very well, and they do it everytime anybody catches it in the post. That's part of the way Dick Bennett plays apparently now."
What has made it better?
"Dijon has been really good. And it's also not letting them get a paint catch. If they get a catch in the paint they're shooting it before you ever have time to help the guy. So it still comes down to the guy holding his ground and not getting caught too deep."
Does Fey hold his ground better when he knows he's going to get help?
"No. Against Channing Frye we didn't do it either time against him and Fey did a good job of holding his ground on Frye, who is hard to defend."
If it gets you a deflection, does it tend to get you into your transition game?
"Yeah, well, it worked well on Sunday. Like against Arizona State when we did it the two times against Ike Diogu, surprisingly he hadn't seen it that much. USC did it and we're successful with it. But they did it a little differently. They triple-teamed him. They didn't guard the point guard, Braxton. They wouldn't even guard him, played off him and said, 'Shoot.'"
When you came back from the Arizona trip you then had the fallback with the Bay Area schools. You think the kids understand a letdown?
"The kids will be here for interviews, so they'll give you a good opportunity. I'd like you to emphasize it when you talk to them, too. Sometimes it's better when it's not coming from me. But yeah, it's later in the year and we went through that experience, and hopefully we will have learned from that. That's the expectations. I think when you look at our team, what you can feel good about are the Cal game there, the USC game and the Notre Dame game. Those are arguably three of our best performances here, late in the season. The one Stanford game we didn't play well, and I think what really hurt us in that game was our shot selection. It was good to play well, since there was a lot of discussion going into this last game. It was the second game on a two-game weekend. We played well in the second game this time so that was good."
Your freshmen really struggled in the first game against OSU. It was their first Pac-10 game on the road. How much better are they now?
"You know, it's funny. I haven't watched that tape yet. I've watched all of Oregon State's recent games. I'm going to watch that one after practice. I think we're vastly different from that time. For instance, that's the last time I play a stupid zone. The only reason I played zone is when we were without Dijon against Pepperdine. I thought the zone really hurt us. If you look at OSU's team now, if you go the length of the season, you have a better feel for what a team really does. They shoot 41% from three as a team. That's outstanding. They're a problem. Our freshmen have definitely improved from then until now. I think Jordan had nine turnovers in that game. And we had the lead at halftime. They've improved throughout the year."
Are they getting stronger? Or are they just too young to realize that playing all these minutes could be tiring them out?
"I don't think so. Josh and Arron have both been very good about lifting, keeping their bodies up during the season. What happens is if you don't do any lifting during the season, you'll atrophy. All of that running. You atrophy muscle, because very few basketball players have much body fat, especially those freshmen. Arron is playing probably his best basketball of the year right now. I was really impressed with Josh, too. His guy in the game was 1 for 6 from the field. Colin Falls from Notre Dame. He guards all sorts of different guys. The only basket Falls scored on wasn't even Josh's fault. Our team defense let him down because we didn't extend the screen, so Falls curled and shot. Josh was trailing, which was what he was supposed to do on a great shooter like that. But all three of those kids have done an outstanding job, with a longer season, and the intensity level being so different than high school. If you relax and take a day off at this level you're going to get beat."
Are there any nerves with them, pressure during the crunch time of the season?
"I don't think so. These guys are used to winning. Two won state championships. One led his team to the first City Championship from a team in the Valley in 40+ years. These guys are used to winning. I think they're better when the pressure is highest. That was a big game for us at Notre Dame, and all three of them stepped up. The biggest thing is that when we have stumbled and lost, everything has been about our shot selection in my mind. We have to do a better job of that, and we're doing a better job of that. For me, that continues to be a huge key. We have to defend and rebound, but we have to continue to take good shots. In the last two games we had 42 assists on I don't know how many baskets, but it's a very high percentage. It was 22 of 35 against USC, and 20 of 24 against Notre Dame, which is a very high percentage."
Has Arron gotten more comfortable in the offense?
"He's just playing well. I don't think some light magically went on. He's playing with confidence. He's really shooting well. The one thing I like about the last two games in particular, he's really staying in his shot. If you watch the film, he's a poster boy for a clinic on what you want a kid to do on his follow-through, leaving his hand up, staying in his shot, and going up and down straight. I'm a big believer in fundamentals of a shooter. If you have consistency in your fundamentals, and you do the same thing every time as good shooters usually do, you get better and better."
How about Brian?
"Brian was great on Sunday staying in his shot. I told him on the plane coming back from Chicago. I always watch the game right after. We're fortunate that we put it right on the computer and we evaluate it immediately after games."
Both of those games seemed like they were open-floor games for your team...
"Playing good defense creates good opportunities for us. I thought we played very good defense in the last two games. That's where your offense starts. Also, getting the ball out and pushing it whenever it's there. I think our team is understanding that we want to push it every time. When it's not there be smart and have some patience. A good shot can be in the first three seconds of the shot clock or the last ten seconds. It just depends on how you execute."
Do you run a secondary break?
"We're not into secondary breaks. We're pushing the ball like crazy, trying to get down and run the middle of the floor. I've been on Jordan sometimes during the year to keep the ball longer. I'll tell you what, he did a great job distributing the job on Sunday. He had seven assists, but he could have ended up with 11 or 12. We missed a couple of easy shots that he passed off for that should have been finished."
Oregon State has done considerably worse on the road than at home. Have you seen anything on film that would explain it?
"No. I'll tell you what, they're a very talented, good team. Most teams plays better at home. I think that's why the changed the RPI formula this year. The home team typically wins 2/3s of their games at home around the country. So there's a definite advantage to playing at home. This team, they had a great chance to win at Arizona State and Stanford and it just didn't fall their way. They're a problem."
So is it your policy not to bring up the NCAA tournament with your players?
"No, I said I didn't bring it up with you."
As you're getting down to the end here, and you're a bubble team, is that something you discuss with them?
What's the reason?
"I'm into focusing about today and the next game. My feeling is that we have to just take care of business one game at a time. I think it's pretty clear, too, that I don't have to bring it up because it's going to be brought up to them from outside parties. There isn't a need for me. In fact, it's asked so much that my whole job is to make sure they focus on the task at hand here now, because it's being brought up constantly every time they ever talk to anybody."
Why did you decide to play zone against Oregon State in the first game?
"It actually was helpful for us. We weren't very good defensively at that time. And it actually helped us right there at the end of the first half. But then the second half it wasn't that good. I hate to see guys get wide open shots. Stanford zoned them, and then Fontenet got wide open shots. With the zone you're saying, 'Beat us from the outside. We're not giving you the outside shot.' We've been very good at beating zones. Against Notre Dame, who typically zones everyone, didn't zone at all on Sunday. We will not be zoning on Thursday."
How is your team performing against the zone?
"Great. Really since the first half of the USC game there, and we were horrible against Cal here. We spent a lot of time on it and have a much better understanding of it. We've been outstanding. We were outstanding against Cal at Cal and Stanford at Stanford. I think USC threw some zone at us here for a few possessions and we attacked it very well. We're at the point that I hope teams zone us. It makes us more patient, and we have a very good understanding once we're in the half court."
If you look at your team on paper, would you say, hey, this looks like a pretty good NCAA tournament team?
'It's all based on the next game. I'm excited about how we're playing right now. Sunday we beat an NCAA tournament team and had a 20-point lead with 10 minutes to go. So that was a good sign. I know you guys want to talk about it, and that's fine. But my main focus is Oregon State, and to know that how important that game is for the season and what we want to do."
Did you have a reasonable expectation it'd pay off this year, or did you think it'd take another year? You have three freshmen starters...
"We didn't plan on that. I didn't think we'd start three freshmen going into the year. I didn't plan that Cedric Bozeman would blow his knee, and we'd lose Janou Rubin. I didn't know necessarily going into the season that we'd play Dijon at the four. And that's been probably as big a reason why we've been able to play as well as we've played, having four guards out there and him being able to handle the defensive and rebounding aspect to it. It's obviously made us a much better team. We did have high expectations for the freshmen. Don't get me wrong. I expected them all to come in and be huge contributors. I wasn't sure I was planning on three starters, but they were all going to play three significant roles. There aren't any other programs in the country that are playing three freshmen as many minutes as those kids are playing. They've done a great job, and we have to continue to do that. But it's all about what you've done for me lately. Here we go, Thursday."